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Old 07-08-2010, 03:10 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Looking Back at Acclaim with Former CEO Greg Fischbach

Just before this year's E3, Yoostar Entertainment -- a start-up selling software that allows users to edit themselves into movie clips -- announced that Greg Fischbach (below left) joined them to serve as president and CEO. If his name doesn't ring a bell, chances are you didn't spend the '90s reading game industry financial statements; Fischbach co-founded and then ran Acclaim for most of its life, seeing it balloon successfully starting in the late '80s and then come to a close (selling its name to a free-to-play company) in 2004.

So with Acclaim (or at least, Fischbach's Acclaim) now in the past, I tracked him down for a brief chat about the old days.

Ups and Downs

1UP: If you were to do a postmortem look at Acclaim, what do you see as the biggest successes and the biggest disappointments over the years?

GF: Well the biggest success is you started with an idea and it worked. We started the company -- founded the company -- in 1987, and it was very successful from the first moment. We did $40 million dollars of business in our first six months of operation. And it was basically the first... It was the first of the American companies to try to approach the Nintendo market. Everybody was afraid of the market at the time we entered because of what had happened with the Atari 2600. And, you know, the videogame market had just like slid off the edge of the earth. Nobody wanted to do cartridge product. And Nintendo had been quite successful the Christmas of '86, and there was a real buzz in the market.

We took an idea and we ran with it. We financed it ourselves, and we took it public a year later in very difficult circumstances -- 1988 was not a great year for Wall Street -- and we were off and running. You know, I think that the acquisition of the rights from Midway, the acquisition of the wrestling license, the strategy we had adopted in putting it together -- which was basically a license strategy, using licensed content -- the ability to acquire content relatively quickly from the Japanese market and anglicize it and bring it into the U.S. market, the establishment of the European group in '89 and '90 which laid the footprint for how people would do things later on, the acquisition of the studios and the development of the studios... You know, the footprint that we left had offices in England, France, Germany, Spain, Australia, and for a long period of time we had offices in Japan. It was really fun. You couldn't beat it in terms of excitement for the first 10 years or so -- the first 10 or 15 years. It was really, really exciting.

1UP: So then you'd say the disappointments came in the latter years, I'd assume?

GF: Well, the disappointments came with its failure. I mean, what else could you say? When it stopped breathing, that was pretty disappointing.

1UP: Obviously you guys worked with a lot of licenses. Were there any 'lessons learned' there, in the right and wrong ways to deal with these?

GF: Well, I think there was an overreliance on the license as the industry changed in '95 and '96 and '97. [We realized] that the license property was a good vehicle, but the license alone would not sell the game. Whereas prior to that point in time, almost any license would work in selling the product through into the marketplace. Also, you know, be very careful in what you pick, because most don't work. I mean, I was very successful at Activision with Ghostbusters, and then went out and bought five others including Howard the Duck, and, you know, looked at it and said, "Hm, this wasn't so good." [Laughs]

Alternate History

1UP: Was there anything in Acclaim's history that came very close to happening, but ended up going another way?

GF: Well, the company was in existence for almost 20 years... [Laughs]

1UP: Yeah, so it's less of a "yes/no" question, and more of a "can you give any examples?"

GF: I'll tell ya, I would say quite candidly that we won some and lost some. [Laughs] I mean, everybody looks at everything. You become part of that grouping of companies that are presented with opportunities as they come by.

1UP: Were there any big ones that you regret, looking back?

GF: Sure, Guitar Hero. Yeah, everybody looked at Guitar Hero, but Bobby Kotick saw more in it than anybody else did. Guitar Hero was passed around to everybody, and we all looked at it and said, "Who's going to buy a peripheral like that?"

The Name "Acclaim"

1UP: Is it true that the name came because you guys wanted to be higher in the phonebook because of the "A-c-c" for Acclaim?

GF: Well, the name came because... My partner's name was Jim Scoroposki, and the two of us funded and founded the company. And I told Jimmy I didn't want to be in the middle of the alphabet -- I wanted to be at the end of the alphabet, or the beginning of the alphabet. And so he's sitting on the beach one day, and he calls me up and says, "Well what do you think of this name?" And it was "Acclaim." And I said, "That's OK. That sounds OK." It was better than Scoroposki and Fischbach Software, I'll tell you that much. [Laughs]

1UP: It would sell to a very niche market, I would think.

GF: Right, yeah to a very niche market. And then we called it Acclaim Entertainment because I looked at it as an entertainment company, because we were selling entertainment and I didn't want to restrict it to just videogames. And if you look at the history of the company, at one point in time we were into peripherals. We sold dedicated handhelds, we had a comic book company that we purchased, we were in the arcade business, and we looked at financing films. I mean, the model was really entertainment all the way through, and my background was out of the music business, where I was a rock 'n roll lawyer and a manager of a band.

1UP: Yeah, that was the Stever Miller Band, right?

GF: Yep, Steve-o.

Final Thoughts

1UP: Of the games that Acclaim made over the years, or the other businesses you were in, were any of them a pet project of yours specifically?

GF: I think the company was a pet project of mine. I mean, when you start something from nothing, and you use your own money, and you don't have any outside financing, and you kind of figure out how to do it, and you make mistakes along the way... to see the success of it, and watch it grow, that's the greatest satisfaction you can have. I mean, it's just -- it's unbelievable. Very few people have that opportunity, and we were lucky enough to be able to have that opportunity. Most of the companies in our business are venture financed in one form or another, and Acclaim wasn't. It was really unique that way.

1UP: What do you hope Acclaim's legacy will be -- 10, 20 years down the road?

GF: That people remember it. [Laughs.] It's just a very difficult question. I don't really know how to answer that question. You know, companies are transitory, and they exist for a moment in time. And the grouping of people that come to operate it experience a common bond. I would ask, I guess, that the legacy that it leaves is that it was a fun place to work and people enjoyed what they did.
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