|Sid Meier, Bill Stealey|
|Pirates! series, Silent Service series, Sid Meier's Civilization series, X-COM series,|
| Chipping Sodbury (1982-1996 as MicroProse Software) |
Alameda, California (1986-2001 as MicroProse)
MicroProse, as a corporation and brand name, has been owned by several entities since its original founding by Sid Meier and Bill Stealey in 1982, as MicroProse Software. It was based in Chipping Sodbury, UK until 1996 when Spectrum Holobyte fully assimilated the MicroProse brand, renaming itself MicroProse; Spectrum Holobyte's head office in Alameda, California now became MicroProse's head office
Founding of MicroProse Software
Founded in 1982 by Bill Stealey and Sid Meier, MicroProse Software, Inc. was primarily known as a publisher of flight, military simulation, and strategy titles for home computers, with titles such as Airborne Ranger, Pirates!, F-15 Strike Eagle, Gunship, Spitfire Ace, Hellcat Ace, Railroad Tycoon, and Sid Meier's Civilization.
MicroProse Software, in an attempt to diversify without changing their name, created two labels, MicroStyle in the UK, and MicroPlay in the US. This label released games like Rick Dangerous 2 (platform game), Stunt Car Racer (arcade racing) and Xenophobe (action/arcade).
Under Spectrum Holobyte
In 1993, MicroProse Software was acquired by Spectrum Holobyte, another video game company. Founder Bill Stealey was good friends with Spectrum HoloByte president Gilman Louie, and convinced Louie to help MicroProse as Stealey was afraid that some banks would not understand the company culture. That same year, the UK office of MicroProse closed two satellite offices in northern England, and disposed of over forty staff at its Chipping Sodbury head office.
In 1994, Bill Stealey departed MicroProse. Spectrum HoloByte agreed to buy out his shares. Bill Stealey went on to found Interactive Magic, another simulation software company.
Despite cuts, president Gilman Louie managed to line up several big name licenses, including Top Gun, Magic: The Gathering, Star Trek: The Next Generation, and later MechWarrior (part of the Battletech universe). Also, the UK import of UFO: Enemy Unknown, renamed as X-COM: UFO Defense, proved to be an unanticipated hit in 1994.
Spectrum HoloByte, however, was in trouble. It was trying to get Falcon 4.0 out the door ever since it pushed out Falcon 3.0 in 1991, and it had been delayed for many years.
In 1996, Spectrum HoloByte bought out Simtex, developer of Master of Orion and Master of Magic, among other MicroProse bestsellers. Simtex became MicroProse Texas, based in Austin, Texas. Both MicroProse and Spectrum HoloByte continued as separate brands until 1996. In 1996, Spectrum HoloByte, to reduce costs, started cutting a majority of the MicroProse staff.
Soon after Spectrum HoloByte had consolidated all of its titles under the MicroProse brand (essentially renaming itself MicroProse), Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs departed the company, forming a new one called Firaxis Games. In 1997, MicroProse released Star Trek Generations, where it met with poor reviews.
In a 2004 interview Jeff Brigs commented his decision to leave MicroProse:
- ""Civ II had just come out and MicroProse had been purchased by Spectrum Holobyte. [...] Things had gotten pretty bad. By that time I was director of product development and they were asking me to do things and tell people things that I just didn't like. I decided that I could do a lot better job running the company than they could, so I left."
Sid Meier and Jeff Briggs managed to convince Brian Reynolds, who designed Civilization II, to leave MicroProse and join Firaxis as well. A core group of disillusioned artists, designers and programmers left MicroProse UK to join Psygnosis, which opened an office in Stroud, UK, specifically to attract ex-MicroProse employees.
GT Interactive's $250 million cancelled offer
On October 5, 1997, GT Interactive announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire MicroProse for $250 million in stock, the deal had even been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of both companies. After the announcement MicroProse's stock price reached $7 a share. GT Interactive expected the deal to be completed by the end of that year.
But on December 5, 1997, the acquisition was cancelled, according to both CEOs "the time is simply not right" for the deal. MicroProse's stock plummeted to just $2.31 after the announcement of the deal's cancellation.
Legal dispute over the Civilization brand
In November 1997 MicroProse was sued by both Avalon Hill (who had the US publishing rights to the name Civilization) and Activision for copyright infringement. MicroProse responded by buying Hartland Trefoil, which had used the Civilization name in early game products and then sued Avalon Hill and Activision for trademark infringement and unfair business practices as a result of Activision's decision to develop and publish Civilization computer games. Because Hasbro was negotiating the acquisition of both Avalon Hill and MicroProse, the lawsuits were settled in July 1998. Under the terms of the settlement MicroProse became the sole owner of the rights of the name Civilization and Activision acquired a license to publish a Civilization computer game which was later called Civilization: Call to Power.
Under Hasbro Interactive
In preparation for its sale, in June 1998, MicroProse closed down its studio in Austin, Texas. As a result of the closure, 35 employees were laid off.
In August 14, 1998, Hasbro issued a cash tender offer to purchase all MicroProse's shares for $6 each. The deal was completed on September 14, Hasbro managed to buy 91% of MicroProse's shares and announced that MicroProse had become a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro. The remaining shares would also be acquired for $6 in cash.
In 1998, the MicroProse brand and related properties were acquired for USD$70 million in cash by Hasbro, who then merged it with Hasbro Interactive. At that time MicroProse's staff cost $20 million a year.
At the time of Hasbro's acquisition, MicroProse had 343 employees, including 135 at Alameda, CA. Besides the development studio in Alameda, MicroProse had three other studios: Hunt Valley, MD; Chapel Hill, NC; and Chipping Sodbury, England. In December 1999, Hasbro Interactive closed down former MicroProse studios in Alameda, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
In 1998, MicroProse finally managed to publish Falcon 4.0, before the Christmas shopping season. However, the initial release was plagued with bugs and the simulation of a real F-16 was so authentic — and thus complicated — that it intimidated most gamers, resulting in disappointing sales.
In January 2001, after French game publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA took over Hasbro Interactive for $100 million, MicroProse ceased to exist as a brand or company. Its latest title in the US, European Air War, was reissued with Infogrames' logo instead of the MicroProse logo. The last new game released with the MicroProse name was the UK version of Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4, in late 2002. Infogrames shut down the former MicroProse studio in Chipping Sodbury, United Kingdom in September 2002. Hasbro Interactive was renamed to Infogrames Interactive and then to Atari Interactive.
Infogrames intermittently used the Atari brand for selected titles before officially changing the U.S. subsidiary's name to Atari, Inc. in 2003. In November 2003, Atari, Inc. closed the last former MicroProse development studio in Hunt Valley, Maryland, which was MicroProse's original location. However, several game developers now exist in the area, including Firaxis Games and BreakAway Games, who all owe their origin to MicroProse.
Under the Interactive Game Group
In summer 2007 Interactive Game Group acquired the MicroProse brand from Atari Interactive, Inc, which filed for transfer of trademark protection on December 27, 2007. Interactive Game Group then shared a percentage of the MicroProse brand to I-Drs At in January 2008. Claims as to what titles and other intellectual properties were also acquired by the Interactive Game Group from Infogrames remain unverified, and the last verified owner of MicroProse properties is Infogrames. The Interactive Game Group then licensed the brand MicroProse to the Legacy Engineering Group, which used the license to form MicroProse Systems, a company that sold consumer electronics from February 2008 to the second half of 2008 when the partnership fell apart forcing the company MicroProse Systems to be rebranded as Legacy Consumer Electronics.
MicroProse's demise began in December 1999, when Hasbro Interactive closed down former MicroProse studios in Alameda, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Alameda, CA was headquarters for Spectrum HoloByte, and Chapel Hill, NC was the location of the flight simulation team.)
In January 2001, after French game publisher Infogrames Entertainment SA (IESA) took over Hasbro Interactive for $100 million, MicroProse ceased to exist. Its latest title in US, European Air War, was reissued with Infogrames logo instead of MicroProse logo.
Infogrames shut down the former MicroProse studio in Chipping Sodbury, United Kingdom in September 2002.
The last new game released with the MicroProse name was the UK version of Geoff Crammond's Grand Prix 4, in late 2002. In the 1990s MicroProse had a development studio in Chipping Sodbury UK, which commissioned many games from smaller UK developers, including Grand Prix and Transport Tycoon. The MicroProse name was preserved on GP4 in the UK due to the respect it held amongst fans of racing simulation games.
Legacy of MicroProse
Sid Meier, who now works at Firaxis Games, eventually got the rights to most of his games back under his control from Atari, Inc..
The rights to the Railroad Tycoon series were sold to PopTop Software, who went on to develop Railroad Tycoon II and Railroad Tycoon 3. Eventually, Poptop was acquired by Take Two Interactive, which later also acquired Firaxis Games as well, thus returning the rights to the series to Sid Meier. With this, he made a new game in the series, known as Sid Meier's Railroads!. Master of Orion 3 was developed by QuickSilver Software, and released under the Infogrames label, but met with horrendous reviews.
The rights to Falcon 4.0 were sold to GraphSim who developed Falcon 4.0: Allied Forces.
- Secinfo.com, Hasbro quarterly report for 9/27/98 from SEC Info
- MBA.tuck.dartmouth.edu, Hasbro Interactive study from Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth (PDF)
- Query.NYtimes.com, "Hasbro to Cut 20% of Its Jobs and Take $97 Million Charge", from The New York Times
- Gamasutra.com, "Hasbro Restructures" from Gamasutra NewsWire (December 7, 1999)
- Query.NYtimes.com "Company News; Hasbro Completes Sale of Interactive Business" from The New York Times
- Gamespot.com, "Infogrames closes UK MicroProse studio", from GameSpot
- Allgame.com ((( Atari Interactive, Inc. > Overview )))