XCOM: Enemy Unknown has received universal praise from both the press and gamers, but the original game almost never made it to shelves, having been nearly killed twice by upper management.
According to developer Julian Gollop, the first near-cancellation was basically his fault when he failed to give publisher Microprose a proper design document when pitching the game. Gollop had earned some notice thanks to Laser Squad.
“I went away and I designed the game. I came up with a design document which was just 12 pages long. I’d never written a game design document before in my life, by the way. And the problem with it was that it didn’t really work for Microprose – they didn’t understand how the game worked," explained Gollop.
“I actually had to go there and personally explain things and have a lot of questions thrown at me. Steve (Hand) said the document was very poor and if it hadn’t been for the fact that we’d done Laser Squad, he would have cancelled the project there and then.”
X-Com: UFO Defense, aka UFO: Enemy Unknown, was actually cancelled by Spectrum Holobyte when the company took over Microprose. The game was saved only because Microprose UK more or less ignored Spectrum Holobyte's mandate.
“(Spectrum Holobyte) came to review the projects in development in the UK and they took one look at X-Com and said ‘Nah, we don’t like this – cancel this project’. The project was actually officially cancelled," recalled Gollop, “However, (Microprose bosses) Pete Moreland, Adrian Parr, and Paul Hibbard got together. They had a meeting and decided no, we’re going to continue with this project. They didn’t tell Spectrum Holobyte this, by the way."
When Spectrum Holobyte stated it needed a game to release for the end of the financial year (March 1994), Microprose revealed X-Com was available.
“Pete Moreland said, ‘Well, you know that project you told us to cancel… Well we’ve still got it,” Gollop stated, then added that "the last three months were particularly painful, because both myself and Nick were working seven days a week, 12 hours a day to get the game finished."
X-Com: UFO Defense proved to be a best-seller, and by 2000, the game had sold 470,000 games over six years. The Gollop brothers earned just over £1 million in royalties.
Not that the brothers didn't make any serious mistakes since that effectively killed the series til Firaxis revived it in 2012. “I would have to say that the Firaxis XCOM saved the day," Gollop thanked, "It’s like a phoenix rising from the ashes of the X-Com disaster, to be honest, because I think the whole team at Firaxis did a tremendous job of creating something that was familiar but at the same time different and fresh. And it’s amazing that after 20 years, a brand that had gone so badly in the wrong direction has finally been put right.”