Interview with Barry Friedman
This interview conducted and copyright in June 2001.
Barry Friedman has enjoyed a 20-year career that has earned him a well-respected reputation in high tech circles as consummate deal maker and visionary. Friedman and his first company, International Computer Group (ICG), have been behind a number of key agreements in the online, multimedia and software industries. Since 1979, ICG has been the exclusive representative of major software developers, publishers and intellectual property rights holders for development, licensing and distribution agreements. Surprisingly, Friedman did not get his start in the high tech world. He began in 1972 as an artist's agent. After he began offering artwork to the computer gaming industry for packaging design, his interest and involvement in electronic entertainment grew.
Today, Friedman is cofounder of Fog Studios. He first met the other two co-founders of FOG Studios, Ed Dille and Bill Kunkel in the electronic entertainment industry.
This text has been taken with approval from the Fog Studios web site and is copyright. For more information about Fog Studios, see their web site at http://www.fogstudios.com.
How did you come up with ICG and what was it's vision?
International Computer Group, Inc. (ICG) was really started as "Stinson Illustrated" exclusively representing the surrealistic work of Paul Stinson. Paul was a gifted master at the age of 22. I loved his work. Creative Associates was founded in 1976 by my old best friend, Michael Kasloff and myself. I then bought him out and it continued to represent some of the finest surrealists and photo realists, space artists, and others. We had about 20 incredible artists at our high period. In 1979 I bought a TRS-80 Model III and it came with a game from Scott Adam's Adventure International which I played for months I loved what it did to me and what it did for others. It was very addictive. From there, in order to get free software, our artists started doing game covers since all games were sold in baggies with xerox sheets of paper.
We were the first agency to do 4 color artwork for all of the publishers. At some points in time we were approximately 80% + of most covers in the industry. We also used our artwork that was done for other jobs such as movies and book covers for games as I always held back the rights to use the pictures for other purposes.
Sierra On Line was our first account in 1979 along with Adventure International and a few others that existed then, and we did all of their covers for years. ICG became a name change in 1983. It spoke more to what we really did and who we really were. ICG was formed to represent the kids that designed the games, programmed the games, wrote the music and had great talent. It was the first interactive talent agency in the world and we held the leadership position for decades.
The vision is that the "artists" of a game were no different than the artists of a song etc. They were the next great masters of creative freedom and I wanted to represent their talent as their business manager which I did. I launched many careers until 1998.
When you were at ICG, what other games did you contract and did they achieve the full Miner 2049er treatment?
WOW .We did over 4,000 different game skus under our representation. I represented over 350 publishers, intellectual properties and developers, exclusively and handled all of their negotiations, worldwide.
Miner 2049er was a magical game and at a magical time. It received the ultimate treatment because it was the game that we were going to show the world exactly how to properly handle a license in those days for a great product. It didn't belong with one publisher and it belonged on EVERY system that could handle a translation without diminishing what Bill wanted to see in the game. He signed off on all versions that were licensed. Other games got the same treatment but history was made with Miner as it was the first game licensed to more machines and publishers than in the history of the computer game marketplace. It probably still holds that record.
Can you tell us a bit about the artist used for the Miner 2049er advertising?
Many of our artists provided the finest artwork in the industry. Our talent base who we represented for art were all gifted. You refer to Scott Ross. Scott was amazingly prolific and many of the publishers liked his whimsical style and fantastic talent. Scott did a lot of Big Daddy Ross type artwork for t-shirts and other things when I found him.
We did the artwork for 90% of the top 20 publishers from 1980-1984. Those were the years when we produced the first 4 color box which is still what they use to this day, the first map used in Ultima II which was a fantastic cloth map piece of artwork. We did all the work for Datamost, Datasoft, Sierra, Sirius, Big Five, GameStar, Adventure International, Broderbund Business Products (some) and many others. Since our agency specialized in surrealism and most of the games were surrealistic in story line and play, we were all a perfect fit.
How did you first meet up with Bill Hogue at Big Five Software?
Since our agency was local in North Hollywood and that is Bill's stomping grounds as he was growing up, we contacted him to do his cover work for the games he was doing for the TRS-80. Bill and I sat down, liked each other a lot and it just grew from there. He is a fantastic person with tremendous passion in his heart for his work and enormous integrity as a person. Still to this day. I will always love Bill. He is a genius in this field and a founder of setting the bar at a level that changed the industry forever.
What was it about Miner 2049er that made you decide that it deserved the "red carpet" treatment?
When most games I was looking at were great but few levels, here comes Bill with the monster of all games. Totally addictive, totally brilliant game play, a great sound, more levels than anything ever done and just a perfect game. When I saw it I told Bill we had a major piece that would be a contribution to the industry. It was my FAVORITE game. It still is. The game had all the markings of becoming a classic and I knew that this was THE ONE to test everything we ever wanted to do as an agency with it.
Before I offered it to anyone publically, I did a private showing with Johnny Williams of Sierra On Line to sell it to them. They passed. Ken still says to this day, it was a big mistake. But it's okay.
Can you recall how many versions of the game were licensed?
We did a version for almost every computer that could handle the game without breaching its integrity. I tried to cover every machine in the United States and Europe. We had not moved into Japan yet at that time. From memory, these include Atari 400/800/1200, Atari 5200, Atari 2600, Apple II, Commodore 64, Commodore Vic-20, Texas Instruments 99/4A, IBM PC, Nintendo Gameboy, Radio Shack TRS-80, Thomson and Coleco.
I don't recall ever seeing a version for the TRS-80. Who had licensed to do that one?
Bill Hogue had kept it for Big Five. I believe I saw him working on it at Big Five but I don't know if he ever put it out because he didn't want to write for the TRS-80 Color Computer. If it came out, it would have been by Radio Shack itself because at some point they had picked up Big Five Software.
Why was the Apple II version of Miner 2049er (by Mike Livesay of MicroFun) released to market first, beating the original Atari version?
Bill was backlogged with the manufacturing and delivery of cartridges. Most of the versions were released on cartridge whereas the version for Apple II was on disk. Meanwhile, Mike kept programming away. Production of floppy disks could be done overnight unlike cartridges.
Where there any versions in the pipeline which just didn't make the light of day?
Amiga, Epyx Gamegear, A watch dedicated to Miner that played Miner, a TV show and Coin Op. Clarification, the Amiga and Epyx Gamegear (later known as the Atari Lynx) were for the Miner 2049er sequel titled, "Bounty Bob Strikes Back".
Who was to do the Amiga version of BBSB?
US-Gold handled all of the licensing for the European market and the Amiga was bigger in Europe than in America. US-Gold also handled the Amstrad, BBC and Spectrum versions of BBSB.
Who was interested in doing a TV show of Miner?
Hanna-Barbara bought the licence to do a cartoon show but they never ended up producing it.
What were some of the details of the contract with Bill Hogue and also the licensing companies?
It was the largest advances and highest royalties paid at that time in the industry. The terms are confidential.
What information were each of the licencees given in order to do the ports?
Some of them were given copies of a ROM that was playable. Some of them were given some screenshots and explanations of the game but all of them knew the logic that was involved so at some point Bill must have shared some actual descriptions. I don't think we ever let the source code out of our hands.
Did everything run smoothly with all the licencees?
No. We had tremendous problems collecting money with MicroFun. It was not fun. All others pretty much did what they were to do.
Is it true that MicroFun had invested money into advertising for the cancelled sequel, "Scraper Caper", and that they did the unnofficial "Miner II" as compensation?
Yes it is. MicroFun had a section in their agreement that allowed them to do derivative works and because they had given us an advance, they went ahead and produced that and then burned us on royalties. They folded and ran out of town. We were never paid the appropriate royalties.
Approximately, how many copies of Miner 2049er were sold?
Miner was NO. 1 on the Softalk, Softsell and every chart in every country for quite some time. It started a frenzy for multi level, MONSTER amount of graphics and sound in games. It made a lot of money for everyone. It was a multi million dollar game in that time which was rare. It won Game of the Year beating out Donkey Kong!!!!!!
Whatever happened to Scraper Caper?
That's more for Bill to answer, I really don't recall what happened. Maybe he wasn't satisfied with the results and if it wasn't great then he didn't want to do it.
How did the licence to Mindscape for the Gameboy version come about after so many years?
I got a call that they wanted to have the Gameboy version because they were going actively into Gameboy, so we charged them a fee and we gave them a licence and they had the official rights.
If someone wanted to do a port of Miner 2049er today, is that possible?
Who holds the licensing and what are the terms?
Bill holds the licencing. As for the terms, it depends on the machine and what the installed base is. We would keep control over the translations and signing off on it being a good version.
What is your impression of the video game industry today?
State-of-the art...I think that they are pushing the machines to the limit, which is good...I like what I see...the things that are great always rise to the top.