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Interview Matt Chat 247: Robert Sirotek on Sir-Tech in the 90s

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Tags: Jagged Alliance; Matt Barton; Realms of Arkania; Robert Sirotek; Sir-Tech; Wizardry VI: Bane of the Cosmic Forge

The latest episode of Matt Barton's interview with Robert Sirotek focuses on Sir-Tech's activities in the 1990s. He starts off by talking a bit more about David Bradley and the Wizardry titles he created. Although he has much praise for the man, it's clear that he thinks Bradley had certain personality issues that prevented him from taking the Wizardry franchise forward into the evolving gaming landscape of the 90s - namely, his insistence on working alone. Robert follows up on that by describing the ways in which Sir-Tech evolved during that decade - the founding of Sir-Tech Canada as an in-house developer, the creation of the Jagged Alliance franchise (which actually started as some sort of newspaper tycoon simulation, believe it or not), and the publishing of Attic Entertainment's Realms of Arkania series in the United States.



The second half of the interview is dedicated to discussing the topic of Robert's famous interview with IGN from 1998. He still stands by what he said back then, claiming that retailer shenanigans and "Hollywood companies" had forced the once-diverse gaming industry to consolidate or perish. According to him, the need to observe retailer "marketing windows" was a main reason for why so many buggy games were released during that period, and his family preferred to wind up their company rather than go in that direction. He does, however, concede that overambitious developers may have played a part in that as well.
 

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3:19 Matt appears to be texting on his fucking phone & ignoring his guest?

*EDIT* Actually no, it looks like he is checking his notes.
 
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DashiDMV

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I'm not hopeful about the line of questioning we are going to get. Let's use number 234 as Exhibit A as you will see around the 9 minute mark:

Ugly Hag: I don't know if you know this but all...some of the characters in Jagged Alliance 2 are based on real people

Matt Barton (with a stupid look on his face): One is named Brenda right?

Ugly Hag: No Buzz. There was a character named Buzz Garno and that was me

Matt Barton(still with a stupid look on his face): Alright so Wizardry 8........

I rest my case.
 

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I will be very happy if I never hear the word 'product' again.

Anyway, this part was much more interesting, with the talk about shelf space selling and video game business consolidation. Although the great mystery behind Sir-Tech's demise turned out to be rather disappointing ('we saw we could not compete against bigger companies, so we closed down').
 
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Bradbury and Currie make good products.
It's a shame Sir-Tech couldnt make products in that environment that the product sales buildings setup.

It wuz good when he mentioned products taking too long to finish and outstaying their welcome, then Matt put up a Hobbit movie poster.
 

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Bradbury and Currie make good products.
It's a shame Sir-Tech couldnt make products in that environment that the product sales buildings setup.

It wuz good when he mentioned products taking too long to finish and outstaying their welcome, then Matt put up a Hobbit movie poster.
Nice try, but I'm not actually, you know, hearing what you wrote there.
 
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Bradbury and Currie make good products.
It's a shame Sir-Tech couldnt make products in that environment that the product sales buildings setup.

It wuz good when he mentioned products taking too long to finish and outstaying their welcome, then Matt put up a Hobbit movie poster.
Nice try, but I'm not actually, you know, hearing what you wrote there.
why not?
 

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Anyway, this part was much more interesting, with the talk about shelf space selling and video game business consolidation. Although the great mystery behind Sir-Tech's demise turned out to be rather disappointing ('we saw we could not compete against bigger companies, so we closed down').
Sounds like something is missing.. who closes down a respected company like that? He just went "I'm too old for this shit", fired everyone and closed the doors? And no one from EA or other huge companies tried to buy it?
 

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Sounds like something is missing.. who closes down a respected company like that? He just went "I'm too old for this shit", fired everyone and closed the doors? And no one from EA or other huge companies tried to buy it?
Well, I thought it was clear in the interview that they did not want to take part in the consolidation. They would probably get some offers to sell the compny later, but they closed before that. Sirotek saw that it will be difficuly to compete now, closed the company and went on do to other things.

And it makes sense, because he didn't care about making games, as such. They were just means of making money for him, and when he saw he can make money easier elsewhere, he did that.
 

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Around the 21:00 mark, Sirotek says "and they made all their money this way in part" :lol:

To his credit, he doesn't bad-mouth any of his previous employees, though that may be the PR-conscious businessman in him (like he keeps using the term "product").
 

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Anyway, this part was much more interesting, with the talk about shelf space selling and video game business consolidation. Although the great mystery behind Sir-Tech's demise turned out to be rather disappointing ('we saw we could not compete against bigger companies, so we closed down').
Sounds like something is missing.. who closes down a respected company like that? He just went "I'm too old for this shit", fired everyone and closed the doors? And no one from EA or other huge companies tried to buy it?

Well, that … and they were broke. So I imagine being evicted from your offices for non-payment of lease and being so broke you could not even afford to pay the monthly rental fee on your storage locker you stored your paperwork in could also be considered less a BUSINESS CLOSURE and more of a BUSINESS FAILURE. If your corporate legacy paperwork and memorabilia ends up sold off by a repossession company on EBay, it pretty much demonstrates that whatever happened that

* F A I L U R E *

… was involved somewhere in there.

But otherwise, yeah, they decided they'd had enough of the big-time game publishers and so they decided to close it down. Good move. Because other types of business are much better long term to be in if you already have a computer game franchise.

So I was making a fortune in a gold mine in West Perth, but one day I was like … gold sucks, I don't want to make money at mining gold any longer, so I just walked away from it. Now I sell pencils at the bus station because it is more suited to my lifestyle. Boo-ya!
 

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Anyway, this part was much more interesting, with the talk about shelf space selling and video game business consolidation. Although the great mystery behind Sir-Tech's demise turned out to be rather disappointing ('we saw we could not compete against bigger companies, so we closed down').
Sounds like something is missing.. who closes down a respected company like that? He just went "I'm too old for this shit", fired everyone and closed the doors? And no one from EA or other huge companies tried to buy it?
What was there to buy? The sold the Wizardry license to Japan, and they didn't have much else.
Wizardry 8 was in development for an eternity (I remember reading an article in a game mag predicting the battle between Might and Magic 6, Ultima 9 and Wizardry 8. The only one that kept its release date was Might and Magic 6.), didn't make any profit, so they were at their end.
Troika closed down as well, without selling anything.
 

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What was there to buy? The sold the Wizardry license to Japan, and they didn't have much else.
Wizardry 8 was in development for an eternity (I remember reading an article in a game mag predicting the battle between Might and Magic 6, Ultima 9 and Wizardry 8. The only one that kept its release date was Might and Magic 6.), didn't make any profit, so they were at their end.
Troika closed down as well, without selling anything.
Jagged Alliance and their programming skills.

Troika didn't own any of their own IP, they also were an oddly owned company (no top down structure) and could have stayed in business if they were willing to start making shovelware.
 

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What was there to buy? The sold the Wizardry license to Japan, and they didn't have much else.
Wizardry 8 was in development for an eternity (I remember reading an article in a game mag predicting the battle between Might and Magic 6, Ultima 9 and Wizardry 8. The only one that kept its release date was Might and Magic 6.), didn't make any profit, so they were at their end.
Troika closed down as well, without selling anything.
Jagged Alliance and their programming skills.

Troika didn't own any of their own IP, they also were an oddly owned company (no top down structure) and could have stayed in business if they were willing to start making shovelware.
Nobody buys a company for programming skills, and Sir-Tech hadn't exactly shone in that regard - Wizardry 8 was years late. If you want a specific programmer, you offer him better pay, that's much cheaper than buying an entire company.
You buy companies for IP, and turn-based anything - which was the only thing Sir-Tech had ever been good at - was considered completely dead back then, and Jagged Alliance, while having a cult following, wasn't exactly a big hit.
 

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Nobody buys a company for programming skills, and Sir-Tech hadn't exactly shone in that regard - Wizardry 8 was years late. If you want a specific programmer, you offer him better pay, that's much cheaper than buying an entire company.
You buy companies for IP, and turn-based anything - which was the only thing Sir-Tech had ever been good at - was considered completely dead back then, and Jagged Alliance, while having a cult following, wasn't exactly a big hit.
EA bought Bioware when they didn't have any of their own IPs. They wanted a talented team that was used to working together and making a certain kind of game.
 

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Nobody buys a company for programming skills, and Sir-Tech hadn't exactly shone in that regard - Wizardry 8 was years late. If you want a specific programmer, you offer him better pay, that's much cheaper than buying an entire company.
You buy companies for IP, and turn-based anything - which was the only thing Sir-Tech had ever been good at - was considered completely dead back then, and Jagged Alliance, while having a cult following, wasn't exactly a big hit.
EA bought Bioware when they didn't have any of their own IPs. They wanted a talented team that was used to working together and making a certain kind of game.
OK, that's fair, it's not what I would call programming skills, though.

And it is exactly not what Sir-Tech was. Bioware had a track record of producing massive hits, turning a profit with every game they made, and they had two games with self-owned IP in the pipeline that were already being hyped by the press.
Sir-Tech was a very small niche developer with a history of being late and not breaking even at that time.
 

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Is not even the skills, it's just the name. The ability to make anything with the Sir-Tech logo on it, that had quite some fans. Also, the Jagged Alliance IP, can't believe no one tried to turn it into a FPS...

Here's my problem: you have the guys doing it because they love it: Garriott, Fargo, Jon Van, Joel Billing, etc... all this guys got a big fat check from EA or other mega evil corportation, but the one guy that was in this for the money didn't?
 

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Is not even the skills, it's just the name. The ability to make anything with the Sir-Tech logo on it, that had quite some fans. Also, the Jagged Alliance IP, can't believe no one tried to turn it into a FPS...

Here's my problem: you have the guys doing it because they love it: Garriott, Fargo, Jon Van, Joel Billing, etc... all this guys got a big fat check from EA or other mega evil corportation, but the one guy that was in this for the money didn't?

From reading (well, listening) between the lines it seems to me that he would have sold if he'd gotten a sufficiently high offer, but by the time he went looking for buyers it was too late. He was too proud to sell the company for peanuts.

I'm not sure saying Sirotek was "in it just for the money" is accurate, either. Or rather, he was in it for the money, but it seems like he was, for some reason, very particular about the way he wanted to make money.

One thing worth considering is that maybe he was just lazy. He wanted to remain independent, but he didn't want to do the immense amount of work required to expand the company and stay alive. So he made money for as long as he could when the pickings were easy and then retired.

Not that it was necessarily an unwise course of action. Brian Fargo went to great lengths to expand Interplay throughout the 90s, trying to become a big power player and remain independent, instead of selling out like Garriot and JVC did, and in the end he lost everything just the same.
 
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Maybe he got a big enough check from the Japanese already :M He basically sold the IP to the Japanese twice. The 2nd one was a pretty shady deal too, with the Jpn company who got the worldwide Wizardry rights having been founded just a month or so prior to the acquisition. Who knows what his stakes in that were?

Also, Sir-Tech Canada was a 2000s company already; I don't think there was much interest in the IP in the West by the time it shut down.
 

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OK, that's fair, it's not what I would call programming skills, though.

And it is exactly not what Sir-Tech was. Bioware had a track record of producing massive hits, turning a profit with every game they made, and they had two games with self-owned IP in the pipeline that were already being hyped by the press.
Sir-Tech was a very small niche developer with a history of being late and not breaking even at that time.

Bioware was worth a lot because they clearly had the Midas touch.

Sir-Tech had a reputation for never doing anything, much less on time. They appeared to do almost no real work of any kind between 1981 and 1992 until Wiz 7 was released, the first new product in the Wiz line really. After that it was all downhill. Their products went from bad to pathetic. I saw NEMESIS and that was a sad, sad story. Sad. The fact that anybody was retarded enough to even believe that was a game was the saddest thing of all.
 

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Bioware was worth a lot because they clearly had the Midas touch.

Sir-Tech had a reputation for never doing anything, much less on time. They appeared to do almost no real work of any kind between 1981 and 1992 until Wiz 7 was released, the first new product in the Wiz line really. After that it was all downhill. Their products went from bad to pathetic. I saw NEMESIS and that was a sad, sad story. Sad. The fact that anybody was retarded enough to even believe that was a game was the saddest thing of all.

I think their bigger problem was between 1992 to 2001, when they did nothing worthwhile except the Jagged Alliance series. A strange laziness during a period when PC gaming was expanding massively.
 

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