I’ve been around video games for what seems like my entire life. Starting with an RCA Studio II in 1977, wherein you used a numerical keypad to play games like “Space War” which required a huge imagination to interpret it as anything remotely resembling space. Through all of these years including the rise and fall of the Atari era, I’ve seen video game companies come and go and never gave it all that much thought. Sure, it hurt to see Atari crumble and to see the demise of the Turbo Duo and 3DO. The latter two are merely afterthoughts in the minds of most gamers despite the huge innovations that each brought to the industry. Still, it was never personal. Never up close and tangible. Until now.
Acclaim filed for bankruptcy on or about September 1st, 2004. We all saw it coming – they had barely skirted by on many occasions and it was an inevitable point that had to be reached considering the licenses that they had lost and the poor software that they were releasing to a market that has become more competitive than it had ever been. A few months later, in December, Acclaim was being auctioned off to the highest bidder. Office supplies, furniture, refrigerators, plants, promos, systems, TV’s, VCR’s, carts, and everything else that was, and wasn’t, nailed to the wall.
December 6th, 2004. On a suitably miserably cold and rainy day in Long Island, New York, the preview for the contents of 1 Acclaim Plaza was to be viewed by those who wanted to have a 'look-see' at what would be sold the following day. I took my father with me, as he wanted to see what was being sold and maybe picking up a few items for his home. My intent was far less innocent. I knew Acclaim would have prototypes and development systems for sale and probably scores of collectible items that I could add to my already bursting at the seams collection. It seemed like a great opportunity for the video game collector to add unique items to their collection. And it was.
However, the mood on the relatively long hour and a half drive became instantly more sedate upon entering the building. Most of the lights weren’t on and it was cold. There were other opportunists there who were scoping out video game items or furniture. The vultures were circling their prey and the carcass that was Acclaim was lying there, prone and defeated. As one meandered through the empty halls, vacant cubbies, and rooms that once were occupied it became readily apparent that it was overwhelmingly sad that it had to come to this. There were an innumerable amount of offices and cubbies in the near maze-like building that once housed aspiring programmers, beta testers, marketers and administration. Wandering from place to place, it seemed like the building was emptied in a hurry and many people didn’t even bother to bring home their personal effects or the things that decorated their cubbyholes. Some had WWF posters and calendars thumb tacked around their working space. Others had pictures of family and friends decorating what used to be their way to make a living. As the journey progressed, there was evidence of people being disgruntled via things that were written on whiteboards, on the windows, or even on the walls. “Akklame” was noted on more than one occasion in many places. Small sayings about the working conditions, the management, or the lack of leadership and direction were scrawled in various places as well.
There were piles of Dreamcast development towers in one work area. There was one room that housed multitudes of Playstation 1 debug units, VCR’s, televisions. All of them were merely thrown in a pile to be auctioned as contents of the room. There were PC’s, Macintosh G3’s and G4’s, and Silicon Graphics workstations on nearly every floor. As I wandered around I thought to myself that it must have cost a small fortune to purchase all of this equipment. The entire building was networked with a myriad of cables that must have been miles and miles long. The power room housed enough electricity to what seemed like could power a small town quite easily. There was even a makeshift television studio in the basement, complete with props, lights and costumes. There were large offices upstairs that were adorned with impressive furniture and costly decorations.
And then my father said to me, “There’s a lot of equipment here, but it looks like they didn’t produce much of anything. No wonder they didn’t survive.” Although he isn’t well versed in the technology industries or the digital age, I thought to myself that this was Acclaim’s biggest problem. Not that they didn’t produce anything, but they didn’t produce anything substantive over the past few years. They were relying on the One Hit that hadn’t materialized and were living from release to release throwing you know what on the wall and hoping that something would stick.
As the day progressed it became clearly evident that it would be next to impossible to sift through everything for the hope of finding something. The entire experience was overwhelming because the amount of things that were left behind was astounding. Every room and cubby had drawers and drawers full of things that were thrown in there. There were piles of things to be auctioned that were left strewn about and relegated to lot numbers. The Glen Cove operation didn’t house all that much software. You’d be surprised at the lack of games that were here to be liquidated - much of that inventory was in Ohio and it was limited to a very few titles.
Then it happened – the creeping realization that dozens, if not hundreds, of lives were affected by this behemoth collapsing. All of the people that worked here were gone. Their lives were drastically affected and changed. Some of them didn’t get severance pay. Some of them didn’t even get their last paycheck. And here I was sifting through the remains of what was once somebody’s way to pay their rent or put food on the table. Opening and closing drawers that were once opened daily by someone doing their daily ritual of programming, or testing, or filing. That was all gone. The company had collapsed and realization of that all set in and I thought to myself of all the companies that had collapsed over the past two decades. Did they all “feel” like this? I felt like a thief. Sure, business is business and to the victor goes the spoils and all that. And I certainly won’t defend Acclaim’s leadership, business decisions, or their use of employees. Still, if you’ve spent any time with video games and are a fan (or hobbyist, whatever) this was an incredibly sad and empty experience.
The auction was set for December 7, 2004. I did not attend.