Ken Williams (game developer)

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Ken Williams
Sierra kenwilliams.jpg
Ken Williams (right) and Jim Henson, circa 1982
Born (1954-10-30) October 30, 1954 (age 59)
Occupation Game programmer, entrepreneur
Spouse(s) Roberta Williams

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.


Early years[edit]

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. In the early days of computing, Ken authored the textbook Apple II Computer Graphics.[1]

CEO of Sierra On-Line[edit]

Main article: Sierra On-Line

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.[2] 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, which it has since retired.[3]

In his role as Sierra's CEO, Williams was always seeking to lead innovations in the computer game industry. In a 1999 interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, he speaks about product development in the computer game industry and his role as a CEO: "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."[4]

In Sierra's later years, the company's focus had shifted to publishing many titles from other studios, including Valve's Half-Life. In their Half-Life feature, GameSpot refers to Williams as an "industry legend." 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."[5]

In a 2006 interview with Adventure Classic Gaming, Williams mentions two individuals who most influenced Sierra's business model: "There were two people that had a heavy influence on Sierra: Bill Gates and Walt Disney. 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."[6]

Recent years[edit]

Williams is no longer active in the computer-gaming industry; his current projects are limited to writing and managing a Web site construction tool called TalkSpot, where his goal is 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, KENSBLOG.

Trademarks, depictions[edit]

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.

Personal life[edit]

Ken married Roberta Williams at the age of 19 and they have two children.


External links[edit]