Firebird 'Legend' Logo 1988

The History of Firebird Software

Selling Up

Firebird published a number of 8-bit games over the next few years with varying degrees of success. Druid was an excellent Gauntlet-style game that spawned an equally enlightening sequel, IO was a graphically excellent but very tough shoot ‘em up for the Commodore 64, Earthlight was an interesting 3D shoot ‘em up for the Spectrum from Pete Cooke, Samurai Warrior from Beam was an enjoyable arcade adventure based on Usagi Yojimbo, and Beam also produced Fist + which borrowed a few ideas from ‘IK+’ and the Sega coin-op ‘Shinobi’.

A legal wrangle with Hewson delayed Firebird from publishing Graftgold’s Magnetron until early 1988, but this was soon followed by Graftgold’s other 8-bit titles Soldier of Fortune and Intensity.

It was around the time of the transition between 8-bit and 16-bit development in late 1987 that Herbert Wright decided he needed a change. He was enticed to help educational software publisher Logotron set up a new games division.

By early 1988 sales in 8-bit games were dwindling as the 16-bit Atari ST and Commodore Amiga dominated. Firebird was an early adopter, quickly publishing 16-bit games including Golden Path, Steve Bak’s Return to Genesis, Black Lamp by Denton Designs, Pandora by Shahid Ahmad and David Eastman, the much delayed Star Trek: The Rebel Universe by Mike Singleton and Denton Designs, and David Braben’s 3D blaster Virus, based upon his own Archimedes game ‘Zarch’.

ST and Amiga versions of Elite finally appeared in the summer of 1988, developed by Mr Micro, with work starting soon after they had completed the final 8-bit version for the MSX. Firebird had also sub-licensed a Tatung Einstein conversion of ‘Elite’ the year before to Merlin Software.

Despite chart successes with both full price and budget games over the past four and a half years and a strong reputation, TelecomSoft was coming under close scrutiny from within BT. The company didn’t really have a strategic fit with the core telecommunications business, leading to a handful of internal moves in recent years from BT’s New Information Services to Spectrum and then finally the Dialcom division.

BT Rubbishes Closure Story - Popular Computing Weekly 161086

There had been stories in UK computer magazines that TelecomSoft was under constant pressure from BT management for some time, possibly since the purchase of  Beyond from EMAP in late 1985. Popular Computing Weekly highlighted events in October 1986, soon after TelecomSoft had just moved into new office space in London.

This precarious situation resulted in BT Management approaching General Manager Paula Byrne in August 1988 and asking her to find potential purchasers for the company. It helped that the company was deliberately a lot less financially interlinked with BT than it had been in the past, and that it was deemed financially strong enough to be an attractive proposition to potential buyers.

Paula led a group of senior management in TelecomSoft to organise an MBO (Management Buy Out) from BT. The process was long, arduous and ultimately fruitless as neither party could reach an agreement. On February 19th 1989 the proposed MBO was abandoned and so a press release was issued a few days later, announcing BT’s intention to sell the business.

Learn more about the sale here.

One thought on “The History of Firebird Software

  1. Allan

    Great site with excellent information about this company. I wish you had good coverscans of most games for download though.

    Reply

What do you think?