Videodisk Part 1: The Transformative Journey from Consumer Electronics to Gaming Phenomenon

Videodisk, a company that was founded in 1976 by Norman Timms, was reluctant to enter the video game market. Prior to this, they were predominantly known for other home electronics. Their first successful product was a front-loading VCR that was very competitive in price with other models on the market in the early 1980s. In the following decades, they made anything from blank storage media, to DVD players, to televisions, and most recently, video streaming set-top boxes.

In 1998, Norman's 36 year old son, Victor Timms, was being groomed to take over the company whenever his father decided to retire. Victor had just been appointed to the position of Vice President of Technology and it was clear that he would only move up from there.

Following this appointment, Victor conducted an interview with Wired Magazine in which he outlined his vision for the company. Acknowledging that sales have been stagnant over the last decade, Victor indicated a couple of new markets that he wanted Videodisk to enter. The biggest growth opportunity, he said, was video games. Victor cited Sony as an example of a consumer electronics company that successfully pivoted into distributing entertainment content and felt that Videodisk could do the same.

Norman, now 61 and CEO of a legacy American home electronics brand, was enraged by this interview. From his perspective, there's no way that Videodisk would be entering that market and even if they did, it would go through him. He felt that Victor had already betrayed the trust that he had placed in him.

What followed was a very public and deeply personal spat between the two of them. Almost immediately, Norman began conducting interviews to apologize for his son's behavior and provided clarification not only to consumers, but to shareholders, that the company would not be pivoting into any dramatic new directions. Victor publicly defended himself, and argued that for the company to remain relevant in the future that a pivot would be vital for its survival.

After a few weeks of this back-and-forth, Victor announced that he would be resigning from the company, effective immediately. In his resignation announcement, he condemned his father for his failure to look to the future and allow his company to flounder in a market where there's a huge opportunity to grow with the resources they have.

Videodisk stock dropped significantly during this period. In an attempt to recover, the company announced that it was acquiring a small software developer. It helped stop the bleeding, but the stock price struggled to regain what was lost in the preceding months.

Victor stayed out of the public eye until late 1999, when the Marin County Sheriff's Office released a statement about the discovery of the body of 38 year old Victor Timms. Victor was found unresponsive by cleaning staff and was pronounced dead on the scene. They indicated that foul play was not suspected and they believed the death to be related to an accidental drug overdose. Toxicology reports later revealed that the large dose of heroin in his system was responsible for his death.

Despite having little contact with Victor in the months following his split with the company, this devastated Norman. Mr. Timms was not known for being an affectionate father. In trying to manage his grief following the death of his son, he did what any ultra-rich, emotionally distant father would do; he opened the video game division of Videodisk that Victor wanted.

The story continues in part 2.