CEO Of Good Deal Games
Good Deal Games is the only company out there still releasing games for retro systems like Colecovision, Sega CD, and CD-i. They even managed to secure the publishing rights to some long-lost FMV games including one of the very first Digital Pictures games; "Citizen X."
FMV World recently talked with the CEO of Good Deal Games, Michael Thomasson, and asked him about his unique company and the process of publishing retro games.
FMV World: Michael, please tell us a little bit about yourself, your company, and your staff.
Thomasson: Well, there is a lot to cover in that simple question... I used to manage a chain of videogame stores years ago during the SNES, Genesis, Jaguar and 3DO days - seven stores in total. I left them to go to graduate school and eventually turned my programming skills to animation skills. I worked as an animator for a full decade, but the whole time I was receiving requests from my "old life" since I made many friends and contacts over the years. People knew that I had contacts, and they all seemed to want something hard to obtain. So, I taught myself web design with an "HTML for Dummies" book and placed all my item for sale and trade online mostly to try and keep the phone from ringing so much. From that point forward, Good Deal Games became the monster that it is today.
Currently I teach a range of college courses at Canisius College in Buffalo, NY. Over the years I have taught both 3D animation and classical animation, but in the past few years I've narrowed the focus to two courses: Game Design, where I help students create properly formatted game design documents, and the History of Video Games where I teach all things gaming. It's great. I walk in and talk about something I love and the school sends me a check. The easiest three grand I've ever earned twice a year! What is really funny about the class is that the school has a state-of-the-art facility in which I teach. It has a rocking crystal clear audio system and I'm pumping mono beeps and blips through the speakers and projecting VCS games in low resolution on a giant screen. The pixels are the size of my head! It is such a waste of technology and we love it.
Everyone at Good Deal Games is a fan and hobbyists, so we all work on a volunteer basis. For over a decade, every penny that has come into the organization goes directly to operating the website or to help publish retrogaming projects that we believe in like new games for vintage consoles or the Arcade Ambiance audio CDs, or our history books, et cetera. I could go on, but we've donated a lot to the community over the years.
What attracted you to this line of work?
Well, I love games and not just playing them. When I was younger I would tear through the physical hardware and even the software code trying to figure out what makes 'em tick. Good Deal Games is a labor of love, so I do not perceive it as "work." The team, myself included, all work in the real world as well as the virtual world :-)
How did you get the idea to license games for older systems?
I used to rate software for several videogame rental chains, so I attended all the conventions every year, mostly the two Consumer Electronic Shows (CES) in Chicago and Vegas. I interacted with many people over the years, and they often sent me (or someone I knew) review copies of games before they were published. A decade later I was still playing my Sega CD, the internet was starting to flourish, and that is when I realized that I was not the only one that still loved playing the old games. I thought, would it not be great for others to try out some of these titles that were never released? It would seem new, and the programmers, artists and developers that worked so hard on them probably still want people to enjoy and appreciate what they worked so hard to make. So, I contacted Stargate Films and they agreed to license "Bug Blasters: The Exterminators" and "Star Strike" to us. It worked out well for everyone and now the world is a better place!
How did you get the rights/license for these games? Was it expensive?
One word - contracts. Some developers want nothing, some want a piece of the pie in the form of money straight up or a small payment for each copy sold. Regardless, they all know that there is very little to be made in publishing games for retro systems. We do not sell many copies, but those that do purchase them are happy to have something new to play on their vintage systems.
These games are really quite good. Is there a reason Sony decided not to release them?
Well, in the case of "Bug Blasters" and "Star Strike," Sony failed to pay the developers that made them. They had contracts to pay Stargate Films for their work, and when they abandoned the Sega CD platform they failed to do so. Sony did this to many developers, and some went out of business.
It is really ironic actually. Sony was one of the leading content providers for Sega platforms, making games for the Genesis and Sega CD. When their add-on for the Super Nintendo failed to get released, they decided to go it alone, and they did not want to be supplying titles for their competition. So almost overnight, Sony went from being a friend of Sega to a mortal enemy. They let all their projects die, and "Bug Blasters" and "Star Strike" were caught in the middle.
All of the sudden, Sega did not have a lot of titles to release since Sony bailed, and people thought that Sega was abandoning their platforms. When the Playstation was released, everyone jumped on board, since they felt that Sega let them down. In the end, the gaming public ended up supporting the company that abandoned them in the first place, and Sega suffered as a result. The "bad guy" became the market leader for almost a decade until recently being humbled.
Are you a fan of FMV games? Do you play them?
Yes, I did like FMV games and do play them. Still a fan of all the original laserdisc based FMV games, with Cobra Command being my favorite. Really partial to "Super Don Quixote" and the very rare fmv coin-op "Us vs. Them."
When you received the games, did they need extra programming or were they completed already?
"Star Strike" and "Bug Blasters" were complete and ready to go from the start. We just designed artwork and packaging and sent them out. "Burning Fists" was far from complete. With some help, we were able to almost triple the frame rate, improve the computer controlled artificial intelligence, and fix numerous other bugs. "Mighty Mighty Missile" was programmed entirely from scratch internally. We are particularly proud of that title, as it has more graphic sprites moving simultaneously than any other game on the platform - a real technical feat!
Have you considered trying to get these games released on Xbox Live Arcade or Playstation Network?
Sony's licensing was fierce and gave Sony full control on anything developed on the Yarouze system, so we dodged it. We have been eyeing Xbox Live, but we know that major developers will get preferential treatment and access. However, the new XNA Game Studio running on the 360 has real potential.
Do the games sell well? Do you make a profit?
Some games sell well and some do not. The ones that do turn a profit fund the next project or cover the loss of a previous project. It is not a good business model, which is why we are the only ones doing what we do. However, it serves a purpose and fills a void not offered by others. Since we're not taking any money personally from the sales, we're not losing any income. So, if we can make a project happen, we'll go for it!
Are there any other games in the pipeline? Do you plan on developing or licensing newer games?
It is becoming harder and harder to locate games that were created and not released. There are only so many, and the well is running dry. That is one reason why we started trying to finish incomplete projects or creating new titles. In sad news, my father struggled with cancer for the past year, and recently passed away. My mother is disabled, and my father was her primary caregiver. So, when he started to get sick, I moved from New York to Florida for most of a year to help them. My entire world changed, leaving my wife and job temporarily to do what needed to be done. As a result, most of GDG's projects came to a screaching halt, and are only now just beginning to get reconsidered. So yes, new games will come, but none in the immediate future. The nice thing about publishing for classic game consoles is that there is no real rush - the games just get more classic!
For more information please visit Good Deal Games.