The Riven product was acquired by Cyan Worlds Inc. The essay continues to refer to The Learning Company, as they owned Riven when the campaign was launched. An advertising campaign that used spectacular screen shots from Riven: The Sequel to Myst helped make the product the leading computer game in the United States within two months of its release. Riven and its phenomenally successful predecessor, Myst, were the two most popular PC games in 1997, and they remained among the highest-ranked computer games throughout 1998. Like Myst, Riven was a nonviolent adventure game that involved the exploration of fabulous islands and the solving of puzzles to the accompaniment of an eerily beautiful sound track. Advertisements for Riven emphasized that it was a continuation of the mysterious story introduced in the first game. One television commercial began with a close-up of a book embellished with curious symbols that swept the audience into a world full of abandoned structures, towering cliffs, meandering pathways, and intriguing machines, all new but similar to the sights gamers had found on the islands of Myst. The campaign also included radio commercials, print ads, and a network of hyperlinks on the Internet. In addition, promotions for Riven had begun building anticipation a year before the game was released in October 1997. The campaign for Riven, which ran during 1997 and 1998, was developed by Saatchi & Saatchi Advertising. The game was designed by Cyan, Inc., was published by Brøderbund Software, Inc., and was marketed by Brøderbund’s Red Orb Entertainment division.
Cyan was a software development company founded in 1988 in Spokane, Washington, by brothers Rand and Robyn Miller and a friend, Chris Brandkamp. Richard Vander Wendelater joined Cyan to help develop Riven.
The firm’s early successes included three games for children:
Spelunx and the Caves of Mr. Seudo, Manhole, and Cosmic Osmo. The publisher of Myst and Riven, Brøderbund, was founded in 1980 by brothers Doug and Gary Carlston to market their computer games Galactic Empire and Galactic Trader. The firm soon became widely known for its imaginative games and for its interactive software for homes, schools, and small businesses. The company’s most successful products included Family Tree Maker, Print Shop, Living Books, 3D Home Series, and an educational game named Carmen Sandiego. Brøderbund’s Red Orb Entertainment division, formed in 1997, developed high-quality computer games, and it published and marketed entertainment software made by Cyan and other companies. Red Orb’s most successful games included Warlords, The Journeyman Project, and Prince of Persia.
When Myst was launched in October 1993, it was among the first CD-ROM games with three-dimensional graphics. This technological breakthrough allowed consumers to enjoy realistic adventures on their personal computers. In addition to its groundbreaking animation, Myst featured a hauntingly beautiful sound track and an intriguing concept. The player was transported to five mystical islands complete with deserted buildings, a spaceship, a sailing ship, a lighthouse, and a tree with an elevator in it. By piecing together clues and using logic to operate generators and other equipment, the player solved a mystery involving the family that had built the structures. Although players felt a sense of suspense while exploring the islands, the game involved no violence. Myst was regarded as one of the most ‘‘immersive’’ games of its day, making players feel as if they had actually entered an alternate reality. At the time a computer game was considered successful if it sold a total of 100,000 copies, but Myst sold half a million copies in its first year. Also impressive was its continued success over time. It was the third most popular software of any kind in 1995, its sales surpassed only by Quicken and the program to upgrade Microsoft Windows. By the spring of 1998 consumers had purchased more than 4 million copies of Myst, making it the best selling CD-ROM entertainment title to date. By the fifth anniversary of its release approximately two copies of Myst had been sold for every minute the game was on the market. People who had enjoyed Myst waited with great excitement for the release of Riven: The Sequel to Myst in the fall of 1997.
Traditionally marketed toward young males, many computer games were promoted with advertisements that emphasized violence, but the campaign for Riven emphasized the mystery and beauty of a surreal world. Although male consumers 18 to 45 years old were a primary market for Riven, Myst had also been unusually successful with a mainstream audience of women (who accounted for about a third of its sales), children, and older people. The campaign for Riven targeted the millions of people who had already purchased the first game, and it was designed to entice consumers who had heard about Myst but never played it. In fact, Riven was expected to attract a large number of people who seldom played computer games. It was designed for consumers with various skill levels and various reasons for playing. Some enjoyed exploring a realistic fantasy world as if they were experiencing an adventure vacation. Others were more interested in solving logical problems. Riven required little manual dexterity, only the ability to point and click with a computer mouse, and its lack of violence made it an appealing choice for families. Because of its complex puzzles, however, it was intended primarily for adults who liked to think.
In 1997 North American retail sales of computer games reached $5.1 billion. During the first half of 1998 the computer gaming industry grew by about 30 percent. Sony Corporation’s PlayStation and other console video games designed to be played on television sets had dominated the emerging industry for years, but as more consumers purchased personal computers with CD-ROM drives and other technological innovations, computer games became increasingly popular. By the late 1990s thousands of titles were available, including chess, flight simulators, games that mimicked football and other sports, adventures that used characters and settings from motion pictures, and games designed for small children. Some of the most popular titles involved graphic violence, while others revolved around such intellectual challenges as the building of cities and the solving of puzzles. In 1998 Scrabble, Monopoly Game, and Frogger—all marketed by Hasbro Interactive—were among the top 20 computer games. The leading title in 1998 was StarCraft, marketed by Havas Interactive, Inc., which also marketed the popular Diablo and Titanic:
Adventure out of Time.
Riven and Myst were generally considered to be part of the strategy, action, and adventure segments of the industry, which included games that simulated wars and big-game hunting. Two of the most widely known titles in the segment were Doom and Quake (both made by id Software, Inc.), which required players to navigate mazes while gunning down enemies. Quake II ranked 16th out of the top 20 PC games in 1998. Another long-running favorite, Tomb Raider, was in 12th place in 1997 but dropped out of the top 20 in 1998. The game, marketed by Eidos Interactive, starred a scantily clad heroine with a flair for gunfights and gymnastics. Some action games featured battling knights, dragons, and other fantasy characters who fought with primitive weapons. ‘‘Heft your broadsword and mete out punishment in a purely medieval manner!’’ proclaimed the text in an advertisement for King’s Quest, marketed by Sierra On-Line, Inc. In science fiction games the player was often pitted against futuristic weapons and gigantic robots in a fight to dominate entire worlds. ‘‘The wreckage just doesn’t stop!’’ read the headline in a magazine advertisement for Total Annihilation, marketed by Cavedog Entertainment, a division of Humongous Entertainment, Inc. Two products related to the Star Wars series of motion pictures—
Jedi Knight: Dark Forces II and X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter—were among the top 20 PC games of 1997. Both were marketed by LucasArts Entertainment Company, which also made the popular adventure game Grim Fandango.
Other adventure games more closely resembled Myst and Riven. Timelapse, marketed by Hammerhead Entertainment, a division of Barracuda, Inc., involved a search for a missing archaeologist and the discovery that ancient civilizations in Egypt and the Americas had been in contact with beings from another planet. An advertisement in Family PC magazine showed beautiful, colorful scenes from the game, including an artist’s rendition of a technologically advanced Atlantis, a Mayan pyramid, and a boat docked beside an Egyptian temple. A game named Temujin, developed by SouthPeak Interactive, was launched in mid-October 1997, allowing its promoters to take advantage of the publicity surrounding the release of Riven two weeks later. Like Riven, Temujin was a nonviolent adventure with high-quality graphic art, a series of puzzles to solve, and no action figures. SouthPeak’s $650,000 advertising campaign in print media and on the Internet, launched in March 1997, called attention to the similarities and differences between Temujin and Riven.
Other promotions ran in conjunction with the advertising campaign for Riven. Sound tracks to computer games were sometimes sold to generate publicity and additional revenues from consumers who did not own computers but who wanted to experience part of what the games had to offer. By February 1998, when Virgin Records and Cyan, Inc., released the sound track to Riven: The Sequel to Myst, consumers had already purchased 70,000 copies of the Myst sound track by mail order. The music of Myst was released for sale through retail outlets in April 1998. Only 300 units of the Riven sound track sold during the first week, but Cyan expected sales to increase over time, since games tended to remain popular for years. To commemorate the fifth anniversary of the release of Myst in October 1998, Red Orb Entertainment began marketing Ages of Myst, a software package that included Myst, Riven, a video that discussed the making of Riven, a dedication from the brothers who had created the titles, and a journal in which players could take notes to help them solve puzzles in the games. Ages of Myst was promoted with its own seven-figure advertising campaign.
After four years of product development and one year of publicity to build anticipation, the advertising campaign for Riven broke late in the summer of 1997. The game itself was released on Halloween amid great excitement from consumers, who looked forward to purchasing the sequel to Myst. Although extensive advertising for a CD-ROM game was unusual, the promotional campaign from Saatchi & Saatchi included public relations support, network and cable television commercials, radio spots, and ads in Rolling Stone and other magazines for young adults. Brøderbund budgeted $10 million for the marketing effort, half for traditional advertising media and half for Internet promotions. On the World Wide Web a network of hyperlinks led consumers to numerous so-called immersive sites, where they could sample demonstration versions of the game. To generate suspense, these sites were launched in succession over a period of time. Other sites provided fans with background information about the worlds and characters in Riven, and they listed related merchandise such as daggers and costumes that consumers could purchase. The marketing plan included agreements with on-line gaming sites and search engines, including Excite, Webcrawler, and Yahoo!, to lead consumers to Riven promotions. In addition, Red Orb Entertainment formed a retail marketing partnership with Toshiba Corporation to make shoppers aware of Riven and to provide opportunities for the public to try a demonstration of the game. Early in 1998 consumers who purchased Riven also received a demonstration version of a new Brøderbund game named Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time. The retail promotions helped Riven compete for valuable display space in the 19,000 stores in which it was sold. Television commercials used scenes from Riven to give consumers a quick, intriguing tour of an alternative reality full of water, cliffs, peculiar buildings, and sophisticated machinery. In one spot a narrator said, ‘‘The grounds have been prepared, the paths raked. Everyone and everything is in place. All is in its final state of readiness. You may enter whenever you choose. Leaving, however, is another matter.’’ The commercial opened by showing a book on a golden circle. To the sound of eerie music, the turning of pages, and water dripping in a vast cavern, the book opened to show a black rectangle in which a watery world suddenly materialized. The audience was swept inside, flying past the rocky shore of an island and along a walkway to a strange round structure. The scene shifted to a view from inside a dark cave, looking through a rickety gate. The camera moved outside and climbed a pathway meandering up a hill. A new scene showed a whalelike animal waving its fins in the air and then shifted to a narrow opening in another dark cave, looking out on sunbeams illuminating a ship’s wooden deck and rigging. The camera seemed to drop as an elevator descended quickly, revealing glimpses of towering rock formations, blue sky, and mysterious shadows. The elevator stopped at a pathway leading to another curious structure. The scene switched back to the book, which slammed shut with a loud bang while mysterious music played. Fire and darkness gave way to a picture of the game’s box and the words ‘‘Riven. The Sequel to Myst’’ on a black background with mist drifting across it.
In 1997 Riven was the most popular game for both PC and Macintosh users, and Myst was the second most popular PC game. PC Data reported that, in the seven years the company had tracked software sales, Riven was the first entertainment title to reach number one in the category in just over two months. Consumers purchased more than 95,000 copies of Riven on its first day in stores, generating $4.4 million in sales. More than 474,000 copies of Riven were sold within the first month after its release in October 1997. By March 1998 sales of Riven had skyrocketed to approximately 1.5 million copies. By the end of 1998 Riven had dropped to 11th place on the computer game charts, and Myst had slipped to 3rd. At that time the average retail price for Myst had been discounted to $18 (down from $47 in 1996), while Riven’s average price was $39. Riven was widely acclaimed and won a 1998 craft award for outstanding achievement in art and graphics from the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences. Cyan planned to recap the story line of the two games in novels and was considering a feature film.
Robyn Miller retained his position as co-owner of Cyan but also in 1998 founded Land of Point, a firm that developed computer-animated feature films with the same type of geographic and cultural detail as those found in Myst and Riven. In 1997 Cyan had an estimated $20 million in sales, up 33.3 percent over 1996. In 1998 Brøderbund’s Red Orb Entertainment division introduced a new action game, Warbreeds, a combination of fantasy and science fiction that used real-time strategy and characters with complex backgrounds. Aimed primarily at adults, Warbreeds involved the building of structures and the harnessing of power, but unlike Riven, it included violent battles and interaction with alien creatures.
The success of Riven, supported by the continued demand for Myst, was the primary reason Brøderbund had revenues of $81.3 million during the first eight months the game was on the market, compared to $21.8 million for the same period in the previous year. Nevertheless, the company reported a net loss of $2.7 million for the financial quarter that ended on May 31, 1998. The cost of royalties for Riven and Myst contributed to the loss. In addition, the company had increased its sales and marketing budget by about 38 percent, including a 77 percent increase in its advertising budget. In September another software firm, the Learning Company, acquired Brøderbund with a stock swap valued at $420 million. The Learning Company moved Riven to its Mindscape Entertainment division, which marketed an assortment of action games. By the end of the year the Learning Company had become a division of Mattel, Inc., one of the largest firms in the toy industry.