Kingsoft GmbH

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Kingsoft GmbH
Subsidiary
IndustryVideo game industry
FateDissolved
Founded1982; 36 years ago (1982) in Mulartshütte, Roetgen, West Germany
FounderFritz Schäfer
Defunct1995 (1995)
HeadquartersAachen, Germany
Area served
Germany
Key people
Fritz Schäfer (managing director; 1982–1995)
Number of employees
20 (1994)
ParentElectronic Arts GmbH (1995)

Kingsoft GmbH was a German video game company based in Aachen. The company was founded in 1982 by Fritz Schäfer out of his parents' house in Mulartshütte (Roetgen) to sell his chess simulation game Boss (later Grandmaster), which he developed the year before. Kingsoft expanded into third-party publishing in 1983, starting with Galaxy by Henrik Wening. Most of their games were released for computers developed by Commodore International, predominantly the Commodore 64 and Commodore 16, and were based on pre-existing titles for different platforms. Kingsoft moved to Aachen in 1987, and ceased publishing in favour of distribution in 1993. The company was acquired in March 1995 by Electronic Arts, who retired the Kingsoft name later that year.

History[edit]

Background and foundation (1978–1982)[edit]

Prior to founding Kingsoft, Fritz Schäfer was studying electrical engineering while working for a McDonald's restaurant in Aachen.[1] Using the money he earned at McDonald's, Schäfer acquired a used Commodore PET 2001 computer for a low price in 1978.[1] Initially, he considered reselling the computer, but stuck with it when he started creating small video games made in the BASIC programming language, and later taught himself to program in the assembler language.[1] In the early 1980s, chess computers had become popular in Germany, with such device being sold for prices ranging between several hundred and over a thousand Deutsche Mark (DM).[1] Schäfer, himself also a fan of chess, considered this market an opportunity to turn his PET into a chess computer through custom software, wherefore he, together with a friend, created the chess game Boss.[1] The game's development was originally meant to be a hobbyist project, which changed in 1981, when Commodore International released the VC-20, a new computer that used the same processor as the PET, the 6502, but was additionally capable of presenting high-resolution colour graphics.[1] For the VC-20, Commodore International had released several software modules, none of which covered a chess programme, wherefore Schäfer decided to create a VC-20 conversion of Boss, which he would try to sell.[1] To do so, Schäfer founded Kingsoft GmbH in 1982 from his parents' house in Mulartshütte, a district of Aachen's Roetgen suburb.[1]

Initial success with Boss (1982)[edit]

Kingsoft established a direct-to-customer distribution system, using Boss, priced at 900 DM, as their first commercial product.[1] Schäfer's mother handled customers ordering by phone, orders were processed per post, and a database was improvised using notes in a shoe cabinet.[1] Sales for Boss quickly gained traction and attracted a wide variety of customers, including computer scientist Konrad Zuse.[1] Parallelly to Kingsoft, Schäfer did minor external work for Düsseldorf-based software company Vobis, where he had a connection to his former shift supervisor from McDonald's, including the translation of computer manuals into English and representing the company on fairs.[1] At on one of such fairs, the 1982 Hobbytronic in Stuttgart, Schäfer spotted German chess grandmaster Theo Schuster dueling multiple chess computers simultaneously.[1] After being convinced by Vobis founder Theo Lieven, Schäfer asked the organisers of the event if Boss was allowed to co-compete against Schuster; as the organisers agreed, Schäfer quickly set up a VC-20 running the game.[1] Schuster took the chess computers seriously and was able to beat them with ease, but used a more foolhardy approach with Boss, which led him to almost losing the game and therefore calling for a draw.[1] The result proved as a success for Boss and would subsequently be used heavily in the game's advertising.[1]

Expansion into third-party publishing (1983–1987)[edit]

Following its success on the PET and VC-20, Boss was also being ported to the Commodore 64.[1] Meanwhile, Schäfer was discussing possible international distribution of the game with British distribution partners, who stated that the name "Boss" was negatively connotated in the English language.[1] Subsequently, Boss was renamed Grandmaster and started being licensed and sold internationally.[1] These deals served as the base for Kingsoft's success as a publisher; in 1983, the company published their first third-party-developed game, Galaxy, a clone of Galaga designed by Henrik Wening.[1] Kingsoft inserted advertisements reading "Programmierer gesucht" ("Programmers wanted") in German computer trade magazines, including Chip, to attract game submissions, as a result of which the company became a primary focal point for German game developers.[1] As Kingsoft did not have any internal development team, they worked with exclusively with third-party developers.[1] The company picked promising titles from the many titles it received, and bought the rights for these games in four- to five-digit transactions.[1] Distribution of Kingsoft games within Germany was handled by Kingsoft themselves, with Anirog distributing the games in Great Britain.[1] In 1984, Kingsoft released two further games developed by Wening: Zaga, based on Zaxxon, and Space-Pilot, based on Time Pilot.[1] Space-Pilot was received well by the British audience, and was followed onto with a less successful sequel, Space-Pilot 2, the following year.[1] Using profits generated from the company's publishing ventures, Kingsoft moved from Schäfer's parents' house to proper offices within Aachen.[1]

Ceasure of publishing activities and acquisition (1993–1995)[edit]

In 1993, Kingsoft ceased operations as a game publisher, and instead re-focused on game distribution only.[1] Parallelly, Schäfer founded game developer Ikarion Software GmbH.[1] As a distribution-focused company, Kingsoft became a possible acquisition target for companies seeking to distribute their games in Germany.[1] 1994 marked Kingsoft's last year as an independent company; that year, the company employed 20 staff members and generated revenues of DM 20 million.[1] On 8 March 1995, American game company Electronic Arts (EA) announced that they had acquired Kingsoft for an undisclosed sum.[2] Kingsoft became a subsidiary and the distribution centrefold of EA's existing operations in Germany, Electronic Arts GmbH, and would serve as EA's connection to German retailers and local marketplaces.[1][2] Other parties interested in purchasing Kingsoft included Rushware and MicroProse.[1] Later in 1995, EA retired the Kingsoft brand, and Schäfer left the company to focus on Ikarion.[1] He then left Ikarion in 1998, and Ikarion shut down in 2001.[1]

Schäfer briefly attempted to revive the Kingsoft name for Busy Bags, a casual game he was developing for the Android and iOS smartphone operating systems, but found that nobody at EA was willing to provide him with a definite answer regarding the rights to the name.[1] Schäfer instead settled for the company name "Shepps", a portmanteau of "Shepard" and "Apps", to release Busy Bags and future games.[1]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj ak Lenhardt, Heinrich (June–August 2014). "Die Firmenarchive: Kingsoft". Retro Gamer Germany (in German). No. 3/2014. eMedia. pp. 18–23.
  2. ^ a b Becker, Pat; Hughes, Caroline (8 March 1995). "Electronic Arts acquires distributor in Germany, Kingsoft GmbH". The Free Library.