Bad News for Gamers

A former Microsoft employee explains why the recent purchase of Activision, which previously purchased Blizzard, is very bad news for gamers:

So. Question: You’re in a company filled to the brim with nerds. You have some big, impressive looking skybridges that are empty and not being used for anything in particular?

What do you do?

You fill them with classic arcade video games. Obviously. Or at least you line the sides with arcades (so there’s still plenty of room to use them as hallways).

Microsoft Main Campus. The arcade skybridges were in the buildings circled in blue.
That’s exactly what folks did.

We’re talking… maybe two dozen arcade games were in these hallways at any given time. All set to free-play, naturally.

Each game was brought in by employees who had their own personal collections. Often times because they spent more time at work (Microsoft was famous for 80 hour work weeks back then)… so bringing in some arcade games helped boost morale. Made the place feel that much more like a nerdy home.

It was this way… for years and years. The arcades graced the hallways of these buildings (and others on Microsoft Main Campus) long before my time.

File:Retrovolt Arcade 2017 – Arcade Machines 1.jpg
This is not a picture of the arcades at Microsoft HQ. I don’t have any of those, unfortunately. Source: Wikipedia
To be sure, these skybridges weren’t the only places that arcades could be found around Microsoft Main Campus. Many other buildings were known to have little clusters of arcades here and there. In this corner or that. But the skybridges filled with arcades were visually interesting. Simply… super cool.

Most of the arcades were in good working order. Some were project machines that needed a little TLC (and often got tinkered on, after hours, by some of the fellow nerds).

It was, honestly, pretty awesome. Very nerdy. A great morale booster.

Then, one day, Microsoft decided it was fed up with arcade games. An email was sent out to every building that was known to have them… that if they were not removed from Microsoft Main Campus promptly… they would be tossed out. Into the garbage….

Why do I bring this up?

Well. Microsoft just bought Activision. And, with it, Microsoft now owns some of the most important classic games in human history. Zork. Kings Quest. Space Quest. Pitfall! And so many others.

Games that are important not just to the history of gaming in general… but to those of us who were there as the video game industry grew up.

And… based on personal experience, when it comes to the preservation of classic video games… I don’t trust Microsoft as far as I can throw ‘em.

Maybe Microsoft has changed since those days. I sure hope so. But, honestly, there’s no reason to believe they have.

It’s probably a nightmare for gamers. Aside from the original Flight Simulator, Microsoft has never done games very well. Even my friend, the great game designer Chris Taylor, wasn’t able to work with them very successfully. That was one reason why I steered clear of them even after Alex St. John took Big Chilly and I out to dinner one night at the GDC in an attempt to get us to move from the Sega Katana (aka Dreamcast) to the Xbox.

The fact that Sega’s subsequent murder of Sega of America meant that accepting Microsoft’s offer would have been the right thing to do doesn’t change the fact that we were, even back in the day, extremely dubious of Microsoft’s ability to nurture game development. And the fact that Microsoft insiders share that skepticism does not bode well for the future of corporate gaming.

One of these days we are really going to have to bring together the collective game development talents of this community, from art to testing, and start producing on a truly revolutionary game. It should be possible, but the stars simply have not aligned yet.

As for Alex, well, the fate of the original Games Evangelist at Microsoft doesn’t tend to bode well either:

I’m sorry now that I stayed long enough to see what would become of it. I was trapped in the quandary of representing technology that was now being built by people I had no respect for, and feeling responsible for the enormous community of developers I had persuaded to adopt it. I stuck around after the re-org hoping to help the new guard become as customer focused as the old had been. It appeases my sense of guilt about all of this immensely to know that I died trying.