Part 2: Raining on the Parade
After the success of SimCity 2000 in 1994, the next year would be a metamorphosis for Maxis. The ubiquitous casual comfort associated with the small company would give way to a stauncher corporate feel, in large part because Maxis' investors were eager to take the company public. "When we brought on that venture capital money, we had pretty much committed to either a public offering or acquisition," explains Wright.
The changes began. Wright and Braun gave their top management spots to an MBA-wielding executive named Sam Poole, the former head of sales for Disney Software, an executive who many now admit knew nothing about game development.
The company moved from its cozy offices, located in Orinda, California, into the sixth floor of a decidedly more corporate office-tower in Walnut Creek, California.
Employees tried to add personality to the bland space - office signs around the building point to the "Bored Room" and the "Unemployed Sign Painters Line" - but there was one sign they forgot to add: "Wall Street, straight ahead."
"When we brought on venture capital money, we had pretty much committed to either a public offering or acquisition."
- Will Wright
In June 1995, the company would go public amid much pomp and circumstance, especially considering the fact SimCity 2000 was still selling exceptionally well at the time, almost a year and a half after release. "Everyone was still riding the buzz from SimCity 2000," remembers Maxis' art director Ocean Quigley.
The IPO would net Maxis US $35 million, and investors were bullish about the company's future. With strong sales from SimCity 2000 and the Urban Renewal add-on package, Maxis would actually report US $6 million in net income for its first public year, six times what they earned only a few years ago.
Witty signs tried to liven up the corporate feeling at Maxis' new office.
To Wall Street, Maxis looked strong.
Maxis art director Ocean Quigley.
But internally, there were serious questions about the future of the company. Everyone knew that there wasn't a new SimCity game coming for 1996, and with SimCity 2000 sales starting to dry up, no one knew what Maxis was going to do to meet analyst's projections. "There was a feeling of frantic desperation at the highest level of the company," explains Quigley.
This desperation was compounded by the fact that Jeff Braun had decided to slowly phase out of the company's day to day operations. "After the company went public, Jeff basically said, 'I've been running this company for eight years.
It needs to get to the next level by itself or disappear,'" explains current Maxis general manager Luc Barthelet.
Maxis' new corporate office building in Walnut Creek, CA.
With no focus, no clear direction, and Wall Street banging on the door, not many at Maxis wanted to open the door to the future. And looking back now, it's easy to understand why.
Into the Abyss