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Maxis is one of the most creative software companies in the industry today. Throughout their rich history, Maxis has made many very successful and very unique games. Focusing mostly on very addictive simulation games, Maxis first made a name for itself with SimCity series, and its second major break came with The Sims series.
Known as an extremely creative company with a wide-reaching audience (a difficult task in the software industry), Maxis has had a very long and trying climb to the top.
Maxis began its humble beginnings in the mid-1980s with Gaming designer Will Wright. While designing an attack helicopter game called Raid of Bungeling Bay, Wright noticed he enjoyed building the islands for the game more than actually playing the game.
Wright took an interest in urban planning, and with the help of theories from Jay Forrester, added buildings, vehicles, and people to create a new type of game. Thus, SimCity was essentially born.
Unfortunately, interest in the games, particularly from publishers and developers, was lacking. They simply didn't think it was worth the risk. This was a completely untested genre, after all. Wright eventually released a Commodore 64 version of the game in 1987, but could not even hope to reach the big names like the PC or Macintosh. That is, until he met co-founder Jeff Braun at a pizza party in 1987. Braun was so interested in Wright's game that they started their own company to publish such games. Thus, Maxis was born.
In 1989, Maxis struck a co-publishing deal with Broderbund, but Wright was still unsure whether or not the game would sell. Initially, once SimCity was released, sales were slow. But, like many cult-hits that bent the rules, word of SimCity spread like wildfire.
Wright proceeded to work on two new games, SimEarth (based roughly on James Lovelock's Gaia theory of planet evolution), and SimAnt. Continued success drove Maxis to innovate, rather than pigeonhole themselves into merely being a SimWhatever company. However, many of their developments struggled to reach even a small amount of the sales and popularity that their Sim hits reached.
Maxis goes big
After releasing SimCity 2000 in 1994, Maxis took a big step and made the move to bigtime, going public in June 1995. This integral turning point in Maxis is occasionally looked upon as the death of Maxis. However, many fail to realize that Maxis could not have continued forever without going big. Wright and Braun acquiesced their top positions to a businessman who knew nothing about game development, and Maxis moved into a large, corporate office. Wall Street went nuts over the stocks (mostly from the still-simmering success of SC2K), but the company was weak internally. Low morale, and a lack of ideas for the next big game lead to a feeling of desperation.
Wright was still trying to create; SimCopter was his next big idea, but big business was focused on short-term goals and quarterly profits, not giving the development team enough time to polish the games. To "kick the horse while it's down" as it were, management gave a deadline of releasing four games (Full Tilt Pinball, SimPark, SimTunes, and SimCopter) by the end of 1996. The team at Maxis managed it, but everyone (except management) agreed that all 4 games were not as polished as they would have preferred, and many corners were cut. Wright was particularly angry about SimCopter, his baby, being shipped with so much more potential to the game being lost (Indeed, many players enjoyed the basic premise of the game immensely, but felt it was far from complete, and ridden with bugs. See Homosexual Sims bug).
Entering 1997, Maxis took the "shotgun" approach to software development (release a large array of games and hope something hits) for a lack of any remaining option. Maxis acquired several companies and released many lackluster games (The Crystal Skull, pour example). Eventually, the problems got to the point where management couldn't ignore them - Maxis posted a $2-million loss in March of 1997. The consensus? Release another SimCity (SimCity 3000). In 3D, no less. After SimCopter, many were expecting more 3D, but both hardware and software of the time were nowhere near advanced enough at the time (and still aren't - SimCity 4 isn't fully 3D, and taxes even the newest machines). But management didn't care - and Maxis was practically a laughing stock at E3 1997.
Ironically, Electronic Arts would be Maxis' saving grace (ironic only because of the hatred of EA nowadays). EA had planned to acquire Maxis for years, but Maxis would not allow it. Unfortunately, the company had no choice after the previous few years. June 1997 brought the $15-million deal that realistically saved Maxis. EA knew the company was dead inside, but hoped the brand name and its own management could salvage the company. French engineer Luc Barthelet was transferred over to head Maxis. Faced with anger and low morale, Barthelet realized that things had to change, and fast.
Maxis tries again
Barthelet rearranged a majority of Maxis, losing many people in the process. He cut loose the 3rd-party companies Maxis had acquired, and killed all but one of the projects on the go (although the Streets of SimCity, saved from an early death, would later go on to be another embarrassment anyway). His mission was to turn Maxis into the type of company that released only Top 10 games. In otherwords, a complete 180-degree turn from Maxis' old ideals. Bathelet played the 3D SimCity 3000, realized it was ridiculous to force it into 3D, and ordered it back to a SimCity 2000 style. Barthelet also realized that Wright needed more freedom and resources to do what he did best - design amazing games. Not surprisingly, Maxis started to rebound (internally, at least).
Wright's new freedom let him focus on the game he had kept in the back of his mind almost since Day 1. Tentatively titled Dollhouse (luckily later renamed to the infamous The Sims). Months and months of detailed analysis, research, and development went into the game that really brought Maxis back to the top of the industry, and earned the title of the best selling computer game of all time.. Although Maxis is chided for selling out by releasing expansion pack after expansion pack, the fact remains that the Sims is a hugely popular franchise and one of the few titles that reached non-gamers on such a grand scale.
Maxis has now released The Sims 2, the sequel to the hit simulation, to much fanfare. Wright continues to work on his personal titles (an early space-faring game entitled SimMars has partially grown into his most ambitious project yet, Spore). Maxis will likely continue for some time; however, the effect of being under EA's wing is beginning to show. Maxis' name hasn't been on one of its games for a while now (titles like Sims 2 or SimCity 4 were under the "EA" brand). Maxis' future from here is unknown.
Note: This list does not include re-releases or expansion packs. For those, please reference the individual game articles.
- A-Train Construction Set
- Kick Off 97
- Marble Drop
- Streets of SimCity
- Tony La Russa Baseball 4
- SimCity 3000
- SimMars (Cancelled)
- SimsVille (Cancelled)
- The Sims 2
- The Urbz
- Spore Creature Keeper
- Spore Hero and Spore Hero Arena
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