Telecomsoft was the computer software division of British telecommunications company British Telecom (now BT). It was the owner of the well-known Firebird and Rainbird labels, under which it sold video games at a variety of price-points.
Telecomsoft was founded in 1984 when computer games were the fastest growing sector within the computer software market at the time.
Three publishing labels were initially established within Telecomsoft, each with its own specific marketing strategy, although some of them would later fragment to form a number of sub-labels. The Firebird label would be Telecomsoft's primary identity. Although initially set up to publish a range of budget titles, Firebird later evolved into a full price label. As a consequence the Silverbird label was formed to continue publishing the budget range. As the Atari ST and Amiga home computers grew in popularity, the Rainbird label was established to give the more complex 16-bit titles a unique brand identity, although it was also used to publish a number of high-profile 8-bit games and application software. In 1985 Telecomsoft opened the US operation which published product under a license scenario on IBM PC. Apple II and IIe, C64 as well as Atari and Amiga titles. The US operation was opened and led by Marten Davies who published the first UK product 'Elite' to the No1 spot on the Billboard charts in May 1986.
Telecomsoft was viable for only a short period of time and was acquired by MicroProse in 1989. The US-based publisher sold off the Silverbird label soon after the acquisition, but continued to use the Rainbird and Firebird labels for a short while before phasing them out.
Firebird was the first computer game label to be set up at Telecomsoft. It had earlier been named Firefly Software, but was then renamed by James Leavey, shortly after he arrived from mainstream BT to take over as the label's marketing and PR manager. Leavey did this because he found that the original name was not fully protected.
Two price points were initially established: Firebird Silver would release budget titles priced at £2.50 whereas Firebird Gold would release more prestigious titles at £5.95. The Firebird label was aimed squarely at a teenage market, hoping to entice young spenders to invest their pocket money in good quality, low-priced games rather than records and comics.
Although there were doubts as to whether or not the market could afford to sustain a range of budget titles, the Firebird Silver releases proved to be an instant success. The budget software market grew rapidly from that moment on as other publishers, such as Codemasters, decided to capitalise on the successful price points established by Firebird and their early rival Mastertronic.
Firebird Gold established itself just as well as its budget counterpart. Although the price point rose to £9.95, the label became synonymous with many classic 8-bit titles, such as Elite, Revs, Druid and The Sentinel.
Firebird's success allowed them to acquire a number of third party developers (see Telecomsoft acquisitions below) and they also established a deal with Ultimate Play The Game, whereby they would convert and publish a number of their successful ZX Spectrum games to the Commodore 64.
Firebird Silver briefly spawned a new Firebird Super Silver range in 1986. The following titles were sold at a price of £3.95 each:
|Game||For computer brand||Firebird catalog number|
|Willow Pattern||Commodore 64||309|
|Chickin Chase||Commodore 64||316|
|Fat Man Sam||BBC||321|
Later, the entire budget range was given an overhaul and relaunched as the single Firebird Silver £1.99 Range. Likewise, a new Firebird Hot label was established to reintroduce mid-price games back into the market. A final overhaul of the Firebird brand was conducted in late 1987 as the budget titles became rebranded as Silverbird and the mid to full-price games as Firebird. These brands remained in effect until MicroProse's acquisition of Telecomsoft in 1989.
Rather than attempt to juggle a number of potentially confusing budget labels with the same branding as their full price software, Telecomsoft decided to consolidate and rebrand their budget labels as a single Silverbird range. Two price points were established for 8-bit software (£1.99 and £2.99) while a few budget 16-bit titles were priced at £9.99. These various price points were differentiated between by their own particular style of packaging.
Rather than simply republish their existing range of budget software, Silverbird published a range of titles that hadn't previously been released at a budget price point. This included many original new titles as well older full-price titles acquired from other publishers.
Following MicroProse's acquisition of Telecomsoft, the US publisher sold off the Silverbird label to a Tudor Enterprises, a British publisher. They published a compilation pack of old Silverbird titles and a small number of original titles before closing down their software publishing operations.
The Rainbird label was established by Tony Rainbird, a former Micro-Gold employee who joined Telecomsoft to help set up the Firebird label. For legal reasons, the label's original name, Bluebird, had to be changed, although it still retained Tony Rainbird's original idea of releasing all its games in striking blue packaging.
The 16-bit home computer market, largely represented by the Atari ST and Amiga, was just beginning to take off in 1986 and the Rainbird label was an ideal opportunity to capitalise on it. Rather than concentrate on the more simplistic arcade action games that had dominated the 8-bit era, Rainbird aimed to introduce cutting edge simulators, adventure games and utilities to the full-price market.
Rainbird quickly forged a strong partnership with a number of developers who would produce their next range of high profile games. Magnetic Scrolls and Argonaut Software were amongst the first developers to benefit from a publishing deal with the label. Titles such as The Pawn and Starglider received unprecedented levels of critical acclaim and much attention outside the popular gaming media (a special version of the latter made it onto Get Fresh, a popular Saturday morning children's show in the UK, in a regular competition slot). Realtime Games, a successful ZX Spectrum developer who specialised in fast 3D action games, came on board to convert Starglider to the ZX Spectrum and would go on to develop the critically acclaimed Carrier Command for Rainbird. Mindware produced Tracker one of the first solid 3d / strategy games for the PC, Mac, Amiga and Atari ST.
The company republished enhanced versions of adventure games by Level 9 Computing, beginning with their Middle-earth trilogy: Colossal Adventure (itself an enhanced conversion of Adventure by Will Crowther and Don Woods), Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure, these last two featuring the Demon Lord Agaliarept. Rainbird published this sequence as Jewels of Darkness and references to Middle-earth were expunged. Rainbird also published Level 9's Silicon Dreams trilogy: Snowball was followed by Return to Eden and The Worm in Paradise. 1986's Knight Orc was another combined effort between the pair.
MicroProse continued to use the Rainbird label for a number of years, after its acquisition of Telecomsoft, before gradually phasing it out. Tony Rainbird left the company a short while earlier to set up a new company, Intermediates Ltd, which would go on to set up the popular Special Reserve mail order club.
One of Telecomsoft's earliest acquisitions was Beyond Software. Originally set up by the EMAP publishing group in 1983, Beyond published numerous titles on the ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64 and Amstrad CPC, but met with very little success until the release of Mike Singleton's Lords of Midnight in 1984. The Tolkien-esque strategy game became an instant success and allowed Beyond to establish a distribution deal with American developers First Star, as well as a publishing deal with C64 developer Denton Designs.
After being acquired by Telecomsoft in late 1985 for a six figure sum, Beyond continued to operate as a unique label, mostly releasing games that had already been in development for some time, as well as a number of conversions of existing titles. Telecomsoft did very little with the Beyond label beyond these releases. A number of high profile titles, such as Star Trek: The Rebel Universe ended up on the Firebird label, while a highly anticipated Mike Singleton project, Eye of the Moon, failed to materialise.
Odin Computer Graphics
- Fisher, Andrew (December 2013). "The Commodore 64 Games that Time Forgot". Retro Gamer (122) (Imagine Publishing). p. 55.
- Richard Hewison: Beyond. from: The Bird Sanctuary. Accessed on 2009-12-10
- The Bird Sanctuary - Memoirs of Telecomsoft
- MobyGames entry for Firebird/Rainbird/Silverbird
- Firebird Software at World of Spectrum
- Rainbird Software at World of Spectrum
- Silverbird Software at World of Spectrum