Ken Williams (game developer)
Ken Williams (right) and Jim Henson, circa 1982
|Born||October 30, 1954|
|Occupation||Game programmer, entrepreneur|
Ken Williams (born October 1954) is an American game programmer who co-founded On-Line Systems together with his wife Roberta Williams. On-Line Systems eventually became Sierra On-Line and was ultimately renamed Sierra Entertainment. The couple were leading figures in the development of graphical adventure games. At its height, Sierra employed nearly 1,000 people prior to its acquisition in 1996.
Williams was born in October 1954 and is from Simi Valley, California. Ken and Roberta's early contributions to the computer game industry were partially chronicled in the book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution. He wrote the textbook Apple II Computer Graphics, and articles for Softline.
Williams and wife Roberta co-founded On-Line Systems in 1979. Sierra's notable online service, the ImagiNation Network, was purchased by AT&T in 1994. Williams was the president of Sierra until the company was sold to CUC International in July 1996, but he remained with the company leading its strategic direction until November 1997. Vivendi (now Activision Blizzard after the Vivendi Games and Activision merger) currently holds the Sierra name.
In his role as Sierra's CEO, Williams focused on innovation: "I'm not sure how typical I am of other CEOs ...most of my time is spent looking at product ... To me, everything is about being able to build awesome product ... Any game which does not push the state of the art leaves an opportunity for a competitor's game to look better."
In Sierra's later years, the company's focus had shifted to publishing many titles from other studios, including Valve's Half-Life. Commenting on first-person shooters, Williams recalls, "By the time I decided we wanted into the genre, we were too far behind. With 20/20 hindsight, I blew it when I had the chance to buy id and didn't ... Valve was the first group I had spoken with that could put Sierra in front of id."
Williams has cited Microsoft and The Walt Disney Company as influencing Sierra's business model. "These two companies were our role models. I read every book written on both companies. I did everything to try to understand how they thought, and how they did business."
Williams is no longer active in the computer gaming industry. He focused on writing, and managing a Web site construction tool called Talkspot, which aimed to redefine how small business communicates with their customers on the Internet. He has published three books on boating, talking about his worldwide cruising along with his wife Roberta on their 68-foot trawler. In addition, he publishes a blog about cruising, Ken's Blog.
Williams's trademarks have been his mustache and hair. His appearance has inspired Sierra's designers for some sprites, honoring Williams with cameo appearances in some games. One of these "incarnations" is the chief Keneewauwau of the Nontoonyt natives and Williams, the annoying joke teller (both appearing in Leisure Suit Larry games), as well as a whipper of "scumsoft" in Space Quest III, and Kenny the Kid in Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist.
- Williams, Ken; Kernaghan, Bob; Kernaghan, Lisa; Paul Steffen, Gregory (1983). Apple II Computer Graphics. Bowie, MD: R.J. Brady Co. ISBN 0893033154. OCLC 9465136.
- Williams, Ken (September 1981). "Apple II Graphics: An Inside Look". Softline. p. 8. Retrieved 13 July 2014.
- Associated Press (1994). "AT&T Buys On-line Service, Opens New Communications Unit". Retrieved September 18, 2012.
- IGN Staff (2008). "Vivendi and Activision Complete Transaction to Create Activision Blizzard". Retrieved July 10, 2008.
- Morrissette, Jess (1999). "Ken Williams (1999 ACG Interview)". Retrieved September 18, 2012.
- Keighley, Geoffrey (1999). "GameSpot's The Final Hours of Half-Life". Retrieved September 18, 2012.
- Jong, Philip (2006). "Ken Williams (2006 ACG Interview)". Retrieved March 29, 2006.
- Ken's Blog
- Sierra gamers, Sierragamers.
- Official website
- Ken Williams on Facebook
- SierraGamers – Ken and Roberta Williams page
- Talkspot – Ken's latest company, Do it yourself websites and blogs (primarily targeting small business)
- October 17, 2005 interview with Ken Williams
- Ken & Roberta Williams Interview
- Ken Williams at MobyGames
- Ken Williams at the Internet Movie Database