Report from Singapore

golseahorse_largeThe short life and long death of Games Online

How six American idiots went to Singapore in the early days of the Internet, were given a bunch of money, and utterly failed to make online computer games.

This journal, a kind of proto-blog written in 1995-1997, made me infamous in Singapore for a while. To this day I still bump into people who have either heard about it or read it. For many years it generated me a constant stream of e-mail, mostly from Singaporeans, split evenly between appreciation and “Yanqui-go-home” invective.

Fair enough. This is my as-it-happened journal of the creation, rise and fall of Games Online, a company backed by Singapore’s biggest Internet company in the Autumn of 1995 and created in Singapore by six Americans, including me, and twenty-five locally hired staff. This was the project that brought me to Singapore, and to Asia.

It was a total radioactive disaster.

This journal is the culture-shocked ramblings of a young man way out of his professional depth. You will get my unvarnished first-contact perceptions of life and work in Singapore, and my bitchy and increasingly bitter narrative of the implosion of Sembawang Media, Singapore’s first big Internet company. I wrote neither as an international sophisticate nor as someone dedicated to uncovering “the real Singapore”. I just wrote it as I experienced it, as a 27 year old geek riding a grand adventure into chaos. You’ll get about equal parts gripping narrative and idiotic, expat ramble. All of it is pretty dated. (Laserdiscs? Really?)

I have not edited this for posterity, other than one bout of self-censorship a year or two after originally writing it to cull some of my more incendiary litigation bait and to dial down my resentment at some people who, in hindsight, really didn’t deserve it. Those spots are marked in the text. All the typos, hyperbole, and plain bad writing is still in there. There are also several mistakes about Singapore, especially in the first couple of installments. Trust me, they’ve long since been pointed out. Also, many of the links within are long dead.

Early episodes deal with the creation of GOL and our arrival and early experiences in Singapore. The latter episodes (6 and 7 especially) are dedicated primarily to the operatic death of GOL.

This live on with my sincere apologies to everyone named within, many of whom probably wish this thing would just go away. If it makes you feel any better, my conciliatory words can be found at the end of chapter 7. For the record, nearly twenty years later Singapore is still my adopted home. I am married to a Singaporean, and have a half-Singaporean kid. I think that’s great, and it means that ultimately this was all worth it. I look back on the GOL days as one of the formative experiences of my life. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

Note: The reports are long, single HTML documents. Sorry about that. Also, they inherit some old formatting.

Report 1: September, 1995.
How Joe and Will journeyed to Singapore and, unfathomably, struck a huge deal. This installment was written on the airplane back from Singapore, after Joe Pantuso and I spent a week there hammering out the details of the deal that would create Games Online. This installment has a lot of our first impressions of Singapore. It also displays our early enthusiasm, and our early naïvité.

Report 2: December, 1995.
How we moved to Singapore and adjusted to life in Southeast Asia. This picks up about a month after the conclusion of our initial visit. Our month in the Mandarin Hotel is covered, as is the panicky race to get the apartments set up before the rest of the American crew arrived. You can read about our first interview and hiring experiences as we started building our staff, and see the very first signs of the trouble we would later face with our infamous computer purchase.

Report 3: January, 1996.
How the rest of the gang showed up, and the first inklings of trouble began. In this installment the rest of the Silkworm gang gets settled in, and we continue with hiring. Report 3 is mostly a series of vignettes from our early acclimitization. There are some interesting portents concerning Singaporean business practices, however.

Report 4: April, 1996.
How, against all odds, a computer game company began to coalesce. This is where things really began to get interesting, as we welcomed new staff on board and moved into temporary office space. Work begins on our projects while I suddenly become a TV performer. More pithy observations on life in Singapore. Bonus culture shock.

Report 5: June, 1996.
And here my troubles began. Rough sailing for the intrepids of GOL. We move into our permanent office space at long last. It really begins to feel like a company after months of slogging. Unfortunately, in the face of this joyous progress, the demon of the computer purchase rears its ugly head to challenge our fledgling studio.

Report 6: September, 1996.
Folly in the tropics. Our problems mount but we persevere. The intrigue surrounding the computer purchase blossoms to colossal new heights, prompting a wave of cynicism and despair. The schedule begins to suffer, and projects are pushed around mercilessly. In the midst of chaos we find bliss diving in the tropical seas off of Malaysia. But a cloud of doubt hangs over all we do.

Report 7: August, 1997.
Posted nearly a year after the previous chapter. This is the climactic episode in the story of Games Online. Find out how it all went down. What became of our year and a half of blood and sweat? Who were the players? What was the intrigue? It’s all finally revealed.

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