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The Rise and Fall of SouthPeak Interactive

by Stephen Granade

How SouthPeak Got Its Start

I first found out about SouthPeak Interactive three years ago when they sent me a copy of Temüjin, an adventure game which used a new full-motion video engine called Video Reality. The interface was annoying, the acting was not so great...and yet, the game hinted at some intriguing possibilities.

Then I found out that SouthPeak Interactive was located just twenty miles away from me, nestled in the embracing arms of SAS Institute, its parent company. SAS Institute was a large software company that had never before made computer games; what on Earth had possessed them to start up a game company? It turned out that they had created SouthPeak Interactive to create and market the Video Reality engine. I went to visit them, learning more about the Video Reality engine in the process. I was impressed by what they had done with full-motion video, but not sure of how well the company would do.

They certainly started out quickly. With the financial might of SAS Institute behind them, they began publishing other companies' games as well as creating their own. They worked on licensing the Video Reality engine, getting another company to work with them on 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, while they also developed another Video Reality title of their own, Dark Side of the Moon. They managed to get the license for a Men in Black game, as well as an arrangement to publish a series of Warner Brothers computer games.

This flurry of activity was impressive, but behind it lay a company that was running smack up against the reality of the computer games market: most gaming companies simply do not do well. On the whole, computer games don't make money, they lose it. SouthPeak also suffered from having been initially created to take advantage of the Video Reality engine, a gaming engine which had a number of strikes against it. For one, it was a full-motion video engine. Making a FMV game is expensive, as it combines the cost of filming, requiring actors and directors, with the cost of hiring programmers and computer artists. For another, Video Reality was well-suited for making adventure games, a genre that was heading for a recession. By 1998 commercial adventure games were languishing, and the era of all-FMV games was drawing to a close. No companies were willing to license the Video Reality engine. SouthPeak jumped into the adventure game market at exactly the wrong time, and the technology around which the company was based was going nowhere fast.

The other games SouthPeak was publishing didn't fare much better. Though the company did well in securing movie and TV licenses, they didn't find the right developers to turn those licenses into good games. The Men in Black game, a blend of action and adventure, came out to generally poor reviews. Wild Wild West, another action and adventure blend based on yet another Will Smith movie, also got mixed reviews and sold poorly.

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