More from my 20 years in games…
Finally American Laser Games went into full Chapter 7 bankruptcy. This meant an auctioning off of everything in the company. Our original execs were no longer around and a New CEO was brought in to run the spin off company, Her Interactive. He was a former Microsoftie and seemed, at first, to be a really great guy. He flew down from Seattle, set up regular meetings with me and asked my opinion on how we should do things and how the products would be maintained.
At the same time we were being moved into smaller and smaller space. Finally.. with six months production left on Vampire Diaries, the 12 of us who were left in product development were all placed into what had formerly been the CEO’s office. Our desks were in two lines.. one behind the other, with barely enough room to squeeze into our seats. I was trying very hard to maintain the morale as the New CEO kept reassuring me that he had an angel investor who believed very strongly in our goals and our mission to produce quality games for girls and who was ready to start putting money into the company. Even so, having people in that close quarters was a powder keg waiting to go off. We had fights over who wanted to be next to who and who needed to take a shower, etc. It was awful.
Then, we were told by the New CEO that he had found office space for us. It was actually a pretty great place. Product Development was in one side of the building and our offices all had exterior windows and ringed a nice, central meeting area. On the other side of the building was the administrative staff, including an accountant, a marketing person, a PR person and an admin. The New CEO who continued to live in Seattle and fly in to Albuquerque every other week. However, slowly the admin side of things diminished as well until there was only the accountant left.
However, we continued to try to get the Vampire Diaires game out the door. We believe in it and loved it. Finally, we were ready to ship. The problem was, there was really no money to do anything. Only 5000 copies of the game were produced and I’m not sure what happened to most of them.
Incidentally, Vampire Diaries remains one of the top rated Adventure Games of all time (by fan based polls) and copies currently sell for upwards of $300 on Ebay!
So with Vampire Diaries out the door, we began negotiations on the Nancy Drew license. I was heavily involved in those negotiations and told our New CEO I thought Nancy Drew would be the crown jewel of girls licenses. He agreed and we did manage to negotiate the license. Our first titles were to be Secrets Can Kill and Stay Tuned for Danger. I did all the design on Secrets can Kill, but about this time the New CEO brought in two people from outside the industry to “help.” Now these two people had no game industry experience but were both former Microsofties as well. They immediately tried to impose Microsoft project management on us. This didn’t go over well as we were a small team who had been through hell and high water together. We got on well and were hitting our marks under the most adverse of situations. But these new people wanted to change things up. With the tremendous downsizing we’d had, it is no wonder we were sensitive to being told to change everything we were doing.
At the same time the New CEO was informing me that we had to lay off more people. He came down and sat me down and asked about my concept artist.
“Do you have enough work for him?”
“Full time?.. no. However I do have part time work for him. ”
Now, this artist happened to have a 13 yo daughter who had very recently had open heart surgery to correct a congenital defect. I knew she was having a very rough time with her medication and it was requiring nearly daily doctor visits. I explained this to the New CEO and asked him if we could, perhaps, move this artist to part time for three months and leave him his insurance to deal with his daughter until he could find more work.
The New CEO looked at me and said, “I didn’t need to know that, and neither do you. Just fire him. Today.” And then he left.
I probably should have left the company at that moment.