Such was not usually the case with those developers who didn't form their own companies. One major exception has been Brenda Brathwaite, who has become an important voice in the industry since leaving Sir-Tech. "I worked for Atari on a D&D game, then Cyberlore on the Playboy game. Both of those studios closed, so staying wasn't an option. When I considered the possibilities after that, the idea of teaching game design was very interesting to me. So, it seemed like a logical next step." After teaching game design, and releasing board games like Train, Brathwaite entered the social sphere, first with Lolapps, and now with Loot Drop.
The social gaming dominoes started to fall when Brian Reynolds joined Zynga in June 2009, but casual games had proven attractive before then. Jane Jensen received offers to make casual games in the early 2000s, after writing a few novels, and discovered that they shared traits with her previous adventures: "I saw that the demographics of the players on casual games online were really good demographics for adventure games...That's one reason why I got into casual games. They're focused on women. That audience, they really like storytelling, and a slower pace and exploration (like adventure games)."
But Jensen hasn't just been making casual games; she's also been changing and improving them: "So I got involved in that industry and basically over time just kept taking the casual games further and further towards adventures. They're already quite adventure-y." Jensen also agreed that, other than the few years she spent on writing novels, she doesn't really feel like she ever stopped making adventure games.
Designers have also found advantages in other aspects of social and casual games. After his acrimonious split from NCsoft following the release of Tabula Rasa, Richard Garriott's announcement on the founding of his new social company Portalarium mentioned a few of these pragmatic benefits: "This really takes me back to my roots in the game business -- small development teams, low barriers to entry, affordable budgets for quality projects..."
The amount of money involved in AAA development makes these games very different for designers compared to the way top-of-the-line games were made in the '80s and early '90s.
Corey Cole describes the differences in just the late '90s: "When we started at Sierra, our games used 16-color artwork drawn on the screen. By QG5, everything was first painted, then scanned and mapped to 3D objects. One artist used to create the background and all of the objects in a 'room' of a 50-room game in a week or two. By 1998, it took five or more artists a month or two to create a single room."
Brathwaite noted that her Wizardry 8 team was 20 people, a relatively small amount at the time, and her recent social games have smaller teams of 12 or so.
While some designers may be excited to return to coding, in a recent interview, Wing Commander's Chris Roberts said that one of the things which could compel a return to game design was the opposite: "The technology base now is much more stable," he said. "These engines, whether it's Unreal Engine or CryEngine, you can use as a baseline. I could build my own engine... but in today's world I wouldn't do that. I'm not sure it's worth it [rather] than spending my time in making a better gameplay experience and building cool content."
What would it take for some of these designers to go back to making the kinds of games which made them famous? Not much, in some cases. Jane Jensen is a unique case, having completed and released Gray Matter, a gothic adventure very similar to Gabriel Knight.
But even her work with casual games is moving in that direction: "I would like to make large adventure games again, like Gabriel Knight and Gray Matter. I don't think it makes sense for the budgets to be enormous. I would like to be back in that ballpark. But we're getting there slowly, with time, with more interaction and harder puzzles, and things like that."
For Brenda Brathwaite, it's more about getting the right opportunity: "...it would depend. It would be a blast to make another Wizardry or another Jagged Alliance. Sometimes, it's just the designer and the opportunity. For instance, I'd love to make an RTS with John (Romero)."
Her new company, Loot Drop, is less than a year old, with its first game, Cloudforest Expedition, yet to be released. Previews suggest major leaps forward for social games, especially in terms of the sound design.
Although Richard Garriott's Portalarium has released a few games, Garriott has freely stated that they are primarily infrastructure tests as the company prepares for more ambitious work, most notably Lord British's New Britannia, a title which strongly implies an Ultima-style game.
For Corey Cole, the industry is not so welcoming or exciting, and a new Quest for Glory seems a long way away, even for a designer with his track record. "We do not have the skills to negotiate venture capital and open our own studio to make a $10 or $20 million game. That's what it would take to make a Quest for Glory with today's market expectations of graphic and game quality."
"I have talked with a few companies about working for them as a designer or programmer, but have not managed it so far. Our track record is barely enough to get a foot in the door, not enough to 'prove' that we can successfully design a great game for another company. It is frustrating, but I don't know a way around it."
It may be easy shorthand to say that in general, designers of classic games are moving into the social sphere, but that experience is hardly universal. While there have been some trends -- leaving or being forced out of the industry, forming a new company, moving into social games -- each individual designer's journey has been and continues to be unique.