X-COM is a household name among many gamers now, but the 1994 original almost never came to be. During an X-COM postmortem at GDC, creator Julian Gollop revealed that the original X-COM: UFO Defense was actually canceled for a brief period during 1993. At the time, the game's UK publisher, Microprose, had been purchased by Spectrum Holobyte. Looking over Microprose's portolio, Spectrum Holobyte was unimpressed with the in-development X-COM and decided to pull the plug. "They took one look at X-COM and said, 'Nah, we don't like this. Cancel this project,'" said Gollop. "The project was actually officially canceled."
Unbeknownst to Spectrum Holobyte, Microprose allowed development to continue. "What happened was, that in Christmas 1993 Spectrum Holobyte wanted a product from Microprose UK for the end of their financial quarter, which was in March 1994," said Gollop. "And [Microprose publisher] Pete Moreland said, 'Well, you know this project you told us to cancel? Well, we still got it." The final three months of development were grueling, with Julian and his brother Nick working 7 days a week and putting in 12 hour days.
Another interesting tidbit: X-COM was helped by the TV show The X-Files, which began airing in the US in 1993 (It's on Netflix, kids!). "When The X-Files was aired for the first time in September 1993, there was a real benefit for the game because it drew on a lot of the same source material," said Gollop. "So the whole theme of the game had a real hook, and it was just luck, really, that we had the X-Files on TV shortly before the game was launched."
X-COM was a hit, selling 470,000 units worldwide as of 2000, earning Julian and his brother $1.57 million in royalties (and significantly more for Microprose). The game cost $180,000 to develop. After the game achieved such great success, Spectrum Holobyte demanded a sequel within six months.