|Industry||Video game industry|
|Headquarters||Hunt Valley, Maryland, U.S. (MicroProse)
Alameda, California, U.S. (MicroProse Systems)
|Sid Meier and Bill Stealey (co-founders)
Jeff Briggs, Andy Hollis, Brian Reynolds, Sandy Petersen, Geoff Crammond (designers)
|Products||Video games, consumer electronics|
Interactive Game Group
MicroProse was an American video game publisher and developer founded by "Wild" Bill Stealey and Sid Meier in 1982 as MicroProse Software Inc. It developed and published numerous games, many of which are regarded as "groundbreaking", classics and cult titles, including starting the Civilization and X-COM series. Most of their internally developed titles were vehicle simulation and strategy games.
In 1993, the company lost most of their UK-based personnel and became a subsidiary of Spectrum HoloByte. Subsequent cuts and corporate policies led Sid Meier, Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds leaving and forming Firaxis Games in 1996, as MicroProse closed its ex-Simtex development studio in Austin, Texas. In 1998, following an unsuccessful buyout attempt by GT Interactive Software, the struggling MicroProse (Spectrum HoloByte) became a wholly owned subsidiary of Hasbro Interactive and its development studios in Alameda, California and Chapel Hill, North Carolina were closed the following year. In 2001, MicroProse ceased to exist as an entity and Hasbro Interactive sold the MicroProse intellectual properties to Infogrames Entertainment, SA. MicroProse UK's former main office in Chipping Sodbury was closed in 2002, followed by the company's former headquarters in Hunt Valley, Maryland in 2003.
The brand was revived in 2007 when Interactive Game Group acquired it from Atari Interactive, formerly Infogrames. The MicroProse brand was licensed to the Legacy Engineering Group for consumer electronics. As of 2010, the MicroProse brand is currently owned by Cybergun Group.
Independent company (1982–1993)
In summer 1982, mutual friends who knew of their shared interest in aviation arranged for retired military pilot Bill Stealey and computer programmer Sid Meier to meet in Las Vegas, Nevada. After Meier surprised Stealey by repeatedly defeating him when playing Red Baron, he explained that he had analyzed the game's programming to predict future actions and claimed that he could design a better home computer game in one week. Stealey promised to sell the game if Meier could develop it. Although Meier needed two months to produce Hellcat Ace, Stealey sold 50 copies in his first sales appointment and the game became the first product of their new company. They planned to name it Smugger's Software, but chose MicroProse. (In 1987 the company agreed to change its name to avoid confusion with MicroPro International, but MicroPro decided to rename itself after its WordStar word processor). MicroProse became profitable in its second month and had $10 million in sales by 1986.
MicroProse Software was at first primarily known as a developer and publisher of vehicle simulation games (Solo Flight, Spitfire Ace) and strategy video games (Kennedy Approach, NATO Commander) for 8-bit home computers. By 1987, Computer Gaming World considered MicroProse as one of the top five computer game companies, alongside Activision, Electronic Arts and Epyx. As the industry changed over to 16-bit and 32-bit CPUs in late 1980s, MicroProse started supporting IBM PC compatibles and Motorola 68000-based machines like the Amiga and Atari ST; by 1987 the PC market was, along with the Commodore 64, the company's top priority. MicroProse also started a branch in the United Kingdom to cross-publish titles in Europe, and to import some European titles to be published in the United States. Notable products from this period include simulation games F-15 Strike Eagle, F-19 Stealth Fighter, Gunship, Project Stealth Fighter, Red Storm Rising and Silent Service, and action-strategy games such as Sid Meier's Pirates! and Sword of the Samurai. Several games from different developers were also distributed by MicroProse under the labels "Firebird" and "Rainbird" (acquired after buying Telecomsoft in 1989), including Carrier Command, Midwinter and Savage.
In the early 1990s, MicroProse released the hit strategy games Sid Meier's Railroad Tycoon and Sid Meier's Civilization, designed by Meier and developed by its internal division, MPS Labs, on multiple platforms. Critically acclaimed, both of them quickly became two of the best-selling strategy games of all time and spawned multiple sequels. Some of MicroProse's simulation games from the 1980s received remakes in the early 1990s, such as Night Hawk: F-117A Stealth Fighter 2.0, Silent Service II and Gunship 2000, and made some first cautious attempts to expand into the console market with F-117A Stealth Fighter and Super Strike Eagle (MicroProse also ported several their titles to the 16- and 32-bit consoles during the mid-1990s). Brand new simulation and strategy titles included 1942: The Pacific Air War, Dogfight, Fields of Glory, Formula One Grand Prix, Harrier Jump Jet, Knights of the Sky, Starlord, Subwar 2050 and Task Force 1942.
At the same time, MicroProse attempted to diversify beyond its niche roots as a sim and strategy game company. Encouraged by the success of Pirates!, MicroProse designed further action-strategy titles such as Covert Action (also designed by Sid Meier) and Hyperspeed, and experimented with the role-playing genre by developing BloodNet and Darklands (in addition to publishing The Legacy: Realm of Terror). The company invested (and subsequently effectively lost) a large sum of money to create its arcade game division as well as their own graphic adventure game engine. However, the arcade division was canceled after making only two games: F-15 Strike Eagle: The Arcade Game and Battle of the Solar System (both of which featured high-end 3D graphics but failed to become popular as they were too different from existing machines), while the adventure game engine was used for just three games: Rex Nebular and the Cosmic Gender Bender, Return of the Phantom and Dragonsphere, before it was sold off to Sanctuary Woods.
In August 1991, MicroProse filed for an Initial Public Offering. The company hoped to raise $18 million to help repay debts from its unsuccessful arcade games. During the same period, MicroProse created two labels: MicroStyle (UK), and MicroPlay Software (US), using them for publishing a variety of externally developed games, such as Challenge of the Five Realms, Command HQ, Global Conquest, Elite Plus, Flames of Freedom, Rick Dangerous, Stunt Car Racer, Xenophobe and XF5700 Mantis. In 1992 MicroProse acquired Paragon Software. It also acquired Leeds-based flight simulation developer Vektor Grafix, which had already developed titles for them (such as B-17 Flying Fortress), turning it into a satellite development studio named MicroProse Leeds.
Under Spectrum HoloByte (1993–1998)
In December 1993, Following Black Wednesday in the UK, MicroProse Software Inc. merged with Spectrum HoloByte, another game company that specialized in simulation games, to form MicroProse Inc. Bill Stealey, who was good friends with Spectrum HoloByte president Gilman Louie, convinced Louie to help MicroProse as Stealey was afraid that some bank would not understand the company culture. MicroProse UK was forced to close its two satellite studios of MicroProse in northern England and dispose of over 40 staff at its Chipping Sodbury head office (Microprose Chipping Sodbury). A core group of artists, designers, and programmers left MicroProse UK to join Psygnosis, which opened an office in Stroud specifically to attract ex-MicroProse employees. In 1994, Stealey departed MicroProse and Spectrum HoloByte agreed to buy out his shares. Stealey went on to found an independent game company Interactive Magic (also specializing in vehicle simulators and strategy games), while Andy Hollis departed for Origin Systems, and Sandy Petersen joined id Software.
Despite cuts, Spectrum Holobyte managed to line up several big name licenses, including Top Gun (Top Gun: Fire At Will), Magic: The Gathering (Magic: The Gathering), Star Trek: The Next Generation (A Final Unity, Birth of the Federation, Klingon Honor Guard) and MechWarrior (MechCommander, MechWarrior 3). Strategy game UFO: Enemy Unknown (X-COM: UFO Defense) proved to be an unanticipated hit in 1994, spawning multiple sequels. In 1996, Spectrum HoloByte/MicroProse bought out Simtex, earlier a developer of MicroProse-published bestsellers Master of Orion and Master of Magic. Simtex was re-branded as MicroProse Texas (Master of Orion II: Battle at Antares), based in Austin, Texas. Other MicroProse developed and/or published games during that period included 7th Legion, Addiction Pinball, AEGIS: Guardian of the Fleet, Civilization II, Dark Earth, F-15 Strike Eagle III, Fleet Defender, Grand Prix 2, Pizza Tycoon, Sid Meier's Colonization, Tinhead, Transport Tycoon, Ultimate Race Pro, X-COM: Apocalypse, X-COM: Interceptor and X-COM: Terror from the Deep. Insufficient financial resources largely prevented MicroProse from developing games for other game platforms, therefore MicroProse concentrated on the PC game market.
MicroProse Software continued as separate subsidiary company under Spectrum HoloByte until 1996. That year, Spectrum HoloByte started cutting a majority of the MicroProse staff to reduce costs. Soon after, it consolidated all of its titles under the MicroProse brand (essentially renaming itself MicroProse). MicroProse's remaining co-founder Sid Meier, along with Jeff Briggs and Brian Reynolds, departed the company after the staff cut, forming a new company named Firaxis Games.
On October 5, 1997, GT Interactive Software announced that it had signed a definitive agreement to acquire MicroProse for $250 million in stock, the deal had even been unanimously approved by the Board of Directors of both companies. After the announcement MicroProse's stock price reached $7 a share. GT Interactive expected the deal to be completed by the end of that year. But the acquisition was cancelled on December 5, as according to both CEOs "the time is simply not right" for the deal. MicroProse's stock plummeted to just $2.31 after the announcement of the deal's cancellation. According to Computer Gaming World, the merger was annulled due to a "fundamental" disagreement over how the joint company would be writing off its research and development costs, as MicroProse insisted to keep their method of paying off the developer immediately.
In November 1997, MicroProse was sued by both Avalon Hill (who had the U.S. publishing rights to the name Civilization) and Activision for copyright infringement. MicroProse responded by buying Hartland Trefoil, which was the original designer and manufacturer of the Civilization board game, and then sued Avalon Hill and Activision for trademark infringement and unfair business practices as a result of Activision's decision to develop and publish Civilization video games. Because Hasbro was negotiating the acquisition of both Avalon Hill and MicroProse, the lawsuits were settled in July 1998. Under the terms of the settlement MicroProse became the sole owner of the rights of the name Civilization and Activision acquired a license to publish a Civilization video game which was later titled Civilization: Call to Power.
Under Hasbro Interactive (1998–2001)
In preparation for its sale, MicroProse closed down its studio in Austin in June 1998; as a result of the closure, 35 employees lost their jobs. On August 14, 1998, Hasbro issued a $70 million cash tender offer to purchase all MicroProse's shares for $6 each. This deal was completed on September 14, when Hasbro bought 91% of MicroProse's shares and announced that MicroProse had become a wholly owned subsidiary. The remaining shares would also be acquired for $6 in cash. MicroProse was merged with Hasbro Interactive. At the time of Hasbro's acquisition, MicroProse had 343 employees, including 135 at Alameda, California (MicroProse Alameda), with a total operating cost of $20 million per year. Besides the development studio in Alameda, MicroProse had three other studios: Hunt Valley, Maryland (Microprose, Hunt Valley); Chapel Hill, North Carolina; and Chipping Sodbury, England.
In December 1998, MicroProse finally managed to publish Falcon 4.0 (in development by Spectrum HoloByte since 1992), to disappointing sales. In December 1999, Hasbro Interactive closed down former MicroProse studios in Alameda and Chapel Hill. Among titles in development that got canceled during that period was X-COM: Genesis. The last MicroProse developed game under Hasbro, B-17 Flying Fortress: The Mighty 8th, was published in 2000.
Under Infogrames (2001–2003)
In January 2001, after French game publisher Infogrames Entertainment, SA (IESA) took over Hasbro Interactive for $100 million, MicroProse ceased to exist and the long development of X-COM: Alliance was finally aborted. Its latest title in the U.S., European Air War, was reissued with Infogrames' logo instead of the MicroProse logo. The final game published with the MicroProse name was the UK version of Grand Prix 4, released in late 2002. Infogrames shut down the former MicroProse studio in Chipping Sodbury in September 2002. Hasbro Interactive was renamed to Infogrames Interactive and then to Atari Interactive.
Infogrames intermittently used the Atari name as a brand name for selected titles before officially changing the U.S. subsidiary's name to Atari, Inc. in 2003. In November 2003, Atari Inc. closed the last former MicroProse development studio in Hunt Valley, which was MicroProse's original location and had just completed work on Dungeons & Dragons: Heroes. However, several game developers now exist in the area, including Firaxis Games and BreakAway Games, who all owe their origin to MicroProse.
Some of the most notable (best-selling, critically acclaimed and/or regarded as revolutionary) games by MicroProse include Civilization (1991), Civilization II (1996), Darklands (1992), F-15 Strike Eagle (1985), F-19 Stealth Fighter (1988), Formula One Grand Prix (1992), Gunship (1986), M1 Tank Platoon (1989), Master of Magic (1994), Master of Orion (1993), Master of Orion II (1996), Midwinter (1989), Pirates! (1987), Project Stealth Fighter (1987), Railroad Tycoon (1990), Red Storm Rising (1988), Silent Service (1985), and UFO: Enemy Unknown (1994).
Sid Meier, who now works at Firaxis Games, eventually got the rights of most of his games back under his control from Atari Inc. Railroad Tycoon series rights was sold to PopTop Software, who developed Railroad Tycoon II and Railroad Tycoon 3. Eventually, Poptop was acquired by Take-Two Interactive, which later also acquired Firaxis as well, thus returning the rights to the series to Meier, resulting in Sid Meier's Railroads!, released by Take-Two's 2K Games along with a new Sid Meier's Pirates! and the new Civilization games, including Sid Meier's Civilization III, Sid Meier's Civilization IV, Sid Meier's Civilization V, Sid Meier's Civilization IV: Colonization and Sid Meier's Civilization Revolution. Firaxis Games also developed the X-COM series' reboot XCOM: Enemy Unknown, which was followed by 2K Marin's spin-off The Bureau: XCOM Declassified.
Brand name for Interactive Game Group
In 2007, Interactive Game Group acquired the MicroProse brand from Atari Interactive Inc, which filed for transfer of trademark protection on December 27, 2007. Interactive Game Group then shared a percentage of the MicroProse brand to I-Drs At in January 2008. Claims as to what titles and other intellectual properties were also acquired by the Interactive Game Group from Infogrames remain unverified, and the last verified owner of MicroProse properties is Infogrames.
The Interactive Game Group also licensed the MicroProse brand to the Legacy Engineering Group (LEG), which used the license to form subsidiaries called Microprose Systems and Microprose Consumer Electronics Division, selling consumer electronics from February 2008 to the second half of 2008. In October 2008, the licensing agreement between LEG and Frederic Chesnais, owner of Interactive Game Group, was discontinued, forcing LEG to rebrand its subsidiaries to Legacy Consumer Electronics.
In 2010, the Cybergun Group, manufacturer of airsoft gun products, merged with Interactive Game Group and MicroProse, giving them access to officially licensed weapons. As of 2012[update], the name is used by a video game studio Microprose (with no capital "P" in the name).
As it can be seen from the table above, MicroProse's revenue performance varied according to game releases. The release in February 1996 of Civilization II is one of the factor that weighed positively on 1997's financial result, that year revenues rose 68% to $100 million. MicroProse recognized that deficiency, the Annual Report of 1998 informed:
- "The Company depends on both the timely introduction of successful new products or sequels to existing products to replace declining revenue from older products. [...] If for any reason revenue from new products or other activities fails to replace declining revenue from existing products, or if revenue from back-catalog titles declines significantly, the Company's operating results may be adversely affected."
That is why MicroProse's revenue varied so wildly, and in order to grow stably an ever increasing number of major game titles would have to be released in a timely basis and just maintaining revenues on the level of the previous year was a challenge.
|Net income (loss)||$−4.0||$−58.4||$−18.0||$−39.8||$7.9||$−33.1|
MicroProse lost $145 million between the years 1993 and 1998. The incapacity of MicroProse to operate profitably explains why the company could not stay as an independent one for much longer and sought acquisition from GT Interactive and Hasbro Interactive. In addition, MicroProse's over-dependence on new releases for both profits and revenues helps explain why MicroProse's market value went from $250 million in October 1997 to just $70 million 10 months later. In the first quarter of 1999, MicroProse posted revenues of $12.1 million and net losses of $7.8 million.
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