33 - MobyGames

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This was the MobyGames logo circa 1999
There was no encyclopaedia nor fleshed-out database of video games in 1999. There were barely even any reliable or comprehensive lists of video games. Not until Jim Leonard decided he needed to build one.

He called it MobyGames, and 22 years later it's the de facto source for credits, screenshots, and other general information about video games. It is the "IMDB of video games". This is its story.

ADDENDUM: 19 OCT 2021. Since I published this episode, I've learnt that the retro game streaming service Antstream now owns a majority stake in MobyGames. Neither the terms of the sale nor the reasons nor even the fact that it happened have been acknowledged publicly by the company. My sources indicate this may have concluded some months ago, but a UK company filing suggests that the process likely began last year.

I stand by the concerns I raised about the site's long-term future, and I actually worry that they may be even more pressing than I suggested (because Antstream's business model is not yet proven and because could just as easily shut down as get bought out by a larger entity — and in both cases, barring the presence of a rights reversion clause in the contract, the best of intentions could collapse under the weight of market realities). Let's hope that the sale turns out to be a good thing, in spite of their odd lack of transparency.

Become a Patron! My thanks to the people who contributed to this story:
  • Jim Leonard blogs at Oldskooler Ramblings and tweets @MobyGamer.
  • John Szczepaniak's Untold History of Japanese Game Developers trilogy is on Amazon. There's also re-edited, prettified version called Japansoft available from Read-Only Memory.
  • Clint Basinger runs the excellent Lazy Game Reviews YouTube channel, where he explores and discusses retro games and technology.
  • Matej Jan blogs about pixel art and retro games at Retronator. He's also developing Pixel Art Academy, an adventure game for learning how to draw.
  • These days John Romero is COO at Romero Games, a triple-A game studio he co-founded with his wife (and company CEO) Brenda. Their most recent title is Empire of Sin.
  • Tomer Gabel is now a software architect and consultant. You can find out more about him and his work via his LinkedIn and Twitter profiles.
Here's what MobyGames looked like in October 1999, around seven months after launch:

Thank you to my Patreon supporters for making this episode possible — especially my producer-level backers Carey Clanton, Wade Tregaskis, Seth Robinson, Rob Eberhardt, Simon Moss, Scott Grant, Vivek Mohan, and Joel Webber.

To support my work, so that I can uncover more untold stories from video game history, you can make a donation via paypal.me/mossrc or subscribe to my Patreon. (I also accept commissions and the like over email, if you're after something specific or just don't want to deal through those platforms.)

My first book, The Secret History of Mac Gaming, is getting republished in October 2021 (this month!) by Bitmap Books in an "Expanded Edition", featuring a revised layout and design, more images, additional written content, and new sections including a timeline and icon gallery. Head to Bitmap's product page for more details.

My second book, meanwhile, Shareware Heroes: Independent Games at the Dawn of the Internet, has just been copyedited and will soon be going through design and typesetting phases. It'll be out around Q2 2022, but you can preorder from Unbound.


The Life & Times of Video Games

The Life & Times of Video Games: A documentary and narrative-style audio series about video games and the video game industry — as they were in the past, and how they came to be the way they are today.

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