Alternate Option
Thoughts from me.
Tuesday, April 05, 2005 9:11 pm
Get new with selling software
In my time...

Yea, about 10 years ago, this game called Maelstrom from Ambrosia software was released. It appeared in FTP mirror sites of the InfoMac archives around the world. Description of the software was found on Usenet, and in the text file included in the archive. The expectation was that people copied it to their computer on, get this, floppy disks.

Yes, the Internet was available then. However, the World Wide Web wasn't really worldwide yet. And you think that was old? Maelstrom was an iteration of the Asteroid game, which 10 years ago was already really really old.

On with the story now. Maelstrom was released as a free download, with the expectation that if you liked it, you would pay for it. If you didn't, you shouldn't play it further. However, the author did not waste code trying to restrict non-payers from playing the game. Entering a serial code simply disabled a start up reminder screen. The game was one of your routine arcade things, so there wasn't any level design to speak of. Each level just included more “baddies”: more rocks, metal asteroids, more UFOs, and everything moved faster. As Ambrosia SW started to write other games that required level design, and for various other reasons, they started to get rid of that type of copy protection.

Ambrosia SW have done well for themselves. While Aspyr, Westlake Interactive have done a remarkable job porting games from the PC world, Ambrosia SW have created a library of original games most of which are simpler, but excellent. A significant portion of their games were based on tried-and-tested classic games -- Apeiron is based on Caterpillar, Mars Rising and Deimos Rising were shoot ups, and Ferazel's Wand was a side scroller . Another company that has been doing a similar thing, is Freeverse. Freeverse concentrated on card games for a while, then branched out into an Airburst series. And also publishes the odd PC conversion; although I don't think the PC conversion is done in-house.

In the last 10 years, the world has changed. Computers are faster, bigger, and largely cheaper. Operating Systems are not upgraded, but overhauled. Classic games stay the same though: Ambrosia SW just released an update to their 2nd famous game Apeiron that “caterpillar” game, mainly for OS X compatibility. It is a tribute to Ambrosia, for creating a game, that 10 years later, essentially unchanged, still looks gorgeous.

That could be the end of my blog: the point being that old classic games have the potential to live for ever. There's no reason that “Caterpillar” iterations start to become boring just because our computers are faster. In comparison, newer games since then have come, burned out, and gone. Diablo and Diablo 2, Warcraft, Command and Conquer -- all less than 10 years old. They would be a tougher sell to a random gamer than Apeiron or even Tetris would be, I suspect.

The point to this blog is: Large game companies would do take a look at the shareware distribution models. To some extent, the line between application software and shareware is blurred. I can't get Microsoft Office Mac 2004 for download yet (From now, download = legal download unless mentioned otherwise), although I can get a Test Drive from Microsoft. Similarly with FileMaker Pro. In the open source universe of Linux, downloading software is the rule, not the exception. Downloadable software no longer equates to shareware. Interarchy, a Macintosh FTP program, and File Buddy, a Macintosh utility software take pains to emphasise that they are not shareware. They are commercial software are distributed via the Internet. A TidBITS Talk thread debates the point.

It looks like everywhere you turn, everywhere where some software is mentioned, a download of a demo is possible. We do it all the time, trying this and that shareware. Downloading trojan horses, and virii. It's so fast and easy. Apple doesn't have OS X Tiger available for download, and won't. But they make damn sure that they have excellent QuickTime movies that whet the appetite of the curious. Everyone wants the instant gratification, of downloading, trying, and maybe paying. Suprnova allowed the public to see the numbers of seeders and leechers downloading large disk images of software. Weekly television shows are routinely seeded over the Internet so that we are not beholden to the local television station taking it's own sweet time to bring a television series to us.

The large software companies, including the companies that port Mac games are resistant. Macintosh games like Halo, Call of Duty, B1942, Return to Castle Wolfenstein are distributed only on disk form because of the ongoing perception is that large games like these need to be shifted in physical form. With Bittorrent though, that is no longer true. The ability of the public to download files of that size have increased markedly. Over an ADSL connection, a 650MB disk image can be obtained in hours -- 3-5 hours would not be on the lower end of the spectrum.

We have the need. We can fill that need, with or without you.

Point 1: make the Internet a primary way of software distribution. It is already being done on the hush hush anyway. Leverage the Internet to distribute your gigabytes.

Point 2: Sell serial numbers. People will pay for software, if you give them a chance AND if you make it necessary. You can't stop the determined pirater no matter what. But you can give the honest dude the chance to do the right thing. Paying for software is actually easier than finding a crack for it; especially when unique serial numbers are needed for online play. When a buyer buys a box, he knows that a significant percentage of the money paid went into the packaging, the shelf space, the transport. Little taxes along the way -- what a turn off. If someone has free bandwidth, why should he pay physical transport costs of digital bits and bytes?

The Plain Truth Abouth Piracy

Point 3: Keep updating your software, so that it runs well, but only until it's superseded by a more fun game on a faster computer. The installed base in the future will always be made of faster computers. The return from updating the original Wolfenstein 3D would be miniscule because the Wolf 3D market has moved on to more “fun”, realistic games. But Tetris... like Caterpillar and Asteroids is always the same concept, no matter how fast the computer is.

It can be done. Look at Ambrosia software, and look at sites like Home of the Underdogs.

Home of the Underdogs is a site devoted to “disappeared” games. Games like Prince of Persia 1&2, Lode Runner, Flashback, Out of This World, Carmen Sandiego and so on; were excellent game ideas. The reason games like these faded away is not just that they were superseded by new technology -- although there is that. Just like jokes and riddles, there is no reason to think that the market for games of these types have dried up. 2D games have been unfairly tossed aside because of the perception that 3D > 2D. Some publisher felt the cost of distribution was too high, it was no longer worth producing the boxes, and the games were no longer distributed. When the floppy disks, and CDs containing them disappeared, the game disappeared as well. Excellent computer games, unpromoted, ceased to existed.

Excellent games, promoted, supported and distributed, will continue to have a chance.

One more thing: I love Bubble Trouble now, like I did when I paid for it 8 years ago.

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