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Brøderbund Software, Inc.
Fate Acquired by The Learning Company
Successor The Learning Company
Founded 1980
Defunct 1998
Key people
  • Doug Carlston
  • Gary Carlston
  • Cathy Carlston Brisbois
  • Edmund Auer
Products Computer software and video games

Brøderbund Software, Inc. was an American maker of video games, educational software and productivity tools. Brøderbund is best known for the 8-bit computer game hits Choplifter, Lode Runner, Karateka, and Prince of Persia (all of which originated on the Apple II), as well as The Print Shop—originally for printing signs and banners on dot matrix printers—and the Myst and Carmen Sandiego games. The company was founded in Eugene, Oregon, and moved to San Rafael, California, then later to Novato, California.[1] Brøderbund was purchased by The Learning Company in 1998.

Many of Brøderbund's software titles, such as The Print Shop, PrintMaster and Mavis Beacon, are still published under the name "Brøderbund". Games released by the revived Brøderbund are distributed by Encore, Inc. Brøderbund is now the brand name for Riverdeep's graphic design, productivity, and edutainment titles such as The Print Shop, Carmen Sandiego, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, the Living Books series, and Reader Rabbit titles, in addition to publishing software for other companies, notably Zone Labs' ZoneAlarm.

They would often release school editions of their games, which contained extra features to allow teachers to use the software to facilitate students' learning.[2]

Corporate history[edit]

Brøderbund was founded by brothers Doug and Gary Carlston in 1980[3] for the purpose of marketing Galactic Empire,[4] a video game that Doug Carlston had created in 1979. Their sister, Cathy, joined the company a year later.[5] Before founding the company, Doug was a lawyer[5] and Gary had held a number of jobs, including teaching Swedish at an American college.[5] Galactic Empire had many names taken from African languages; a group of merchants was named Broederbond, Afrikaans for "association of brothers". To emphasize its family origin while avoiding a connection with the white-supremacist South African organization of the same name, the Carlstons altered the spelling when naming their company "Brøderbund".[6]

By early 1984 InfoWorld estimated that Brøderbund was tied with Human Engineered Software as the world's tenth-largest microcomputer-software company and largest entertainment-software company, with $13 million in 1983 sales.[7] That year it took over the assets of the well-regarded but financially troubled Synapse Software. Although intending to keep it running as a business, they were unable to make money from Synapse's products, and closed it down after a year.[8]

Brøderbund's The Print Shop software produced signs and greeting cards. Brøderbund started discussions with Unison World about creating a version that would run on DOS. The two companies could not agree on a contract, but Unison World developed a DOS product with similar function and a similar user interface. Brøderbund sued for infringement of their copyright. Broderbund v. Unison (1986) became a landmark case in establishing that the look and feel of a software product could be subject to copyright protection.[9]

Sierra On-Line and Brøderbund ended merger discussions in March 1991.[10] By this time Brøderbund was developing most of its software, as opposed to publishing software others had developed; Doug Carlston stated the company needed "to control our own sources, to control our future". After an unsuccessful Initial Public Offering in 1987,[11] it became a public company in November 1991;[12] its NASDAQ symbol was BROD.[13] When Brøderbund went public The Print Shop comprised 33% of total revenue, and the Carmen Sandiego series 26%.[14] The company's stock price and market capitalization climbed steadily to a maximum of nearly US$80/share in late 1995, and then fell steadily in the face of continued losses for a number of years.

Brøderbund acquired PC Globe in July 1992.[15] The Learning Company purchased Brøderbund in 1998 for about US$420 million in stock.[3] Brøderbund had initially attempted to purchase the original The Learning Company in 1995,[16][17] but was outbid by SoftKey, who purchased The Learning Company for $606 million in cash and then adopted its name. The Learning Company then bought Brøderbund in 1998 and in a move to rationalize costs, The Learning Company terminated 500 employees at Brøderbund the same year,[18] representing 42% of the company's workforce.

Doug Carlston explained that in a bid to roll up Brøderbund, The Learning Company utilised one of their previous acquisitions to weaken the company's stronghold over the industry. They allegedly gave a rebate to Mindscape's PrintMaster, a direct competitor to Brøderbund's Print Shop, that was more than the product was worth[19]

In 1999, the combined company was purchased by Mattel for $3.6 billion.[20] Mattel reeled from the financial impact of this transaction, and Jill E. Barad, the CEO, ended up being forced out in a climate of investor outrage.[21]

Mattel then gave away The Learning Company in September 2000 to Gores Technology Group, a private acquisitions firm, for a share of whatever Gores could obtain by selling the company. During this time, Brøderbund products were owned by The Learning Company Deutschland GmbH, located in Oberhaching, Germany. Headed by Jean-Pierre Nordmann, the company was a subsidiary of The Learning Company LLC, which itself was a wholly owned subsidiary of Gores Technology Group.[22] The company published games under two logos: Blue (Brøderbund) and Red (The Learning Company). The Brøderbund label was used for "high-quality infotainment, design and lifestyle titles such as Cosmopolitan My Style 2 and PrintMaster", while The Learning Company label was used for children's software.[23]

In 2001, Gores sold The Learning Company's entertainment holdings to Ubisoft, and most of the other holdings, including the Brøderbund name, to Irish company Riverdeep.[24] Many of Brøderbund's games, such as the Myst series, are published by Ubisoft.

The Brøderbund line of products is published by Encore, Inc under license from Riverdeep.[25][26] Under the terms of the agreement, Encore now manages the Brøderbund family of products as well as Brøderbund’s direct to consumer business. In May 2010 Encore acquired the assets of Punch! Software[27]

In 2014, Doug Carlston donated a collection of Brøderbund's business records, software and a collection of games that includes Myst, Prince of Persia and Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to The Strong National Museum of Play. The Strong National Museum of Play forwarded the collection to the ICHEG museum for preservation.[28]

As of 2017, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is offering the Brøderbund, The Print Shop, Calendar Creator, and ClickArt brands as licensing opportunities on its website.[29]


Brøderbund scored an early hit with the game Galactic Empire, written by Doug Carlston for the TRS-80. The company became a powerhouse in the educational and entertainment software markets with titles like Fantavision, Choplifter, Apple Panic, Lode Runner, Karateka, Wings of Fury, Prince of Persia, The Battle of Olympus, In the 1st Degree, The Last Express, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?, The Guardian Legend, and Myst, which stayed the highest grossing home video game for years. The company's first title for the Apple II, Tank Command, was written by the third Carlston brother, Professor Donal Carlston

Brøderbund was easily one of the most dominant publishers in the computer market of the 1980s, having released video games for virtually all major computer systems in the United States.[30] Like most early computer gaming developers, Brøderbund began as an Apple II-focused company and began expanding to other platforms as time went along. They released IBM PC ports of a few games very early on, however not until after 1985 would Brøderbund seriously develop for PC compatibles. Due to their strong focus on education titles, they were one of a few devs to actively support the Apple IIgs in the late 1980s. Some of the more popular Brøderbund titles were licensed to Japanese and European devs and ported to systems in those regions. During the 1990s, Brøderbund mostly concentrated on educational titles for PCs and Macintoshes with a few forays into RPGs and strategy games.

Brøderbund published the Print Shop series of desktop publishing making programs,[31] Family Tree Maker[32] (a genealogy program supported by hundreds of CDs of public genealogy data), 3D Home Architect,[33] a program for designing and visualizing family homes and Banner Mania, a program for designing and printing multi-page banners. By the end of the 1980s, games represented only a few percent of Brøderbund's annual sales, which by then were heavily focused in the productivity arena and early education and learning areas.

Just before being acquired by The Learning Company, Brøderbund spun off its Living Books series by forming a joint venture with Random House Publishing.[34] Despite the success and quality of the Living Books series, the joint venture was marginally successful and was dissolved with The Learning Company deal.

For a brief time, Brøderbund was involved in the video game console market when it published a few games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) through its New Ventures Division.[35] All of Brøderbund's games for the NES, including the port of its own franchises Lode Runner, Spelunker and Raid on Bungeling Bay, were developed by third-party Japanese companies. Brøderbund published some titles that were produced by companies that didn't have a North American subsidiary, such as Compile's The Guardian Legend, Imagineer's The Battle of Olympus, and Legacy of the Wizard, the fourth installment in Nihon Falcom's Dragon Slayer series. Brøderbund also developed and marketed an ill-fated motion sensitive NES controller device called the U-Force, which was operated without direct physical contact between the player and the device.[36] In 1990, Brøderbund sold its New Ventures Division, including manufacturing equipment, inventory, and assets, to then-fledgling company THQ.[35][37]

Brøderbund released in the United States Arsys Software's 1986 third-person action RPG shooter WiBArm,[38]

Brøderbund briefly had a board game division, which published Don Carlston's Personal Preference, along with several board game versions of its video games.

Etymology and pronunciation[edit]

The word "brøderbund" is not an actual word in any language but is a somewhat loose translation of "band of brothers" into a mixture of Danish, German, and Swedish.[39] The "ø" in "Brøderbund" was used partially as a play on the Norwegian/Danish letter ø but was mainly referencing the slashed zero found in mainframes, terminals and early personal computers.[40] The three crowns above the logo are also a reference to the lesser national coat of arms of Sweden.

The company's name was pronounced /ˈbrdərbʌnd/[41] instead of the popularly used /ˈbrdərbʌnd/.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "About Brøderbund." Brøderbund. April 12, 1997. Retrieved on June 3, 2011. "Brøderbund Software, Inc. 500 Redwood Blvd. Novato, California 94948"
  2. ^ "What's in a School Edition?". Archived from the original on 1997-02-19. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  3. ^ a b Pelline, Jeff (June 22, 1998). "The Learning Co. buys Brøderbund". CNET Networks. p. 1. Archived from the original on November 26, 2004. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  4. ^ "Company: Brøderbund Software". Computer History Museum. Archived from the original on 2009-03-12. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  5. ^ a b c Uston, Ken (September 1984). "A family affair; behind the scenes at Brøderbund". Creative Computing. 10 (9): 1. Archived from the original on 2009-12-04. 
  6. ^ Wilson, Johnny L. (November 1991). "A History of Computer Games". Computer Gaming World. p. 10. Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 18 November 2013. 
  7. ^ Caruso, Denise (1984-04-02). "Company Strategies Boomerang". InfoWorld. pp. 80–83. Archived from the original on 16 March 2015. Retrieved 10 February 2015. 
  8. ^ Hague, James, ed. (1997). "Steve Hales". Halcyon Days: Interviews with Classic Computer and Video Game Programmers. Dadgum. Archived from the original on 2014-05-27. Retrieved 2014-06-13. Synapse was owned by Brøderbund for another year while we tried to sell the Electronic Novels, but the market had already changed too much to make any money, so Brøderbund shut Synapse down. 
  9. ^ Galler, Bernard A. (1995). Software and Intellectual Property Protection: Copyright and Patent Issues for Computer and Legal Professionals. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 23. ISBN 0899309747. Archived from the original on 2014-07-14. 
  10. ^ "Inside the Industry". Computer Gaming World. June 1991. p. 62. Archived from the original on 3 December 2013. Retrieved 17 November 2013. 
  11. ^ Fisher, Lawrence M. (1991-07-09). "Software Star Hits the Media Road". The New York Times. pp. D7. Archived from the original on 12 August 2014. Retrieved 9 August 2014. 
  12. ^ "Brøderbund's Net Up 81%". New York Times. October 10, 1992. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 7, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  13. ^ "Brøderbund Software, Inc.". Business Week. 19 July 1997. Archived from the original on 24 December 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  14. ^ "The Print Shop Still Prints Money At Brøderbund Software". Computer Gaming World. February 1993. p. 82. Archived from the original on 2 July 2014. Retrieved 6 July 2014. 
  15. ^ "Brøderbund Purchases PC Globe". Computer Gaming World. October 1992. p. 16. Archived from the original on 2 July 2014. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Daly, Brenon (June 29, 1998). "The Learning Company buys Brøderbund 6-22-98". MarketWatch. Archived from the original on June 7, 2011. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  17. ^ Fisher, Lawrence (November 9, 1995). "Learning Accepts New Offer From Brøderbund Software". New York Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  18. ^ "Brøderbund Software". FundingUniverse. Archived from the original on 2008-10-20. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  19. ^
  20. ^ Malik, Om (1998-12-15). "The investing game". Forbes. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2008-12-05. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  21. ^ Doan, Amy (April 3, 2000). "Mattel To Ditch The Learning Company". Forbes. p. 1. Archived from the original on April 4, 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  22. ^, Verlag Gabriele Lechner, Agentur fuer neue Medien;. "TLC The Learning Company Firmenportrait". Archived from the original on 2001-11-07. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  23. ^, Verlag Gabriele Lechner, Agentur fuer neue Medien;. "TLC The Learning Company Firmenportrait". Archived from the original on 2001-11-07. Retrieved 2017-03-05. 
  24. ^ Norr, Henry (August 27, 2002). "Irish group buys Brøderbund software firm". San Francisco Chronicle. p. 1. Archived from the original on April 4, 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  25. ^ "Announcing the Release of Brøderbund's PrintMaster 2.0". Reuters (Press release). 2009-10-19. p. 1. Archived from the original on 2015-11-06. 
  26. ^ "Encore, Inc & Riverdeep Sign Expanded License Agreement". Press Release. Archived from the original on 2013-01-29. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  27. ^ "Encore, Inc. Acquires Punch! Software". Press Release. Archived from the original on 2013-01-29. Retrieved 2011-05-02. 
  28. ^ Tach, Dave (2014-03-04). "Brøderbund founder donates collection including Myst, Prince of Persia to Museum of Play". Archived from the original on 2014-06-12. Retrieved 2014-08-13. 
  29. ^ "Licensing Opportunities". Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Archived from the original on 2017-01-18. Retrieved 2017-01-17. 
  30. ^ "Brøderbund Company Information" Archived 2011-09-05 at the Wayback Machine., GameFAQs. Retrieved 2010-12-09.
  31. ^ Shannon, L.R. (September 14, 1993). "PERIPHERALS; For Desktop Advice, A Publishing Wizard". New York Times. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  32. ^ Biersdorfer, J.D. (May 13, 1999). "NEWS WATCH; Family Tree Maker Software Now Has 1.5 Billion Names". New York Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  33. ^ "COMPANY NEWS; BRODERBUND SHARES JUMP ON LATE EARNINGS REPORT". New York Times. June 23, 1994. p. 1. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  34. ^ Adelson, Andrea (September 11, 1993). "COMPANY NEWS; Random House Children's Books Headed for PC's". New York Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  35. ^ a b Carlsen, Clifford (1990-09-10). "Brøderbund Software Inc. jettisons Nintendo, games.". San Francisco Business Times (San Francisco, California). p. 1. 
  36. ^ Pollack, Andrew (January 9, 1989). "Trade Show's Hottest Item: The TV Set". New York Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  37. ^ Carlsen, Clifford (10 September 1990). "Brøderbund Software Inc. jettisons Nintendo, games. (THQ Inc. buys New Ventures division from Brøderbund)". San Francisco Business Times. Archived from the original on 27 January 2013. Retrieved 10 November 2012. 
  38. ^ Szczepaniak, John. "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier". Hardcore Gaming 101. p. 4. Archived from the original on 2011-01-13. Retrieved 2011-03-16.  Reprinted from "Retro Japanese Computers: Gaming's Final Frontier". Retro Gamer (67). 2009 
  39. ^ McLaughlin, Rus (May 30, 2008). "IGN Presents: The History of Prince of Persia". IGN. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 20, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-26. 
  40. ^ Bergen, Tim (November 19, 2004). "Oral History of Douglas Carlston" (PDF). Computer History Museum. p. 10. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 26, 2009. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 
  41. ^ Rifkin, Glenn (September 11, 1995). "Brøderbund Casts Itself as a Studio". New York Times. p. 1. Archived from the original on December 5, 2008. Retrieved 2008-11-27. 

External links[edit]