Malfador Machinations (Aaron Hall) acquired by Strategy First

Wow, this is surprising. Aaron Hall bought by Strategy First, and he’s taking a management position. Who’s going to program his games if he’s managing instead?

Programming isn’t all that difficult. I’m sure Strategy First can whip someone up. The important thing to the SE franchise is that he stays in a production/design role, which I’m sure he will.

What I’m more surprised by is his management role. I’m sure he did all his own bizdev and production on his own titles, of course, but does that qualify him to be be in ‘management’ at Strategy First? There honestly isn’t too much biz-dev to do on a one-man-run indie studio with ~10k selling titles.

And on that note, I’m surprised that Strategy First is so eager to assimilate his company based on only 30k sales over its lifetime, which should be peanuts compared to a single successful Strategy First title. The only real explanation I can come up with is that they think SE V has real potential (which I think is the case) and that they picked him and his company up for peanuts compared to that potential. Or maybe he’s just considered ‘management’ if he keeps acting as designer/producer on his series.

I’m quite curious about all this, since up until this Strategy First business he was working with the same publisher I am…

‘publisher of galactic civilizations’ eh? didn’t brad say they royally screwed him on that publishing deal?

Is this 30k in sales you speak of only counting what he did under Shrapnel? He may be making a killing with his exposure on Steam. There is no telling what kind of business you could do by exposing your title to every Half-Life 2 and Counterstrike player in the world.

Honestly, I’m not sure. I saw the 30k number cited in a different news item about this somewhere, and assumed it meant all the shrapnel and pre-shrapnel sales. (SE IV and Starfury through Shrapnel, plus SE I-III.)

I have no idea if they included steam/StratFirst-retail sales in this, but I could see it going either way. 30k copies sounds a little high for just SE I-IV + Starfury (pre strat-first), but sounds even lower if including the Strategy First retail/steam sales.

If only the man himself would drop by and fill us in…

EDIT: This is from the blues’ news summary of the press release:

What’s a successful Strategy First title? Their theme used to be to produce as many titles as possible. At first they seemed to make it work and made money on printing titles where they only sold 10k copies, so 30k should be pretty good in their book. I’m also sure they are always looking for management talent, since they lost a lot of it in the past few years and is probably a bit different then their hayday five years ago. Frankly I’m still not sure how they are still alive and assumed they died, died, died what was it, a year+ ago?

— Alan

Depends if filing for bankruptcy while owing developers and magazines millions of dollars and then flipping a switch and having their debts erased and going on as if nothing bad happened qualifies as screwing people. ;)

Crazy. I guess I missed all the dirt on Strategy First.

As a consumer, I generally liked their titles, and have bought plenty of them. I’d heard about their bankruptcy a while back, but didn’t know any of the background and didn’t realize they were so controversial.

And that disappoints me. I really want to like them. They’re one of the few companies that’s fairly consistant about releasing titles that I generally like.

I remember hearing about the strategy first debacle awhile ago. I heard that introversion is also pissed off about them too.

I’m not a business expert but how did they get away with filing bankrupty and coming back and not having to pay back all the money from the various developers?

This number couldn’t possibly include what’s been sold post-Shrapnel Games. In fact, it means Space Empires I through III sold next to nothing.


Even in its “We’ll publish everything!” phase, SF had a real shortage of hits. They had too many games to promote properly, I think, so even some good games like Kohan and Rails Across America never got the audience that they deserved.


They certianlt should have died but they have some good titles on their books. I would imagine The Disciples series (for example) would have sold a couple hundred thousand for each major version.

Cough. That sounds really high to me.

— Alan

I would guess that Hearts of Iron was a pretty big seller. Worldwide, it was Paradox’s most successful title and so probably did very well in North America. I’m not sure if it was >100,000, but I wouldn’t be surprised. Likely not much more than that.

But their portfolio has zero top ten or top twenty-five games. Steel Beasts? Legend of the North? Prince of Qin? War Times? For a one-time major publisher, they really have nothing to show for it sales wise.

And the critical hits are few and far between as well. Disciples II. Europa Universalis. Gal Civ. Kohan. Waterloo. Rails Across America. SF is living proof that 90 per cent of everything is crap.


Has a company ever gone from, “I would pick up everything they published” to “Now all they publish is shit” in so short a span? Their shit period has now eclipsed their brief, shining moment by several years, I think. Microprose and a few others fell in the former category for me and remained there until they were no more. Maybe that is the point. You stay afloat on mounds of shit hoping to hit it big or you sink to the bottom.

After screwing Brad and Co. at Stardock, I find it hard to get excited about anything they do. And reviewing their last 129 releases, I am not missing a thing.

EDIT: Unless, of course, they have Disciples: Zinc in the works. I am sure a few extra maps would be worth $29.99. Plus, it would help stave off the common cold.

I’ll try to put this the best I can because as you can imagine, it’s a sore subject here. ;)

Essentially a corporation can file for bankrupcty and effectively wipe away their debts (only having to pay pennies on the dollar). Then it exits bankrupcty and continues on its way.

Paradox, which made Europa Universalis amongst other titles was particularly unhappy with them. It was one of the things that motivated them into getting into publishing as well.

I don’t want to make it out like Strategy First guys are “Bad guys”. On a personal level, the people there I worked with are great people.

But the bankruptcy laws are way too kind and allowed Strategy First to essentially get away with millions of dollars in debt. In our case, that meant hundreds of thousands of dollars we should have received. And one of the reasons we were so unhappy about it is that on GalCiv, we did pretty much everything on it. Strategy First was essentially just a business that stood between us and the distributor (Encore Distribution). So the money went from Encore, to Strategy First and then stayed there. Strategy First’s value-add was not significant in my opinion. As someone put it at the time, they were like some guy who was intercepting paychecks at the mail box.

Strategy First

Star Force

Coincidence? I think not. Talk about reason to boycott a company. Starforce has a, debatably, unhealthy product for your PC that you can, now, choose not to install. Strategy First anally raped many, many makers of quality games and seem to be suffering little punishment.

What the hell is this shit doing in the “Microsoft buys Lionhead” forums?!

Well I don’t think their “strategy” was to have a AAA top-level game but, at one point, just to produce as much as possible and hope the aggregate profit justified it at the end of the day. They thought the add-on disk market for Flight Sim was huge as far as margins went.

Nothing against the employees, many of whom were good, just the company management ideal and execution that got shoddier as the years went on. They took on internal projects they couldn’t hope to finish, especially when the first ones (ex: Orb) were tanking. They had the benefit of receiving some funding from the Canadian government (as a part of their efforts to promote technology companies in Canada). From what I understand their work offices were horrifically packed and extremely hard to work in. Many of their smart people left - hell one of them left to marry a guy at TimeGate. Games at that point were simply products someone else did that they could push out the door.

So yeah I’m sure there are some dedicated developers who had a working game on time that could do well for them, but I don’t think they cared very much. Following the massive underpayment to developers even before the bankruptcy - I’m just surprised anyone has the guts to work with them at all.

— Alan