Toys for Bob
|Paul Reiche III (CEO, creative director)|
Number of employees
Toys for Bob Inc. is an American video game developer based in Novato, California. As the creators of the award-winning Star Control and Skylanders series, the studio was founded by Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford, and Terry Falls in 1989. The name of the company was created by Laurie Lessen-Reiche to stimulate curiosity, without referring to a specific person.
Reiche and Ford each attended the University of California, Berkeley in the late 1970s, before entering the video game industry in the early 1980s. Reiche and Ford later met through mutual friends in 1988, when Reiche was seeking a programmer to develop Star Control for Accolade. This led to the creation of their studio in 1989, and the debut of Star Control in 1990. The release was considered a landmark science fiction game, and led to the 1992 sequel Star Control II, which greatly expanded the series' story and scale. Star Control II is celebrated as one of the greatest games of all time, and is featured on several "best of" lists for music, writing, world design, and character design. Through the late 1990s, Toys for Bob developed several games for Crystal Dynamics, including The Horde, Pandemonium!, and The Unholy War. In the early 2000s, the studio transitioned to working on licensed games (particularly for The Walt Disney Company), and parted ways with Crystal Dynamics. Soon after, Activision became their new publisher, and eventually acquired the studio in 2005.
Toys for Bob created the Skylanders series when Activision merged with Vivendi Games and got the Spyro franchise. The developers at Toys for Bob had already been experimenting with toy-game interaction, and felt the technology would be ideal for Spyro's rich universe of characters. The 2011 release of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure was considered a technological and commercial breakthrough. This led to a spinoff series with several successful games, generating a billion dollars in revenue for Activision in the first 15 months, and winning several awards. In 2018, Toys for Bob assisted with the development of the modern re-makes of the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy and Spyro Reignited Trilogy.
Founding and name
Toys for Bob was founded by Paul Reiche III, Fred Ford, and Terry Falls. The name Toys for Bob was coined by Laurie Lessen-Reiche, the wife of Paul Reiche. It was chosen to stimulate curiosity and allude to founders Reiche and Ford's appreciation of real toys. According to Reiche, since people frequently asked who "Bob" was, he instructed everyone at the company to come up with their own Bob, and swear he is the only one, "to confuse people". Reiche and Ford's enterprise began as a partnership, before evolving into a division of Crystal Dynamics, a corporation, and eventually a studio within Activision.
Origins and Star Control success
Reiche and Ford separately attended the University of California, Berkeley, around the same time. Both entered the video game industry in the early 1980s. Ford started his career creating games for Japanese personal computers, before transitioning to more corporate work. After a few years working at graphics companies in Silicon Valley, Ford realized he missed working in the game industry. Meanwhile, Reiche had started his career working for Dungeons & Dragons publisher TSR, before developing PC games for Free Fall Associates. Reiche's producer at Free Fall took a new job at Accolade, and they helped Reiche secure a three-game agreement with the new publisher. At this point, Reiche needed a programmer-engineer and Ford was seeking a designer-artist, so their mutual friends set up a game night to re-introduce them. The game night was hosted at game designer Greg Johnson's house, and one of the friends who encouraged the get-together was fantasy artist Erol Otus.
Reiche and Ford's first collaboration was Star Control, released for MS-DOS in 1990. Originally called Starcon, the game began as an evolution of the concepts that Reiche first created in Archon: The Light and the Dark. Archon's strategic elements were adapted for Star Control into a space setting, with one-on-one ship combat inspired by the classic 1962 game Spacewar!. As Ford and Reiche's workflow as a team was developing, the game took on a more limited scope compared to the sequel. Upon its release, Star Control was voted the "Best Science Fiction Game" by Video Games and Computer Entertainment. Decades later, it is remembered as one of the greatest games of all time. The staff of Polygon stated that "[A]s a melee or strategic game, it helped define the idea that games can be malleable and dynamic and players can make an experience wholly their own."
The success of their first game led to a more ambitious sequel in Star Control II. Reiche and Ford aimed to go beyond ship combat to develop a "science fiction adventure role-playing game". Their goal of creating a dynamic space adventure was largely inspired by Starflight, created by Greg Johnson. A few years earlier, Reiche had been friends with Johnson. During the game's creation, Reiche was inspired to offer creative input for Johnson's expansive science fiction game. This friendship and mutual admiration led Reiche and Ford to hire Johnson for Star Control II. The duo later credited Johnson as one of the game's most significant contributors. Star Control's story and characters were vastly expanded from those of the first game. As Reiche and Ford worked on the first version of the game's dialog, they recognized they needed help with the writing and art and decided to enlist the help of friends and family. In addition to Johnson, they recruited long-time friend Erol Otus, who contributed music, text, art, and illustrations for the game's manual, and (later) voice-acting. Through mutual friends, they acquired the talents of famed fantasy artist George Barr. The project eventually ran over schedule, and the budget from publisher Accolade ran out. During the final months of development, Fred Ford supported the team financially.
Star Control II became regarded as one of the best games of all time by numerous publications in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s. It is also ranked among the best games in several specific areas, including: writing, world design, character design, and music. The game was an influence on the open-ended gameplay of Tim Cain's Fallout, the world design of Mass Effect, and the story events of Stellaris.
Development under Crystal Dynamics
After finishing a Star Control II port to the 3DO Interactive Multiplayer (with additional voice acting and game improvements), Accolade offered Ford and Reiche the same budget to produce a third game, which they turned down to pursue other projects. As the pair had retained the rights to their characters and stories from the first two games, they licensed their content to Accolade so that the publisher could create Star Control 3 without their involvement.
Around this time, Toys for Bob was operating with Paul Reiche, Fred Ford, and his brother Ken Ford, with freelancers hired for key tasks. The studio pitched their next game to Sega, but their contacts at the company had already left for Crystal Dynamics, which led Toys for Bob to secure a publishing agreement with them instead. This led to a series of games for Crystal Dynamics from 1993 to 2002. Their first game under the publisher was The Horde (1994), a full motion video action and strategy game. The video scenes aimed to take advantage of the Hollywood connections of Crystal Dynamics and the increased storage size of CD-ROM, hiring a cast of professional actors such as Martin Short and Kirk Cameron. The game received awards from Computer Gaming World, including Best Musical Score for Burke Trieschmann's music, as well as Best On Screen Performance for Michael Gregory's role as Kronus Maelor. By 1996, Toys for Bob released Pandemonium!, a 2.5D platform game for consoles.
In the lead-up to their 1998 game The Unholy War, Crystal Dynamics was acquired by Eidos Interactive. Unholy War combined a fighting game with a strategic meta-game. Once again Reiche's two-layered game design of Archon provided its inspiration. Reiche and Ford thought the gameplay could be re-purposed to work with a Japanese license such as SD Gundam, and Crystal Dynamics helped them get in touch with Bandai, who promised them an "even bigger license". Bandai ultimately had them produce Majokko Daisakusen: Little Witching Mischiefs based on a Japanese anime from the 1960s, with several characters based on the majokko character archetype. The choice of license came as a surprise to Toys for Bob, and the development process was fraught with translation challenges. Majokko Daisakusen was released exclusively in Japan, and Toys for Bob never learned how well the game performed.
In 2000, their next release was 102 Dalmatians: Puppies to the Rescue, another major license that was considered of a higher quality than a standard licensed game. Soon after the release, Crystal Dynamics decided to fire the entire Toys for Bob team, which led Toys for Bob to reform as an independent corporation. In 2002, the company announced that it was parting ways with Crystal Dynamics and Eidos Interactive, and would seek a new publisher.
Acquisition by Activision and Skylanders breakthrough
Soon after parting ways with Crystal Dynamics, Reiche and Ford released the source code for the 3DO version of Star Control II as open-source under the GNU General Public Licence (GPL), and enlisted the fan community to port it to modern operating systems. The result was the 2002 open source game The Ur-Quan Masters, released under a new title since the Star Control trademark was owned by Atari having been acquired from Accolade. An intern at Toys for Bob began porting the game to various modern operating systems, and the fan community continued the project with further support and modifications. Reiche and Ford retained the original copyrighted content within the first two Star Control games, while granting the fan-operated project a free, perpetual license to the Star Control II content and the Ur Quan Masters trademark.
Toys for Bob secured Activision as their new publisher, thanks to an introduction from former Toys for Bob staff who had had founded Shaba Games and been acquired by Activision. The publisher offered Toys for Bob the Disney license for Disney's Extreme Skate Adventure, which led to a 2003 game release. This successful relationship led to Toys for Bob being acquired by Activision in May 2005. The company became a wholly owned subsidiary, and the management team and employees signed long-term contracts under the new corporate structure. Working with Activision, Toys for Bob continued to focus on licensed video games, such as Madagascar. However, the market for these types of games began to dry up, in part due to the negative reputation created by other licensed games.
The company searched for new opportunities. One such idea came from Toys for Bob character designer I-Wei Huang, who had been creating toys and robots in his spare time. The company saw the potential to adopt these toys and character designs into a game, with technical engineer Robert Leyland applying his hobby in building electronics. Coincidentally, Activision merged with Vivendi Games in 2008, and asked Toys for Bob to create a new game around Vivendi's Spyro franchise. The team saw the potential for toy-game interaction and suggested to Activision that it would be ideal for Spyro's rich universe of characters. Activision CEO Bobby Kotick responded well to the idea, and gave the team an additional year of development to better refine the technology, the manufacturing process, and the gameplay.
This culminated in the 2011 release of Skylanders: Spyro's Adventure, which became a breakthrough success for the developer, their most notable game since Star Control. The next year, they followed up with the release of Skylanders: Giants, creating a franchise with a billion dollars in sales just 15 months after the release of the first game. These successes led Gamasutra to list Toys for Bob among their top developers for 2012, stating "we're not just impressed that Toys for Bob successfully pulled Skylanders off -- it sold massively, after all -- we're impressed by how ballsy it was to begin with". In the years that followed, Toys for Bob created several successful Skylanders video games, including Skylanders: Trap Team. Their last game in this series was Skylanders: Imaginators in 2016, when slower sales suggested that toys-to-life may have hit their peak. In late 2018, Toys for Bob donated hundreds of Skylanders toys to the Strong National Museum of Play, which planned to use it as an exhibit to document "one of the most significant game franchises of the last decade".
Toys for Bob continued their development for important licenses under Activision. They worked on a re-packaged Spyro Reignited Trilogy with updated sound and visuals, and its 2018 release was considered one of the best video game remakes of all time. Their latest project is Crash Bandicoot 4: It's About Time, which was released on October 2, 2020.
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Ford: I went to the Silicon Valley and I worked for some graphics companies. I did that for a few years, I was in the wilderness and eventually I said, why am I not doing something I like versus something I think I should be doing? And so the company I worked that, there was a couple of mutual friends, two people who grew up with Paul, they knew I wanted to leave and they knew Paul needed a partner and so they introduced us to each other. Alt URL Reiche: Yeah, we were going to a game night, board game night at Greg Johnson's house, and Greg's one of the designers of "Starflight" and "ToeJam & Earl" and "Orly Draw-Me-A-Story" and a ton of great games. Anyway, he had a regular game night at his house and so we sort of had a blind date there and decided, yeah, let's start working on this game.
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Since its release in 1992, Star Control 2 has been considered one of the best computer game ever developed, and for me, it remains my favorite CRPG of all time. You can see its influence in the open-endedness of Fallout and Arcanum, and I will always remember this game fondly.Alt URL
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