My article was "Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc. by Hector Briceno, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida. This article chronicles the rise and fall of Infocom from its rise by members from the MIT's Lab of Computer Science and their take off on the heels of it's very successful text-based game Zork. Also contributing to its success were developing an effective system for supporting new platforms, maintaining an engineering culture that excelled in writing games, and marketing its products to the right audience. However, when they tried to transform to business products and with a little bad luck, Infocom fell.
First, the authors give us a little timeline that shows the goings on in the company and the games that they were putting out, along with the economics as well.
Like I said before, the company started out with some LCS students at MIT creating this game Zork. Zork was a text-based game where the screen consisted of text and a command prompt. The player enters text to respond to the prompt and then the game returns with more text. This game was cool to players in that even though they couldn't see anything on the screen, they could picture the game playing out in their minds. In 1979, the MIT guys decided they wanted to work together outside of the lab and started their own company and their first objective was to make Zork available to the blossoming home computer market. The demographic of computer buyers worked out in Infocom's favor in that computers were expensive, so the buyers were wealthy and refined people who liked to read.
However, Infocom ran into many problems in getting their game to fit the memory specs of the personal computer. The authors go on to describe their Z-machine design which just went right over my head. The company was finally able to fit the game and really took off when the Apple II version sold 6000 copies. Then, they describe the company's culture which was very laidback and I got some laughs about the trial they held for the death of goldfish.
Going on the success of Zork, the company began coming out with more and more games. Marc Blank wrote Deadline, which was a mystery game. Dave Lebling wrote a science-fiction game called Starcross, and Amy Briggs wrote the first romance game aimed at women. Each game had to be different since it was only text-based. So it had to be new and have new puzzles. The games were made cheap and the company was turning huge profits. They were consistently at the top of the bestseller lists of computer software.
The games appealed to players because the brought the intellectual aspect of reading a novel with the puzzling nature of logic puzzles. Then, the authors go on to talk about Infocom's unique marketing strategies. After publishing unsuccessfully with a company called Personal Software, Infocom decided to do it themselves and repackaged all the games. Infocom also got into the published tips aspect as well selling books to help the gamers through puzzles.
Unfortunately, the downfall was not included in our reading.
I think that the article was an interesting read into how some of these game startups got started. And how the evolution of gaming started out without even graphics, but just text-based. It says something to the appeal of video games that these games were successful.