A cloud is forming

Changes to this Gamecraft blog are underway.

I am currently in the process of revamping Gamecraft to make it more useful for readers and easier to find the desired content.  I am also trying to improve the marketing and SEO (search engine optimization) for the site in order to bring more visitors, and hopefully the changes will help them become regulars here.

The quest to improve my blog began with a post in the asp.members.marketing newsgroup of the Association of Software Professionals.  Responses from fellow members suggested that there was not problem with the focus or content of the postings, but rather that the organization was not ideal, especially for new visitors.  In particular, it was suggested that I add a “tag cloud” to the side bar, which I have done, and tag my posts appropriately, which process is underway but may take a while (since there are nearly 300 posts to update).

To be honest, I never really considered a tag cloud before, but now I definitely see the benefit, making the topics of the blog available at a glance.  I actually needed to make some CSS modifications to the theme in order for the one here to appear more as a cloud and less like individual lines of alphabetical keywords.  For the moment, certain keywords (e.g., “Mac”) are overrepresented based on recently activities and releases, but it is an improvement.

Other changes included moving the ‘Archives’ column to the far right, so that its length does not displace other groups, moving the ‘Categories’ column up, and adding a ‘Recent Posts’ column.  (At least some of these changes may have been made previously and then lost in a WordPress or theme update.)  In the near future, I am planning an ‘About your host‘ page for those who want to know more about me and my extensive experience, as well as a ‘Best of Gamecraft‘ section with links to some of the most useful and popular articles.

I sincerely invite any suggestions or criticism of the style, content, and organization of the blog, either via comments to this posting, or directly via email to seelhoff@sophsoft.com.  Praise, of course, would be accepted as well.

HNT: Value Existing Customers

How Not To Value your Existing Customers

In business, existing customers are very valuable.  These are people or companies that have found your product and like what you have to offer enough to (importantly) actually purchase.  They are the best source of additional purchases (and only source of software upgrades) and may provide referrals and positive word of mouth.  It is easier to sell to an existing customer than to locate and establish new customers.  However, if you want to take it to the extreme, and simply treat your customers as “cash cows” rather than with the proper respect, here is how you can do it.

First, it helps to be a large, unfeeling conglomerate, such as Corel, with a record of collecting brand name products and adding little (if any) real value; it is much harder to disrespect customers as a small company headed by people whose livelihoods depend on them.

Of course, there need to be cash cows, I mean customers, to exploit, so the quickest way to acquire them is to just buy a well-recognized company that already has loads, such as WinZip.  Pay no attention to the fact that their single (excellent) product that created and defined a market has since become a commodity that has numerous competitors, many of them free, and whose primary functions are built in to all major operating systems.  It is even better if the product was widespread due to there being few incentives to purchase the original product (save abiding by the license) and a promise of free upgrades for those of us who did the right thing.

Now you have a product which is unnecessary for the vast majority of computer users, plus a list of customers who paid for the product back when it was necessary, many (if not most) more than a decade earlier, and who would reasonably expect free upgrades (should any be desired).  What can you do now?  I know: Spam.

Validate all of your contact addresses by sending a whole slew of messages selling products completely unrelated to the original product (except by being owned by the same stockholders).  When that fails to do anything but annoy your customers…  wait…  no not your customers, but the customers of the previous company…  it is then time to do a new build of the product, complete with a new version number and no discernible new features.

With the “new” version, send out emails to all previous customers of the product to indicate, above all else, that the days of free upgrades are over and that they are expected not only to upgrade, but to pay the new masters (for what they already have, and probably no longer need).  When that does not work, either, repeat the messages on a regular basis, all with slightly different messages (and increasing version numbers), but never forget the “give us your money” message:

Your WinZip Software – Upgrade Available

Upgrade your single-user WinZip Standard license to WinZip 14 now…

Your WinZip software is out of date. You are currently running an older version of WinZip, and now is the time to upgrade.

Your WinZip software is out of date. You are currently running WinZip 6.3 Standard, and now is the time to upgrade.”  [No, actually I am running WinZip 9.0 SR-1, the last free update; version 6.3 may be the last version I purchased, back in 1997.]

Exclusively for WinZip customers: Upgrade your single-user WinZip 6.3 Standard license to WinZip 14.5 now, and save 50% or more off the new license list price.

Your WinZip software is out of date. You are currently running WinZip 6.3 Standard, and now is the time to upgrade.”  [OK, let’s be clear: “running” is not really the case; I cannot remember the last time I actually used WinZip for anything.]

So, now you have properly alienated existing customers.  Your product has gone through a number of version numbers (10.0, 11.0, 11.1, 11.2, 12.0, 12.1, 14.0, 14.5) yet the web site lists no significant feature that is not already present in the 9.0 version (from 2004), which still runs just fine, by the way.  I hope it was worth it (moreso than, say, actually creating value).

This sort of thoughtless approach also works nicely in other areas of business, not just software.  For instance, you could be a large chain video rental store, like Blockbuster, and introduce a rent-by-mail service to take on your most significant competitor (Netflix).  Offer a similar service, at a comparable price, with an added benefit than your competition cannot match: the ability to exchange a mailed rental for a store rental when you are finished.  You will get lots of customers who can get titles unavailable in the retail stores by mail, can keep them as long as they want, exchange them at the retail store for a newer release, keep those as long as they want (while a new title is sent by mail), and have a constant supply of rental movies to watch.  Brilliant! [seriously]

Where does one go from there, though.  With a nearly unassailable product offering, and happy customers, you cannot just sit there and leave well enough alone.  No, first you need to raise prices, and then email every current customer to let them know that they are “grandfathered in” to the original price, but be sure to emphasize that they are now locked in, so if they let it lapse, the new price applies.  Next, change the program, so now for the same price, the mailed rentals are not sent until the in-store rentals are returned.  Then, inform customers (like you failed to do last time) that now the number of retail exchanges is limited.  Never, ever, consider reducing the cost to match the reduced services.  (My prediction is that the next move will be to add due dates to these rentals, just to be sure that we switch to the competition.)

Anyway, there are two good examples of how to mistreat your valuable customers.

On the other hand, one could always recognize customer value in simpler ways, like abiding by agreements and promises, and not being so obvious about caring only about their money.  We love our customers; they allow us to stay in business and continue to do what we truly enjoy.

Compartmentalization

Separating business matters from personal issues

Recently, I received the first newsletter of the year from (friend and former colleague) Steve Pavlina.  For those of you who do not already know about Steve Pavlina, he founded Dexterity Games (now defunct) and published Dweep, an award-winning puzzle game.  He was also the President of the Association of Shareware Professionals and was inducted into the ASP Hall of Fame in 2005.  After this success, he left the game industry to pursue a career in motivational speaking and personal development, writing the book, Personal Development for Smart People.

Anyway, the meat of the newsletter, nestled in between the various sales pitches and recommendations from which he earns his living, was a section entitled, “Living by Your Own Rules“.  This intrigued me, as it seemed to correspond nicely with my personal plans for 2010, so I read on.  However, I quickly discovered that his ideas did not mesh with my own in this case.  It had little to do with the actual content of his writings, but his radical ideas of sharing his personal life (specifically, his sexual preferences and desires) in the place in which he does his business.

Specifically, Steve made a blog post with his 2010 goals in which he reveals his personal goal of pursuing “Alternative Relationship Styles” and goes into detail (for which you will need to read his post).  I have no problem whatsoever with his choice to pursue this lifestyle, but I do question the wisdom of presenting this in a forum in which he currently (by his own numbers) sells six figures a month; it seems risky to the point of potential self-destruction.  More to the point, I wonder what benefit to his business (not to mention personal reputation) he seeks to gain from this pursuit.  (I do see a great benefit in finding compatible sexual partners, though.)

Steve is good at taking things to the extreme, completing college in only three semesters, ramping up his healthy eating through vegetarianism to a vegan diet and finally raw foods, and now personal openness to a radical degree.  He calls this last part “courage”, which it certainly takes, but I am not sure that courage is always the best choice.  Aristotle’s Doctrine of the Mean suggests that the opposite of cowardice is rashness, and this might apply here.  The more common idiom is, “All things in moderation, and moderation in all things.

Personally, I think that it is still wise to compartmentalize to some degree, especially keeping business issues separate from (potentially) controversial personal issues, such as politics, religion, and sexuality.  Discussing the particulars of these in a business context has the potential of alienating people with little chance of significant gain.  I do not have a problem seasoning my business posts with personal items, and I definitely have business friends with whom I share more, but any proclivities I may (or may not :)) have should remain discrete.

Ultimately, I guess that I am intrigued at Steve’s attempt to alter societal norms, and I wish him the best of luck, but I am also glad that it is he, rather than I, who is taking the risk of falling flat on his face.  (Ridicule I could handle; starvation, not so much.)

What do you think?

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Here is what I did while I was not posting during August and September:

I broke my leg.

During a soccer game, I made an aggressive move toward a 50/50 ball at the edge of the box, looking to score.  Unfortunately, it turned out to be more like 49/51, and I lost, getting kicked solidly in the right shinguard as the ball was cleared.  I pulled myself out of the game and tried to walk it off, and though the pain did not subside, I went back in and finished the game despite my “nasty bruise”.  However, after a week of hobbling around with little improvement (and funny discoloration), I went to get an x-ray and found that my leg was actually broken.

We lost the game by a couple of goals but still finished the season in 3rd place (out of 7 teams) with a 7-5 record and a +27 goal differential.  Thanks for asking.

The actual injury was an anterior malleolus fracture to my right leg, which is a break to the tibia (the larger, weight-bearing bone).  While it is technically a broken leg, the doctor said to think of it as a badly sprained ankle.  Essentially, the ligaments in the inner ankle are so strong that instead of tearing, they actually pull a piece of the bone off.  The cool bit is that x-rays are now digital, so I have a CD-R with images of the original break (but I’m not sharing).

I was initially on crutches, and then used a “rollabout” (which was an out-of-pocket expense because our insurance would not cover an “upgrade” from crutches, despite the prescription) for three weeks.  It is amazing how quickly one loses muscle mass in an unused leg; my calf became the smallest it has been since I was in middle school.  I spent three more weeks in a boot/cast, and at the end of that time was told that my break had healed “perfectly”, though I am still facing many more weeks of exercise to get “back to normal” (whatever that is).

Our web server was end-of-lifed.

We found out, in the most inconvenient way, that our Ubuntu (Linux) web server had been “end-of-lifed”, and was no longer viable.  All support for that version was pulled, so a standard package reinstallation failed, leaving the whole system non-functional.  I had to spend a couple of days rebuilding and reconfiguring the system with a newer version, and it was painful.

This episode is exactly why Linux will never be able to challenge Windows or Mac OS X for the general desktop market.  Despite all of the amenities that make it more consumer-oriented, Ubuntu still requires an operator to be a fanboy to avoid such issues.  Nothing ever told me that the OS would be orphaned/abandoned in 2009, and it took more than an hour doing web searches to even figure out what had happened, nevermind finding the solution.  (In contrast, the NT server box OS has only been upgraded once in 13 years, from NT4 to Win2K, when the hardware failed.)

More succinctly, Linux could not survive without Google.

We reassessed our entire marketing plan.

Our marketing plan is defined very broadly, and it incorporates not only the standard concepts associated with the word, but also general business strategy.  We reconsidered the balance of the various aspects of our development, the status and priority of current projects, and future opportunities.  We evaluated and devised/updated plans for new technologies, platforms, and markets.  This updated blog is just one tangible aspect of our far-reaching plans for success.

Two words: World Domination.

I worked (hard).

In the midst of everything else, I was doing loads of development work.  I made a good breakthrough and huge progress on a major project.  We are now in that “10% of the development takes 90% of the time” phase, though, so things are seeming to be (though not actually) slowing down a bit.

Now that Fall has well and truly arrived here in Michigan (although not before just one more trip to the beach, broken leg and all), and in spite of all that life is throwing at us now, it is the right time to really get things done.  We have our plans, our goals, and our ambitions clear, so all that is left is to execute.

That should be the easy part… 😉

Have you joined SpamBook yet?

A barrage of Facebook spams sets off a rant.

Last Friday, at 4:38pm, I received an email from Facebook entitled, “Reminder: 5 of your friends invited you to join Facebook…” Fine. Some people collect and count “friends” on that service, while I do not join and count the number of real life friends who have invited me to join. (My wife and business partner knows me well enough that she is not part of that group.) If I were to join, of course, I would lose count.

Then, at 11:40pm, I received another one, nearly identical, but with different ‘Other people you may know on Facebook’. Curious, I verified that the messages were both coming from Facebook, via email headers and the fact that the (accurate) list of invitations I have received should be known only to them. “Oops, duplicate message,” I thought. On Saturday, I received reminders at 4:44am, 6:47am, 12:16pm, 5:07pm, and 9:44pm. For good measure, I received another one on Sunday at 1:28am. Eight nearly identical messages within 33 hours trying to get me (now pissed) to join their silly little club. Not likely.

[I just decided to check the names in all eight messages, and two actually suggest that I may know my own brother. That I do. None of the other names, though.]

After the Facebook “fun” stopped, a denial of service attack on our server began. Somebody started bombarding the server with random spam messages to, literally, random (GUID-like) addresses at our domain. Not a single message from the culprit had any chance of hitting a real address, since they were not even in a human usable form, but we were getting hundreds per minute, and lost the server entirely for a while.

In the middle of dealing with this mess, the home phone rang (which normally puts me on edge anyway) and I answer to find that Payless Shoes has decided to robodial me to tell me about some sale coming to an end. Seriously?!? We are on the national Do Not Call list, and the fact that we may have bought cheap shoes there once does not give them the right to call me. I have no idea how they would have my number in the first place, so it may have just been coincidence. Report filed; customers lost.

The mail arrived with a machine printed return address from “Ealge Eye Fitness”. It made me laugh, since the people that sent it out clearly did not have the Eagle Eyes that they intended to portray. Business not earned.

Once email service was returned to normal, “Michael Jackson” became only the second actual name inducted into my spammers hall of fame filter, joining “Oprah”, as subjects (or subsubjects) that guarantee a message is not intended for nor of any interest to me. The sheer number of “surveys” and “news items” about his death was astonishing, especially from an industry which still regularly sent me (in June) special offers for Valentine’s Day.

Now that it is officially July, let me simply say that the greatest musical loss last month was definitely… Koko Taylor, who died on June 3 at the age of 80. (I saw her pitch a Wang Dang Doodle live more than 20 years ago, and she kept tearing it up right to the end.)

Here endeth the rant.

Most Popular Solitaire 2.00

An update to yet another successful card solitaire game is released.

One week ago, Most Popular Solitaire 2.00 was published by Goodsol Development. This is a major upgrade to a product first released (for Windows) in 2003. Most Popular Solitaire is a collection of 30 of the most popular (surprise!) card solitaire games, including all of the favorites: Klondike (often known as simply Solitaire), FreeCell, Spider, and a number of (well, 27, obviously) others.

In terms of features, either the most important or least important, depending on ones system, is that Most Popular Solitaire 2.00 has equivalent versions for both Windows and Mac OS X available. This new version also includes Climb Mode and 13 bonus games in the full (purchased) version, as well as a number of other smaller features. (Of course, everything is a new feature on this initial Mac release, but it is an improvement on Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 1.0, which included the same 30 games.)

In terms of technology, this release used the same revisions of our Goodsol Solitaire Engine that were used for Goodsol Solitaire 101 version 1.01 (on Windows) and Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 2.01 (on Mac OS X). These are the last planned updates before the next GSE upgrade, which will add a few additional features and make some internal changes to reduce the source code differences between platforms.

The marketing challenge for this product is handling both the Windows and Mac OS X versions simultaneously. Having the same price (and registration codes) for both makes it easier, and also allows customers to switch to Mac (you know, or the other way) without having to repurchase. The biggest issue is the different approach to trial versions: whereas the Windows version can be converted into the full version by entry of the registration code, the Mac OS X version has a separate full version download.

In the three weeks since the latest Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition update, that product has risen (back) into the top 5 on Most Popular in the Cards & Puzzles category for Apple Downloads, but Most Popular Solitaire (Mac Edition) is now in the top 20 (and climbing) in only a week. Downloads of both products (trial versions) are increasing, but we will have to see how that translates into sales.

In any event, somebody is enjoying our games, and I dig that.

Reminder: comp.sys.ibm.pc. games.announce

Some game marketing is still essentially free.

If you are interested in marketing games, you can post announcements to the Usenet newsgroup, comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.announce, a group for which I am the (sole) moderator.

To recycle the relevant portions of my original announcement here:

The beauty of using Usenet for marketing is that it is essentially free, making it one of those easy steps that an independent game publisher can take to get additional exposure for its titles. Google Groups carries comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.announce, so your announcement is searchable there and quickly incorporated into the Google index as well.

This is an announcement group, rather than a discussion group, so messages will stand on their own, though the (unmoderated) ‘comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.misc’ discussion group provides an outlet for conversations. For shareware authors, there are other software announcement groups on Usenet, but none that cater specifically to games, so this is an opportunity to be noticed.

Here is the official charter for csipga (as it is known for short):

This newsgroup is for announcements that are useful to the entire PC computer gaming population, including but not limited to new release announcements, software publisher news, bug information, and PC game reviews. Followups will be directed to comp.sys.ibm.pc.games.misc, or another appropriate subgroup at the moderator’s discretion.

In practical terms, I will likely approve almost any message as long as it relates to PC gaming (not in a cheap spam way) under Windows, DOS, Linux, or even Mac OS X if I am feeling generous. Press releases are encouraged, as well as product announcements that may not warrant a full press release. Note also that game reviews are allowed, so it is perfectly acceptable to have a satisfied customer post a glowing game review (though it should come directly from the author, not via the publisher).

[Back to new information…]
Since this is a low traffic group, announcements will stand out, so I encourage anybody interested to take advantage of this game marketing opportunity.

Note that, due to the way moderated newsgroups work, you do not even need to have Usenet access. Simply email your message (press release or whatever) to the submission address, csipga@sophsoft.com, and it will be queued. As long as the message is in plain text (HTML emails are automatically binned) and is on topic for the group, it will be posted. If you have any problems, you can reach me via comments here (or at my regular email address).

I look forward to some good submissions.

Happy Birthday, Mac!

The Apple Macintosh is 25(ish) today.

On this date back in 1984, Apple Computer “introduced” the Macintosh to the public with its famous “1984” television commercial, aired during the third quarter of Super Bowl XVIII.

Although this 60-second spot, directed by Ridley Scott, only ran once (OK, twice), officially, it is considered an advertising masterpiece and is probably one of the most viewed commercials in history. For more information, see its page on Wikipedia.

You can also watch the commercial itself on YouTube.

The Apple Macintosh was actually introduced on January 24 (two days later), but on Saturday I will be ice racing with MIRA (Michigan Ice Racing Association), so we celebrate earlier. (My car this year, a green Ford Contour, is so fast that a camera could not keep up. Yes, that is really me.)

By the way, in Super Bowl XVIII, the underdog LA Raiders (still sounds wrong) defeated the Washington Redskins by a score of 38-9, so the Mac ad was somewhat more exciting than the game.