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Founded in 1980, FASA Corporation was an American publisher of role-playing games (RPGs), wargames, and boardgames, notable for having created the BattleTech universe and game setting. They were renowned for a witty, tongue-in-cheek attitude and frequent humorous pop-culture references and self-references in their games.
FASA ceased active operations in 2001, but still exist as a corporation holding intellectual property (IP) rights. The rights to BattleTech were transferred to WizKids who were in turn bought by the Topps Corporation in 2003 and terminated as a brand in 2008. The BattleTech IP (minus the rights to produce computer games, which are held by Microsoft since 1999) is held by Topps since then.
FASA Corporation (Freedonia Air and Space Administration) was founded by Jordan Weisman and L. Ross Babcock in 1980 with a starting capital of $350 ($175 each). At the time, the two were fellow gamers at the Merchant Marine Academy.
FASA first appeared as a Traveller licensee, producing supplements for that RPG, especially the work of the Keith brothers (William H. Keith, Jr. and J. Andrew Keith). The company went on to establish itself as major gaming company with the publication of the first licensed Star Trek RPG.
Enter Mort Weisman
Mort Weisman, Jordan's father, joined the company in 1985 to lead the company's operational management, having sold his book publishing business, Swallow Press.
Under the new commercial direction and with Mort's capital injection, the company diversified into books and miniature figures. After consulting their UK distributor, Chart Hobby Distributors, FASA licensed the manufacture of its BattleTech figurines to Miniature Figurines (also known as Minifigs). FASA would later acquire the US figures manufacturer Ral Partha, which was the US manufacturer of Minifigs. While Mort ran the paper and metal based sides of the business, the company's founders focused on the development of computer-based games.
Computer games rights
Particularly interested in virtual reality but also developing desktop computer games, FASA created Virtual World Entertainment in 1987 and in 1994 also the FASA Interactive Technologies Inc subsidiary together with Spectrum HoloByte and Denny Thorley. Both subsidiaries became wholly owned subsidiaries of Virtual World Entertainment Group (VWEG) in 1995. VWEG was in turn sold to the Microsoft Corporation in 1999, including the rights to produce BattleTech computer games. Ever since, this particular right has been separated from the remaining BattleTech IP.
Ross Babcock went with VWEG. After the sale, Jordan Weisman turned his attention to the founding of a new games venture called WizKids.
The Unseen affair
In 1996, several court cases came to a point which concerned FASA's rights to certain images taken from japanese anime series. Apparently, a third party had sold artwork to FASA that they had no legal right to sell; it turned out that FASA might thus not actually have acquired the legal rights to use these graphics from them after all despite having paid for the rights. Said graphics were the visual images of a number of "classic" BattleMech models, 'Mechs which have been described as the "bedrock" of BattleTech and which had been depicted on numerous product covers including the classic BattleTech boardgame.
The cases were settled out of court, and the parties involved agreed to keep the exact details of the settlement secret. The 'Mechs in question became the "Unseen": They remained legal playing pieces, but must not be depicted on any FASA products. Losing this iconic BattleTech imagery was a serious blow to FASA, who had to discontinue numerous products or change the cover artwork.
Withdrawal from the market
FASA unexpectedly ceased active operations in early 2001. Contrary to popular belief, the company did not go bankrupt; it still exists as a corporation holding IP rights which it licenses to other publishers. According to the owners, they decided to quit while the company was still financially sound in a market they perceived as going downhill. Mort Weisman had been talking of retirement for some years and his confidence in the future of the paper-based games business was low. He considered the intellectual property of FASA to be of high value but did not wish to continue working as he had been for the last decade or more. Unwilling to wrestle with the complexities of dividing up the going concern, the owners issued a press release on 25 January 2001 announcing the immediate closure of the business.
Origin of the nameGameSpy interview of co-founder Jordan Weisman, FASA was named after an old joke from high school: Jordan Weisman had been one of a group in high school who ran a fictional country called "Freedonia" as an homage to the country in the Marx Brothers' movie "Duck Soup". The group's goal was to throw parties where the participants took "official" roles and one of Jordan Weisman's was that of Vice-Chairman of FASA (Freedonian Aeronautics and Space Administration).
In the same interview, he said that the old FASA logo was a combination of the emblems of his and Ross Babcock's RPG characters. The old logo was replaced by the simpler starburst logo "after about seven years".
Games published by FASA (besides those from the BattleTech/MechWarrior setting) include: