I was struck by reading a phrase in an edition of a software trade paper, it was, ‘... this tormented business of ours.’ It rather neatly summed up the first six months of this year in which the pre-Christmas gloom merchants appear to have been vindicated. To the vanished or quietly disappearing software houses, we can now add Bug-Byte, Fantasy and Micromania, the latter two certainly helped on their way by the collapse of software distributor Tiger.
Bug-Byte looked like it was ailing for some time despite, or in spite, of rumoured tie-up deals with Argus. A shame really, because it severs any final link with the original flowering of Liverpool programming talent that began with Bug-Byte and flowed into Imagine, Software Projects and many of the programming houses that now exist. Micromania had too much stock of their latest game in Tiger to withstand the loss of revenue. The irony is that, by all accounts, Future Project sold very well, mostly through Menzies with whom Tiger largely dealt, but because Tiger ended up owing Menzies money in the form of credit for returned, unsold tapes, companies like Micromania who should have received payment did not — for Menzies dealt with Tiger and not Micromania.
The way in which companies go bust is often telling. There are, of course, very strict legal rules covering the matter, but they are often easy to get around. Bug-Byte’s receivers informed all creditors (including CRASH) of the situation. Micromania’s Dominic Wood wrote a letter to the effect that he was bankrupt — at least you know where you stand. Fantasy’s demise was less ethical. For several weeks managing director Paul Dyer was unavailable because he was ‘moving house’, according to the female voice answering the phone. Then the voice was unavailable — then the phone was disconnected. Paul Dyer and Fantasy had vanished, leaving huge unpaid debts behind. According to one programmer who is still owed his last salary, it was a real moonlight flit. Like many others, he has no idea where Paul Dyer has gone to ground. There are rumours that a new ‘Fantasy’ aims to rise from the ashes, probably with the near completed Super Pyramid game.
I hope not, Paul, I really hope not...
There is a prevalent feeling among many figures in this tormented business that more software houses will bite the dust this summer, but what is tending to happen is a swallowing of smaller individual companies into larger conglomerates. Britons like to think of themselves as individuals, so we frown on this, feeling (rightly so at times) that we will get less value for money from the giants, and that genius and talent will be strangled in favour of conformist marketing policies.
There is nothing new in this; it seems inevitable that all ‘new’ industries must start in back bedrooms and move to the conglomerate boardroom. If an industry is worth it, big money will move in. Competition increases, tougher marketing emerges, and the under-capitalised pioneer suffers. The benefits of programmers marketing their games through the larger software houses shouldn’t be overlooked though. The programmer is free to concentrate on what he does best while being linked to sufficient finance to market the game well, and at the same time is freed from the real headache of all companies — financial controls (a euphemism for ‘getting the sods to pay’ — the Mafia have one of the most effective systems, they break people’s knees).
I said that there’s nothing new in this — it happened in the music business (and has happened in publishing too) with independent labels being swallowed by the likes of CBS, EMI and Decca. Eventually talent and/or originality is stifled and the general public suffer until rebellious elements in the street put together an alternative music. It happened after the Beatles in the 60s and it happened again with Punk Rock in the 70s. It seems to be a cyclic event, and no doubt it will happen with the entertainment software business. There are too many talented games designers around for this industry to torment itself to death. All that’s occurring at the moment is a change of colours. It’s down to us as reviewers and players of games to ensure that the conglomerate software houses don’t get complacent with their product.