Development at MicroProse (1989–1996)
Sid Meier and Bill Stealey co-founded MicroProse in 1982 to develop a number of flight simulators and military strategy software titles. Around 1989, Meier wanted to start developing new types of games to expand his repertoire, inspired by the recent successes of the god games SimCity (1989) and Populous (1989). Meier considered these games demonstrated that video games did not need to be about destruction all the time. He worked with a recent hire, Bruce Shelley, a former board game designer from Avalon Hill, to craft new god games. They first created Railroad Tycoon in 1990, inspired by Shelley's work at producing Avalon Hill's 1830: The Game of Railroads and Robber Barons, inspired by Francis Tresham's 1829. Meier brainstormed upon his idea of combining global conquest inspired by Risk, city management from the early Empire games, and adding in the concept of a technology tree. Meier worked back and forth with Shelley to refine this prototype before presenting it to the company in full to bring to a full release, which became the first Civilization game, published in 1991. The name was selected late in the process, and after realizing that Tresham had already published a 1980 board game of the same name, MicroProse was able to negotiate a license for the name from Avalon Hill. The addition of Meier's name to the title identifying it as Sid Meier's Civilization, was from Stealey's suggestion at the time. Since games like Civilization diverged from MicroProse's combat simulators, Stealey suggested the addition of Meier's name as to capture the interest of players that would recognize Meier's name from the previous titles he developed and give these other games a try; Meier found this worked and continued to use his name as part of the series' branding.
Following on Civilization, Meier was prompted to develop a number of similar simulation titles, a situation that did not sit well with Stealey who wanted MicroProse to continue to develop flight simulators; at this point, Meier did not actually work for MicroProse but served as a contractor, having sold his shares to Stealey. One of these titles included Sid Meier's Colonization (1994), during which Meier worked with another recent hire, Brian Reynolds, as he had done with Shelley. With Meier less involved with MicroProse, he opted to give Reynolds the development lead for creating Civilization II (1996), the first sequel to any of Meier's previous games. Meier gave Reynolds some advice on the direction to take the game, and subsequently, Reynolds worked with Doug Kaufman, another MicroProse employee that had worked on writing their adventure games, for Civilization II.
Formation of Firaxis (1996–2001)
, who conceived the Civilization
series and co-founded Firaxis
Stealey had pushed MicroProse to look towards home video consoles and arcade games based on their flight simulator software, but these investments did not pan out, putting the company into debt. After trying to arrange financing from an initial public offering, Stealey opted instead to sell the company to Spectrum Holobyte in 1993, and eventually sold his remaining shares in the company and departed it. Initially MicroProse was kept as a separate company from Spectrum Holobyte. By 1996, Spectrum Holobyte opted to consolidate its brand under the MicroProse name, with that cutting many of the MicroProse staff. At this point, Meier, Reynolds, and Jeff Briggs (one of MicroProse's developers and music composers) left MicroProse to found Firaxis.
Firaxis published additional titles by Meier, the first being Sid Meier's Gettysburg! (1997). Lacking the rights to the Civilization name, they subsequently produced Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri, a "space-based Civilization-style game" released in 1999 and published by Electronic Arts. Alpha Centauri uses a game engine similar to the one used in Civilization II and its storyline continues from where the Civilization franchise ends, namely the colonization of a planet in Alpha Centauri.
Naming rights litigation from Activision and Avalon Hill (1997–1998)
Prior to the first Civilization video game, an existing 1980 board game of the same name had been developed by Francis Tresham, published in Europe by his company Hartland Trefoil and licensed for publication in the United States by Avalon Hill. The board game and video game share many common elements including the use of a technology tree, and while Meier stated he had played the board game, he stated it had far less influence in his video game's design compared to the significant influence of SimCity and Empire. When MicroProse opted on the name Civilization for the video game, the company worked out a deal with Avalon Hill to allow them to use the Civilization name.
In April 1997, Activision acquired the rights to the name "Civilization" on its PC games from Avalon Hill. Seven months later Avalon Hill and Activision sued MicroProse over trademark infringement over the rights to the "Civilization" name. In response to the lawsuit, MicroProse bought Hartland Trefoil in December 1997. This move sought to establish "MicroProse as the preeminent holder of worldwide computer game and board game rights under the Civilization brand". In January 1998, MicroProse counter-sued Avalon Hill and Activision for false advertising, unfair competition, trademark infringement, and unfair business practices as a result of Activision's decision to develop and publish Civilization computer games.
In July 1998, Avalon Hill and Activision settled their case against MicroProse out of court. Under the terms of the settlement, MicroProse kept all the rights to the Civilization brand, Avalon Hill had to pay MicroProse $411,000, and Activision acquired a license from MicroProse to publish Civilization: Call to Power, released in March 1999. Avalon Hill accepted this settlement as there already discussions for Hasbro Interactive to acquire both Avalon Hill and MicroProse. The acquisition of both was completed a month after this settlement, giving Hasbro Interactive the full rights to the Civilization name. which consolidated the Civilization franchise under Hasbro.
Publishing by Infogrames (2001–2004)
In January 2001, the French company Infogrames bought Hasbro Interactive for $100 million, which included the rights to the Civilization franchise, the rights to the Atari brand, and Hasbro's Game.com handheld game console. Following the sale, Hasbro Interactive was renamed Infogrames Interactive, Inc. In May 2003, Infogrames changed the name of Infogrames Interactive to Atari Interactive.
Infogrames/Atari Interactive published several of Firaxis' games, including Civilization III, released in 2001. Briggs served as the lead designer with Soren Johnson as lead programmer, and the title was the first in the series to include two expansion packs, Play the World and Conquests.
Publishing and acquisition by Take-Two (2004–present)
Take-Two bought the rights to the Civilization franchise from Infogrames in 2004 for $22.3 million. In October 2005, 2K Games, a Take-Two subsidiary, published Civilization IV, which was developed by Firaxis with Johnson as game designer. By this point in the series, Meier had adopted a design philosophy of making sure each new Civilization game had "one-third old, one-third improved, and one-third new", a means to allow the new game to be enjoyed by existing fans while able to draw in new players.
Take Two bought Firaxis for $26.7 million including possible performance bonuses in November 2005 which resulted in Take Two owning both the developer and the publisher of the Civilization franchise. Since Take Two's acquisition, Firaxis has developed several more titles in the series, including two main releases, Civilization V (2010) and Civilization VI (2016), two lightweight versions of Civilization for consoles and mobiles in Civilization Revolution (2008) and its sequel Civilization Revolution 2 (2014), and Civilization: Beyond Earth (2014), inspired by their previous Alpha Centauri title.