For the past 10 days, the gaming press and the ION Storm alumni grapevine have been vibrating like a coin-operated bed at a sleazy motel. First, May 24, came the flying-to-California rumor. According to former ION employees, the previous Friday the chiefs at Eidos, the London-based game publisher that has poured at least $30 million into ION, ordered the owners of the Dallas computer-game company to appear in the garage of Chase Tower--ION's headquarters--bright and early Monday. From there, the rumor went, they were whisked off to California to meet with Eidos.
The most interesting part of the rumor: that ION Chief Executive Officer Todd Porter and art director Jerry O'Flaherty were getting the boot.
As the Dallas Observer reported in a cover story on the troubled game developer ("Stormy weather," January 14), internal company documents, lawsuits, and a number of former employees claim that many of the company's problems can be laid at Porter's feet. O'Flaherty, who worked with Porter at two other companies, is widely perceived to be Porter's pal.
By Tuesday, word of Porter's alleged demise had filtered out onto the Internet--specifically, to the QuakeFinger, a community bulletin board for gamers.
"A cure for a particularly nasty cancer will be discovered in downtown Dallas today," read a posting from former ION Chief Executive Officer Mike Wilson, now CEO at the Gathering of Developers, a cooperative game-publishing enterprise. "And so it was. The children of the [Chase] Tower were finally freed from the evil oppressors."
By late afternoon, gaming-gossip maven BitchX had raised her persnickety head, and was busy posting e-mails from the inside: Porter and O'Flaherty were escorted out. They weren't escorted out, and Porter was sitting right there. O'Flaherty and Porter were still around, but their departure was imminent, contingent only on Eidos reaching a satisfactory settlement with the two.
For several days, the most reliable confirmation that something was afoot was ION's official silence. Meanwhile, Eidos wasn't much more loquacious. "I have no comment," said Rob Dyer, president of Eidos Interactive, the U.S. division of Eidos PLC. Privately, however, two sources with firsthand knowledge of the goings-on confirmed that Porter and O'Flaherty were out and that the negotiations with Porter were the only thing holding up an official announcement.
Sources say Porter demanded three years' salary as severance pay, a demand to which Eidos is unlikely to accede. Internal company documents and state filings show that Eidos has considerable leverage, since, as part of its publishing agreement with ION Storm, Eidos took a lien on all of ION's intellectual property. (With financing from Eidos, ION Storm designs and programs games that Eidos publishes.) Since the three partners who apparently are staying--John Romero, Tom Hall, and Warren Spector--control the majority of ION's stock, they can simply acquiesce to Eidos' foreclosure on the property and set up a new company.
Also last week, Eidos released its financial results for the fiscal year that ended March 31. According to the release, they are counting on a fall 1999 release for Daikatana, Romero's long-awaited first-person shoot-'em-up. A number of industry journalists who attended E-3, the gaming industry's big trade show held each May, say that Eidos wasn't really pushing Romero's game. Instead, they seem to be featuring Anachronox and Deus Ex, the games designed by ION partners Hall and Spector, respectively. A demo of Daikatana's multiplayer capability was released last March to general industry disappointment.
Nevertheless, Eidos is apparently betting that Romero can still produce a best-selling game--if not Daikatana, then the next one. In the meantime, Romero has begun rebuilding the bridges burned during his association with Porter. Last week, Romero was spotted lunching with both Mike Wilson and another former colleague, Adrian Carmack of id software.
Former ION partner Robert G. Wright III , whose ouster Porter engineered last year, declined comment on the fate of his nemesis. Since last May, Wright has been involved in a lawsuit against his former company, since Porter engineered his ouster. As the Dallas Observer reported April 29 ("Vapor war"), the litigation has shaped up largely as a grudge match between Wright and Porter, who until last week was firmly in control of ION's business matters, including the litigation against Wright.
The litigation also has included four subpoenas to the Observer, with which ION unsuccessfully attempted to force the paper to reveal the names anonymous sources and of whoever leaked Porter's e-mails to the Observer and the anonymous sources for the April 29 story. The newspaper published copies of some of Porter's internal company e-mails with its January 14 cover story about the infighting that has plagued ION and delayed the release of its premier game, Daikatana. That story also detailed how Porter ascended to the post once held by Wilson and allegedly forced Wright out of the partnership.
Romero has testified in deposition that Eidos was about to acquire 51 percent of ION, making ION more or less a part of Eidos. According to Romero's testimony, ION's remaining shareholders would not get rich from the deal, which apparently involved no cash. Instead, Eidos would forgive a portion of its advances to the developer in exchange for its chunk of ION. It is not known whether that deal is still in the works.
Neither Porter nor O'Flaherty returned calls seeking comment.
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