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It was well over ten years ago when now-defunct video game maker 3D Realms (makers of the Duke Nukem series and the recently well-received video game Prey) announced the proper, and what was to be the final, installment of the Duke Nukem franchise–Duke Nukem Forever. Since that announcement, the game’s title took an ironic but apropos meaning, as numerous development delays and corporate structural changes plagued the game’s release to the point where the “forever” in the game’s title came to refer to its production cycle. However, the saga seemed to be coming to a close when Apogee Software, LLC recently closed down the development studio for lack of funding. It seemed to the gaming community that Duke Nukem was finally dead; but with Take-Two Interactive’s recent suit against 3D Realms for failing to produce the game, Duke Nukem could end up living on forever (at least in case books) after all.
Take-Two Interactive (developers of the Grand Theft Auto franchise) purchased the publishing rights to Duke Nukem Fovever in August 2001, when it still appeared that the game would be released in the near future. When further delays made a 2005 release impossible, Take-Two renegotiated the publishing rights deal with Apogee, agreeing to receive a smaller amount than previously contracted. Additional troubles with 3D Realms contributed to more delays for the game, including the termination of several key staff members working on the project, but 3D Realms continued to release “teasers” (e.g., screen shots and short movie clips of gameplay footage), which suggested that the game would eventually find a release date. The delays continued to mount, however, and 3D Realms was forced to close its doors. A week later Take-Two filed its lawsuit claiming Apogee breached contract by not producing the game. While damages have not been specified, Take-Two claims to have invested over $12 million in the Duke Nukem Forever project. Conversely, Apogee in its defense alleges to have never received the stated amount.
While Duke Nukem Forever has become something of a joke in gaming communities, to me the game’s failure along with the shutdown of 3D Realms is really more demonstrative of many of the problems facing the video game industry. Namely, the same things that happen to other business sectors in a recession are now happening to the video game industry–smaller developers and publishers get swallowed up or bankrupted by the giants in the industry, while the giants end up trimming off some fat themselves (through massive layoffs, corporate restructuring, etc.). The time for 3D Realms had come; if a publisher as large as Midway (producer of the Mortal Kombat franchise) couldn’t survive the current economic climate, what chance did a much smaller company like 3D Realms have? Unfortunately this means that great franchises like Duke Nukem are forever placed in limbo, and gamers lose another great video game franchise from their childhoods.
– Rylan Smith
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