News: Iconic Indie Game Publisher Interplay Struggles to Make a Comeback

Iconic Indie Game Publisher Interplay Struggles to Make a Comeback

For more than a decade, Interplay was arguably the best video game publisher in America. Their list of games is a who's-who of the most creative and forward thinking games of the '90s, including everything fromOut of This World to Alone in the Dark to Earthworm Jim to Descent. They've been around since 1983, but have fallen on hard times since 1997, when they became a public company. They were acquired by a French publisher who then went bankrupt. They were forced to close their internal development studios, and seemed to disappear, closing their last office in 2004. 

It was a sad day for tasteful gamers all over the world. One of the best outlets for outlandish and groundbreaking games was seemingly closed forever, like so many of the great old studios who allowed themselves to be bought by companies that didn't have their best interests at heart.

Giant: Citizen Kabuto, one of the last and most inventive of Interplay's golden age.

But in reality, Interplay wasn't gone completely. It was in fiscal and legal purgatory.

Some personnel stuck together in an effort to sell IP in order to settle their extensive debt obligations, and perhaps even one day make games again. In 2007, they achieved their first two goals by selling the Fallout IP, one of the most revered games in PC gaming at the time, to Fallout 3/Fallout New Vegas creators Bethesda Softworks for $5.75 million while retaining a license to use the IP for making an MMO. For the first time in nearly a decade, Interplay seemed to be free of debt, legal issues, and ready to potentially start doing what they do best.

Over the ensuing four years they've launched a new website and announced a long series of planned sequels to some of their most popular IP's, including Earthworm Jim and Battle Chess after winning a lawsuit against German publisher Topware over the franchise's name. The only games to materialize have been re-releases of Earthworm Jim and MDK 2, but what fans are really excited for is the Fallout MMO, which reportedly involves several prominent members of the Black Isle Studios team that made the original two games in the series.

A speedrun of perhaps the greatest PC RPG ever made: Fallout 2.

Unfortunately, Interplay's financial and legal problems have continued. A May 2011 SEC filing by the company warned that they had no line of credit, an operating budget of $3,000, and were on the verge of bankruptcy unless they could take on new capital. That isn't entirely surprising given how much time and money they've had to spend in court over the game that has the greatest chance of redeeming them: the Fallout MMO.  Bethesda, the new owners of the Fallout IP, have sued Interplay under various guises almost continuously since 2009. They have lost at every step, most recently just last Friday, when a California judge denied Bethesda's request for an injunction against Interplay for breaking Fallout canon. Unfortunately for gamers and Interplay, they need more than the legal right to make a Fallout game to actually make one. They need money, something they seem to still not have.

If there's ever been one down-and-out game company worth cheering for, it's Interplay. They always took risks and those risks have almost always worked. But like so many visionary entities, they have experienced rejection and failure as well, especially lately as the game industry has gotten even more stagnant and risk-averse than it was in the '90s. Hopefully one day they can get their affairs sorted enough to make a Fallout game that will show modern gamers how much better the series used to be.

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I don't know how relevant making sequels to their 90's hits will be. How much would they make on a new single player earthworm jim? Is there even a market for that? They are probably better off making a game that will give them a lot of cash with something that is currently popular. They shouldn't make a shooter, because that market is over saturated and there are been plenty of bombs in that direction. Maybe something with zombies, it's the one theme that seems to create hit after hit in the last few years.

The fallout mmo sounds great, but with the glut of mmos right now(and upcoming like star wars), it would probably only succeed if it is free to play. And cost. Wasn't there an mmo earlier this year with a $100 million budget that folded in the first month?

I disagree about the zombies vs. Earthworm Jim issue. Zombie games are all the rage. But Interplay has something most zombie game developers don't: good original IP to work with. Dozens of companies around the world are churning out zombie games as we speak. None are making new Earthworm Jim games. By using their classic IP Interplay can distinguish themselves from the competition and capitalize on the nostalgia of those IP's legions of fans.

I fear you may be right about the MMO. Fallout is the most beloved of Interplay's beloved series, but the Bethesda Fallout games are going to confuse matters. And MMO's are some of the riskiest games to make. I have high hopes, but don't necessarily expect much in terms of fiscal success. I just hope it doesn't flop so badly that Interplay has to shut down again because of it.

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