Introduction

They generated a buzz around the computer industry. Their products drew glowing reviews from Time, Newsweek, Discover, and even Rolling Stone. They created the games that people played--games that captivated, perplexed, and amused thousands around the world. They were the creators of Zork, the first interactive fiction game, and the founders of Infocom.

Infocom debuted its first product in 1980 with the release of Zork for the TRS-80 Model I. Zork soared to the top of the bestseller lists, remained there for months, and attracted a cult following. Fans devoted hours staring at computer screens, trying to solve the game's puzzles and desperately seeking help whenever stumped. With sales topping $10 million in 1984, Infocom seemed poised to dominate the software entertainment industry for years to come. Thousands of eager fans snatched up copies of Zork II, Zork III, Starcross, and Deadline as soon as they were released.

Suddenly, everything began to fall apart. Infocom spent millions of dollars to develop a database program called Cornerstone. The company went into the red, losing over $4 million in 1985. Infocom struggled to pay its bills. Layoffs began. The company needed help badly.

Help came in the form of a corporate merger: Activision, a game company based in California, agreed to buy Infocom for $7.5 million and cover its outstanding debts. The buyout marked the beginning of the end of Infocom as a company. Even with popular releases under Activision, the company continued to lose money. Finally, in 1989, Activision closed Infocom's office in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

It is tempting to conclude simply that Infocom's decision to make Cornerstone led to its inevitable failure. After all, how could a computer game company know anything about making databases? The shift to databases, however, was not as haphazard and ill-conceived as it might at first appear. Created by people who did, in fact, have an understanding of databases, Cornerstone was a way to diversify the company's product line and help Infocom grow even faster.

Through this website, you will explore the period when Infocom soared to the top of the software entertainment industry. You will understand the transition from making games to developing business products. And finally, you will see what happened in the end, after the Activision buyout.

Begin your Infocom Adventure