Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI)
Strategic Simulations Inc. (SSI) was founded in 1979 by keen table top war gamer, Joel Billings, to make strategic games for the home computer. Fresh out of college and bound for MBA studies, he planned to indulge his hobby on his holiday. He was joined by programmers John Lydon and Ed Willeger. Unable to find a publisher for their game “Computer Bismark”, they became publishers themselves and Billings never made it to his MBA studies.
Influenced by a love of the packaging of Avalon Hill board games with their classy manuals, maps and box art, SSI avoided the ziplock bags of many self-publishers of early computer games investing instead in quality boxed packaging. Graphic artist Louis Saekow was called on to ensure that SSI’s packaging was gold standard for their first game “Computer Bismark”. His efforts were so convincing that Saekow became responsible for SSI’s artwork for nearly all the company’s future releases. SSI had originally thought that mail order would dominate their sales, but their impressive boxed product made them very popular with retailers.
SSI dominated the computer wargaming of the early 1980s partly because their games were detailed, realistic and fun but also due to their investment in dedicated sales staff to get their product out there. In 1984 they expanded into role playing adventures with “Questron”. (This game is considered to owe a lot to Richard Garriot’s Ultima series, and SSI gave Origin a percentage of the sales.) Success with a string of role-playing games secured SSI a license from TSR in 1987 to develop “Dungeons and Dragons” games. On securing this relationship, SSI in the 1990s became more associated with role playing games than strategy war game titles.
SSI was acquired by Mindscape in 1994 who were later sold to the Learning Company, who in turn were acquired by Mattel. Mattel wanting to free themselves of the software division entirely handed over all its titles to Ubisoft in 2001.
In 2013 Joel Billings donated his papers and collection on SSI to the Brain Sutton-Smith Library and Archives of Play at the International Centre for the History of Electronic Games, Strong Museum for Play in Rochester, New York
References: Richie, Craig., “Company Profile SSI (Part 1 & Part 2)” NOW Gamer, Jan 20, 2009, Accessed 14 October 2013