High scores for game story
Just had to congratulate you on one of the finest pieces of journalism on the gaming industry I have ever read ["Stormy weather," January 14]. As a marketing professional with five years of experience swimming in that polluted pond, I have been following ION Storm's, Eidos', Daikatana's, and later, GoD's stories in the gaming press. During that time I had to rely on instinct and reading between the lines to guess the real state of the game and the company. Even the trade press only skimmed the surface of the situation, leaving industry professionals such as myself to fill in the many gaps.

Your research, analysis, honesty, and presentation are in stark contrast to the typical self-placating reportage available on the subject. Kudos to you and your team for bringing not only facts but insights not available otherwise.

It is ironic that your story, as unforgiving as it may appear, grants the gaming industry its fondest wish: a mass-market audience. My experience tells me that you could have thrown your net anywhere else in the sea of gaming and come up with similar corruption, egos, and broken promises. It is unfortunate, but such exposure is necessary if the industry is to rise above the domain of testosterone-ridden teenage boys and take its rightful place as the future of entertainment in an information society.

Please keep up the good work, and expose the others. There are those of us in the industry who work for the benefit of the gamers. Not all of us are as avaricious as Wilson or as apathetic as Romero. Please help us and our global audience separate the wheat from the chaff.

Alex X. Rodberg
Via e-mail

You guys rock so unbelievably much, it isn't funny. I think your ION Storm article is the best piece I've ever run across, on the Web or otherwise. Major kudos.

Via e-mail

I just wanted to say that that was easily the best online read I've had in months. Thoughtful, well researched, even-toned--it had it all. Thanks! I wish that all reporters were so even-handed with technology companies (and knew the dirt as well).

The only correction I have to make is that it was www.bluesnews.com that broke the story of the departures of the Daikatana team--not BitchX. Otherwise, it was remarkable. Good show!

Todd Greco
Via e-mail

I have just finished reading your article about ION Storm, and I just have one question. How did you get hold of all that internal e-mail?

Via e-mail

Editor's note: We obtained the e-mails from several confidential sources. Unfortunately, we can't say much more than that; ION Storm's lawyers have subpoenaed Dallas Observer staff writer Christine Biederman to appear at a deposition to answer questions about the e-mails. She won't be able to reveal much, and we've filed a motion to quash the subpoena. See last week's Buzz column for an update.

Excellent expose on a company taking a roller-coaster ride to Chapter 11.
Don't let their lawyers bully you.
Carl Frendzel
Via e-mail

Although you may find some horrible legal trouble over this feature, I want to thank you for publishing what appears to be a very balanced view of a very emotional and private subject. These people probably did not wish this much information to be spread about their operations. But the information helps us realize that industry and business are never as pretty as we like to think they are. Every supermodel has her "bad hair" days, and every company has its political problems. It's just the way it is. We all forget that behind the glitz is still a scared young girl or, in this case, a slightly mentally defective crew. That doesn't take away from the case that these guys are great at what they do--nor does it make them any less impressive--it merely makes them human. This is what I need to thank you for--reminding me that my heroes are human.

Thanks for a great article with great depth and insight in a way that no other publication in any format could touch.

Robert Kenyon
Via e-mail
I found Christine Biederman's article "Stormy Weather" enormously engaging, and I thank both her and the Dallas Observer for offering it. I think this article should be widely distributed to both business and engineering schools for a lesson on how not to run a high-tech venture.

Rest assured that I have bookmarked the Dallas Observer.
Chris Meli
Via e-mail

I read your article on the troubles at ION Storm, and I noticed a slight error in the facts. As an investor in and follower of the gaming industry, I can tell you that it wasn't two weeks before Merit Studios went out of business that the Distant Thunder development team was picked up by 7th Level. Merit was at its peak during its dealings with Todd Porter, and his game G-NOME was drawing lots of attention. It was one of the hottest games on display during the 1995 Winter Consumer Electronics Show.

However, the game was barely playable, and pre-orders were being made because of an impressive smoke-and-mirrors animated video. Todd Porter had his name plastered all over the game, but curiously he was nowhere to be found when it came time to promote his masterpiece. At the time of the press release announcing the sale of G-NOME to 7th Level, Merit had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on development and advertising.

Unfortunately, the company was having similar problems with two other major developers who were stringing it along. Merit was approaching bankruptcy because of the amount of spending it had done to promote several major titles that missed their ship dates by a couple of years. That doesn't happen in any other business I can think of. G-NOME was sold to 7th level simply because Merit could never possibly meet any of its sales forecasts, and the company needed to pay the bills.

On the other hand, it was a sweet deal for Todd Porter and Distant Thunder. Merit was at the mercy of its developers and folded about a year and a half after terminating its contract with Distant Thunder. 7th Level followed it a couple of years later. However, the developers are not entirely to blame, and I'm sure the management of Merit is equally at fault for putting the company in such a precarious position.

Luckily, Eidos, ION Storm's current publisher, has several other developers under its umbrella that consistently release successful titles like Tomb Raider. Only time will tell if Daikatana can re-establish the credibility of ION Storm as a premier developer or turn it into just another money pit.

Via e-mail

Editor's note: Thanks for the added information. As for our "error," we never intended to say that Merit folded two weeks after Distant Thunder was picked up by 7th Level. What we reported--though apparently not as clearly as we might have--was that Distant Thunder "was about two weeks away from folding" when 7th Level stepped in. Sorry for the confusion.

First, let me say the ION Storm article was very informative. The article has a minor error near the end when it states that "according to PC Data, Half-Life had not crossed the 100,000 mark as of November 30, a month after its release." In fact, Half-Life began appearing on store shelves on November 19.

John Callahan
Via e-mail

Editor's note: John Callahan is right about the release date for Half-Life. We published a correction in last week's issue.

Hey--great article on ION Storm. I've heard all the tidbits about the problems over the past year, but Christine did a great job of putting all the pieces together.

Via e-mail

I read the article about ION Storm by Christine Biederman with great interest. It was extremely informative as to what has been going on over at ION for the past several years. I found Ms. Biederman's account has substantiated our feelings that something was terribly wrong over at ION. Thank you for a great article!

Via e-mail

Christine Biederman's article on the storm at game developer ION Storm is right on the money in terms of describing the type and degree of powermongering that goes on in the games business. And having worked with him when he was still a mere "producer" at another company, I can also confirm the growing industry-wide opinion that CEO Todd Porter is indeed at the heart of all of ION Storm's woes. Think of Todd as a junior Gordon Gecko (from the movie Wall Street--"greed...is good"), and you have a pretty good idea of what he's all about.

David James
Via e-mail

I wanted to compliment Christine Biederman on a wonderfully written article. It had just the right structure and pacing, and a great deal of facts without being boring. It was objective, questioning, and very unopinionated from a reporter's perspective, and I applaud her. Great article. I hope it really stirs things up.

Andy Bruncke
Via e-mail

That was an excellent article, bringing a lot of insight into the gaming industry and a game development process. Thank you for taking the time out to do it.

Corville Allen
Via e-mail

Editor's note: The preceding letters were among dozens the Observer received in response to "Stormy weather.


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