Publisher Profile: LJN

2012-08-20

The infamous video game company LJN was most active during the 8-Bit era, with its games being published mainly on the NES. These days, they are often criticised for the low quality of their games and the frustration these games have caused players. Because their games are all based on popular movie or comic franchises, they sold well, but were critically panned.

LJN was founded by pioneer toy maker and business man, Jack Friedman.

Friedman was born and raised in New York City and began his career in the toy industry as a sales rep in the 60s. In 1970, Friedman partnered with his boss, Norman J. Lewis, to open a toy manufacturing company in Manhattan called LJN (Lewis' initials, reversed). After Lewis left LJN, Friedman moved the company away from original products and instead began to pursue licensing deals.

While not a new idea, Friedman leveraged his skills as a business man and his creative talents to acquire popular licenses, and produce incredibly successful toy lines based on those franchises. Friedman is considered a pioneer of the male collectables toy industry.

Friedman continued to license popular franchises and release popular toy lines, including Thundercats, Gremlins, and the WWF (World Wrestling Federation).

In 1985, Friedman sold LJN to MCA. MCA acquired LJN for $66-67 million. Friedman went on to found Toy Head-Quarters in 1990; after a merger with Trinity Acquisition Corporation in 1991, the company became THQ. Friedman also founded the toy company Jakks Pacific. He died on May 3rd, 2010 from a rare blood disorder at the age of 70.

MCA (Music Corporation of America) was a large talent agency, record label, TV and Film company that had previously attempted to get into the video game industry by partnering with Atari, Inc. They founded MCA Video Games, which produced arcade and home versions of games based on various MCA properties. MCA had been buying up companies in order to increase profits and broaden their portfolios.

After acquiring LJN, MCA continued Friedman's model of licensing popular franchises. The only difference was their focus on the emerging video game market. The strategy was to acquire licenses and farm out the work to various third parties in order to produce video games based on the licenses. In many cases, LJN did not credit or release information as to which company developed each game. Many different developers were used, making it quite difficult to discover the real developer behind some games.

LJN began publishing video games for the Nintendo Entertainment System in November 1987 with three releases: The Karate Kid, Jaws, and Gotcha! The Sport!

 


During its time under MCA, LJN published the following games for the NES:

Nov 87 - Karate Kid (Atlus)
Nov 87 - Jaws (Westone Bit Entertainment)
Nov 87 - Gotcha! The Sport! (???)
Feb 88 - Town & Country Surf Designs: Wood & Water Rage (???)
Apr 88 - Major League Baseball (Enteractive)
Feb 89 - Friday the 13th (Pack-In-Video)
Sep 89 - Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Rare Ltd.)
Sep 89 - NFL (Enteractive)
Sep 89 - Back to the Future (Beam Software)
Dec 89 - The Uncanny X-Men (???)


Along with the games, LJN continued to produce toy lines to go along with the licenses they acquired. Popular toy lines included: Advanced Dungeons & Dragons, Back to the Future Part II, Dune, E.T., Gremlins, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Magnum, P.I., Michael Jackson, Thundercats, Voltron, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, WWF, and The Terminator.

LJN began posting losses in 1987 after fallout from their toy guns, which were produced by their Entertech division. A set of paintball guns was also made as a tie-in for the Gotcha! NES game. The company never managed to get back on track and continued to post losses. In 1990, Acclaim began talks with MCA to purchase LJN.

On April 20th, 1990, Acclaim closed the deal with MCA to purchase LJN for cash and 6.7% common stock. The deal was valued at $53 million.

Though never officially stated, it is believed that Acclaim wanted to purchase LJN to get around Nintendo's ‘5 games per publisher, per year’ rule. With LJN, they could ship twice as many games annually for the popular console.

Acclaim continued LJN’s business model of licensing and producing games based on those licenses, but dropped the toy division entirely.


Under Acclaim, LJN published the following titles:

NES:

Jul 90 - Pictionary (Software Creations)
Sep 90 - Back to the Future Part 2 & 3 (Beam Software)
Nov 90 - WWF WrestleMania Challenge (Rare Ltd.)
Nov 90 - Punisher (Beam Software)
May 91 - Beetlejuice (Rare)
Aug 91 - Bill and Ted's Excellent Video Game Adventure (Rocket Science Products)
Oct 91 - Wolverine (Software Creations)
??? 91 - Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball(Sculptured Software)
??? 91 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Software Creations)
Oct 92 - Spider-Man: Return of the Sinister Six (Bit Studios)
??? 92 - WWF WrestleMania: Steel Cage Challenge (Sculptured Software)
Jan 93 - Alien 3 (Probe Entertainment)
??? 93 - The Incredible Crash Dummies (Gray Matter)
Nov 93 - WWF King of the Ring (Gray Matter)

Gameboy:

Nov 90 - Punisher (Beam Software)
Apr 91 - WWF Superstars (Rare Ltd.)
??? 91 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Software Creations)
Jan 92 - Beetlejuice (Rare Ltd.)
Jan 93 - Alien 3 (Bit Studios)
??? 93 - Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (Software Creations)
Aug 92 - WWF Superstars 2 (Sculptured Software)
Sep 93 - WWF King of the Ring (Gray Matter)
??? 94 - True Lies (Beam Software)
Dec 94 - WWF Raw (Sculptured Software/Realtime Associates)

SNES:

Feb 92 - WWF Super WrestleMania (Sculptured Software)
??? 92 - Spider-Man and the X-Men in Arcade's Revenge (Software Creations)
??? 92 - Roger Clemens' MVP Baseball (Sculptured Software)
??? 93 - Terminator 2: Judgment Day (Bit Studios/Probe Entertainment)
May 93 - Alien 3 (Probe Entertainment)
Jun 93 - WWF Royal Rumble (Sculptured Software)
Oct 93 - The Incredible Crash Dummies (Gray Matter)
??? 94 - True Lies (Beam Software)
??? 94 - Warlock (Trimark Interactive/Realtime Associates)
Sep 94 - Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (Software Creations)
Dec 94 - WWF Raw (Sculptured Software/Realtime Associates)


Because of another Nintendo rule that stated games released on the NES could not be released on competing systems by the same publisher, Acclaim also leveraged its Flying Edge and Arena brands to publish LJN titles on Sega systems, including the Master System, Genesis, and Game Gear.

As Nintendo loosened their publishing guidelines in the middle of the 16-bit era, LJN, Flying Edge, and Arena were no longer needed by Acclaim, and were folded into the parent company. The company was absorbed into Acclaim in 1994.

Acclaim resurrected the LJN label in 2000 to publish a single game on the Dreamcast entitled Spirit of Speed 1937. The decision is rumoured to have been made in order to distance the Acclaim brand from the low quality of the title.

This decision only further cemented LJN's legacy as a company that produced some of the worst video games of those eras.