Microsoft's bad history disrespecting classic video games (a firsthand account)
The Redmond giant just purchased some of the most historically significant video games... but will they respect them?
I’d like to tell you all… a little story.
Around the turn of the century, I worked for a wee company called Microsoft.
At the corporate headquarters — in Redmond, Washington — I worked in a number of buildings around what is known as “Main Campus”.
For a few of those years I worked in building 25. The only reason that is at all interesting (other than that is the building where Microsoft’s DRM implementation was created)… is that building 25 is directly across the street from buildings 16, 17, and 18.
Those three buildings, as it happened, were all connected together with these really cool skybridges. Big, wide hallways on an upper floor.
I mean… they were wide. These weren’t rinky dink little office building hallways. You could drive a friggin’ car through these skybridges. With room to spare on each side.
So. Question: You’re in a company filled to the brim with nerds. You have some big, impressive looking skybridges that are empty and not being used for anything in particular?
What do you do?
You fill them with classic arcade video games. Obviously. Or at least you line the sides with arcades (so there’s still plenty of room to use them as hallways).
That’s exactly what folks did.
We’re talking… maybe two dozen arcade games were in these hallways at any given time. All set to free-play, naturally.
Each game was brought in by employees who had their own personal collections. Often times because they spent more time at work (Microsoft was famous for 80 hour work weeks back then)… so bringing in some arcade games helped boost morale. Made the place feel that much more like a nerdy home.
It was this way… for years and years. The arcades graced the hallways of these buildings (and others on Microsoft Main Campus) long before my time.
To be sure, these skybridges weren’t the only places that arcades could be found around Microsoft Main Campus. Many other buildings were known to have little clusters of arcades here and there. In this corner or that. But the skybridges filled with arcades were visually interesting. Simply… super cool.
Most of the arcades were in good working order. Some were project machines that needed a little TLC (and often got tinkered on, after hours, by some of the fellow nerds).
It was, honestly, pretty awesome. Very nerdy. A great morale booster.
Then, one day, Microsoft decided it was fed up with arcade games. An email was sent out to every building that was known to have them… that if they were not removed from Microsoft Main Campus promptly… they would be tossed out. Into the garbage.
Many came in on the weekend to move machines out. To find new homes for them (many had been purchased, by employees with their own funds, specifically to be enjoyed by coworkers… their intended home was the cubbies and hallways of Microsoft). Some machines were donated by employees that didn’t even work there anymore. Getting it all sorted out, in short order, was darn near impossible.
In the end, many arcades did (indeed) get hauled away and destroyed by Microsoft.
Classic arcades — some working, some not — from the 1980s and 1990s.
Some arcades managed to be spared — by flying under the radar, being temporarily moved, or being in buildings where the management was more “classic game friendly” (such as in some of the game groups over in what was known as the “Red West” campus). But enough were impacted to feel like a major downer.
To say this was a blow to the morale of the arcade and classic game loving nerds would be an understatement.
Over time, many arcades were able to return (at least in some areas). But the damage was done and the anti-classic-game vibe of Microsoft management was shown.
Why do I bring this up?
Well. Microsoft just bought Activision. And, with it, Microsoft now owns some of the most important classic games in human history. Zork. Kings Quest. Space Quest. Pitfall! And so many others.
Games that are important not just to the history of gaming in general… but to those of us who were there as the video game industry grew up.
And… based on personal experience, when it comes to the preservation of classic video games… I don’t trust Microsoft as far as I can throw ‘em.
Maybe Microsoft has changed since those days. I sure hope so. But, honestly, there’s no reason to believe they have.
Will Microsoft assist in the preservation of these classics? Will they lock them away in their vault? Will they capitalize on them in a way that will disrespect their memories?
Who knows. Time will tell. It’s up to Microsoft to prove that they truly care about the gaming legacy they just purchased.
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