|Todd Mark, Sylvia Schmitt|
Working Designs was an American video game publisher that specialized in the localization of Japanese role-playing video games, strategy video games and top-down shooters for various platforms. Though the company had published many 'cult hits', it was known best to fans as the long-time exclusive US publisher of the Lunar series. The company was one of the few game publishers that attempted to bridge the cultural gap between the Japanese and American video game industries during the 1990s with an eclectic selection of releases from various genres, and was also one of the earliest American publishers to make use of the CD-ROM format for full, spoken English dialogue in their products at a time when voice acting was not a common feature in most mainstream games.
Working Designs published games for the Sega CD and TurboGrafx-16/CD due to the appeal of the CD medium, instead of the more popular cartridge-based Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis. When the Sony PlayStation and Sega Saturn were released, Victor Ireland met with then-President of SCEA Bernie Stolar to discuss translating and publishing Sony's Japanese launch SRPG Arc the Lad. Stolar outright refused Ireland, saying that RPGs were not the future, and said that WD's games didn't help the Sega CD and TGCD. This sparked a feud between Ireland and Stolar, and Ireland resigned his company to making Sega Saturn games, as the Nintendo 64 was considered to be too expensive to consider publishing on.
Working Designs often changed postponed releases from upwards of a year or more. The final Sega Saturn game released in the US, Magic Knight Rayearth, was unintentionally delayed for over three years. When Sony let go of Stolar, and Sega hired him, Ireland finished up his Saturn projects and moved the company to the PlayStation, where they released the most single titles on a console (10 titles) in their history. The company finally managed to get the rights to Arc the Lad and its sequels, which Sony's new management insisted that they bundle together as one game. Ireland's feud with Stolar led them to ignore Sega's Dreamcast console in favor of the PlayStation 2, but friction with Sony's approval process was starting to cost Working Designs money.
However, Working Designs did not move to the Nintendo GameCube or Microsoft's Xbox system. Moreover, Ireland had been pursuing the rights to titles on both consoles, but kept finding himself outbid on the few titles that matched his company's skills. When asked why he passed on Lunar Legend for the Game Boy Advance, a title he already owned the right of first-refusal on, he said it was because the game was mediocre and because he still disliked the expense of publishing cartridges. He initially dismissed the Nintendo DS, saying that although production costs had come down significantly, the high wait times were still costly, and endorsed Sony's PlayStation Portable (PSP) and may have been pursuing titles for that handheld. Upon his company's demise, Ireland quietly withdrew his support of the PSP, and voiced his support for the Xbox 360.
Premium packaging and special editions
The company released some of their games with premium packaging for higher prices. They applied foil stamps and extensive artwork to their packaging and supplied games with full color manuals with anime artwork and concept art at a time when many game manuals for Western releases were in greyscale. Also, every manual came with a written letter, describing the translation process and procedure of their games, usually found on the last page of the manual. Every edition of these notes closed with the signature phrase, "We're nothing without you!"
PlayStation editions of Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete, Lunar: Eternal Blue Complete, and the Arc The Lad collection came with such accessories as hard-cover manuals, cloth maps, and omake boxes with cardboard stand-up figures, pendants, and other trinkets. Complete packages of these editions in mint condition have commanded high prices at auction.
The expensive packaging and the resulting higher prices have been cited[by whom?] as one of the reasons for the company's demise. Demand for the deluxe edition of the company's final game, Growlanser Generations greatly outstripped demand for the standard one. Victor Ireland has often stated that the company's demise was not due to the packaging, but rather it was because Sony insisted that games they deemed "inferior" be sold at a discount price, or bundled together. The extra profit Working Designs earned on the deluxe extras was not enough to offset the losses of time and money they incurred by selling two or more games for the price of one.
Due to a series of delays, approval snags, and sagging sales, Working Designs announced on December 12, 2005 that all existing staff had been laid off and the company was effectively defunct. Speculation on the reasons for why include the company's perceived inability or unwillingness to release games for non-Sony platforms since Magic Knight Rayearth for the Sega Saturn.
In a public statement posted on the message board hosted at Working Designs' official site, President Victor Ireland, though expressing much gratitude for strong core fan support over the years, stated that a series of complications related to the approval of upcoming games for the PlayStation 2 had created a loss of revenue from which the company would not be able to recover. Ireland however went on to express optimism that a possible publishing deal may occur in the future with the support of remaining WD staff, likely for Microsoft's latest platform, the Xbox 360. The statement ended by encouraging fans to contact Microsoft among other firms about their desire to see more titles like those which Working Designs had built its reputation on.
Release history (in alphabetical order)
TurboGrafx-16 & Turbo CD
- Albert Odyssey: Legend of Eldean
- Dragon Force
- Iron Storm
- Magic Knight Rayearth
- Sega Ages
- Shining Wisdom
- Arc the Lad Collection
- Elemental Gearbolt
- Lunar: Silver Star Story Complete
- Lunar 2: Eternal Blue Complete
- Silhouette Mirage
- Thunder Force V
- Vanguard Bandits