Cyberdreams's catalog of luminaries and (un-)published games
Cyberdreams's catalog of luminaries and (un-)published games

So Cyberdreams had come full circle. The company didn't publish the last games that were announced, like it didn't publish its first game (Evolver). The list of announced but unpublished games is impressive: Evolver, Hunters of Ralk, Red Hell, Species, Reverence, The Incredible Shrinking Character, Ares Rising, Wes Craven's Principles of Fear, and Blue Heat. Only two survived with the help of other publishers, Ares Rising and Blue Heat.

If all games had been published, Cyberdreams's library would have looked quite different, as it would have consisted of action games for the most part. Only one out of five of Cyberdreams's published games is an action title, whereas seven out of eight of the announced titles are action games (Red Hell, as phantom title, not included).

With this result, one may wonder what the Cyberdreams's strategy was. But there are more unanswered questions of course. One may also wonder why the company worked with out house artists and other production companies, in stead of building its own in house staff, which could grow and learn from the mistakes that were made. Why were Evolver and Hunters of Halk halted? What was the reason to take so many games into production in the last years?

Was it an attempt to increase the chance to make a hit? But if the published games weren't doing too well, it was a risky strategy, that could easily fail. And in that case it would effect - as it did - the lives of all the artists that were involved, who had been working for months or years on the projects. But then, as Cyberdreams was a privately held company, management was completely dependent, and Cyberdreams's closure may have been caused by independent, external reasons.

Another strategy, the design concept of the company, was inventive, but failed as well. The big names didn't bring in the profit that probably was expected. But there was probably more to it than only being "a shrewd move, by which not only the art of the artists was used, but also their celebrity was leveraged," as Mike Dawson stated in an interview. For bringing the medium and the artist together, making the art of the artists interactive, was a great idea, and because of that, and of course because of all the efforts that were made, the published games create a legacy of which the developers can be proud. Cyberdreams's game library constitutes a very special library, and as such it deserves more praise than it got.

What exactly happened to Cyberdreams, is a bit of a mystery, though it not hard to guess what has happened. Obviously, the "turnaround management team" wasn't that successful. Cyberdreams ceased operations in 1997, for "the owner wanted to focus on his other businesses instead." Perhaps that was a diplomatic formulation of the fact that the "change of focus" was caused by bad sales or by excessive costs of multiple game projects. But it may also have been the real reason, which could explain why management started various projects as if there weren't any serious financial troubles. Various staff members left early in 1997 and in the same period Cyberdreams's website went down. According to postings in the Usenet newsgroups, the company still confirmed orders for games in June 1997, but they didn't answer the phone any longer ...

Epilogue: What happened to the mousepads?

According to Harlan Ellison, in a message on the Ellison Bulletin Board, the CEO absconded with all the money when Cyberdreams went belly-up, including his royalties for No Mouth. Ellison was able to settle with MGM, the distributor, got a pittance, and took the balance due in units of the game, plus several thousand mousepads with his face on them.

One may wonder what money was left to be taken, but apparently there was a big debt. Ellison got his games and mousepads, and after the settlement he started selling them on the official Ellison site. The story of the homecoming of "several thousand mousepads" with Ellison's face on each of them is - quite in style - a bit horrifying. As if "AM" took revenge after all.

Ellison donated hundreds of the mousepads to the Los Angeles Science Fantasy Society (LASFS), and they ended up in the registration bags for the 1999 North American Science Fiction Convention (NASFiC). After the bags were stuffed, a costume was made of the "leftovers." One of the "creators" of the costume, Colleen Crosby, wore the costume at the NASFiC masquerade and posed with Ellison. The destruction of the donated mousepads was thoroughly documented by Pat Lawrence, one of the other "creators." It must have been the highlight of their lives.

(c), November 2008