AN EDUCATION IN GAME MARKET\33-year-old's magical touch has transformed passion for role playing\adventures into a lucrative reality.Byline: Yardena Arar Daily News Staff Writer
Among the trolls, dragons and wizards of computer fantasy role-playing games See:
At 33, he's headed his own company, New World Computing New World Computing, Inc. was an American computer game developer and publisher founded in 1984 by Jon Van Caneghem and Mark Caldwell. It was best known for its work on the Might and Magic RPG series and its spin-offs, especially Heroes of Might and Magic. , for well over a decade, taking it from his parents' West Hollywood West Hollywood
A community of southern California northeast of Beverly Hills. It is mainly residential. Population: 36,600. apartment to an Agoura Hills office suite with 28 full-time employees and several external developers. In that time New World has published about 30 titles, including the popular "Might and Magic" series, for Macintosh, PC, Amiga A personal computer series introduced in 1985 by Commodore. Amigas gained a reputation early on as advanced graphics and multimedia machines, and NewTek's Video Toaster application brought it to the forefront of economical, high-end video editing. , Sega and Nintendo.
Two years ago, New World merged with publicly held NTN NTN Narrative Television Network
NTN National Trends Network
NTN National Tenant Network
NTN National Trivia Network
NTN Network Terminal Number
NTN National Tax Number (Pakistan)
NTN Network to Network interface Communications of Carlsbad in a stock swap A stock swap also known as a share swap or equity swap is a business takeover in which the acquiring company uses its own stock to pay for the acquired company. valued at $10 million - a handsome return on a venture that had its roots in Van Canegham's twin passions for fantasy role-playing games (or RPGs, as they are known by players) and computers.
The RPGs came first. "I was always a gamer," recalled Van Canegham, looking like an affluent grad student in jeans and an expensive-looking sweater.
Like many young people in the 1970s, Van Canegham was particularly keen on Dungeons Dungeons may refer to:
But gaming for years was simply a hobby, and Van Canegham went to UCLA UCLA University of California at Los Angeles
UCLA University Center for Learning Assistance (Illinois State University)
UCLA University of Carrollton, TX and Lower Addison, TX expecting to follow in his father's footsteps by becoming a physician. His first encounter with an Apple II computer changed all that.
"I played a couple of games and was immediately hooked," he said. Van Canegham also quickly recognized the potential of computers to provide a satisfying RPG (Report Program Generator) One of the first program generators designed for business reports, introduced in 1964 by IBM. In 1970, RPG II added enhancements that made it a mainstay programming language for business applications on IBM's System/3x midrange computers. experience.
"You don't have to wait for five or six players to get together," he said.
He immediately switched majors from pre-med to computer science and immersed himself in the fairly primitive games of the era.
"Games were sold in Ziploc bags," he said. "You'd get a disk with cardboard backing and a piece of paper with instructions."
Computer science itself was mostly about large mainframes and punch cards. So Van Canegham taught himself how to program, and - inspired by such pioneering games as Sirtech's Wizardry wiz·ard·ry
n. pl. wiz·ard·ries
1. The art, skill, or practice of a wizard; sorcery.
a. A power or effect that appears magical by its capacity to transform: and Ultima by Origin (the company now best known for its "Wing Commander" series) - set out to create a game of his own.
Doing everything himself, from the graphics and game design to actual coding, Van Canegham started in his senior year and founded New World in 1984 with $70,000 from an inheritance, his parents and a bank loan that they co-signed.
The project that turned into "Might and Magic" ended up taking 2-1/2 years, by the end of which Van Canegham had moved out and was no longer speaking to his parents.
Van Canegham originally intended New World to be his development company, but changed his mind in late 1985 and early 1986 when he started showing his finished game to publishers who told him that as a newcomer, he could expect royalties of only $1 on a $50 to $60 retail price.
Disgusted, Van Canegham began reading up on running a small business and used his remaining capital to pay for a run of 5,000 games - the whole thing fit on two 5-1/4-inch floppies - packaging, an 800 number and a professionally prepared ad that ran in magazines for Apple users.
"I still remember the ad," Van Canegham said. "It said, 'Finally, a game that takes you seriously.' "
The campaign for the $55 game worked beyond his wildest expectations. "The moment the ad hit, the phone rang off the hook," Van Canegham recalled. "Within two months we'd sold all 5,000 units."
The publishers, who less than a year earlier had offered Van Canegham $1 a game, were now flying him and Ron Spitzer, a gaming buddy with some business expertise, around the country. But Van Canegham was no longer interested in keeping New World a developer only. "I thought it was more exciting to build a company," he said.
Instead, he and his friend - now a partner - struck a deal to become the first affiliate label of Activision, letting the larger Los Angeles-based company serve as his distributor. Initially, Van Canegham recruited friends to help fill orders as they came in from Activision to New World, now headquartered in Van Nuys.
"Our office immediately turned into Gamer Central after hours Adv. 1. after hours - not during regular hours; "he often worked after hours" ," he said. But when the orders started numbering in the thousands, he found his friends were no longer willing to assemble packages for pizza, beer and a place to play games.
So over the next few years, New World became a more serious company, developing new titles and adapting popular old ones to other platforms. The company left Activision for Electronic Arts in 1989, and since then has handled its own distribution through contractors.
Long hair to big bucks
Van Canegham is still astonished a·ston·ish
tr.v. as·ton·ished, as·ton·ish·ing, as·ton·ish·es
To fill with sudden wonder or amazement. See Synonyms at surprise. by the transformation he has seen, not only in his own company but the entire computer gaming business.
"I knew 'em back when they all had long hair and Ziploc bags," he said. "Now everyone's going public. Now all these companies are worth big bucks, which always amazes me because the assets go home at night."
Van Canegham admits the consolidation around him heavily influenced his own decision to sell to NTN, which operates a nationwide interactive television network best known for sports, trivia and other games in restaurants and bars.
"The main reason for doing it was that we couldn't continue to grow, and we were going to have a difficult time competing," he said.
Indeed, New World has found the going a lot tougher in recent years. A look at NTN's financial reports shows that software sales - which is basically the New World component - are down.
Van Canegham attributes this in part to recent changes in the fiscal year for New World, but also to a couple of games that simply didn't catch on, most notably the action game "Zephyr Zephyr or Zephyrus: see Eos. ."
Terry Coleman Terry Coleman is an American politician from the state of Georgia. Political career
Representative Terry Coleman has a long record of service to the Georgia General Assembly. , reviews editor of San Francisco-based ComIputer Gaming World, said New World stumbles when it strays from its niche-market roots and tries to score with the larger audience with games like "Zephyr."
" 'Zephyr' had some nice ideas Nice Ideas was a video game company based in France.
Originally a part of Mattel Electronics, they were sold to an unknown company after the video game crash of 1983. Mattel was not allowed to shut down Nice Ideas like the rest of Mattel Electronics due to French law. , but when you look at the quality of the other action games that came out at the time - 'Tie Fighter,' 'WingCommander,' 'Magic Carpet' - 'Zephyr' was kind of a tame product," Coleman said.
But Coleman said New World still excels at strategy and RPGs, such as its currently popular "Heroes of Might and Magic Heroes of Might and Magic (sometimes called simply Heroes or HoMM) is a series of turn-based computer games developed by New World Computing, a division of The 3DO Company. ," which got the maximum five stars from Computer Gaming World Computer Gaming World (CGW) was the first magazine devoted exclusively to computer games. CGW was founded in 1981 by Russell Sipe as a semi-monthly publication. - and "Anvil of Dawn Anvil of Dawn is one of the last "non-3D" first-person games. You play as one of 5 characters with the quest to save the kingdom of Tempest. Each character has his or her own specialty (meaning different agility, strength, stamina, etc.). ."
" 'Heroes of Might and Magic' is a wonderful fantasy strategy game, where you fight with orcs and trolls and gargoyles gargoyles
medieval European church waterspouts; made in form of grotesque creatures. [Architecture: NCE, 1046]
See : Ugliness and dragons," Coleman said. "It's been done a million times before, but it's done very well."
Van Canegham acknowledged that "Zephyr" had made him wary of devoting internal resources to action development; his entries in that field now come from external developers.
However, he noted that fewer and fewer elaborate RPGs are being released, in part because of the rapid upward spiral of computer technology.
"We made games for Apple II's for eight years," he recalled. "Now, every six months the criteria for the machine changes." Because of the relatively lengthy development process for graphics-intensive RPGs, many are technologically obsolete by the time they reach stores.
Another problem is the increasingly hit-driven nature of the business.
"The early games would sell for three, four years," he said. "Now, if it's not selling in a month, it goes to the budget shelves."
Van Canegham also bemoans what he views as the increased importance of sales and marketing. "When I started, if you had a good game, it was going to sell even if it was in a brown paper bag under the rock. Today, the pendulum has swung. . . . Having a good game just doesn't cut it any more."
There's a future on-line
Van Canegham, who when not at his Agoura Hills home or Santa YneIz ranch may be found racing Formula Fords, has had other woes associated with his buyout. San Diego San Diego (săn dēā`gō), city (1990 pop. 1,110,549), seat of San Diego co., S Calif., on San Diego Bay; inc. 1850. San Diego includes the unincorporated communities of La Jolla and Spring Valley. Coronado is across the bay. shareholder lawsuit specialist Bill Lerach has named him in a suit alleging insider trading over a stock sale in early 1995, a lawsuit NTN corporate counsel Laura Kass said the company was "vigorously defending."
But despite these recent headaches, Van Canegham is optimistic op·ti·mist
1. One who usually expects a favorable outcome.
2. A believer in philosophical optimism.
op about New World's future as on-line gaming comes of age. He sees the on-line universe as having great potential to reinvigorate RPGs.
"With a packaged game, you ship it and it's done. With an on-line game, the game can actually evolve over time," he said.
Photo (1--Color) New World's popular "Heroes of Might and Magic" game thrives. Tina Gerson/Daily News (2--Color) Jon Van Canegham, who first marketed "Might and Magic" himself, manages a 28-employee company in Agoura Hills.