Romero vs. Gamecock's Wilson: Holy Shit

By Chris Remo, Jan 18, 2008 9:12pm PST

(Update: Check out part two of this story, Romero's call for peace.)

An old feud between notorious former id Software designer John Romero and his one-time id and Ion Storm business partner Mike Wilson, who was a founder of defunct publisher Gathering of Developers and who now heads up indie publisher Gamecock, has flared up this week, prompted by a blog post made by Romero regarding his feelings on Wilson's business practices.

"Once again, just like with Godgames, Wilson is taking all the credit away from the indie devs and pasting his asinine logo everywhere," wrote Romero. "He pretty much just partied all the time [at GodGames],"and after the whole thing got reined in by Take 2 he went underground for a while, waiting for his next victim/investor so he could go hogwild all over again. And thus was born Gamecock."

Needless to say, Wilson was less than thrilled when he found out about this, and has issued a remarkably long and...unrestrained open response to Romero, in which he fires back with his own accusations about Romero's historical practices and business failings. Among (many) other things, he lays on Romero the ultimate responsibility for the infamous "John Romero's about to make you his bitch" Daikatana ad, which Romero has long pinned on Wilson.

"I fought on a daily basis to try to save that company from the poison which you had invited into it (and watched spread like a cancer while you kept your head in the sand), only to find myself ushered out the door," writes Wilson. "I do owe you a thank you for that little shove to get me started on Gathering of Developers, a company that I was an actual partner of, and which Take Two 'reigned in' buy [sic] buying for 30 million dollars."

There's far too much to summarize here, but it gets pretty cringingly personal by the end. Case in point: "You should maybe try the partying, since your unparalleled work ethic and strong character has (just in the time I've known you) left only a bloody trail of ex-wives, fatherless kids, and ill advised breast implants strewn across this fair nation, even before you flew all the way to Romania for your latest wife."

Continue on for the full, brutal letter.

Dear John,

I'm writing this letter from Moscow, having just read your lovely post about me, which a good friend forwarded me and implored me to reply to. I really never thought I would relive the joy that was Ion Storm, circa 1997, or that the memories of those times still troubled you so 11 years later. Then again, I would guess you live in the memories of your twenties as much as you can, given the reality of your thirties. Glad to know I'm still in your thoughts.

I enjoyed your comments very much, but several of my friends (especially those that were around for those heady time to witness the truth of it up close) did not find it quite so funny, and thought that I should take the time to set a few things straight as publicly as the flame you chose to randomly launch my way.

While I am not at all interested in reliving those days, I will also not allow you to rewrite the history of it all, more to your liking and to my public detriment, and I will in no way take the rap for what you did (or didn't do)with your dream company. So here are just a few reminders to jog your memory.

While my job title (which you gave me) was CEO of your company, I was one of two "junior partners" in a partnership of 6. I made about 1/3 of what the 'big boy partners' (as you liked to call yourselves back then) did and owned less than five percent of your company. I wasn't awarded a 250k signing bonus like you were for signing up to your own startup and I didn't have a personal assistant like you, nor occupy one of the 4 corners of power in the original Ion Storm building. And unlike you, I didn't get to file a federal trademark for my own personal catch phrase," Suck it Down." I remind you of these things only to remind you that there was absolutely nothing done by me or Ion Storm, including the advertisements which bore your name and which you happily posed for, that didn't require your full approval and grand signature.

And while I did think that famous Bitch ad was pretty funny, I'll remind you that you signed that one too, and I'm fairly certain I wasn't holding your hand or using a Jedi mind trick on you when you did it. I'll also remind you that the whole reason for running the teaser ad was that we felt we should be starting to advertise the game since it you said was shipping so soon, for Christmas in 1997. Even though we had nothing but a logo and that signature promise to use for an ad 6 months before you promised Eidos and your partners that Daikatana would be ready to redefine shooters on shelves worldwide.

Our former employee also reminded me that I fought on a daily basis to try to save that company from the poison which you had invited into it (and watched spread like a cancer while you kept your head in the sand), only to find myself ushered out the door, since it was such a buzz kill to hear my incessant complaints about the way things were being run, which were really those of the 80 or so young fresh faced developers we hired in the 10 months I was there. But hey, it was clear that I was the problem there, as you guys really took off the year after I left. Or, more accurately, nearly every one of those 80 hires did.

I do owe you a thank you for that little shove to get me started on Gathering of Developers, a company that I was an actual partner of, and which Take Two 'reigned in' buy buying for 30 million dollars, two years after we opened an office, which resulted in no less than eight million unit selling PC games and over 350 million dollars in revenue for TTWO (my investors) during roughly the same amount of time that it took you and the remaining 'big boy partners' to shit away Eidos' (your investors) 30 million and deliver one of the biggest heaps of dung ever put onto a CD Rom, just before being foreclosed on. Thank god for Warren Spector, who was also made a 'junior partner', and later delivered Eidos Storm's only salvation in the form of Deus Ex.

And please don't be too concerned for the independent developers I work with... just like with GodGames, and like the deal I struck for you with Eidos, Gamecock owns their IP and is branded above the publisher on everything, and has a great royalty rate. Royalty rates are what you make if you actually make a game that is good and sells. Remember Quake one?

I'm also grateful for your concern over my incessant partying, which has somehow led me to be married to the same beautiful woman for 17 years now, while raising two incredible daughters together. You should maybe try the partying, since your unparalleled work ethic and strong character has (just in the time I've known you) left only a bloody trail of ex-wives, fatherless kids, and ill advised breast implants strewn across this fair nation, even before you flew all the way to Romania for your latest wife. If she's not still around, let me know, and I'll see if I can pick another one up for you here in Russia.

Its been great catching up, but I'm off to dinner now with Harry Miller, my best friend and business partner for the past decade (ever had one of those, John?), and our very happy new investor, followed by some crazy partying to keep it real, just for you.

You take care now, and remember just because id, Eidos, and then Midway fired you doesn't mean you're not still awesome!

Suck it down,

Your pal Mike

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  • Romero is an ego maniac who believed in his own legend to the point of self destruction. He has always been more interested in his own image than games. It's all in the history of Ion Storm. An office at the top of the highest skyscraper in Dallas that "featured a ten-foot-wide company logo on the floor in Italian marble." He hired his girlfriend, Stevie Case, to do level design. The whole 'design is law' bs. His hobbies included spending publisher's money and racing Ferraris while his games turned into crap.

    It's funny that he still wants to be taken seriously as a game designer, when his company produces ports of games for mobile phones. I'm sure he'd much rather be remembered as a serious game designer rather than an epic failure. Hence his "sincere" game design podcasts.

    All in all, Romero is the last person that should be criticizing games, game design, work ethics, publishers, etc. Wilson reminded him of that fact, and reminded us all what Romero really is.