Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line

HOME Forums Sierra Books and more Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line

Viewing 16 reply threads
  • Author
    Posts
    • #42198 Reply
      Ken Williams
      Keymaster

      Does anyone have questions about my book? If so, this is a great place to post them. And, if you aren’t aware of my book, visit
      http://www.kensbook.com to learn more!

    • #42201 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      I have a first one!

      On the FAQ page is written:
      “Why did Ken write the book?

      That’s in the book! The quick story was that our boating season was canceled by the virus and I was stuck home quarantined with nothing to do and Roberta said, “Maybe you could write a book.”

      My question: if the virus didn’t exist and the boating season was not canceled, did that mean NO book would ever appeared (because of no free time) or was the plan to write a book about Sierra still in your mind?

      • #42203 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        You are right — Had there not been a virus, there never would have been a book. I really wasn’t thinking about Sierra. I do love all of the memories of Sierra, but Sierra was several decades ago and I’ve moved on to other things.

        I was bored, and Roberta said, “Write a book” and I couldn’t think of anything to write about. Initially, I decided to write a book that was evenly divided between management philosophy, Sierra, and boating. It did start that way, but Sierra kept creeping in bit by bit, and then when Al Lowe read the first few chapters he suggested I dump all of the non-Sierra stuff and just write the history of Sierra. Al’s a smart guy. Some of the philosophy stuff stayed in, but overall .. it (the book) is the history of Sierra, from my perspective.

        It’s a very long story .. and, I don’t have time today. But, running a boat prepared me for running a company much more so than running Sierra. Had I reversed my life and been a boat captain prior to running Sierra, Sierra would have been much better off for it. Crossing oceans on a small powerboat is serious business, and even one mistake can easily cost lives. You have to be a master of many skills (communications, diesel engines, electronics, electricity, navigation, etc), and you need to constantly be heading off problems before they occur.

        -Ken W

    • #42208 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hi

      I was wondering if Roberta helped remembering Sierra’s facts or events that happened for your book?
      Also did you contact ex-employees to ask things? It has been 25 years ago so remembering everything would have been difficult I think?

      • #42212 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        I occasionally asked Roberta her recollections, but I really didn’t interview anyone else. It is just a style thing, but it worked better for me to blitz through writing 400 pages, and then have people read it and tell me what I messed up.

        After the book was written I sent copies to 50 ex-Sierra employees, as well as to some of the people mentioned in the book. Some agreed with what I wrote and some didn’t. There were some serious gaps in my knowledge. Based on feedback several sections of the book got rewritten and some new sections got added, and some got tossed.

        I found it a very efficient way to work.

      • #42213 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        PS I actually didn’t ask Roberta anything until the book was almost complete. I did the writing early in the morning when things were quiet and kept the book secret until it was well underway. I wasn’t sure if the book would turn out well and wanted to be able to scrap the project if I wasn’t happy with it. It seemed better to write the book without anyone knowing until I was ready to tell them…

    • #42214 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hi Ken,

      Should this page not be rewritten? The book is there!!!

      Letter from Ken

    • #42216 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      I think you should also put the Sierra book on the home page of Sierragamers, next to Roberta’s book.
      All Sierra fan should see it immediately when visiting the website.
      I think many fans now just don’t know there is a book…

    • #42222 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hii Ken,

      What would you do differently if you were te start Sierra today all over again?

      • #42227 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        What would you do differently if you were te start Sierra today all over again?

        Nothing!!!! -Ken W

    • #42224 Reply
      Alexis Bousiges
      Guest

      hi

      After reading the book: what would you (Ken) do differently if you were to start Sierra today all over again?

      • #42228 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        After reading the book: what would you (Ken) do differently if you were to start Sierra today all over again?

        I would run Sierra forever and not sell it.

    • #42232 Reply
      Alexis Bousiges
      Guest

      Almost finishing your book, I was wondering if specific questions about its content can be asked in which I quote a sentence or paragraph of the book (for more explanation).
      Or is this going to far because you don’t have the time to answer detailed questions?

      • #42243 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Always happy to answer questions … although … I sometimes have to be very succinct due to lack of free time.

        I never seem to have free time …

    • #42447 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hi Ken,

      Some general questions about the book.

      – how many months were needed to complete it?

      – as I understand correctly: it’s only your personal memories of Sierra?

      – are there employees or other people presented in the bookyou still meet or are friends with?

      – on the first page is written version ‘v1’ in my book. Does this mean a new version will be released too?

      – can I post all questions here as a reply or does each question (about a new topic/chapter) better needs a new thread in this forum?

      thanks!

      • #42467 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Answers, preceded by ***

        -Ken W

        – how many months were needed to complete it?

        *** My book was written quickly. I spent about 2 months on the writing, and then 4 months on editing and rewriting. I sent out a lot of copies prior to the release and wound up rewriting major portions of the book. The last third of the book was rewritten more than once.

        – as I understand correctly: it’s only your personal memories of Sierra?

        *** Mostly. There were things I didn’t remember, or never knew, like what happened to Sierra after the sale. Other people filled in the details.

        – are there employees or other people presented in the book you still meet or are friends with?

        *** I’d like to think I am friends with most Sierra employees, but I never see them. The only person I regularly see is Al Lowe, and even with him I don’t see him nearly as often as I’d like to. Roberta and I travel most of the time and are never in one place long enough to see people.

        – on the first page is written version ‘v1’ in my book. Does this mean a new version will be released too?

        *** I might do a second version of the book someday and add more content. That said, there really isn’t much more to say, and I don’t have any free time right now. So .. it’s unlikely I’ll do a revision anytime soon.

        – can I post all questions here as a reply or does each question (about a new topic/chapter) better needs a new thread in this forum?

        *** I don’t really know this software (WordPress) very well. I’m still trying to figure out how to get the most recent messages to appear at the top (and, haven’t figured it out). So .. do what you like and hopefully it will be ok. I’m not sure what is best.

    • #42463 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hi Ken,

      Is the book selling well? I don’t know if I’m allowed to know selling numbers but I was just wondering if it’s selling very well or maybe even more then expected?

      • #42468 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        My book sales were huge. I’m still selling copies every day, long after I thought the book would be dead, and every few weeks it seems to pop back to #1 status on some categories on Amazon’s bestseller charts. There are a LOT of Sierra fans out there.

    • #42480 Reply
      Alexis
      Guest

      Hi Ken,

      A couple of days ago I posted a new topic here about chapter 2 questions of the book.
      It doesn’t appear here…

      Were my questions not allowed for some reason?

      • #42495 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Your posting went into the “spam” folder for some reason. I’ve approved it, and it should appear now.

    • #42836 Reply
      Josh H.
      Guest

      Hello Mr. Williams! I heard of your book through fellow fans and it just came in this past Friday. Im almost done. Excellent read and I cant thank you enough for authoring it.

      Just found this forum. Off the top of my head I have two questions:

      Of all the developers at Sierra how did you become so close with Mr. Al Lowe? In reading the part about working with friends and family (dont do it) it appears you and Mr. Lowe were definitely an exception. It appears you were able to get along through the existence of Sierra and remain good friends today without major incidents between employee and boss eventually causing an issue. Reading above comments it was great for me to hear you two are still in contact to this day. What do you believe was the secret? As someone who manages as well this greatly interests me.

      2. It wasnt clear (or maybe I just forgot this detail) if you developed/wrote the AGI language used for KQ1 and up? I do remember reading how you wrote the code for the early graphical high res adventures allowing Roberta to fill in the database and draw the pictures. Even wikipedia has unknown for the authors of AGI.

      Ok those are my first two questions at this moment. Sorry for any spelling or grammar issues as Im typing this on my Iphone at the moment. Thank you!

      • #42963 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Hi Josh,

        I don’t know the answer myself, about why Al is the only person from Sierra I still hang out with. Roberta and I travel nonstop so we are rarely in the same city as the various Sierra people. Even as much as we enjoy hanging out with Al and his better half (Margaret) we only see them a few times a year.

        As to AGI (the language we used for our games… I was heavily involved, but don’t remember writing much of the code, if any. I don’t remember who wrote it. I think it may have been an engineer named Bob Heitman? I don’t think Jeff Stephenson, who was the father of SCI, was working at Sierra yet. There was another engineer named Chris Iden. Maybe him? Or, maybe it was me? It’s strange I don’t remember, but .. it was 40 years ago.

    • #43054 Reply
      Kennedy K
      Guest

      Mr. William’s, I like so many started playing Sierra games at a young age. I went through all the King’s Quests, Space Quests, Police Quests, Lemmings and many more.

      With so many titles over the years which was yours and Roberta’s favorites?

      • #43123 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        My favorites were always Leisure-Suit Larry, Space Quest – and, especially Phantasmagoria. Roberta’s would of course be King’s Quest!

    • #43264 Reply
      Leonid
      Guest

      Dear Ken! I believe that you are heard of SpaceVenture, a Kickstarter campaign by Two Guys from Andromeda. Why do you think they failed (if you do)? It was supposed to be delivered in Feb 2013 but has been slipping till Feb 2021 since that is nothing heard from them, which is so frustrating!
      Here is the link https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/spaceventure/two-guys-spaceventure-by-the-creators-of-space-que/description

      Thank you!
      Leonid

      • #43401 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        I haven’t kept track of the game, so I’m not sure the current status. It doesn’t surprise me that it hasn’t shipped. Delivering a game is not easy, and delivering one on a schedule is impossible. My guess is that the money from the KickStarter campaign ran out a very long time ago and they are working day jobs while trying to finish the game. I doubt they’ve given up, although it is certainly possible.

        I’m going through a version of that same nightmare now on a game I’m working on (www.kensgame.com). I was absolutely convinced the game would be done by November of this year, and now I’m thinking it will be early next year. It’s one reason I didn’t want to do a KickStarter campaign for my game. I didn’t like the idea of having people put money into the game and all the associated pressure to deliver something on a schedule.

        Anyway, I haven’t spoken to the team on SpaceVenture in several years and don’t know their status. I really hope that they do ultimately deliver a game and I wish them all the success in the world.

        -Ken W

    • #43413 Reply
      Bobby Chedie
      Guest

      Hi Ken,
      I have more of a hypothetical question. Sierra always pushed the limit on what was technically possible at that time and set new industry standards. Where do you think Sierra would be nowadays? I always wondered what you had in mind for a game like GK4 or Phantasmagoria 3 especially with today’s hardware.

      Did you have ideas at the time that were not technically possible but you could have realized today?

      Greets from a Dutch fan that has been playing your games for 35 years 🙂

      • #43425 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Greetings Bobby! I think often about what Sierra would be today if we hadn’t sold. Would we be a huge company? Would we have changed the industry? Or, would we have gone down in flames? I really have no idea, although I’d like to think we’d have continued to lead the industry and would have pioneered some very cool new technologies. There’s no way we’ll ever know.

        -Ken W

    • #43540 Reply
      Leonid
      Guest

      Dear Ken,

      I have a few more questions (after the completion of your incredible book):
      Can you give an example of the lousy product shipped by Sierra, a “dog”, and what was the main criteria, the sales figures, I suppose? It is nice to know two or three real examples!

      Also, please give a few examples of the impossible technical task at times requested by designers from engineering?
      Obviously, 3D effects, advanced music and extensive graphics (disk space limitation etc.), but what else it could be?

      And one more: An AGI/SCI, whose idea it was and how it worked technically: every game developer has the AGI/SCI compiler installed at his machine, or it was some centralized system with restricted access for some particular people?

      By the way: Hi from Azerbaijan, I spent many of my young days (and nights) playing great Sierra games in my colledge computer lab (please do not ask where from a poor post-Soviet student was getting them)!

      • #43595 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Can you give an example of the lousy product shipped by Sierra, a “dog”, and what was the main criteria, the sales figures, I suppose? It is nice to know two or three real examples!

        There are two definitions for “a dog”.

        1) A product that loses money. If we spent a million dollars developing a game and only sold $1 million worth of copies, that would be a dog. However, if we spent $100,000 on development and only sold $1 million worth, that would be a winner. Winning or losing really was a factor of development cost. Some of our less-expensive products were big winners, for example Mother Goose, or Jones in The Fast Lane. They probably only sold 100,000 copies but were inexpensive to develop.

        2) The bigger issue for me personally, than profitability, was whether or not a product was liked by the players. The worst possible scenario would be to have a hot product that sold like crazy but wasn’t fun to play. Losing money on one or two products wouldn’t really hurt us, but damaging the relationship with our customers could easily put us out of business. So, the worst thing that could possibly happen would be to sell a hot game that customers didn’t like. That would be the worst dog of all!

        Also, please give a few examples of the impossible technical task at times requested by designers from engineering?
        Obviously, 3D effects, advanced music and extensive graphics (disk space limitation etc.), but what else it could be?

        There were good things and bad things about using our internal language (AGI/SCI). It made things easy for the game developers but also came with problems. There was a constant battle to improve performance and to add features. As you said, supporting 3d was a huge task, as was adding multiplayer support.

        And one more: An AGI/SCI, whose idea it was and how it worked technically: every game developer has the AGI/SCI compiler installed at his machine, or it was some centralized system with restricted access for some particular people?

        Every developer used AGI/SCI. We were split (our software engineers) internally to a tools group, a compiler group, and the game development group. The game development engineers were assigned to the game teams whereas the tools and compiler groups just worked on the technology that the other groups used.

        By the way: Hi from Azerbaijan, I spent many of my young days (and nights) playing great Sierra games in my colledge computer lab (please do not ask where from a poor post-Soviet student was getting them)!

        Grin – Greetings!!!! And, thank you.

    • #43596 Reply
      Tom Procyk
      Guest

      Dear Mr. Ken Williams,

      Thank you for writing this awesome book! I really enjoyed the style and tone which felt like I was having “lunch with Ken.”
      Like many, I was a huge Sierra fan growing up and still have my games in their boxes on the shelf in my office, but what really interested me through the years was how Sierra was run as a company. Your article would be the first one I would read in every InterAction magazine hoping I would learn the secrets to success from the master.

      Today, I own a “retro tech” shop in Juno Beach, Florida and have run my own company for about 5 years. I learned a lot from your book on how to leverage skills to grow a company. (And it was a lot of fun reading it!)

      What I took from the book:

      – How to recognize (and be) AAA talent.

      – How to be confident in my decisions based on the information I have at the time. Hindsight is only as practical as time travel.

      – Projects never come in on time and on budget, and that’s ok, if they’re great products.

      – Being a publicly traded company isn’t fun.

      Questions:

      – The Sierra Network / ImagiNation

      I was a member of this amazing creation, and I could tell from reading your book that you are very proud of it! The interface is incredibly user-friendly, even by today’s standards. Do you feel that seniors (for whom TSN was originally created) have been left behind in today’s on-line world? Would a “Constant Companion” connected device (like a tablet) for seniors be more practical now than it was originally?

      – The Sierra Multimedia Club

      My memory is very fuzzy on this one, but I remember signing up for it and I still have the letter from John Williams in 1995 saying it was canceled and money refunded. As I recall, it was supposed to be a quarterly CD-ROM sent along with InterAction. Do you remember this project?

      – Labels and packaging decisions

      On Page 202 is a picture of a disk with a caption talking about label styles. This is an area that always intrigued me, and I was hoping to learn more about the decisions behind disk labels and packaging changes since you mentioned how you had to “see everything that the customer will see.”

      The famous label with the full color picture of half-dome was used up until about 1990, and then Sierra changed to the white labels with the three color stripes. About the same time, the game boxes changed to the thicker style.

      I’m assuming the labels with the picture were very costly, was that the main reason for the change?
      As for the game boxes, did they get thicker to accommodate more disks, or to have more space for screenshots on the spine? (or both?)

      What kind of considerations were made on the production and cost of all the physical things that went into a Sierra game? (Manuals, maps, the Space Piston and PlaySpy magazines, etc.) Were the extras considered part of the game design and thus, up to the designer? It seemed to me that Sierra spared no expense in that area. That attention to detail made Sierra the Disney of computer games.

      I have more questions, but I don’t want to take up too much of your time. Thanks again and all the best on your future voyages!

      Sincerely,
      Tom Procyk

      **Interlude: A quick story**
      In 8th grade English class we had to pick a CEO of a company whom we would “like to be” and write a paper about it, and I chose Ken Williams of Sierra On-Line! When I read it in front of the class, most of the kids were confused but the Sierra fans were grinning from ear to ear.

      • #43606 Reply
        Ken Williams
        Keymaster

        Would a “Constant Companion” connected device (like a tablet) for seniors be more practical now than it was originally?

        I’m not sure. I haven’t looked to see what is out there. If the game I’m working on now does well I might dig into online multiplayer games, and just like with TSN I’d start with card games for seniors. I agree with you that a tablet is the easiest way to go.

        My memory is very fuzzy on this one, but I remember signing up for it and I still have the letter from John Williams in 1995 saying it was canceled and money refunded. As I recall, it was supposed to be a quarterly CD-ROM sent along with InterAction. Do you remember this project?

        Sorry — I don’t remember it at all…

        I’m assuming the labels with the picture were very costly, was that the main reason for the change?
        As for the game boxes, did they get thicker to accommodate more disks, or to have more space for screenshots on the spine? (or both?)

        Every time marketing management would change, the incoming regime would want to change all the labels, logo and boxes. I always thought it was a waste of money but wanted to support my team. I thought of it like “dogs marking their turf.” Unless it offended me I just considered it part of the cost of hiring new people and went along with it.

        What kind of considerations were made on the production and cost of all the physical things that went into a Sierra game? (Manuals, maps, the Space Piston and PlaySpy magazines, etc.) Were the extras considered part of the game design and thus, up to the designer? It seemed to me that Sierra spared no expense in that area. That attention to detail made Sierra the Disney of computer games.

        The box cost was low compared to the development cost. In general, we were printing in such high volume that we could do about anything without hurting our bottom line. We always wanted the products to look like they were a class act (that they were Sierra quality).

        In 8th grade English class we had to pick a CEO of a company whom we would “like to be” and write a paper about it, and I chose Ken Williams of Sierra On-Line! When I read it in front of the class, most of the kids were confused but the Sierra fans were grinning from ear to ear.

        Yay! Thank you.

Viewing 16 reply threads
Reply To: Reply #42222 in Not All Fairy Tales Have Happy Endings: The Rise and Fall of Sierra On-Line
Your information:




Cancel