BadgerCom

Back in the olden days before everyone knew about the internet, five of us from the Computer Science department at Colorado State University decided to start a software company. We were all big fans of UHF, so we named the company BadgerCom Software. We had a lot of ideas about what our product should be, which was probably not a good sign. They included: an online text-only version of the Steve Jackson game Illumininati, RPG utility software, fantasy football tracking software, and FAS.

We actually built the Illuminati game. You could play Illuminati Deluxe over the internet with up to 3 of your friends. It supported all the cards but one (since Illuminati was filled with cards that added new rules) and I spent many hours making it work. We were talking to Steve Jackson about putting it up on Illuminati Online, but unfortunately the year was 1994 and a text-based game that you had to telnet into wasn’t really what he was looking for just as Mosaic was catching on. Playing game after game of Illuminati as it was under development (often against myself) spoiled the game for me. Before the project we were playing it about once a week; I haven’t played it since the project finished 12 years ago.

The pen-and-paper RPG utility software, RPG Tools, turned out to be the flagship product for BadgerCom. Our plan was to write a flexible database for storing monsters and items and then write re-skins of it for various systems. We were talking to lots of companies to get rights, including West End Games, Steve Jackson Games, White Wolf, and Mayfair Games. We shipped the RPG Tools product in 1994, and actually secured rights to make an RPG Tools module for Paranoia (by West End Games.) It was at that point that we realized that there was absolutely no way we could build a module for a game of that size and sell enough copies of it to make any money. In fact, we couldn’t have made any money off modules for White Wolf’s stuff which was the #2 system at the time and selling like crazy. One of the BadgerCom guys still makes a few little utilities in his spare time. I think that’s about the right scale for this sort of product.

Of all the crazy product ideas we had, the fantasy football software was probably the best one. If we had put together a web-based fantasy football package in the mid-nineties we could probably have sold it for a bundle to one of the many operators of fantasy football that are getting lots of traffic today. Oh, Barry, if only we had heeded your words. But the rest of us weren’t terribly interested in football, fantasy or otherwise, and never really took this one seriously.

FAS stands for Fantasy Adventure System because we were huge fans of acronyms and incredibly awkward names. Three of the five of us were builders in Crossroads, a heavily modified TinyMuck 2.2. (Not to be confused with Crossroads Muck, which was something completely different.) Text-based MUDs were so much fun that we thought, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if we could build this graphically? Maybe something top-down like Ultima IV, only with a bunch of other people in the game at the same time!” We had some technical conversations about how difficult it would be, but never spent any time on this one. As incredibly inexperienced as we were, I’m not sure we would have made it very far, but it would have been a blast to come out with something like this in 1996 or so. :)

I graduated in December of 1994, the last one to finish with CSU. I accepted an offer from Hewlett-Packard a few months later, and moved to California. BadgerCom stuck around for a couple more years, and even acted as the US publisher for Prince of Destruction, an RPG from Australia. We were a really crappy publisher, but we did gain a lot of credit card debt printing boxes. Two of the other guys founded Front Range Internet in 1995 (a good year to found an ISP) and they hired a third a year or two later. The fifth is consulting and writing books now.

The funny thing is that our crappy engineering decisions didn’t doom BadgerCom; it was our crappy business sense that did. We thought that because we all played lots of RPGs, used Macintosh computers, and thought it would be cool to combine the two that there would automatically be a market for our product. We were all internet-savvy (which meant telnet, finger, ftp, and archie in those days) and so we made an Illuminati game for ourselves. And after RPG Tools tanked we thought we had enough experience to publish somebody else’s game. Boy were we young and stupid. :)

~Joe


One Response to “BadgerCom”

  1. Psychochild commented on :

    The funny thing is that our crappy engineering decisions didn’t doom BadgerCom; it was our crappy business sense that did.

    Bingo! You learned the most important lesson right there. That’s why I went through the pain and suffering to put together a book on business and legal issues. Business knowledge is vital for running a business; seems obvious, but it’s amazing how many people ignore that detail. Some of us are just lucky enough to have swam instead of sunk when we were thrown to the sharks. :)

    Have fun,