3 Companies That Died This Generation & Why You Should Care
With the new generation of consoles from Sony and Microsoft hitting store shelves in several weeks, we will undoubtedly be seeing lists of the “top” games of this console generation. As most award ceremonies dedicate a segment to remembering those who we lost, I felt it appropriate to remember three major game companies we lost during this generation.
Many of their game franchises will continue to live on under new publishers and studios, but is that really a good thing for the games industry?
If you were a gamer in the 1980’s or 1990’s and you saw a game with that iconic little yellow bee logo on it you knew you were in for a fun time.
Hudson leaves behind a legacy of Bomberman games on practically every gaming platform imaginable… but many will remember them for collaborating on the first 16-bit home console, the Turbografx-16. The Turbografx was not only powered by a CPU designed by Hudson; but also a large amount of the games on the system were design by Hudson… including the caveman mascot of the system, Bonk, and his futuristic robot cousin, Zonk. Of course they were also very prolific developers on other systems with the Adventure Island series and the original eight Mario Party games.
So what happened that led to the demise of a much loved Japanese developer?
In late 2000 the main bank that funded their development went bankrupt, which resulted in Hudson Soft being publicly traded on the Japanese stock market. Konami landed up becoming the largest shareholder in the company by the summer of 2001, but they would continue to self-publish as Hudson until their closure. In March 2012 all the branches of Hudson were officially dissolved into Konami, having already canceled games such as Bomberman 3DS and Bonk 3DS.
They made Ms. Pac-Man without permission. Ms. Pac-Man was not only a superior game to the original, it was also the first time seeing a female lead character in a video game - a decision that likely would not have ever come from an official Namco sequel
The entity that was Midway games was actually three companies… Midway, Bally, and Williams… and had a combined history of earliest arcade games and pinball machines. Midway left several lasting impressions on the gaming industry, two were specifically significant. When Pac-Man was released in American arcades it was distributed by Midway and became an incredibly successful game. Rather than wait on Namco to develop a Pac-Man sequel, they made Ms. Pac-Man without permission. Ms. Pac-Man was not only a superior game to the original, it was also the first time seeing a female lead character in a video game… a decision that likely would not have ever come from an official Namco sequel of the game.
The other legacy left behind by Midway can be seen clearly marked on every game package to this day thanks in large to their most popular game, Mortal Kombat. In the early 1990’s games that featured a large amount of “realistic” violence such as Mortal Kombat and Doom actually lead to congressional hearings on the corruption of society, which lead to the creation of the ESRB. The Genesis port of Mortal Kombat was the first Mature rated game with a rating of MA-13.
So with hit series like Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam… what happened?
The Mortal Kombat series had grown stale after transitioning into a 3D fighter that barely resembled the earlier games… and the trademark violence of the series was more of a novelty than a shock factor at that point. Trying to bank on the popularity of the Marvel vs Capcom franchise, they also attempted a Mortal Kombat vs DC Universe game that largely fell flat from being locked into a Teen rated game. Even with MK vs DCU being their highest selling game since 2002, it wasn’t enough to save Midway from the pit of debt it was in.
Poor leadership and a mass exodus of executives lead to the company to the chopping block in 2009.
Ironically Warner Bros had been pleased with MK vs DCU and bought out the Mortal Kombat team to form NetherRealm Studios. Even more ironic was the fact that NetherRealm Studios released the ninth Mortal Kombat game under Warner Bros; and the game was a huge success that could have possibly saved Midway from being liquidated. The west coast portion of Midway not purchased by WB was bought by THQ… speaking of THQ…
As a developer THQ is mostly remembered as a company that produced games based on licensed properties.
They started on the original NES with games based on Peter Pan, James Bond Jr., and Home Alone… and pretty much upheld the legacy that movie based games have to suck. They improved over the years with serviceable games licensed from Pixar movies and Nickelodeon TV shows as well as WWE and UFC licenses for an older audience. As a publisher THQ had several notable studios under their wing such as Vigil Games, Relic Entertainment, 5th Cell, and Volition, Inc. Volition in particular was a standout developer with the Red Faction series that introduced destructible environments in a FPS, and the Saints Row series, that really started to find its own voice in the third game after being considered mostly a GTA clone.
The bankruptcy of THQ was heavily reported on as each of their studios and properties were bought out by various companies.
The road to bankruptcy was paved with a couple of bad ideas
… or perhaps sketched out on the UDraw Gametablet peripheral for the Wii, PS3, and Xbox 360. Most of the studios under the THQ umbrella found new homes at Sega, Deep Silver, Crytek, and Nordic games, however in some cases an IP like Darksiders was purchased, but the studio that developed the series, Vigil Games, was closed. Saints Row 4 and Company of Heroes 2 have seen release under their new publishers and have done well.
So why should you care?
It’s never good to see a company that’s survived since the 8-bit days go under.
The failure of these companies serves as a cautionary tale to many other game companies, who will in turn take less risks… which means sticking to certain game types that are proven to sell, causing creativity to stagnate.
The fewer publishers/developers there are, the fewer choices you have as a gamer. Since Konami absorbed Hudson there has been no games released under the Hudson name or from the Hudson library of titles. Under Warner Bros, studios like 5th Cell and NetherRealm have been pushing out DC Comics related games like Injustice: Gods Among Us and Scribblenauts Unmasked.
The failure of these companies serves as a cautionary tale to many other game companies, who will in turn take less risks… which means sticking to certain game types that are proven to sell, causing creativity to stagnate. Perhaps studios should be reconsidering if they even need a publisher as Valve is now doing Steam Greenlight and next gen consoles will be allowing self-published games.
Most of all, we should just remember these now lost companies for what they contributed to video games as a whole… whether it be a guy in a grass skirt on a skateboard, fatalities, or giant purple dildo bats.