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Booty: 'Perfect Storm' Hit Midway Just When Success Drew Near

Now with Microsoft's mobile game group, ex-Midway boss Matt Booty says a "perfect storm" hit right when he felt Midway faced a turnaround -- but it "means a lot" to him that many studio teams could stay together.
The former chairman and CEO of defunct Midway is thrilled with his new role as general manager of Microsoft Game Studios' key new mobile gaming group. But he's still frustrated by the thought that a "perfect storm" of dire economic conditions hit storied publisher Midway right as it finally discovered what could have been an avenue to profitability. Booty took the reins after almost two decades with Midway, beginning as an engineer in 1991 and ending up an executive, remaining in that role until the very last. "It was a complicated, detail-oriented situation that didn't always get reported completely accurately," he says of Midway's final days. Although Booty tells Gamasutra the company's strong arcade heritage now provides him much-needed expertise in the brand-new mobile space, one way of looking at Midway is as a company whose roots kept it from ever quite getting up to speed in the console era. Its fortunes began to fall around the time the original PlayStation launched, and it reported the last operating profit of its lifetime in 1999. But 2008's Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe sold well, suggesting a glimmer of hope -- those fan-favorite arcade properties could still find strong audiences on consoles as long as the tech backing them was well in order (as had not been the case during the previous console generation). And soon after Warner Bros. acquired Midway's Chicago studio, a brand-new Mortal Kombat, under the longtime stewardship of Ed Boon, was revealed, suggesting the project had been underway to some extent at the studio as part of Midway's last efforts to save itself. Booty says that Midway had begun to see a light at the end of the tunnel -- right before things became terminally bad. "It was frustrating to a lot of us that, just about at the point where we had hopefully at least figured out a path that could have led us to success and some sustainable, great AAA games -- is right about when we hit the perfect storm." It was a combination of things, he says: "A really bad economy, a lot of things changing in the video game world, consolidation, [Midway's] relationship with investors and its parent company." The parent was Sumner Redstone's National Amusements, a relationship that came into effect when Redstone bought a controlling stake in Midway in 2004 -- not too long before he was concussed by the credit crunch and faced allegations of shady dealings until he offloaded the company in 2008 to yet-unknown investor Mark Thomas, triggering a crippling buyback obligation to Midway's creditors. The publisher filed for bankruptcy in early 2009. At that point, there wasn't much to be done: "My main focus -- the highest priority -- was trying to keep our teams together," Booty reflects. "It really means a lot to me that the Mortal Kombat team is completely intact and now working on the next iteration of that game with Warner Bros. Our San Diego studio got picked up by THQ, our Seattle studio by Warner Bros." So despite his frustration with the escalating circumstances that escaped the scope of his control as CEO, Booty is glad to be able to look at Midway's wake and see that those studios remained largely whole. "For me, it's always been about game teams," he says. "A lot of the stuff going on with finances and bankruptcy was stuff we did out of necessity, mostly in order to preserve those game teams," Booty continues. "It's where I grew up; I think we were all pretty dedicated at a personal level to making sure things like the game teams were kept together." Booty says that contrary to reports, the company's executives weren't exactly expelled once Warner Bros. bought bankrupt Chicago studio, and that he remained at the head of Midway as a legal entity until he joined Microsoft in March 2010. He says he was "fortunate" to have numerous options, but chose Microsoft for a variety of reasons -- key among them the chance to be back in what he considers "front-line game production" at last.

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