A Brief History of Game Companies Taking Over – And Neglecting – Defunct Companies’ IP


B
y: Chris Hodges, editor-in-chief
When a major game company goes under, their old intellectual properties tend to get bought up by other companies. And while that occasionally results in those IP continuing on successfully, more often than not, the new rights holders just can’t seem to figure out how to keep those franchises going successfully–if they even bother trying at all. Here are a few examples of some of the bigger game companies that have gone under, and how the majority of their games and characters died right along with them.

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logo_midway_games

Midway played a huge role in video game history, both in its pioneering Golden Age arcade classics–Defender, Joust, Robotron, Ms. Pac-Man, Spy Hunter–and through its major renaissance in the 1990s–Mortal Kombat, NBA Jam, NFL Blitz, Cruis’n, Hydro Thunder. However, the video game industry is tough, and it often doesn’t care how Defendermany classics you’ve contributed to it or how many multi-million-selling properties are under your umbrella; it only takes a couple of rough years for you to be facing shuttered doors. Which is what happened to Midway in 2009, after being in business for 51 years (and the video game business specifically for 36), where earlier in the decade it was still one of the top 5 best-selling video game publishers in the U.S. Warner Bros. Interactive bought up most of the company’s IP, but beyond a very successful relaunch of Mortal Kombat in 2011 has done almost nothing with the majority of Midway’s properties. And considering the success of that series as well as their Batman Arkham games, I wouldn’t expect WB to bother reviving too many other Midway properties anytime soon. EA, who at that point owned–and still own–the exclusives rights to any and all NFL-based video games, snapped up the rights to NFL Blitz and have so far released just one new entry in 2012. NBA Jam, though originally a Midway property, had since been taken over by Acclaim…and we’ll be getting to them soon.

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Acclaim_logo

Acclaim open its doors in 1987 and initially established itself primarily as a publisher of other company’s arcade games as well as localizing other companies’ games from Japan. This business plan would prove very successful for them as they scored the home console rights to such massive arcade hits as Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, as well as being the American publisher of popular games like Double Dragon and Bust-A-Move (Puzzle Bobble). At various points, they had the rights to make games based on popular licenses such as The Simpsons, Spider-Man, and South Park. Acclaim also began a very successful relationship with the WWE in 1988 that resulted in a number of popular Turok 2wrestling games for many years. They used this surplus of cash to commission the developers they owned to begin creating original content around the middle of the 90’s and through the beginning of the 2000’s, which resulted in Turok, NFL Quarterback Club, Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, Forsaken, and Extreme-G Racing, among others. However, a number of major blows–losing the NFL license to EA, losing the WWE license to THQ, the ill-advised decision to turn Dave Mirra into the nudity- and profanity-filled BMX XXX, the flagging popularity in arcades which meant fewer home port possibilities, and their inability to maintain the quality of their Turok series – led to Acclaim filing for bankruptcy in 2004. At that point, Acclaim had long since lost most of the licenses it had held, leaving only their relatively small number of original IP looking for a home. EA picked up NBA Jam, which Acclaim still held home rights to, and has made two new entries in the series. Most of Acclaim’s games were bought by a company called Throwback Entertainment in 2006, but as of this writing they haven’t released any new titles based on any of those properties. Propaganda Games snatched up Turok, and released a poorly-received reboot in 2008. It did sell well enough to begin production on a sequel, but that was eventually canceled. All is not lost for Turok, though: Night Dive, a developer who specializes in creating modern ports of classic games and has already done so for System Shock 2 among others, is currently working on bringing a remade version of the original Turok: Dinosaur Hunter to PC later this year. It’s not a new Turok game, but it’s still an instance–currently the only instance–of Acclaim’s legacy not being completely left in the past.

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Hudson_logo

Hudson Soft began as a small shop in Japan that sold electronics equipment, and as they transitioned into selling computer software, they decided to try creating some of their own. Before long, the company had created such iconic games as Bomberman, Adventure Island, and Star Soldier, as well as being trusted by Nintendo to port some of their Famicom games to the PC-88 computer. Hudson was so popular and successful that along with NEC they launched their own console–the PC-Engine/TurboGrafx-16–in 1987 (1989 in the U.S.), for which it created another of its most well-known properties: Bonk. While that system proved not to be a lasting success, Hudson persevered, continuing Saturn Bombermanto create games for other systems and companies, most notably creating the Mario Party series for Nintendo and developing its first eight installments. However, things began to fall apart in the mid-2000’s, with many of Hudson’s key figures–including its own co-founder–leaving the company following a few lean financial quarters. Many of them eventually moved to Nintendo’s new Nd Cube team, who took over the Mario Party franchise from Hudson beginning with part 9. Konami, with whom Hudson also had a long relationship, had begun buying shares in the fledgling company when it entered the stock market in 2000, and in 2005 finally became the majority shareholder. In 2011, Hudson became a wholly owned subsidiary of the company, with Hudson Soft officially ceasing to exist as a company the following year, though it was said that any Hudson games would still be branded as such. There wasn’t much of a chance to test that promise, as Konami never did anything significant with any of Hudson’s IP, even canceling the planned Bonk reboot that had already been in development. With Konami itself now having an uncertain future in the video game world just in regards to its own propertiers, the future of Hudson’s franchises seems pretty bleak, with the possible exception of Bomberman who was most recently seen in last year’s Bomberman: Chains (essentially just another Bejeweled clone). So, yeah, bleak indeed.

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Eidos_logo

After spending its first few years in existence as a tech company developing full motion video compression techniques, Eidos toyed with video games by way of a couple of sports games before reaching meteoric success when they published Core Design’s Tomb Raider in 1996. They quickly became one of the most prolific publishers of the era, publishing over 50 games worldwide by the end of the decade and into the next including such other high-profile games as John Romero’s Daikatana, Warren Spector’s Deus Ex and Thief, David Cage’s Omikron: The Nomad Soul, and the PC versions of Final Fantasy VII and VIII. Eidos also eventually took over the rights to several other well-known series from other publishers, including Gex and Legacy of Kain. Coupled with additional other successful franchises the company would go on to launch, including Hitman, Just Cause, Fear Effect and Kane & Lynch, and the company seemed unstoppable. Well as I said in the intro, the video game industry has a short Deus Ex Invisible Warmemory and even shorter tolerance for weak fiscal years and under-performing sequels, and the once mighty Eidos soon found itself needing to cut back in order to balance out its finances. Even after drastically reducing its output, it still needed help, and in 2009 Square Enix stepped in and offered that help by way of a $100+ million buyout. Much like the Konami/Hudson deal, Square initially said it would let Eidos continue to publish games under its own brand, but it soon abandoned that promise, with all Eidos games now being released with Square Enix listed as the publisher (which makes Eidos technically defunct as a publisher, thus still qualifying them for this list). Compared to the other companies in this feature, Square has actually done a comparatively respectable job honoring Eidos’ portfolio, with the Tomb Raider, Hitman, Deus Ex, Theif, and Just Cause series all remaining active since the buyout, some with multiple installments. Still, it’s hard not to remember just how many other franchises Eidos has and not think about the potential for many more of them to be revived. This thought, combined with Square’s renewed focus on its own Final Fantasy, Kingdom Hearts, and Dragon Quest franchises, makes one wonder if this initial burst of Eidos output isn’t going to slow in the coming years. Time will tell, but I’m not too optimistic that, in the not-too-distant future, Lara Croft isn’t going to be the only adopted Eidos child left standing at Square Enix among their own preferred flesh and blood offspring.

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