From the outset, Barthelet laid down the law. "I told people from day one: We are going to be a PC studio that does top ten products, and if we did that we'd stay in business," he recalls. Surprisingly, that's not what everyone at Maxis wanted to hear from its new leader. "A lot of people weren't interested in this - they wanted to do their own little projects and didn't care if they would sell. Those people left."
The first six months saw a total reorganization at Maxis, with the entire top-level management and most of the sales and marketing team exiting the company, including company president Sam Poole. Barthelet stripped Maxis down to a few key development teams and cut loose the Austin developer Cinematronics, who was still at work on games such as Crucible. "In reality, those games might have been top 75 or top 100 games.
Perhaps most troubling to Barthelet was the current state of the SimCity brand, a cornerstone of the acquisition deal.
It was time to start over. Barthelet brought Lucy Bradshaw over from EA to help spearhead the SimCity 3000 project in November 1997. "When I got here, it had basically been agreed that we needed to take the game in a new direction," she says. For the entire SimCity team, embarrassed by its previous work on the project, Barthelet and Bradshaw were a breath of much-needed fresh air. "There was finally no more running through the fog not knowing where we were going," says art director Quigley.
For Wright, his new found comfort and isolation from financial pressure was a welcome change. For years, he had wanted to create a new game - an open-ended human environment simulator of sorts - but never had the resources to do it. Indeed, he was now free of the constant meddling of accounting types. "The best thing is that I never have to talk to the CFO of EA on a day-to-day basis," he says wryly. "When we were public, the CFO would swing by my office all the time and say, 'Will, do you really need this computer?'"
Wright's newfound enthusiasm was echoed across the board. Employees would take a weekly Yoga class together at the office, and "Maxis Anniversaries" would take place to celebrate employees who had worked for Maxis through thick and thin.
By early 1998, Maxis would be on track again with SimCity 3000. Everyone inside Maxis knew that no matter how much sycophantic banter was out there about the new Maxis, SimCity 3000 would have to speak for itself... with a little help from a former mayor of New York.