Computer-games Firm Moving to California

(c) The Boston Globe Magazine, May 22, 1989
by Ronald Rosenberg

Infocom Inc., which pioneered the personal computer software text-adventure genre with such fantasy games as Zork, Wishbringer and Leather Goddess of Phobos, is closing its doors in Cambridge and moving to Menlo Park, California next month.

That's headquarters for Mediagenic, formerly Activision Inc., which puchased Infocom three years ago for close to $9 million. The relocation is a cost-saving measure, since Infocom has been losing an average of $200,000 per fiscal quarter for the past two years, according to Laura L. Stagnitto, Mediagenic's director of corporate communications.

She said 11 of the remaining 26 Infocom employees were offered a chance to move to California, but only five have accepted, including Joseph Ybarra, president. He will become vice president of Mediagenic's entertainment division. Robert Sears will continue as general manager of Infocom in Menlo Park.

Infocom is best known as the developer of the thinking person's computer games -- a niche that reached its peak in 1985 when Infocom had revenues of $11.5 million and employed 110 people.

But a combination of internal problems, including an expensive failure to diversify into the business market with a database product called Cornerstone, plus new consumer preference for games with graphics and sound, severely hurt Infocom.

Moreover, fast-paced action games for Nintendo video-game machines that continue to appeal to a young audience have affected personal computer entertainment software sales. Stagnitto of Mediagenic said that while its total sales rose largely from video-game software sold to owners of Nintendo and Sega game systems, personal computer game sales for the Apple and IBM machines have declined.

Another factor for Infocom's declining fortunes is the aging of Infocom's traditional audience, composed of early computer users who spent evenings and weekends hunched over a terminal drawing maps in text-only games that took 20 to 50 hours to solve.

"Computers are a mass-merchandising market and we found it difficult to interest consumers in products that did not capture their attention immediately through superficial characteristics, such as fancy graphics," said Joel Berez, Infocom's founder and former president. Berez resigned last summer to return to his family's 70-year-old housewares business in Pittsburgh.

Mediagenic said it will continue to publish some of Infocom's titles, notably the Zork series, which has sold more than 1 million copies, along with newer software that uses computer graphics.

"It's been sad for me," acknowledged Berez.

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Last revised: Mon Jan 29 14:56:31 EST 1996 / Peter Scheyen <pete@csd.uwo.ca>