The bleeding edge of screenwriting and media convergence

June 1998

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by Terry Borst & Deborah Todd

filed 25 May 98 Copyright ©1998 alt.screenwriters

Wondering what state the “New Media” business is in lately? So does the rest of the world watching technology, convergence, new media, or whatever today’s buzzword is for the interactive arena. Whether you’re talking about a hybrid CD, DVD, the Internet, digital TV, or Web TV, the speed at which things change in this business could be likened to the speed at which microprocessor rates improve. Here’s a sampling of some of the recent buzz, and the truth behind the headlines…

CD-ROMs are Dead

Yeah, yeah, yeah. Old news. That would explain the sales of a million+ copies of Broderbund’s Riven. Okay, so Riven and Myst taken together are the Titanic of CD-ROMs. But truth is, CD-ROMs aren’t dead … not exactly. Not like there’s been a resurrection, but more of a reincarnation happening. This can be explained with the simple fact that CD-ROM titles are increasingly including some sort of Internet connection. Some for added game play. Some for added information. And some companies aren’t shy about trying to bring in more bucks with the ‘net — they’re using their Internet connections as a way to sell merchandise tie-ins.

Broderbund lays off 70 in cost-cutting move.”

So reads the headline in the Northern California hometown paper, the Marin Independent Journal. If Riven is doing so well, why all the layoffs? Well, as Ken Goldstein, Broderbund’s Vice President of Development, said during last year’s WGA “Words into Pictures” New Media panel: “This is the software business.” Goldstein reminded the audience that these games, this entertainment, by any other name, is still software.

Shake out happens.

Think of Broderbund as a once small-time distributor that has now become, at the very least, a mini-major, on the basis of a couple of huge hit CD-ROMs. It’s a transition time. On the one hand, developers now look at Broderbund as having very deep pockets, and they’re looking for sweeter deals and greater back-ends. Some claim Broderbund has “sold out” and turned into one more corporate monster.

On the other hand, bigger publishing houses see them as a mom-and-pop shop struggling to be something they’re not. Some say the bigger companies are squeezing out Broderbund’s market share – for example, Mindscape’s PrintMaster has proven to be quite the rival to Broderbund’s The Print Shop. The tugging, and pulling, and posturing fight is on, and both sides want to be king of the hill. Yep, sounds like the software business to us.

” Mindscape sold for $150 mil.”

Bought by_ The Learning Company (TLC). Want to get totally confused? Pearson PLC, a huge British conglomerate, bought Mindscape in 1994, which purchased Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) in 1994, MicroLogic Software in 1995, and then diversified it’s on-line unit to be it’s own thing called Headland Digital. TLC bought Mindscape in March of this year, after it purchased Creative Wonders from Electronic Arts last November, but didn’t include Headland in the March deal. SSI and MicroLogic are now co-habiting with Mindscape in their Novato, California offices, and Mindscape and TLC are staying autonomous, combining only their overseas marketing efforts. You gotta wonder, what’s the point? Maybe it’s that there’s strength in numbers. Now, the same companies that brought you Madeline, Reader Rabbit, Sesame Street, Math Blaster, Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing, and Chessmaster, are the same company.

Meanwhile Broderbund’s profits went up again.

And so did TLC’s stock.

This Old House Goes Digital

Courtesy of_ Broderbund. Look, we’re not making this stuff up. Even PBS is getting into the digital decade. Expect a CD-ROM from the popular television series available at a computer store near you sometime soon. By the way, just to keep you in the know, this is coming out of Banner Blue, a division that started life as a company purchased by Broderbund in 1995.

Microsoft Shuts Down its Internet Entertainment Division

It’s true that the Web is not ready for prime time yet, when it comes to Entertainment. But while the delirious hype that the Web would instantly become TV all over again (with channels and set broadcast times) has gone bust, new forays into entertainment continue. Guild writers are working on Web animation serials (to be spotlighted in a future column), NBC is now featuring video clips from its programming at, and a new 24-hour comedy network (called, appropriately, ComedyNet) is being launched on the Internet — “developing programming that eventually can be converted for distribution via broadband satellite and other high-speed Internet access services”, according to Interactive Week.

Developers Band Together to Form Publishing and Distribution Company

In a move eerily echoing the early days of the movie business, some of the biggest developers in the game business have banded together to form their own publishing company, under the somewhat tongue-in-cheek name G.O.D. (Gathering Of Developers). Can anyone say, United Artists? In a nutshell, developers want above-the-line billing on all packaging. They want a star system.

While it may take awhile for the ripples to make an impact, this is good news for writers working in New Media: the more that creative talent is acknowledged over programming and marketing, the more a writers’ lot will improve.

Written by tborst

May 25, 1998 at 11:47 pm

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