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Chainsaw Monday

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22 February 1999. Term developed by Scott Murphy descrbing when Sierra closed down its Oakhurst California facility, firing two-third of the employees there. Scott Murphy, who was an old timer at Sierra, also had to pack his bags as his contract had expired and was not renewed. The rest of the employees has been given an opportunity to relocate to other Sierra divisions like Belvue Washington. The Oakhurst facility was the roots of Sierra. It produced games like Leisure Suit Larry, King's Quest, Quest for Glory, and of course Space Quest. This action of corporate consolidation was taken by the new owner, Havas, which bought Sierra from CUC Software. The following letter was written by the founder of Sierra, Ken Williams, in response to Chainsaw Monday:


Dear former Sierra employees,

Roberta and I wish to express our deepest sympathies for the recent loss of your jobs. Hopefully, it will not be long before you resume work at Sierra in Seattle, or at some other company... in Oakhurst, or elsewhere. According to tradition, I'm supposed to say something uplifting and motivational to help everyone feel better. Unfortunately, I have failed at this task. There is really nothing good that can be said. This is a sad ending to Sierra's twenty-year operating history in Oakhurst, which at one time, represented over 550 Oakhurst-based employees. This story should have had a happy ending, but instead has had a long string of bad news concluding with the shutdown yesterday of all of Sierra's Oakhurst-based product development activities.

The problems began with the move of corporate to Seattle. The move to Seattle was mandated for several reasons, primarily due to the difficulty we were having recruiting senior management staff and software engineers. The relocation, although it was painful for Oakhurst, was instrumental in our tremendous growth from 1993 through 1996. I remain convinced that this relocation was the right decision for Sierra, and that we would not have prospered without it.

I can't say the same about either the sale of The ImagiNation Network (INN) in 1993, or the sale of Sierra itself in 1996. When Sierra started INN in 1991, it was a decade ahead of its time. After investing millions in INN, Sierra found that it did not have the financial resources to support INN's continued operations. In 1993, AT&T sought aggressively to acquire INN, promising to market the service and grow the company. Unfortunately, AT&T lost interest in INN and sold it to AOL, who to my great disappointment, shut INN down.

Sierra, as you know, was purchased by CUC International in 1996. Because CUC was offering to buy the company at a price roughly 90% higher than it was trading, the decision was out of management's hands. At the time of the purchase, we did believe that through consolidation with several Sierra competitors (Blizzard, Knowledge Adventure, Davidson and others), Sierra would become a much stronger company. We had good reason to believe that the acquisition would cause us to grow faster, not shrink. Unfortunately, CUC elected to transfer control of the company to Davidson, and shut down several groups at Sierra. Later, as we all know, CUC was merged with another company, HFS, to form the Cendant corporation, with roughly 12,000 employees. A few months after this merger it was discovered that someone, or possibly some group of people, within the former CUC organization had been fraudulently preparing financial statements. The actions of this handful of people, who shall hopefully get their due, caused the plunge in Cendant's stock price, and wiped out the net worth of many HFS and CUC employees, including many of you, as well as much of my own. Cendant was sued by its shareholders, CUC's former management team was terminated and the decision was made to sell the software business. It should surprise no one that morale suffered through all of this anarchy, and although I have not seen Sierra's financials for several years, my assumption is that the recent consolidation of operations is driven by a quest for restored profitability and stability. If this story were written as a book, the publisher might seek to classify it as "Fantasy", "Science Fiction" or even "Horror". It is much too outrageous to be true. But the bad news is that these events really did happen.

I console myself in the following way, and perhaps it will help you to cope with what has occurred. Let's imagine that a stranger had walked up to any of us, on the street, in 1979, and said: "Would you like to move to one of the greatest cities on earth? While you are there, you can play a key role in creating a company that just about everyone will know and respect. Your grandchildren will be amazed when they learn that you once worked there. You will be the envy of your peers, because they will know that your team created the largest collection of hits ever to come from one company. There will even be years when you will have played a role in over half the products on the industries top ten lists! You will be surrounded by incredibly intelligent, hard working people, who will work 20+ hours per day when it takes it to get the job done. And, you will have more fun than you ever thought possible. There's only one catch though. This will only last for twenty years." Even knowing it wouldn't last forever I would have followed that stranger anywhere. I'm disappointed that it didn't last forever, but, a 20 year ride on the greatest roller coaster on earth beats the heck out of life in the slow lane any day. Life may never be the same, but it also isn't over, and we all have some great memories we shall never forget. Good luck, and I miss you all.


The cancellation of Space Quest 7 shocked the fans. "Save Space Quest 7" pages appeared everywhere and petitions were started. The image here on the left is the "official" website button to save Space Quest 7. It was linked to a "SAVE SPACE QUEST 7" site where people could sign a petition. It's now long dead and gone. Even before the final blow that was Chainsaw Monday, several Space Quest websites had already launched "Save Space Quest 7" projects back in December 1997 when the project was put "on hold indefinitely". One fan made a phony threat letter (image below). Niel Schuh (webmaster of the long-gone Wilco Burger fansite) and Kevin Hord made an animated gif when they heard about CUC closing down the Oakhurst facility, it became rather well known.

Bringoutsq7

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