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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • Page 42
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The Los Angeles Times from Los Angeles, California • Page 42

Los Angeles, California
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Igot the job because CareerBuilder.comdid the searching for me. The smarter way to find a better job. ing an online game as head of Cyan Worlds Inc. in Mead, Wash. Richard Garriott, 42, continues to produce online games at NCSoft Corp.

in Austin, Texas, two decadesafter he created the series. and creator Shigeru Miyamoto, 50, is still elbow-deep in game design at Nin- tendo Co. in Japan. And Nolan Bushnell, who launched the age of games with is 60 and back in the arcade business as chief executive of UWink Inc. in Los Angeles.

amazing going from a young Bushnell said, an old They are the exceptions, and the relative paucity of silver- haired game developers reflects the youth of the industryitself. movie industry has been around for four said P.J. McNealy, a game industry analyst with American Technology Research in San Francisco. parents and grandparents went to the he said. kids go to the movies.

four generations of having a common experience. Video games has two generations. just a very young industry when you compare it to other On and Off the Track As a teenager growing up in Orange County, Fargo knew he wanted to do one of two things with his life: compete in the Olympic decathlon or make games. The 6-foot-2 sprinter decided on the former and, on a track scholarship, enrolled at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo. That lasted about two weeks.

remember sitting in some history class thinking I wanted to get on with my Fargo said. I just got up in the middle of class and walked That left games. Fargo went home and holed up in his bedroom for nine months, tapping out code on his Apple II computer. What he came up with a puzzle adventure game called was kludgey by standards. The graphics were blocky, the text corny.

There was no music. Players moved through the game by typing commands such as and But in 1981, the notion that a machine could react to people that choices affected outcome, no matter how trivial was nearly magical. Tap a few keys, and the computer responded. Although Fargo was a respectable programmer, his real strength was in marketing. With his parents as cosigners, Fargo got a $5,000 bank loan and spent half of it on a full-page ad in Softalk, one of the largest computer magazines at the time.

Then he got a second phone line. He called every computer store he could think of and pretended to be a customer wanting to buy the game. The clerks invariably said they heard of it. I told them about the ad, which happened to have my phone number on Fargo said. put me on hold, and seconds later the other phone would ring.

hang up the first phone and took orders with the second phone. I guess you could call it guerrilla Fargo chuckled about the days when a single person could do it all from his bedroom. even wrote the ad he recalled. said, 16 entirely different Not just 16 colors, but entirely different Fargo, then 19, sold his company in 1982 for $5,000. A year later he founded Interplay with a $60,000 contract to make a computerized encyclopedia.

Within a year, he won his first game contract to make three adventure titles for Activision Inc. for $100,000. The first game, was a minor hit and sold 100,000 copies. second game, of the Unknown: The published by Electronic Arts cemented reputation. the people we were working with back then were teens, but Brian was a little beyond said Bing Gordon, chief creative officer, who at the timewas in charge of the marketing.

was a little more sold 300,000 copies, a massive hit by 1985 standards. was the first computer game that reminded me of where you got to create a party of magical thieves and role-play the said John Keefer, managing editor of GameSpy, a Web site in Irvine. actually see the action on the screen, and you had to have graph paper next to you to plot where you were going. But it was enough to keep you For the next 10 years, Interplay grew along with the rest of the industry. Its marketing motto Gamers, for became a mandate within the company to develop cutting-edge games.

published in 1995, was one of the first games to give players the ability to maneuver freely in a three-dimensional environment. and which came out in 1997 and 1998, respectively, are routinely cited as classics among hard-core gamers. is just one of those companies that computer gamers get all misty-eyed said Kasavin. Fargo, meanwhile, had become a celebrity in the small, geeky circle of gamers and developers. Tall, handsome and fashionably dressed, he looked more Hollywood than technology.

He drove a fire-engine-red Dodge Viper with caution-yellow wheels. Warren Spector, who created the franchise of games, remembered meeting Fargo at a conference in 1989. walks Brian Fargo, the first guy to prove you have to be a geek to make games, a Spector said. this good-looking, nicely dressed, articulate guy. And there we were in shlubbyT-shirts, taped-up glasses and ripped-up jeans.

He brought a touch of Fargo worked hard, regularly logging 14-hour days, including weekends. He partied just as hard. Those who worked at Interplay during mid-1990s said arock roll atmosphere permeated the culture. was just how a little boy would fantasize it would be like to be working at a video game said one longtime Interplay executive, who declined to be named. At company Christmas parties, held each year at the Galaxy Theatre in Santa Ana, Fargo worked the crowd and poured liberal shots of Patron tequila or Jagermeister liqueur.

But the party came to an abrupt halt in 1998. Interplay had been profitable every year until then, according to Fargo and former company executives. Red Ink and an Exit Then, the year the company went public, Interplay began to bleed losses. James Lin, a former Wall Street analyst who tracked Interplay, attributes the red ink to a strategic attempt to broaden the products from PC games to console games. had difficulty meeting Lin said.

was the right decision but poorly As Fargo continued to invest in console games, Interplay piled up $50 million in debt. Fargo needed cash fast. He made a Faustian bargain and sold a controlling stake in Interplay in March 1999 to French company Titus Interactive for $25 million. Almost immediately, he found himself butting heads with chairman, Herve Caen. Caen declined to be interviewed for this article.

started hating going to Fargo said. were quitting. Vendors were suing. There was unbelievably bad news every single Things came to a head when Titus issued a surprise news re- lease in July 2001 saying it had seized control of board. Exhausted and demoralized, Fargo gave up.

He got married and disappeared on a monthlong honeymoon cruise. Despite having more than enough money to never have to work again, Fargo wanted back in the game. He found investors and launched InXile last year. His business card reads in The offices are tucked in a Newport Beach strip mall next to Surf Shop. Employees jockey for parking with customers of a Subway sandwich restaurant.

worlds away from corporate headquarters, where Fargo had the reception-area restrooms professionally decorated. first game, Tale: Waking the is a tongue-in-cheek adventure set for release next year. It pokes knowing fun at the sword-and- sorcery genre that the first helped define nearly 20 years ago. The hero starts in the game with a single talent the ability to conjure a rat. As he gathers experience, the bard is able to do more.

Like the protagonist, Fargo plans this time to leverage his experience, rather than the brute force he relied on to launch Interplay. you get older, you have less stamina for 20-hour fellow game creator Spector observed. years ago, that an issue. These days, it Fargo believes he has the formula hire bright, young talent and watch them flourish. other week, they worked all night to meet an internal Fargo said.

never asked them to do that. They just decided to do that on their 40 and Still in the Business of Video Games Games, from Page C1 Robert Lachman Los Angeles Times think I could make the games Ido now 10 years ago. I have the real-life experience Brian Fargo, founder of InXile Entertainment called Supercenters in California in the next few years. As it is, the Bentonville, giant and other retailers that sell from warehouse-like outlets, including Costco Wholesale Corp. and Wholesale Club account for more than of U.S.

grocery sales. The national supermarket chains of Safeway Kroger which owns Ralphs, and Albertsons Inc. the companies involved in the Southern and Central California strike fear the big-box competitors because their largely nonunion operating costs are to lower than those of the chains. So, unsurprisingly, the chains cite the generous health and pension benefits in the last contract with the United Food and Commercial Workers union as unsustainable competitive disadvantages. The union, too, points an accusing finger at Wal- Mart, saying its tightfistedness when it comes to wages and benefits threatens all laborers.

why both sides in the strike here are so determined to get their way. The truth is that union benefits the only reasons for the supermarket recent declines in profit and stock prices. They may not even be the main reasons. In the last decade, Safeway, Kroger and Albertsons have grown fat with acquisitions of local grocery companies in many parts of the country. The chains made the deals in the belief that bulking up would help them compete with Wal-Mart, but size did not bring success mainly because the chains forgot the local ties and customer service that made their stores strong in the first place.

They goofed by centralizing operations at headquarters, sending out commands and little autonomy to local explains veteran grocer Lawrence Del Santo, the retired chairman of Vons Stores, which is now a division of Safeway. That was another turn in the 73-year evolution of supermarkets, a retailing form that began in 1930 in the New York borough of Queens. Now the evolution needs to be tweaked again: Del Santo knows what the big chains should, and probably will, do: need to stay big but think small, think locally and As it happens, new and successful models in food retailing are doing just that. Aprominent example is Su- perValu Inc. of Minneapolis, which has more than 1,400 stores in the Midwest and Southeast and about $20 billion in annual sales.

stores, including Cub Foods, Shop Save and Save-A-Lot, range from conventional supermarkets to a sort of discount mini-mart. But they have one thing in common. In every store, says Chairman and Chief Executive Jeffrey Noddle, local managers have authority over that touches the customer, from product stocking and pricing to types of produce and Back at headquarters, Nod- dle adds, handle the back office, the accounting and computer systems stuff the customer One SuperValu innovation is alimited-menu kind of market. Its 1,000 Save-A-Lot stores carry 1,250 items, compared with the 25,000 on the shelves at typical supermarkets. chose the most commonly purchased items, and we stock 25 types of meat and a comparable selection of Noddle says.

more, a Save-A-Lot is typically 15,000 square feet, while a supermarket is usually in the neighborhood of 50,000 square feet. The Save-A-Lot target is the true mass market families with incomes of $35,000 or less which, Noddle points out, of all the families in the It seems something of afewer-items, fewer-square-feet trend in the country: Colton- based Stater Bros. Holdings Inc. holds its markets to 33,000 square feet and focuses on fresh meat, fish and produce. But reductions in store size, or in cost control for that matter, are not so much a response to competition from Wal-Mart as attempts to serve customers efficiently and inexpensively.

The fact that the warehouse stores have attracted so much patronage just underscores along-standing message to labor and management in the $680-billion U.S. food retailing sector: Change and compromise are necessary for survival. Yes, that goes for labor too. Membership in the UFCW has declined in the last decade, despite an increase in food-store openings. Union leaders are prone to blame but that kind of talk register much with people who, when they go to warehouse stores, are just looking for bargains.

Adaptability and compromise will be necessary if workers as well as owners are to meet the competition. AUFCW strike against supermarket chains in St. Louis ended after 25 days offers an example. Although the union retained full health benefits with no co-insurance payments from employees, says UFCW spokesman Ed Finkelstein, the UFCW agreed to a co- payment for health-care treatments and to different wage tiers for newly hired employees. That is what employers have demanded of striking grocery workers in Southern California.

Does your supermarket have afuture? Sure. Will it change? It had better. James Flanigan can be reached at jim.flanigan For Survival, Managers and Workers Must Change Flanigan, from Page C1 need to stay big but think Lawrence Del Santo, former chairman of Vons Stores.

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