Sid Meier - Pioneering computer games
  Pioneer of the industry

In every industry, there are a handful of names that will be remembered long past its infancy stages. These people are often known as the 'founding fathers' or the 'pioneers' of the industry. Where Elvis Presly and Buddy Holly were amongst those that kickstarted Rock & Roll, Sid Meier was one of whom breathed life into gaming.

In over two decades of creating games, Sid Meier has become nothng short of a legend. There are few people who have influenced so dramatically as he did, the way we play games today. And yet, this gaming dynamo is one of the most modest and quiet people in the industry. So who is this man and how did he end up in games?

Sid was born in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan. He attended the University of Michigan, where he studied History and Computer Sciences. Combining these with his abiding interest in boardgames laid the basic foundations for Sid's first ventures into computer gaming. His first programming experiences were on the Atari 800 on which he created simple games and programmes.

Meeting Wild Bill

Sid was working at General Instruments Corp. in 1981 when he first met John Stealey (also known as Wild Bill Stealey, co-founder of Microprose and later founder of Interactive Magic). Without John, Sid may never have moved from tinkering with games as a hobby to the well-known professional game creater of today. An old anecdote from their early days goes something like this: The two men had been playing an arcade game at which John had been forced to acknowledge his better in Sid. This in itself wouldn't have been that extraordinary, were it not for the fact that they were playing a flight combat game. John, being a former fighter pilot, couldn't understand why Sid kept beating him. When Sid explained that he could anticipate the enemy pilot's moves because of the poor AI, John was amazed. Sid also told him he could easily write a better AI. John dared him to write a game that was less predictable, and with the successful result, the idea of a computer games company was born.

In their spare time, they started creating and selling games. They turned out to be a great team; Sid would program, while John would sell the games and take care of the business side of their fledgling company. After their first game, Solo Flight, many more would follow. Their company, Microprose, would be one of the first well-established game developers, and for a long time they were among the top gaming companies worldwide.

Rain after sunshine

Though this may seem to be a fairytale story, it was not all 'easy sailing' for Microprose, especially in the beginning. Creating computer games was one thing, but selling them back in those days was an entirely different matter. Not many people owned personal computers then, so their market was little more than a 'niche'. It was also difficult to reach their target audience in a time where game shops and Internet didn't exist. However by the time Pirates! was released, both market and technology had matured enough; sales of the game went through the roof, and this became a milestone for the company. Also for the first time, Sid Meier's name was shown prominently on the box. Since then, Sid's name has been synonymous with success for titles such as Railroad Tycoon, Civilization, Covert Action and Colonization.

Spectrum Holobyte took ownership of a financially troubled Microprose in 1994, and John Stealey left the company he had founded 10 years earlier. Now part of a bigger holding, Microprose could breathe easier, but the company was in a tailspin that seemed difficult to halt. Sid, unhappy with the situation he was in, left in 1996 to form a new company, Firaxis. He took along with him Brian Reynolds and Jeff Briggs, and together they went back to creating games with the freedom they had had, before Spectrum Holobyte took over. Their leaving was most likely the finishing blow for Microprose.

Licenses to Sid titles changing hands

In 1998, the board-games giant Hasbro tried to enter the computer gaming market by acquiring Microprose. The newly formed Hasbro Interactive tried to build on the Microprose name to establish itself as a successful games publisher. However, the Hasbro/Microprose releases were sporadic and many were of mediocre quality. After only three years, Hasbro Interactive threw in the towel. Veteran publisher Infogrames made a bid to pick up the pieces, gaining access to all of Sid's old licenses in the process.

Even if Microprose itself hadn't fared well for years, it still claimed ownership to a lot of strong licenses; many of which carried Sid's name in their titles. With one of the most influential of these titles in hand, Infograms went knocking on Firaxis' door. They wanted a sequel in the Civilization series, and, unwilling to take chances, they brought the game back into Sid's hands. The success of the 3rd installment of Civilization was the foundation for a strong relationship between Firaxis and Infogrames.

Earlier this year, Infogrames' US operations rebranded itself under the name of Atari (also obtained from Hasbro Interactive), and thus revived the name of one of the most legendary brands in the games industry. Soon after, came the announcement that they had transferred the rights to many of Sid's old games to Firaxis. This gave Sid the freedom to work on his own sequels, including the series that caused us to establish this site; Sid Meier's Pirates! and Pirates! Gold.

Inspiring generations

Sid's early games have always been known for their depth, innovation and replayability. Where other developers were concentrating on making action games OR adventure games, Sid found a way to combine the two genres, inventing an entirely new one. Where others were focusing on graphical 'splash', Sid put his efforts into gameplay, and in doing so, created games that people returned to, game after game.

In the last two decades, other developers have often taken Sid's original concepts and have tried to use them and improve on them. Many have failed, unable to recreate that mystical mix between simplicity and depth that Sid's games have, without exception. Still, his influence can be seen and felt in many games that exist today.

Now, at 49, he is perhaps the single most influential person in computer gaming history to date. His games have touched the lives of millions of people all over the world, directly or indirectly. His games often put the player on the 'throne' of an almighty God. Ironically perhaps, he himself has become a 'God of Gaming' for many of his fans. Does he like being called that? Hell, no. Modest as he is, he accepts the praise quietly, and goes on to his next adventure, creating another game that appeals to the masses.

Written by Falconer