UK Games Industry: Beyond Software

Superman

Beyond’s relationship with First Star in the US remained strong, and resulted in the publication of the Commodore 64 version of Spy vs Spy II: The Desert Island Caper in late 1985. This special relationship across the Atlantic also lead to Beyond signing a couple of additional First Star titles, including Rockford’s Riot, an educational title called Romper Room – My First Alphabet, and a little something called Superman.

Superman: The Game could have been a big success. It was being developed by First Star who had already delivered a couple of terrific titles; it was also a big license, featuring an iconic and very well known character. Unfortunately for Beyond, it was probably the title that ultimately sealed their fate.

“We already had this good working relationship with First Star, and they were convinced that Superman was going to be a huge title for them”, explains Terry Pratt. The rights to publish Superman in the UK were signed without anyone at Beyond seeing a design document or any code. It would be the first and last time that was to happen.

Selling up

It was whilst Superman was bieng signed up that Beyond’s ultimate fate was being discussed in EMAP’s corridors of power. Although Terry Pratt had handed over the reigns to Bill Delaney and was back in the fold at EMAP magazines by then, he remembers the corporate thinking at the time.

“My magazine boss Gerry Murray decided that Beyond was too much of a distraction for the business and he wanted out”, says Terry. So, just over two short years after launch, the parent company decided to sell.

“With the benefit of hindsight it was probably a mad thing for EMAP to do in the first place, as they were a newspapers and magazines business and Beyond was really going against the grain” reflects Terry today.

Gerry Murray immediately touted Beyond to British Telecom. BT’s own software publishing company, Telecomsoft, was recently flush with cash after the success of the conversions of David Braben and Ian Bell’s ‘Elite’ 3D space trading game, and in many ways Telecomsoft looked like a kindred spirit regarding their approach to the deeper, more involved games that Beyond also liked to publish.

From BT’s perspective, buying Beyond appeared to be a good deal. The label had an excellent and innovative reputation in the industry, and it appeared to have good prospects for the future with some interesting home-grown titles in development and ‘Superman’ (via First Star) on the horizon. With this portfolio in mind, BT’s Ederyn Williams proposed the purchase to the BT hierarchy, and they agreed.

“Once it was put up for sale, it was my job to stand up in front of everybody at EMAP and explain that we were getting rid of Beyond Software”, explains Terry. “I remember the computer magazines were very upset about it. They really liked Beyond.”

As soon as Bill Delaney was informed of EMAP’s decision he told his staff, but by then the sale to BT was all but signed.

“We weren’t happy about it” recalls Simon Goodwin. “We all got on extremely well and really enjoyed the company and the business, so the idea of a Management Buy Out (MBO) was discussed. We feared we would otherwise lose our identity and disappear, subsumed by such a large organisation like BT”.

A Management Buy Out was never likely to occur, and Beyond was duly purchased by BT from EMAP for a very significant six figure sum, rumoured to be close to £1,000,000 in late 1985. In early’86 the business was moved lock, stock and barrel to BT’s offices in Upper St Martin’s Lane, less than 2 miles away from the EMAP offices in Farringdon. A new era was about to start.

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