Monday, April 18, 2011

Bit Histories: The Story of Acclaim Entertainment

Mrs. Bit and my son, whom we'll call Little Bit, have been on vacation for the past week to go and visit her father in Alabama. Because of my schedule for work, school, and game-playing, as well as my love for you, dear readers, I was regrettably unable to accompany them.

Having them gone has left me to my own devices (a phrase that has a very literal slant to it with all the various gaming gizmos I have employed in their absence) for the week, and as you would expect, Mrs. Bit's fastidiously clean house has, as they say, gone to pot. It started with a Taco Bell wrapper on the floor in the living room, or a glass left on the table, instead of immediately cleaning it. Before I even knew what had happened, I was living like a hobo, knee-deep in my own filth. I have almost completely forgotten how to take care of myself without the assistance of Mrs. Bit, to the point where I would not be surprised if you came to visit, and found me sitting on the living room floor, a huddled mass near a fire that was kindled in a hubcap. All things have their natural state, and apparently mine is vagrancy.

We'd like to thank the local Police Department for this
wonderful shot of me from the last time Mrs. Bit went out of town.
The reason I tell you this, aside from being an illustration of how pathetic I am when my wife is gone, is because having all that free time got me thinking about game-related topics I haven't thought about in a long time. My thoughts turned to old games, people, companies, development houses, and consoles, and amid all the synapses snapping busily around my sugar-addled brain, one name rose to the top and gave me impetus to do some research.

Readers, for my enlightenment, and yours, I give you a brief history (read: only the funny stuff) of ACCLAIM ENTERTAINMENT. 
Those of us who have been gaming for more than a decade will recognize Acclaim Entertainment immediately. They were one of the largest game development houses of their time. They developed software for MANY platforms over the course of their history, including: Sega Genesis, Saturn, Dreamcast, and Game Gear; Nintendo's Nes, SNES, Nintendo64, Gamecube, Gameboy, Game Boy Color, and Game Boy Advance; Sony's Playstation and Playstation 2; Microsoft's Xbox; as well as some PC games and a few arcade game titles. Acclaim, in their time, was force to be reckoned with.

They are also (in)famous for the NEVER-ENDING parade of licensed titles that they helped find their way to market, preying on the naivete' of children in order to turn a profit. Acclaim, in many ways, created the expectation that games based on movies always suck.

Yeah. This made a difference
for the young ones.

Even if they were most famous for their terrible licensed games, and that was much of what they produced, this is a company that once maintained operations in the United States, UK, Germany, France, Spain, Australia, and Japan. Acclaim purchased independent studios as they grew, including Iguana Entertainment, Probe Entertainment (bad name), and Sculptured Software. They even owned a freakin' comic book studio! Their company was wide-reaching, and had a great deal of clout, is all I'm saying.

Now with that bit of back-history, I'm sure that you are wondering what happened to them. "How did they go out of business, BitNick?" I can hear you say.

Well, let me set the stage for you. This is where our story becomes both fascinating, and insane.

The Law Suits
As the video game market continued to grow, Acclaim Entertainment began to suffer from brand dilution. Their primary money-making brands (which included things like the Dave Mirra BMX series, various WWF and ECW wrestling licenses, and more Simpsons video games that you could swing a game-controller at) were not making as much money at retail, aminly due to exceptionally poor game design and play control. They also suffered from a slew of lawsuits, my personal favorite being when they suffered heavy losses because Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen sued the pants off of Acclaim for unpaid royalties.

We wish for... Our friend Vito to come over there and break your kneecaps!
(Photo by ABC Television/Getty Images)
Dave Mirra, a BMX rider, also sued Acclaim for using his image and name to promote a game that some of you may have heard of... it was a subtle little title called BMX: XXX. Not surprisingly, Mr. Mirra did not want his name associated with a game that featured full-motion videos of naked strippers riding BMX bikes, and some of the least sexy polygonal nudity in history. To boot, it was a game whose play-control was well-known for being terrible before it was even released. In spite of the fact that the game had loads of nudity crammed in at the last second in hopes of propping up sales, BMX: XXX still sold, and was reviewed, terribly, showing that even gamers have standards. I'm sure that this revelation came as a surprise to Acclaim.

Pictured: The day many gamers discovered what
"Exploitation" was.
The Marketing

As Acclaim lost money at an ever-increasing rate, Steve Perry, an executive at Acclaim made some REALLY dubious, but immensely entertaining marketing decisions that will never be forgotten for their absolute lunacy and the complete lack of judgement they exhibited.

One of those marketing decisions was Mr. Perry offering a £500 reward to anyone who was willing to legally name their baby "Turok" as a promotion for the game, Turok Evolution. He also, even more infamously, attempted to purchase advertising space on actual tombstones in actual graveyards to promote a Shadowman game.
Because that's where all the young people are.
Image: scottchan
The Employment Contracts

Acclaim was also famous for dealing with employees, especially those who were FORMER employees, in a really shady way. After they had acquired Sculptured Studios, and had offered all the employees of that development house a contract that involved receiving stock in the company (which would have been a red flag to me, knowing what I know now of the company), everything seemed fine. Two years after the acquisition, Acclaim laid off about half the employees of Sculptured Studios, violating their contracts in the process, but gave them a Sucker's Choice: Either take the modest severance package and sign and agreement stating that they will never sue for the value of your stock, or attempt to bring a lawsuit, and receive no severance. The choice would not be very difficult (i.e. sue the crap out of them because you have a contract in hand that says they owe you the value of that stock), if it weren't for one small fact... You remember how I told you that they had a problem with lawsuits? If you wanted to sue them as well, you had to get in line behind an impressive amount of other debtors and creditors who wanted to sue them first. In other words, by not accepting the severance package, you were rolling the dice in hopes that Acclaim would have anything left worth taking when it was finally your day in court.
"Ummm... My client has authorized me to offer the plaintiff
as many paperclips  as they can carry from the supply closet."
Image: Photostock
The Final Days

On September 1, 2004, Acclaim filed for Chapter 7 Bankruptcy. This meant that, essentially, the company would be no more, as all of their assets would have to be sold in order to pay their debts, which totaled over $100 million according to sources. After all these setbacks, and terrible sales from their largest franchises in 2004, they closed their doors. A later attempt by the executive team at the studio to revive their company (under the new name Exclaim Games) fell flat when they couldn't obtain the rights to their own intellectual properties.

In 2006, Throwback Entertainment announced that it had purchased the rights to over 50 of Acclaim's games like Extreme G, Re-Volt, and others. Throwback has had problems with both the finance and gameplay sides of their iterations of these franchises, and has been given an "F" grade by the Better Business Bureau.


As can be seen, Acclaim Entertainment saw some good good days, and obviously saved up all the money they made during those times so that they could use it to finance making bad decisions later. In all fairness, Acclaim made some fun games (like NBA Jam, Extreme G, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, and Re-Volt), but their devotion to poor-quality licensed titles, and cheap ploys to get customers ultimately proved to be their undoing.

 Do any of our readers have any nice memories of playing Acclaim
games that they would like to share, as a eulogy? Should we, instead,
unceremoniously dump Acclaim in a hole in the ground and never
mention them again? Let us know what you think in the comments!

Thanks for reading, and I hope you enjoyed it!



  1. I remember playing the original Dave Mirra and loving it! I alos loved the version of NBA Jam they made on consoles. I honestly liked a good chunk of the games they published especially at first. It's crazy how a company can go from being a major player to being obsolete in such a short time.

  2. Ah... this brings back some memories. Before I start though, BitNick? Your writing style in this was amazingly funny imo. Loved the lead-in (even if the parallels to what I was like this last weekend while my wife was away w/ one of my kids was a bit too similar to my own video-game-heavy fri/sat/sun) - right on through the entire article. Fun read.

    As for Acclaim... I recall them pretty well. I still have a few of their games bouncing around my house still, in fact. I think the first game of theirs I ever played (and loved) was probably Bubble Bobble on the NES. Don't judge me :P

    Perhaps what makes this post most timely is the release of Mortal Kombat - and as I recall Acclaim brought most/all of these titles to the home console.

    LJN - weren't they an NES company frequently panned for their movie related releases as well? Seems I recall Acclaim buying them up at one time.

  3. What about the Burnout series? They were some of my favourite games (until I turned Nintendo)

  4. @Nick. T.

    NBA Jam was simply one of the most entertaining sports games in history. There was a ton of fun to be had with the impressive amount of customization for characters and teams! I never got the chance to play Dave Mirra, sadly, but I remember seeing BMX: XXX on a shelf next to a Dave Mirra game in my local Electronics Boutique... I'll bet that associations like that was why he sued the pants off of Acclaim later!

    Welcome to the site, by the way!

    Glad you liked it! I try to keep things interesting with a bit of humor, and I think that most married guys can understand what we're talking about when your wife goes out of town... You think that you'll have some gaming fun, which YOU GENERALLY DO, but you neglect to remember how much of your life your wife holds together. Hope you had some fun gaming while she was away anyway!

    Regarding Acclaim games: I would never judge you, dear Chalgyr. However, are you talking about the original Bubble-Bobble, or the semi-sequel, Puzzle-Bobble? I think that only the latter of the two was published by Acclaim, but I never played it... Was it good? I loved the original for the NES!

    Also, I totally hadn't made the Mortal Kombat connection until you brought it up! I should have pretended that was the reason I did the article... Maybe I could have convinced GoNintendo to put it up if it were an Acclaim Entertainment/Mortal Kombat Retrospective! :)

    LJN was owned at one point by Acclaim, and you are correct... They made some AWFUL movie-based games. Looks like Acclaim was wanting to diversify what types of crap they offered the public, and picked up LJN. Interesting fact: The founder of LJN was the same guy who later founded T*HQ games!

    @The Strikester

    I really like Burnout back in the day, and you are right; Acclaim did have a hand in it. It was one of their non-terrible offerings!

    Thanks for the comments, everyone!


  5. @BitNick - I suspect you're right on Bubble Bobble - and definitely right on the wives. Got lots of gaming in. Most of my chaos was contained to my Den where I played lots of CPU games at least. *eyes a pizza box and 2 empty 2-liters* good thing she doesn't come in here too often. :D

    I totally figured that was the reason for the Retrospective to be honest with you! :) I'd have bought it, lol!

    Thanks again for the good read!

  6. The only game I can think of that put in "What The Hell" content and got away with it was Conker's Bad Fur Day on the Nintendo 64. That's game was a riot.

    Also, Acclaim took a hit when Midway decided that it wanted to make its own games, and stopped working with them. Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam were the two big ones, but so were others like Smash TV, Terminator 2: The Arcade Game, and Revolution X.

  7. Quick thoughts, while I'm having an ADHD attack, while attempting to finish a post...LOL. I literally have my copy of Turok 2: Seeds of Evil within finger touching reach on my computer desk, in my stack of N64 games.

    Kind of interesting Mrs. Bit was out of town, as Mrs. Coffee was out, only briefly though, this past weekend...which left me and Little Bean roaming the house for survival. When my wife was leaving, I said, "If you take the microwave, we'll starve!" Then strangely, I didn't use it and actually cooked pizzas in the oven, and cooked pancakes on the stove top...
    @Chalgyr: eyes a pizza box and 2 empty 2-liters
    We resorted to the same food source!
    That was our son's new word for the weekend...attempts to saying Pizza...I think; I don't know if he meant pizza or peaches(cause he's heard/says this already)...I'm still waiting on a parent/child electronic translator to be invented!

    As for Acclaim, I enjoyed their Turok games. Specifically the first two Turok games on the N64, I thought they did a very good job with the N64, and a making the games work on the system...and Turok 2 seemed to step up and improve in several ways(except for some key that I could never find on my own) over the original.

    " order to pay their debts, which totaled over $100 million according to sources."
    I have no idea how a company can get that much debt, but I really wonder if some of these guys didn't leave Acclaim and immediately run for Congress...

    As for the employee contracts and lawsuits, I think that seems to go with the territory now though...EA vs. Activision for example.
    Fighting over employee contracts.
    Interplay vs. Bethesda, over intellectual property.

    Also, I believe both EA and Rockstar were highlighted in recent years as not following employee contracts, and just having poor working it doesn't seem like much has changed really as for working in the industry.

    Good read, and when I saw the title, I immediately thought of the Turok series; so I guess Acclaim provides me with nice memories(so much for quick thoughts)!

  8. @Dread - Conker! That game was hilarious. And one I had to hide from my kids once I started playing it...

    @coffee - *grins* It's amazing how much our wives influence our daily lives - and keep us sane I think. Loved the microwave remark, sounds like something I'd have said. Turok - there's a series I haven't touched in a long time, but was a lot of fun as I recall.

  9. the only acclaim games that i recall ever really playing was the mortal kombat series(stopped at 4), nba jam and dave mirra... and boy did i love them. especially MK.. there was NOBODY in town that could beat me.

    when my wife leaves the house, i go crazy.. the laundry/dishes pile up to the ceiling, i forget to shower, and i go hungry(if it's not microwavable, i don't do it- i burn water).. the list goes on and on.. honestly, i'm not sure what i'd do without her.

    great story nick!

  10. @Chalgyr

    Funny enough, the PC is where I spent most of my gaming time with the Mrs. Bit out of town! Starcraft 2 has been a game that I have wanted to get a little more face time with, and her vacation with Little Bit gave me ample opportunity to sharpen my skills... I still stink, by most standards, but I'm definitely better now than I was before!

    Also, the pizza box... There were three (3) in my house before my wife returned. I'm trying to be more proactive than the average American and fast-track my way to obesity and heart-disease. We can't all be superstars. :)


    To my everlasting shame, I have never played Conker's Bad Fur Day... I've wanted to for a long time, but just never got around to it! I heard that it was just hilarious, though...

    Losing Midway was a big hit to Acclaim, that's for sure. Funny you should mention Revolution X, because I had an image from it that I almost used in this article! THAT was a crazy game...


    Wasn't "Turok 2: Seeds of Evil" the one that supported the red "RAM Expansion Pak" (was it necessary to drop the "C" in "pack", by the way)? If it was, I bought it just for that game, and tried desperately to justify my purchase by pointing out every detail of graphical betterment to my friends. I agree with you that the Turok series was actually pretty solid, as far as N64 FPS offerings go. I was pretty impressed with what they could pull off back then!

    It seems that everybodies Missus was out of town in the last week or two! I think that all of their brainwaves have begun to sync up via our websites... Glad we all made it through alive!

    "I have no idea how a company can get that much debt, but I really wonder if some of these guys didn't leave Acclaim and immediately run for Congress..." Ha! Nice one. I think they would have run for congress, but there still remained movies whose good names had gone unmolested. They could not leave their post quite yet.

    Regarding employee contracts: It seems to be the state of the industry now, but Acclaim was doing it when it was still considered despicable. It was some time before it became a part of the video game companies handbook of instructions to, "screw those who art in thine employ post-haste." Also, "Honor thy shareholders, but never a contractual agreement," was another unpopular addition.


    So you were THAT kid in your town, eh? The One who could not be beaten; The fulfiller of the Mortal Kombat prophecies... I was that for Super Smash Bros Melee in my town!

    Yeah, it sounds like we've all got pretty good wives to keep us from lighting our hair on fire. :)

    Glad you're back online, and thanks for checking in over here

    Thanks again for all the comments, everyone!


  11. yup.. i was that kid.. had people scream at me saying that they were gonna get me as soon as i went outside... i had some search for me by asking for my number from my friends so they could get a match with me... i even won a $200 bet once.
    i reaaalllly miss the arcades.. good times :P

  12. @BitNick - oooh, funny you should mention Starcraft 2. That was Amazon's gold deal today, and my wife bought it for me as an Easter present. Loved the original. Stunk at it, but loved it, so I am super excited about getting this one and firing it up!

    Rofl@the pizza box remark. I only had 2, but when I count the 2 liters as well... ugh. Not a healthy weekend for me (but so much fun)

  13. @BitNick:
    "Wasn't "Turok 2: Seeds of Evil" the one that supported the red "RAM Expansion Pak" (was it necessary to drop the "C" in "pack", by the way)?"

    Yup, that was the one. I think I got the Expansion Pack with Perfect Dark, and used it with Turok 2 as well.

  14. This must've been a sight to watch the whole thing burn from the inside out!!


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