A History of Midway Games (and related companies)

I first got interested in Midway because they made many of the best arcade games of the ’80s and ’90s. They were one of the best publishers on the Nintendo 64 as well, and that is, of course, my favorite console.  But after the N64 Midway entered a steep decline, and went out of business in early 2010.  They were not able to recover from the death of the American arcade, sadly.  Midway and the companies connected to it have a very complicated history.  I can’t mention every game Midway made here, so I’ll try to just focus on the highlights.

As for sources, this was mostly written based on Wikipedia, Klov, and GameFAQs information, though often I had to do some research into game credits, accurate publishers or release dates, etc — a lot of the publisher and release date listings on online sites can be inaccurate.  Perhaps I should have fully sourced this article, but I didn’t.  If someone has any questions about something please ask.  I do link the more important articles I used that aren’t from those three sites listed above.

Midway logo (from Wikipedia)

Midway’s late ’90s and ’00s logo

 

The Beginning, the Arcade Glory Days, and the Crash: 1958-1987

Founded in 1958, Midway Manufacturing was initially based in Franklin Park, Illinois.  Midway was originally a developer of carnival midway games, as their name suggests.  They soon became a major pinball table manufacturer, and later arcade game manufacturer as well.  Midway was initially independent, then was bought by Bally Entertainment in 1969.  Midway was a major producer of pinball games from the 1960s until 1999, and arcade games from 1973 to 2001.  During this time Midway was perhaps the most prominent American producer of pinball and arcade games.  In arcade games they had no equal outside of Japan, and in pinball their main competition was Williams Electronics.  Williams was a nearby Chicago-based company, and Williams and Midway had a long, close relationship.

Midway, Williams, and Bally were all in the arcade or gambling machine business founded in the 1950s or 1960s, as Bally and Williams both made casino gambling machines.  After being bought by Bally, Midway would not be a separate company until 1998, and that would not last long before they were purchased again.  Along the way it bought numerous other companies, but first I will focus on these three.  Bally/Midway and Williams would both enter the arcade and pinball game businesses early.   Initially, in the ’70s, Bally made pinball games, Midway arcade games.  The two studios merged, but the naming and staff split remained.  The Bally name was the top name in pinball, so they kept it even after the games were being developed by Midway and Bally itself was not involved in videogames or pinball anymore.  Williams made just pinball at first, but then in the late ’70s started up an arcade division as well, headed by the great Eugene Jarvis.  His first game was the all-time classic Defender.  Williams’ arcade division was small compared to their pinball division, but released some of the top early ’80s hits.  Other top Williams games from 1980 to 1984 include Jarvis’ Robotron 2084, Joust, Sinistar, Bubbles, and Defender II (aka Stargate).  Meanwhile Midway had its first hit when it became the US publisher of Taito’s Space Invaders in 1979.  Midway also distributed Pac-Man in the US as well, and was the original publisher of GCC’s Ms. Pac-Man (yes, Ms. Pac-Man, the arcade game, is American and not Japanese).  Unfortunately, Namco and Midway had a split over the rights to that game, as Namco claimed that Midway did not have the rights to make its own Pac-Man games.  In the end Namco got the rights to Ms. Pac-Man and Midway’s other Pac-Man game as well, and Midway and Namco’s relationship was over.  Midway also made games internally, such as the aforementioned Gorf, Satan’s Hollow, and Wizard of Wor in the early ’80s.  Midway’s 1983 releases SpyHunter and Tapper would be even more successful.

In 1977, Midway, while a division of Bally, developed and released a console, the Bally Professional Arcade.  The first machines launched under the Bally Home Library Computer name, but it was quickly changed to Bally Professional Arcade.  The system released shortly after the Atari 2600, and even though it was quite substantially more powerful than the 2600, its high price put it out of reach for most people, and Bally’s marketing was poor; they sold it mostly in higher-end stores, not consumer electronics shops.  Also, the system has reliability issues.  As a result, despite its power Bally’s console sold poorly, and Bally/Midway stopped supporting their system in 1979.  Midway’s game library for the system is small, but does include good ports of Gunfight and Space Fortress.  The system had a second life when the rights to the console were purchased by a small company called Astrovision.  They relaunched the console in 1981, first titling it the Bally Computer System and then later the Astrovision Astrocade, and supported it for the next few years.  Astrovision did not have the rights to Midway’s arcade games, though, and Midway would not have its own home console game development division until 1996, so despite being a Midway console, it doesn’t have as many of Midway’s games on the system as you would expect.  The only Midway game on the system from after 1979, ported by Astrovision and not Midway, is Wizard of Wor, retitled to The Incredible Wizard here.  It’s a great port of a good game, but it is too bad that other great early ’80s Midway classics like Gorf or Satan’s Hollow do not have Astrocade releases.  Still, Astrovision did return the system to stores, until its final discontinuation in 1983. This is Midway’s only attempt at a home console, and they would not make home console games between 1980 and 1995.  All Midway home ports during that time were externally developed, usually by Acclaim in the early 1990s.

In 1981, Midway’s arcade release label was changed to “Bally/Midway” instead of just Midway.  Pinball tables mostly kept the Bally name alone.  In 1983 the great video game crash destroyed most of the home console gaming market in the US.  This hurt Midway and Williams because the size of the US arcade game market shrank at the same time; arcade revenues in the US peaked before the crash.  While arcade revenues leveled off for a while, and even saw a small boost in the early ’90s, ultimately they would decline again, and that time the decline did not stop.   But returning to the first crash, as a result of it, Williams scaled down the size of its arcade division; Jarvis’ recently-set-up Wiz Kidz division  closed down in 1984, and Williams released only one arcade video game between 1985 and 1987, 1986’s Joust II.  Midway, however, never stopped making arcade games.  They were surely less successful than in the years prior, but Midway kept releasing games anyway, including the hit game Rampage in 1986.

The Successful Williams Years: Williams Buys Midway (1988-1995)

Williams restarted arcade game development in 1988.  Also that year, Williams (who had changed their name to WMS Industries in 1987; they still use this name) purchased Bally/Midway, that is, the pinball and arcade game division of Bally.  Williams moved Midway to Chicago, where it stayed.  At this time Bally exited the pinball and arcade games businesses, but Williams-Midway (sometimes called Williams-Bally-Midway) got the rights to continue to use Bally’s name on arcade pinball titles because of how well-known the Bally name was in pinball.  Williams would merge the Midway (Bally) and Williams pinball divisions but continue to use both names on their tables, and with the merger Williams dominated American pinball; other manufacturers like Stern, Sega, or Gottleib were much smaller.  Williams seems to have merged the divisions, adding on Bally’s design staff to their own.  I’m not sure if the two design studios were immediately merged or if that happened later.  For manufacturing I have questions too, but my best guess would be that Williams moved manufacturing over to their plant after buying Bally-Midway.  Even so, tables using pre-merger Bally back-box designs released until 1992; after that, Bally tables used backboxes just like Williams tables had, but with the Bally name on them. (Source) Unfortunately, it was a declining market, as the history of pinball in the ’90s shows.   Still, “Midway” never appeared on a pinball table, only Bally or Williams, while Bally-Midway vanished from arcade games in 1991.  It would be nice to be clear on the manufacturing question, that thread linked above is helpful but I can’t find anything to clarify this point.  I’m a videogame fan, not a pinball fan, though, so I don’t know pinball history (or where to look to find more about it) like I do videogame history.

Unlike pinball games, Midway did return to using only its own name on its arcade games after the Williams purchase.  Bally’s name was dropped from Midway’s arcade games in 1991, and replaced with just Midway.  Evidently they had confidence in the Midway name for arcade games, at least.  After the merger Williams seems to have merged the Williams and Midway arcade game teams into one studio, except unlike pinball, here Midway was the larger, so they got the Williams people.  This label merger happened in 1991, so between 1989 and 1990, arcade games were released under both labels, but what isn’t clear is when the two groups were moved into the same studio — was in 1989, or 1991?  Between 1988 and 1990 Williams made NARC, Smash T.V., Hit the Ice (hockey), and High Impact (Football), while Bally-Midway did Trog, Pigskin (Football), Arch Rivals (basketball), Tri-Sports, and Blasted.  It may be that the two studios stayed entirely separate, but Mark Turmell says that Trog, Smash TV, and Strike Force were in development when he joined Williams.  Trog, of course, was released under the Bally-Midway label, not Williams, which suggests that the two had been merged to some extent by that point.  Strike Force was a 1991 release, so it of course was released under the Midway label; Bally-Midway and Williams had both been replaced with Midway.  Either way, though, in 1991 they dropped the Williams name.  From 1991 to 1998, when Midway separated from Williams, the Midway name is on all of the company’s arcade (video) games.  From 1991 on WMS would only use the Williams name on the Williams pinball tables and its casino business.  It’s interesting, though, that they merged the arcade game labels, but kept two names for pinball machines.

In 1994, Williams bought the Leland Corporation, a company formed when Tradewest bought Cinematronics.  Cinematronics was behind the arcade hit Dragon’s Lair, but Midway did not get the rights to that game, or to Tradewest’s games either as far as I can tell; Don Bluth kept the rights to his games, while Tradewest mostly released outside titles like Rare’s Battletoads or Japanese games.  The only Leland game Midway has ever re-released is Super Off-Road, I believe; they surely got the rights to at least some others, but those games have not reappeared.  Leland’s biggest hit was the arcade racing game Ivan Stewart’s Super Off-Road.  This is why the game is found in Midway Arcade Treasures 3.   Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat, another similar game from Leland, has sadly never re-appeared; perhaps its license is harder to strip off, as the Ivan Stewart license was removed from the version of Super Off-Road found in MAT3?  Leland also had set up a new home console game side as well before being purchased, and who developed a few games for Williams, such as Kyle Petty’s “No Fear” Racing for the SNES.  The Leland name was soon dropped, but their staff joined Midway, since that was Williams’ videogame division.  Buying a studio with its own home console development team must have helped push Midway towards releasing home console games of its own.  Several more reasons to do this would appear in the next few years.

In the early ’90s Midway made many hit arcade games, but the most successful of these were Cruis’n USA, Mortal Kombat, and NBA Jam. Midway most likely peaked in popularity between 1992 and 1995 thanks to those games and their sequels. All three were sensations, some of the most successful games of the time. Cruis’n USA was published in partnership with Nintendo, who helped boost the game in return for the IP rights. The game had a “Nintendo Ultra 64” logo at the start, even though it runs on a Midway board, in order to promote the coming Nintendo 64. This created unrealistic expectations for N64 graphical hardware; it could never have matched a multi-thousand-dollar arcade board. The Nintendo connection also brought Midway distribution rights for Rare’s three arcade games from 1994-1995, the two Killer Instinct games and Battletoads (Arcade), and continued on on the N64 once Midway started home console development. Midway also made a couple of successful lightgun games. Terminator 2: Judgment Day was the first one, and it’s always been a favorite of mine, both in arcades and the (Acclaim) home ports. Great game, and it was quite successful as well. They followed it up with the cheesy Aerosmith-licensed Revolution X, which released three years later but clearly runs on the same engine.

All of the games listed except for the Nintendo-published Cruis’n USA were published by Midway’s usual partner, Acclaim. However, in some cases, NBA Jam for example, Acclaim was making more money off of this deal than Midway was, and because Acclaim released the home ports of Mortal Kombat and NBA Jam, some people identified those games with Acclaim instead of Midway, which of course did not help Midway as much as it did Acclaim. Then, Acclaim managed to get the IP rights to the NBA Jam name away from Midway through some corporate skulduggery.  As a result, Midway lost the NBA Jam name after the second game, 1994’s NBA Jam: Tournament Edition (T.E.), and had to call its next basketball game “NBA Hangtime”, while Acclaim made the completely different, and not as good, NBA Jam Extreme game for home consoles and its even worse successors. Hangtime and its successor NBA Showtime were successful, but not as much as NBA Jam had been. This soured the Midway-Acclaim relationship, and in 1995, Williams/Midway set up their own home console division. Mortal Kombat 3 released on consoles that year published by Williams, not Acclaim. In addition to the financial reasons, perhaps Williams was worried about something happening to Mortal Kombat like had happened to NBA Jam; MK was Midway’s biggest hit at the time.

Midway the Home Console and Arcade Developer (1995-2001)

In 1995, Williams decided to get into home console game development and publishing itself. Instead of licensing out its popular arcade games, they would make them themselves. Initially, the Williams name was used — Williams was on the initial Nintendo 64 “Dream Team” developer list, for instance.  They developed Cruis’n USA, which Nintendo published through a deal which had given Nintendo the Cruis’n series IP rights in return for them helping to market the game and get it as an exclusive for their system and supposed arcade showcase for what the Nintendo 64 could do.  Some games in 1995-1996 were released under the “Williams” label, such as the aforementioned “No Fear” Racing game for the SNES, or Williams Arcade Classics Vol. 1 for SNES, PS1, and Saturn.  In late 1996, though, they changed over to using Midway’s name on home console titles.  Buying Leland may have been Williams/Midway’s first home team, but the next item provided a big boost to Midway’s arcade and home console divisions as well.

In 1996, Williams/Midway bought Atari Games, the California-based studio who were the arcade division of Atari that had split from the home console division of Atari back in 1984, when Warner Bros. got out of the videogame industry for the first time after the crash and sold off Atari Consumer (Atari’s home console and computer divisions) to the Tramiels.  Atari Games became independent in 1986, and for a while was lucky compared to the travails of Tramiel’s Atari Consumer Corporation (I won’t get into that here, but they had many problems.).  It kept its staff and was in decent shape until the late ’90s.  Atari Games only had the rights to use Atari on its arcade machines, not home console machines, but in 1987 decided that they wanted to do their own home console ports, so they had to come up with a new name for the home division.  Thus, Tengen was born.  In 1989, Time Warner Interactive (yes, Warner again) bought Atari Games.  Tengen lasted until mid 1994, when Warner decided to use the Time Warner Interactive label on Atari Games’ home videogames, instead of Tengen.  Thus, the Tengen name was retired.  TWI did not last long, though, because Time Warner sold Atari Games to Midway in mid 1996.  At this time, these home ports went under the Williams name, and then Midway by the end of that year.  San Francisco Rush, Atari Games’ first title as a part of Midway, was a fantastic game and very successful.  It’s one of my favorite arcade racing games ever.  This purchase also got Midway, and thus WB Games now, the rights to the incredible 1984-1996 Atari Games arcade game library, including the classics Toobin’, Paperboy 1 and 2, Vindicators, Gauntlet I and II, Rampart, Marble Madness, Pit-Fighter, Super Sprint, Championship Sprint, Xybots, A.P.B., Cyberball 2070, and 720 degrees.  Midway would soon start making its own new Gauntlet games, and including the others in compilations.

Midway continued releasing popular games in the late ’90s.  My interest in Midway peaked during this period, so I have more to say about their games from this era than the others.  Also, Midway was releasing its own home ports now, which meant more releases.  Midway’s games in the late ’90s were so much better than anything that came afterwards that the difference must be explained.  Trouble was right around the corner, but many gamers like me didn’t see it coming.  NBA Showtime and NBA Hoopz were successful but did not regain NBA Jam’s smash-hit status, but they did make some good arcade hockey and football games.  Midway had made arcade sports games before, such as Hit the Ice, but Wayne Gretzky’s 3D Hockey (1996, arcade and Nintendo 64) and NFL Blitz (the next year; for arcade, N64, and PS1) did better than past non-basketball Midway sports games had, I believe.  Both games started out in arcades, but soon were ported to home consoles.  NFL Blitz became particularly popular, as its brand of violent football action resonated.  Another popular series around this time was the rebirth of Gauntlet, with Gauntlet Legends and Gauntlet Dark Legacy.  I personally really love these two games; they’re some of my favorite action-RPGs ever, hands down!  Midway’s Cruis’n series was also hugely successful in arcades; though the home console ports never did as well as the arcade versions did, the three Midway Cruis’n games are among the most successful arcade racing games ever.

The home ports of all these games did well also.  Midway also became a home console publisher, and published other developers’ games.  Midway released games on all popular consoles from 1995 on, especially the N64 and Playstation, but saw particular success on the N64.  Atari Games’ N64 titles were all exclusive (that PS1 Rush port was external and terrible), the Cruis’n games were N64-only because Nintendo owned the rights, Mace: The Dark Age, a quality 3d fighter, saw its only home release on the N64, and Midway published some significant external titles as well.  Midway published all four of Boss Games’ N64 games, for example, including Top Gear Rally, Transworld Snowboarding, the fan-favorite World Driver Championship, and Stunt Racer 64.  They also published Wipeout 64 for Psygnosis and Body Harvest for DMA Design after Nintendo dropped that game.  For a while Midway made more money from the N64 than from any other console.  By 2000 the N64 was fading, though, and Midway’s PS1-only efforts, such as Assault: Retribution (another externally developed title), Mortal Kombat: Special Forces (this started out as an N64 game before being canned and moved to PS1; good move, N64 gamers expected some level of quality from Midway), and Rampage Through Time were not nearly as the level of their N64 games.  Midway did try branching into handheld game publishing as well, but none of their handheld games were particularly great.  Acclaim’s GB Mortal Kombat games had not been good, but Midway’s were no better.  Another GBC Midway game, Cruis’n Exotica for the GBC, looks nice, but has badly flawed gameplay.

Midway also started releasing classic compilations in the mid ’90s.  In the ’90s, Williams/Midway owned the rights to now only all of the other games described here, but also some pre-1984 Atari games.  Those rights would later go (through a sale I presume, or because it was a temporary license?) to Infogrames, which became the new “Atari”, but for a before then Midway released several collections on the PC, PS1, Saturn, and SNES which include pre-’84 Atari classics on the discs.  They did two collections of pre-’84 Atari games during this time, and two of other Midway/Williams games.   The first ones have Williams’ name in the title, the later ones Midway.  There was a further collection of mostly Midway games on the PS1 only.

Despite being a part of Midway, Atari Games/Midway Games West (as it was later called) maintained separate studios and a separate identity as long as it lasted. Atari Games’ home ports were, as under Tengen, often done internally — the SF Rush games for N64 were done by Atari Games itself, for instance, not Midway. Atari Games also developed the N64 version of their arcade game California Speed. Some games that were outsourced, like SF Rush for the PSX, were terrible. Midway did outsource more games though anyway, such as Hydro Thunder, done by Eurocom on the N64 and DC and Blue Wave on PSX. Atari Games was successful for its first few years under Midway, but after the turn of the millennium, the continued collapse of Western arcade markets helped doom the studio, and later Midway as well.  Still, the company went out on top; its last released arcade game was San Francisco Rush 2049.  Their home port of the game is, in my opinion, the greatest game ever made in which you control vehicles.  Midway Games West had another arcade racing game in development when it was cancelled in 2001 thanks to Midway abandoning arcade games.  I’d still love to play it someday.

However, despite these successes, overall arcade revenues were declining, and pinball, as mentioned earlier, was doing even worse.  Midway was a successful home publisher at this point, for their home ports of arcade games were doing well, and they published some good home-exclusive titles as well, but there must have been concern for the future.  Williams wanted out.  So, in 1998, halfway through the release history described above, WMS Industries (Williams) spun off Midway.  Midway was still doing okay for the moment, but with declining arcade revenues industry-wide, Williams was done.  Midway kept all of Williams’ back-IP rights to console games, though; this is why WB now owns the rights to games such as Defender.  Despite this, Williams and Midway stayed close, and continued to share a board member for as long as Midway survived. Williams got out of arcade and video games, going to just pinball and slot machines.  At this time Sumner Redstone, Viacom’s owner, started buying up Midway stock.  He started out with 15% of the company in 1998, and became majority owner in 2003.  He oversaw Midway’s decline and fall.  Midway sold most of its pinball assets to Williams and then abandoned pinball in ’99, finally ending the use of the name Bally outside of casinos.  However, Williams didn’t last much longer in pinball than Midway — after the failure of its “Pinball 2000” line in, well, 2000, Williams followed Midway out of the pinball business, leaving only little Stern still making pinball tables.  Like Bally, WMS Industries has been successful in their surviving business, casino games.

The Fall of Midway (2001-2010)

In 2000, Midway was the fourth largest videogame publisher.  They would drop precipitously from that position in just a few short years.  In 2001, Midway stopped making arcade games. This is where Midway’s quality level started to precipitously drop; the company never recovered from this move, as much sense as it seemed to make at the time.  Midway had always been an arcade game developer, and the shift over to home console gaming went badly.  Midway never quite managed to entirely adjust over to what console gamers wanted, and game quality suffered badly as a result.  As something of a Midway fan after their great years in the ’90s, it was a sad time.  In 2003, Midway Games West (Atari Games) was shut down.  Midway Games West only made one console game between ’01 and ’03, the 3d platformer Dr. Muto for PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube.  It’s a good but not great game, but the teams’ lack of experience in the genre shows — the team had never done a 3d platformer before, since those do not work in arcades.  The game must not have done well enough, and so one of gaming’s oldest developers, one with a direct history to the original Pong, closed.  Things got even worse for Midway afterwards.

That really is the story of 2001-2010 Midway.  Midway still made some good games here and there.  Mortal Kombat had begun declining after MK Trilogy, but MK: Deadly Alliance was a bit of a boost for the series in ’02, after some down years after MK4’s relative failure.  It saw two sequels by ’06, on Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, and Wii, but while successful, the new MK wasn’t the phenomenon that the original game was.  They were among Midway’s most popular games of the period for sure, though.  Among other games, the new classic collections for Gamecube, Xbox, PS2, and PC were pretty good.  Many classic Midway, Williams, and Leland games appeared again in the Midway Arcade Treasures line in the ’00s.  Those collections include everything Midway still had the rights to from their PS1 discs (so, everything except for the pre-’84 Atari stuff), and many more games besides.  The first collection even includes all of the developer interview videos from the original PS1-era collections, though it’s missing the Atari ones of course for rights reasons.  Midway also continued bringing back classic franchises with new games.  Their 6th-gen SpyHunter reboot was successful, and led to two sequels.  The first one’s pretty fun!  I also really like the highly under-rated Defender reboot, Defender, also for the PS2, Xbox, and Gamecube.  Midway mostly let its arcadey racing game dominance die with its arcade divisions, stupidly, but they did make the good, and also under-rated, kart-ish flight racer Freaky Fliers.  The TNA wrestling games were popular, though.  Midway had some other good games as well.  However, otherwise they were getting far off-base, and it’s not hard to see why they were failing financially.  Midway mostly left Nintendo behind in the early ’00s, thanks to the Gamecube’s lacking success compared to the N64, but it didn’t help.  Games like LA Rush and Gauntlet: Seven Sorrows, both for PS2 and Xbox, were debacles that ruined some of my favorite franchises and failed to sell well also.  Midway’s sports games in this period abandoned the arcade sensibilities that had made them successful in the first place in favor of more simmish designs like everyone else, but Midway wasn’t quite as good at that as EA or the other top developers, and so Midway just couldn’t quite hold on in the genre.  The third of the new SpyHunter games was a disappointment as well.  The NARC reboot was also bad.  Later Midway handheld games like Cruis’n Velocity and Gauntlet: Dark Legacy for the GBA are no better.  Midway had never been great at handheld games, but they definitely did not improve in the ’00s.

In 2005, Midway bought Ratbag Games, only to close the studio four months later because the next generation was coming and rather than pay for Ratbag to become able to handle next-gen development, they shut them down.  Closing studios you bought is not uncommon, but such a short time between purchase and shutdown is pretty cruel, and a pointless waste of money.  Midway continued to decline.  By 2006, Midway was the 20th largest video game publisher, down 16 places from only six years prior.  People who remember this era’s Midway forget that only a few years earlier Midway was one of the biggest publishers in the industry.

The next generation brought even higher costs that Midway could not afford.  Some games did okay, but the last generation was a generation of the destruction of the midsized publisher, which is what Midway was by 2006 because of how badly they had contracted from 2000, when they’d still been one of the big publishers.  Midway published some good PS360 games, such as Epic’s Unreal Tournament 3, but costs were too high, particularly for a company barely surviving as it was.  Midway poured a lot of years and money into the open-world game This Is Vegas, but it never materialized, until finally dying with Midway when the company went under.  The PS3/X360 game John Woo’s Stranglehold did release, and is an ambitious, decent to good game, but it cost a lot to make and sold poorly, so it was something of a financial disaster.  The game is sometimes mentioned as one of the final blows to the company, sort of like BMX XXX was for Acclaim, though I doubt it reaches the level of THQ’s PS3/X360 UDraw debacle that ultimately destroyed that company.  Midway did see success from the Touchmaster series of casual motion and touch minigame collection games for the DS and Wii, but it wasn’t enough.

In 2007 Sumner Redstone owned 87% of Midway, but the company was losing a lot of money every year.  Even someone as rich as he was would eventually get tired of large losses and no gain.   Midway closed two smaller studios in 2008.  In 2008, Sumner Redstone, facing large losses in both Midway and his main businesses of Viacom and the National Amusements theater chain, sold Midway for nearly no money. Later that year Midway entered bankruptcy.  Despite this, in 2009 Midway released games, most importantly a Mortal Kombat reboot which became very successful, sparking a rebirth of a franchise which had faded in the late ’90s.  It could not make up for all of Midway’s losses, but it showed that that team, at least, could still make great, and successful, games.  However, Midway’s end was not delayed long.  A lawsuit from stockholders against Redstone for his management of the company did not help either.  The company finally closed in mid 2009 and was officially shut down in 2010, after Redstone got tired of losing so much money.

Aftermath: WB Games and Conclusion

After this Midway did not exist anymore, but its legacy does.  After Sumner Redstone allowed Midway to go bankrupt, its assets were sold off.  THQ bought the San Diego studio and the TNA license, only to shut it down several years later as they headed towards their own bankruptcy and dissolution.  Warner Brothers, perhaps interested in part because they had previously owned Atari Games twice before (as described above) and Midway owned that company’s back-catalog rights from 1985 to 2003, bought the main Chicago studio, the Seattle studio Surreal Software, and Midway’s name and game IP rights.  The other two smaller studios Midway still owned shut down.  Many people lost their jobs in Chicago as well; only one team, the Mortal Kombat team, survived the culling.  In the last year of its life everyone at Midway either left, or desperately tried to attach themselves to Mortal Kombat as best they could, since everyone knew that that was the only IP, and team, with a chance of survival.  Some made it, others didn’t.  The resulting studio, part of WB Games, is now known as NetherRealm Studios.  NetherRealm makes Mortal Kombat games, and some other fighting games as well such as Injustice: Gods Among Us, and has seen a rebirth in popularity.  Surreal had been working on This Is Vegas, but WB abandoned the game, and instead merged that team into their other Seattle team, Monolith, a first-person-shooter focused studio.  It’s too bad the game never finished, it could have been interesting.

In addition to NetherRealm and the staff from Surreal, WB Games also used the Midway back catalog in the 2012 Midway Arcade Origins collection for the PS3 and Xbox 360.  The collection, as with all Midway collections since the mid ’90s, is a mixture of Williams, Vid Kidz, Midway, Atari Games, and Leland titles.  Midway owned all of those back catalogs by the mid ’90s, and now WB has them.  Midway didn’t make all of those games, but they did make some.

So, Midway lives on as a part of WB Games, both in a library sense and a development sense.  However, Midway the independent developer, and most of Midway’s teams and staff, are gone.  Midway went from being one of the more successful developers around, back in the early to mid ’90s, to a money-losing failure.  This really shows how quickly the technology industry changes, and how hard it can be for companies to keep up with the changing marketplace and audience.  Midway’s downfall was the decline of arcades in North America.  Arcades declined because computers and consoles were getting more powerful, and the price of arcade machines was too high to support their reduced revenues.  Arcade machines could have done better graphics than home systems just because of their higher costs, but people thought that home computer and video games looked good enough.  Also, the growth of the internet further hurt arcades, as people turned to online play for multiplayer, instead of gathering in arcades.

Midway tried to adjust with the changing times by moving to console game development, but the company was designed to make arcade games, and it just could not adjust well to console development.  Midway was one of my favorite N64 publishers, but by the next generation they were barely even on the list by the end of the generation, thanks to how far their games had fallen.  And many other people weren’t even as kind as I; Midway became something of a laughingstock, like Acclaim (another company I kind of like, despite its faults).  That’s sad, but I’d rather remember how great Midway was up until the early ’00s.  They had their faults for sure, but all publishers do, and Midway published some of the best games of the ’90s.  Nobody should forget that just because they could not keep that up once arcades lost their importance outside of Japan.

 

Today, WB Games owns parts or all of the back-catalogs of games published by the following companies and labels:

Midway Manufacturing
Bally Entertainment
Williams Electronics / WMS Industries
Bally-Midway
Leland Corporation
Atari Games / Midway Games West
Midway Games
Tengen Inc. (Atari Games division)
Time Warner Interactive (Atari Games years)

About Brian

Computer and video game lover
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