A Letter to Owen, Part 4
A woman contacted me on Facebook to tell me that she of a gift she was preparing for her grandson’s Bar Mitzvah. The boy is a very avid gamer, and she wanted to present him with a book of letters written by people who worked in the game industry. She asked me to make a contribution, and here is more of what I wrote.
As I sat in my apartment trying to figure out what to do next with my career, a programmer who had worked for me at Edu-Ware called me up to tell me that he had seen an advertisement from Disney looking for a “software development specialist”. I applied for the position, and after a job interview in which I was asked to name the Seven Dwarves; I was working for The Mouse.
It was a blast! I was making games based on films, television shows, and theme park attractions, and I got to make a lot of trips to the studio lot and Disneyland for “research”. Now, we weren’t actually making the games ourselves – we were what was called a “licensor.” That is, we licensed our characters and other properties to game publishers so that they could make games based on them. My job was to supply them with the reference material they needed, and to review the games they were making to make sure that they were representing the characters properly.
However, Disney soon realized that it could make more money if we were to make the games ourselves. So my job was to find game development companies to make the games for us, and I made sure that they were delivering the games on time, on budget, and with the quality we were expecting. In the game industry, we call this role a “game producer” and so my job title was changed to “associate producer”, which I liked a lot better than “software development specialist.”
We were very successful producing games. We made games based on Who Framed Roger Rabbit, DuckTales, Dick Tracy, and of course, Mickey and his friends. Of course, when you are successful, other people want to become involved in that success, and soon we found that every time we wanted to make a new game, we had to make what is called a “pitch” to a dozen business executives, very few of who knew anything about games. In order to show themselves as being important, they would come up with all sorts of objections whenever we made a game pitch. I tried everything I could to pitch new game ideas – including dressing up in costumes from Disneyland when trying to convince them to “green light” a game based on a theme park attractions – but nothing seemed to work. After six months of not being able to get a game green lit, I left the company.
But I wound up at someplace even better. As I said before, I was a big science fiction geek. It turned out that a small software publishing company called Cyberdreams that specialized in games developed in collaboration with famous people in science fiction, and they were looking for a producer. With my experience in working with licensed properties, I was soon hired for the job.
This was a dream come true. I traveled to Zurich, Switzerland to meet with the artist H.R. Giger, who is best known for designing the creature from the film Alien, and I made a game called Dark Seed based on his artwork. Even better was that I got to work with author Harlan Ellison to adapt his short story “I Have No Mouth, And I Must Scream” – which just happened to be my favorite short story of all time – into a computer game. That game went on to win all kinds of awards, but unfortunately Cyberdreams had the same problem that Electric Transit had – poor distribution – and so we didn’t sell as many copies as we thought we should have. And so after four years, Cyberdreams closed down its business, and I had to look for work again.