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HIVE EXCLUSIVE: Michael Crichton’s Video Game Venture Runs Out of Time

6 Aug, 2001 By: John Gaudiosi

While the Timeline feature film from Paramount Pictures is moving along smoothly, Michael Crichton’s videogame company, Cary, North Carolina-based Timeline Computer Entertainment (TCE) has temporarily closed its doors after running out of funding. President and c.e.o. David Smith is the only remaining company employee.

“We’ve laid off all employees and are in the process of liquidating all of our products,” said Matt Langie, former v.p. of marketing and development at Timeline Computer Entertainment. “The PlayStation 2 version of Timeline is officially dead, but we own the PC rights to the Timeline game and we’re talking to publishers about rereleasing the product with some new features in conjunction with the feature film next year at a more mass market price point.”

"Michael is aware that the company is reviewing its future plans in view of the current downturn in the interactive game industry,” said a spokesman for Crichton. “As this is a company issue, it is only fitting that David Smith, c.e.o. of Timeline Computer Entertainment make any further comments on the present and future of the company."

Smith, who founded Tom Clancy-backed Red Storm Entertainment, said Crichton is still “fascinated” by video games and “our conversations indicate we’ll continue doing games, I just don’t know what or when.

“Ultimately, this is a hit-driven business and we’re disappointed with how the Timeline game performed and how Eidos marketed the project,” Smith said. “But Michael Crichton realizes that video games are going to be a huge business and we’d be crazy to walk away from it after one try. Once he’s finished with his current project, we’ll decide what direction we want to go and assemble a new team of game developers to follow through.”

Eidos Interactive shipped the E-rated Timeline PC adventure game for $39.99 in conjunction with the paperback version of the Timeline novel last Nov. 15. The first run of games included a free copy of the book and the game was sold in both traditional video game and book retail locations.

To date, the game has sold approximately 22,000 units in the U.S. for sales of about $750,000, according to NPD Intelect, which tracks approximately 80% of U.S. PC sales. Langie estimated worldwide PC sales of the game at about 50,000 units, which is considered a certified flop in the video game industry.

In addition to the PS2 version of Timeline, the studio was working on turning other non-Crichton-based concepts into video games for next-generation systems and the PC.

Crichton, an avid gamer, was involved in the development of the Timeline game. He had hopes of expanding the medieval world of the book with video game sequels. Smith said its likely the next project will be a completely new idea, rather than expanding on the Timeline universe.

Founded in 1999 by Crichton, TCE, which employed approximately 29 graphic artists, technicians and engineers, released a single PC video game based on Crichton’s bestselling novel, Timeline. Crichton has the largest minority ownership in the company, according to Langie. Virtus Entertainment Corp., the company that launched Clancy’s video game studio, is also a large minority investor in Chrichton’s studio.

TCE was talking to several other video game publishers, including Infogrames, at E3 this past May to work on non-Michael Crichton projects, as it searched for money to continue operations. The company laid off approximately 12 employees in February, and the remaining 16 employees were let go at the end of June, when it became clear that additional funding had dried up.

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