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Square and Eidos: The History

Rob Fahey looks back at the history of the two companies, and how the marriage was made

The marriage of Eidos and Square Enix is not the pairing which anyone had expected. The list of suitors whose names have appeared alongside Eidos' is lengthy and diverse; Square Enix', right up to the day on which the deal was announced, was not one of them.

Then again, Eidos' tortuous corporate journey over the past five years has never been short of surprises. Once the darling of the City of London and feted as the exemplar of Britain's resurgent creative industries, Eidos' long fall from grace has been marked by sudden reversals and unexpected tangents - not to mention dogged by intense speculation at every turn.

Eidos' Story

The potted history of Eidos will be broadly familiar to most readers. Founded as a video compression and editing technology firm, the company moved into videogames in the early nineties with a string of acquisitions. Most notable among these were Domark - publishers of Championship Manager and Hard Drivin' - and later, US Gold.

One of the major UK publishers of the 8- and 16-bit eras, US Gold had fallen on tougher times in the mid-nineties, and Eidos chose to discontinue the brand entirely. However, US Gold also owned a successful development studio called Core Design - which was already hard at work on the game which would shortly be released as Tomb Raider, with its iconic heroine establishing videogames as part of the "Cool Britannia" cultural resurgence of the nineties and Eidos as a brand which was, for a while, second only to the PlayStation itself.

It would be unfair, of course, to describe Eidos entirely as the House That Lara Built. The firm didn't lack for successful and critically acclaimed franchises - from one of its earliest acquisitions, Championship Manager, through to the likes of Hitman, Deus Ex and Legacy of Kain. However, there's a fairly direct parallel between the fortunes of Eidos and those of its best-known cover girl.

Through the late nineties, Lara Croft's face was everywhere - not just in videogame publications, but in advertising campaigns for other products, in mainstream magazines and on the front pages of business sections which marvelled endlessly at the Eidos stock market rocket.

By the early years of this decade, the Tomb Raider franchise had moved to the silver screen, with Oscar-winner Angelina Jolie portraying Lara in the first of two movies. Say what you like about the quality of the flick, but Lara Croft: Tomb Raider showed the quality of the franchise. It pulled down over USD 300 million worldwide, making it into the most successful videogame adaptation ever, and easily grabbed the record for the biggest US opening weekend for a movie with a female protagonist.

Then, suddenly, it all went wrong for Tomb Raider - and simultaneously, the House That Lara Built began to crumble. The long-delayed Tomb Raider: Angel of Darkness, the series' debut on the PS2, was almost universally panned; despite its hugely extended development schedule, the game had clearly been released in an unfinished state. Only weeks later, the second Tomb Raider movie, Cradle of Life, sank at the box office - leading to the planned trilogy of films being abruptly cut short.

Tomb Raider went into a tailspin from which it has never quite recovered - even despite the efforts of US studio Crystal Dynamics, whose 2006 revival of the franchise and subsequent sequels have been generally well received. Worse, though, was the impact on Eidos itself.

Throughout the nineties, Tomb Raider had seemed like a talisman which protected the firm from even its worst excesses. From late 1996 to mid-2001, Eidos had funded Ion Storm, a hideously mismanaged and famously ego-driven development studio in Dallas whose incredibly late, grossly over-budget titles - including the legendary (for all the wrong reasons) Daikatana - sucked millions out of the publisher. It was one of the closest analogues the games market had for the wild excesses of the dot.com bust - and yet, shielded by the vast positive publicity generated by Lara Croft, Eidos seemed to sail through what should have been a humiliating episode for the firm.

Rob Fahey avatar
Rob Fahey: Rob Fahey is a former editor of GamesIndustry.biz who spent several years living in Japan and probably still has a mint condition Dreamcast Samba de Amigo set.
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