SIC 2005 – Conclusion

SIC 2005 was a very worthwhile experience.

Although there is always lots of good information in the sessions, the most valuable parts of the Shareware Industry Conference are those derived from networking and the camaraderie among people who work in the same industry. Many of these people have become friends and I look forward to seeing them again, hopefully before next year.

I want to extend big thanks to Mike Callahan (a.k.a., Dr. File Finder) and the rest of the SIAF Board of Directors for putting on such a wonderful event.

As much as I would like to expound on the many lessons learned, excellent people met, and several great people missed, it is too late (or early) to do so. The story goes like this…

I was scheduled to leave Denver via Amtrak to Chicago, en route back to East Lansing. Also on the train were Fred and Jan Clabuesch of SigmaTech Software, heading to Flint, and Tim and Sharon Thousand of Scooter Software, who were driving from Chicago back to Madison, Wisconsin. Since the California Zephyr was not scheduled to depart until 7:25pm, we made plans to wander the Lower Downtown (“LoDo”) area.

To make the very long story short, I was able to eat at Dixon’s Downtown Grill, which had “Solitaire” painted on its windows, and browse the famous Tattered Cover Book Store, which had a display containing Solitaire Coffee and MahJongg Tea. We spent lots more time in conversation before actually taking our bags to Union Station. Our train was hours late, so we were there for about 5 hours.

Making matters worse, the train lost more time on the way to Chicago, so much so that our huge layover was completely lost. Amtrak had to hire a van to drive several of us bound for Michigan to our destinations. As the only rider going to East Lansing, I was able to be dropped off directly at home, but by then it was after 3:00am Tuesday. Unfortunately, Fred and Jan were the last on the van and still had another hour of travel just to get to their car to drive the last stint. Ouch.

That brings us to the present, so while I assimilate all the knowledge I gained, I will just wrap it up with:

Final Common Ground update: Sunday I missed Johnny Rivers, who would have been fun to have seen for the first time, and The Beach Boys, who I saw at Common Ground just a few years ago. Reports are that all the shows were consistently good, but with no home run act this year. The lineup was at least good enough that I hope they can schedule next year on a different week than SIC 2006!

SIC 2005 – Awards Banquet

Tonight is Shareware Industry Awards Foundation (SIAF) banquet.

The SIAF banquet is the major event that concludes the Shareware Industry Conference. It features a nice meal, a comedian for entertainment, and then the actual awards ceremony. The highlight of the evening is certainly the presentation of awards to friends and colleagues. This year, there is added anticipation, as three products on which I have worked received SIAF nominations:

First, though, the evening starts with the annual waiting around by the bar while the room is prepared. Many (and this year, most) attendees dress up for the occasion, though some of us still keep the affair casual. One unnamed person even commented that he always felt comfortable knowing that at least he would be more dressed up than me. I have to say in my defense that I have it on very good authority that this was the way the event was intended to be, so I am upholding tradition.

Once the doors opened, we found some good seats. We were close enough to see well, with chairs facing the stage, but out of “heckle range”: perfect. At our table were Thomas and Anne Warfield of Goodsol Development, Paul Scandariato of Intelli Innovations, Suda Pethe of Centered Systems, and Michael Halls of FileKicker.

After the usual introductory words and a very tasty meal, the comedian came on. This year, it was Bryan Kellen, who was billed on the SIC site as follows: “With his high-energy physical style of comedy he’ll be sure to make you laugh!” Well, I certainly laughed, but he is almost the same age and also grew up in the Midwest, so the references were directed straight at me. There were a few reviews that were not totally positive, so that may be too narrow a target.

There was a short break before host Phil Schnyder (yes, that Phil Schnyder) began the awards ceremony. The first set of awards were the People’s Choice Awards, presented based on customer voting on popular download sites. There are no nominations, per se, so it was a pleasant surprise when Pretty Good Solitaire won the award for Best Non-Action Game the second year in a row. The full list of winners, current and past, are available on the People’s Choice Awards page of the SIC site.

In the second half of the program, the Shareware Industry Awards were presented, in reverse order. Unfortunately, we did not have to wait long for Action Solitaire and, immediately thereafter, Pretty Good Solitaire, to remain nominees in their respective categories. However, several friends won awards, and SnagIt won the award for Best Graphics Program or Utility, though I doubt that my contribution a dozen years ago (literally) had much impact. A full list of 2005 SIA winners and nominees can be found at the 2005 Shareware Industry Awards page.

With the “formal” festivities complete, many of us retired to the hotel bar, so many that the service came to a grinding halt. After a wait that was more easily measured by parts of hours, we managed to get a few drinks. Much of the alcohol at our tables was on SophSoft, but the poor service was working to keep our tab down.

The list of people to whom I owed a drink kept the conversation lively: Sheila Manning of Grand River Software, Mike Stevenson of Shareware Junction, Danny Weidig of AcroVista Software, and, of course, Thomas Warfield. We were also joined by Carl Gundel of Liberty BASIC and Ed Pulliam of OUISoft, among others. A Good Time was had by all!

Unfortunately, the final ice cream run of SIC 2005 became the FINAL ice cream run for Eric Issacson‘s previously trusty old car, so we will end with a short moment of silence…


SIC 2005 – Day Three

Today is the final day of conference sessions.

Although I would certainly have benefited from attending the Encouraging Sales presentations, I decided that I could also benefit from sleeping a little longer and then checking my email, so that was what I did. However, I made sure that I made it to the Networking session presented by Phil Schnyder of askSam Systems, Jessica Dewell of Happy Hangers and President of the Association of Shareware Professionals, and Ronny Karl of SurfWare Labs. It was everything I expected, plus more, as it became something of an interactive workshop. It was definitely worthwhile, and I have to mention that Andrei Belogortseff, of WinAbility Software, and Thomas Hruska, of CubicleSoft (ShareWrap), were the stars from the audience.

Lunch already? The ESC Luncheon was next on the schedule, presented by the Educational Software Cooperative, and just for fun, the SIAF held it in a different location from the ASP Luncheon, requiring a little bit of hunting to find our food. I sat between Dave Gjessing, of WaverlyStreet and Clintonville Software, and Brandon Staggs, of Akamai Software (SwordSearcher), and the conversation was excellent. The Outstanding Achievement in Educational Software was presented to Kathy Salisbury of Pharos Games.

After lunch, I attended the Design Web Sites to Sell session presented by Dave Collins, of SharewarePromotions, and Dave Sampson, of MixMeister. The latter Dave provided an excellent before and after comparison of his web site redesign with specific comments about various design decisions, and stated the fact that sales improved enough to pay for the change within days. Dave Collins showed several sites as examples of good and bad web design. Of course, there is a little bit of subjectivity, and my neighbor was vocal in his disagreement regarding one of the “good” sites where Dave had admitted to some guidelines being broken.

The next session was the rescheduled eMail Marketing, Newsletters, etc. presentation, which included Thomas Warfield, of Goodsol Development, and Sarah Brook, of CNet. The session was quite good, and although I knew some of the newsletter information from working directly with Thomas, the whole of the session really helped me solidify my decisions regarding newsletters.

The final conference period was a choice between Selling and Licensing Source Code and Visual Studio 2005 for the Independent Developer. I chose to spend time networking and talking business in the hotel lobby rather than attend either session, but all reports from presenters and attendees were that the latter session was excellent, and as it was the last time slot of the conference, they were able to run for an extra hour over their time at the request of the session attendees. It looks like I will actually need to break the seal on my Visual Studio 2005 beta, despite my previous disappointment with VS 2003.

The hotel lobby is fairly quiet now, as most of the conference attendees are preparing for the SIAF Awards Banquet, which will be the subject of my next blog entry.

Common Ground update: Tonight I will be missing Alan Parsons Live Project, who I really wanted to see. I must admit to being a little confused by the selection of Christopher Cross as the opening act, though he is a fine singer that I would probably enjoy hearing.

SIC 2005 – Day Two

The conference is now in full swing.

The morning got off to a poor start for me. The Shareware Industry Conference sponsors free breakfasts each day before the sessions begin, and having missed the omelets yesterday, I decided to partake in the waffles on offer today. Unfortunately, when sitting down to eat, my conference badge swung out and landed briefly in the syrup before dropping back onto my shirt, taking the sticky stuff with it. Worse, the waffles were not very tasty in the first place.

The first session for me was Sales & Marketing Strategies, for which one of the presenters was Phil Schnyder of askSam Systems, along with Sharon Housley of NotePage. This was a very entertaining session, as expected with Phil in the room, but Sharon got in a couple of good one-liners, too. As far as content was concerned, it was a very practical session with lots of ideas. Instead of taking loads of notes, I relied on the presentations being on the SIC Conference Sessions CD.

The next session was Visual Studio Shareware Starter Kit, presented by representatives of Microsoft, including Michael Lehman, the “shareware evangelist”, and Dan Fernandez, the project manager. Microsoft said “shareware”! Fairly early in the presentation, I asked the question about requirements and learned that the product was based on .NET, and although Dan clarified that there was an unmanaged C++ version of the kit in development, I inadvertently sparked a wave of mostly negative feedback on Microsoft and their approach to .NET. To his great credit, Michael handled everything with grace and was seriously listening to our issues. (The content of the session, beyond the audience ranting, is worthy of a separate blog entry, so stay tuned.)

Next was the ASP Luncheon presented by the Association of Shareware Professionals, obviously. I spent enough time in the previous session that most of the tables were full by the time I arrived, and the turnout was excellent. I sat between Loren Brewer of Shareware Solutions, who is also the ASP content webmaster, and Kee Nethery of Kagi, who I had never met before. Fortunately for everyone, this year I am no longer an ASP leader and did not get near the microphone (although it could have used a little amplification).

The highlight of the luncheon was the induction of three deserving individuals into the ASP Hall of Fame. The first inductee was Jerry Stern, of Science Translations Software, who has served and continues to serve as the editor of ASPects, the ASP newsletter, for many years. The next inductee was Chris Thornton, of Thornsoft Development, who is a past Chairman of the Board. The final inductee was Steve Pavlina, of Dexterity Software, who was a past President of the ASP. All three have contributed greatly to the organization beyond the brief descriptions above, and they are also wonderful people as well.

The session I attended after lunch was Software Protection Methods, which had some changes in the lineup. Kee Nethery, who I had just met, was on the panel, and Chad Nelson, recently departed from Silicon Realms (Armadillo), was noticeably absent. Rick Bump, of Digital River, took blame for the spyware fiasco with Software Passport during his introduction. The content of the session was good, although it mostly just reinforced the information I already had without providing any revelations.

The following session was Beta Testing Programs, which is one of the topics on which I would feel qualified to present, rather than merely attend. There were a couple of good presentations by Kohan Ikin, of Namesuppressed, and Dave Sampson, of MixMeister. It was nice to hear how others approach their beta testing, and the fundamental principal is that there is a beta test. However, I found myself disagreeing with a few of the specifics of Dave’s approach. In particular, he indicated that one should discourage feature suggestions from beta testers, while we value any information obtained from testers, even if we have no intention of making changes (in the current version).

For the final session of the day, I got up to attend OutSourcing, where Phil Schnyder could continue the running joke from last year that I charge less than outsourcing to India. However, on the way out of the room, Becky Lash of Epic Trends gave me a copy of her handout for the User Interfaces session. It had so much practical information that I actually returned for that session instead. The other presenters were Greg Weir, of Tucows, and Sue Pichotta, of Ace Icons, and the information was great.

This session had a special guest, heralded with a loud and very weird siren as Greg was finishing his presentation. As Sue began her discussion of icons, the public address system announced that a tornado had been spotted in the area, and that we were to climb under the sinks in our rooms. Shortly thereafter, we were ushered out of the conference rooms to the lower level. A few conference attendees were clearly freaked out, but those of us from tornado-prone areas… not so much. In fact, Sue tried to lead a large contingent back to the conference rooms, but the hotel staff was having none of that. After the “all clear”, though, most of us returned to hear the rest of her presentation.

The first official activity for the evening was Exhibit Night, which provided food, information, prizes, and, of course, more T-shirts for my wardrobe. The ASP booth was giving away prizes all evening, and I won a “goodie bag” with a shirt and discount from Promaxum, as well as a free license of Virtuoza OverSpy, which was nice considering I have not been eligible (as a Director) for the past several years. I worked the ASP booth for the last 10 minutes or so, as the “human megaphone”, bringing attention to the final drawing for the remaining ASP prizes, including some very valuable software donated by Borland.

This was followed by a dessert buffet sponsored by Dr. File Finder and NotePage. There was also an unofficial activity off site this evening, and after breaking down the booth, I had to choose between free cheesecake and free beer, and the cheesecake won. The discussions during and after the buffet were excellent, and many of the luminaries of the shareware industry had conversations until late into the evening. This certainly beats loud music in a crowded bar, in my book.

Common Ground update: Tonight I am missing Grand Funk Railroad, which was one of the big draws for me this year. I have a report that the opening act, Silvertide, did a great deal of moving around, and even climbed the scaffolding, giving the security guys fits.

SIC 2005 – Day One

The conference begins in earnest.

This year, the Shareware Industry Conference has 30 sessions scheduled over the three main days of the conference. There is always a pair of simultaneous sessions in each of 5 one-hour time slots each day, along with a lunch break. One must decide between two sessions each time, and the choice is not always easy for me, since most of the topics are directly relevant to my business.

The difficult decisions started right away, with the first session being a choice between Press & PR and Blogs and RSS. Despite the unquestionable entertainment value of Phil Schnyder, of askSam Systems, in the former session, I chose to attend the latter, as there was more that I needed to learn about RSS. After the first two speakers, I thought I had made the wrong choice, as my main questions were still unanswered. Fortunately, Sharon Housley, publisher of FeedForAll, had the anchor position. Her clear presentation finally illuminated the light bulb in my head and made the session worthwhile.

One of the great aspects of SIC is the ability to network with peers in the industry, and this is often more valuable than the sessions. In the first break between sessions, I ran into several friends and acquaintances, so I missed most of the next session. I slipped in at the end of the Closing the Sale session, presented by Ben Weintraub, of Merit Software, and Chris Thornton, of Thornsoft Development.

No official lunch was scheduled during the break, so several of us walked to a local establishment, Darcy’s, to participate in the first unofficial gathering of the Association of Independent Software Industry Professionals (AISIP), which was recently created by Sue Pichotta to serve the needs of independent software developers in a way that cannot be easily accomplished by a non-profit organization.

The next session was a choice between Software Localization and Search Engine Strategies, and I selected what was behind door number three. I took my laptop down to the internet lounge and partook of the free wireless access provided by the conference organizers. It was the first opportunity to make sure that I could retrieve my email and obtain newsgroup access. I also determined that I could not easily conduct business as usual on a laptop keyboard, but being able to communicate with the office and home was nice.

The next session I attended was Effective Negotiations with Suda Pethe, of Centered Systems, and Jean-Guy Ducreux, of JunkWarden and a new venture. The session was interesting and contained discussions of specific numbers for certain deals. The only problem, which was not the fault of the speakers, was that “negotiations” could mean lots of different things, so they had to adapt for the varied audience.

The final time slot had a replacement session, Software Packaging, presented solely by Gary Elfring of CD Ship. This turned out to be the best session of the day, providing loads of practical advise on Inexpensive Packaging for Software, including various options and approximate pricing of necessary materials. There was enough detail to both select a desired result and to produce the package in-house.

Entertainment and food for the evening was provided by Digital River and their numerous subsidiaries. After their sumo wrestling escapades last year, which resulted in injury to a shareware developer, I expected something more sedate. Surprisingly, they had a mechanical bull for attendees to ride, and a contest with prizes for the highest judged “cowboys”. Loren Brewer of Shareware Solutions took the top prize, and fortunately their were no injuries this year. The only problem is that Digital River again forgot that this was a reception and turned the music up too loud to talk at some points.

As the reception was winding down, I participated in a shareware tradition, the “ice cream run“. At each conference and schmooze, Eric Isaacson of Eric Isaacson Software leads a contingent to a local ice cream parlor. I had the honor of riding along with Eric, Gary Elfring, and Jessica Dewell on what turned out to be a rather interesting journey, culminating in a half-sprint across the parking lot to get through the door before it was locked. Dave Trump and Thomas Warfield arrived in a second vehicle, while a third vehicle got lost en route and simply returned to the conference hotel.

Returning from the ice cream run, we ran into Michael “Doc” Callahan and Chris Thornton in the hotel lobby. After a short conversation, it was apparent that the only remaining activity was in the bar, and since beer does not reasonably chase ice cream, I retired to my room for the evening.

Common Ground update: Tonight I am missing The Black Crowes, who I understand put on a great show. Their opening act is Mitch Ryder & The Detroit Wheels, who I had the pleasure of seeing at a fairly intimate club many years ago, though I would definitely have liked to see them again.

SIC 2005 – Day Zero

Whitewater rafting and a reception kick off the conference.

The most anticipated unofficial event connected with the Shareware Industry Conference was a whitewater rafting trip organized by Dave Trump of Qivx. We took the “Wild & Scenic Trip” from A-1 Wildwater in Fort Collins, rafting down the Cache La Poudre River for a few hours. There were many class III and two class IV rapids along the way, and it was great fun for my first time rafting.

The trip got particularly exciting when Sheila Manning, organizer of the Grand Rapids Shareware Schmooze, fell off of her raft while traversing the first class IV rapids, joining the “Poudre Swim Team” along with Patrick Bailey of 10×13 Software. Patrick came downstream with the raft, while Sheila ended up on shore just up river from the “room of doom”, requiring a river rescue. She emerged from the river with a big smile and a triumphant shout, and then impressed the river guides by getting back into her raft and continuing to paddle. Fortunately, there were no serious injuries, although Sheila did break a fingernail.

The shareware group was divided among 4 different rafts, and ours had the largest contingent, with Chris Thornton of Thornsoft Development, Sue Pichotta of Ace Icons and her daughter Sarah, Fred Clabuesch of SigmaTech Software, and me, Gregg Seelhoff of SophSoft and Digital Gamecraft. Other adventurous souls on the journey were Becky Lash of Epic Trends, Peter Gadzinski of Meeting Pal, Jan Goyvaerts of JGsoft and his wife Samira, Thomas Wetzel of Wisco, Oliver Grahl of Grahl Software Design, and Mathias Roth of iOpus. It appears that a good time was had by all.

After returning from Fort Collins, most of us attended the SIAF Reception, held in the Centennial Room, which was the whole of the 12th, and highest, floor in the hotel. The view was not bad, although the bright sunshine as the sun was setting made it somewhat difficult for a group to talk without one or more being blinded by the light. Fortunately, that sort of thing resolves itself as the evening wears on.

There was lots of networking and excellent conversation during the reception. Digital River representatives were all dressed in shirts with a red cross on the front and the phrase “We’re here for you, Harold”, in joking reference to Harold Holmes of Lincoln Beach Software, who was injured during their event last year. I was pleased to meet Brandon Staggs of Akamai Software in person and to reconnect with friends from previous years, such as Mike Stevenson of Shareware Junction, who was kind enough to buy me a needed soft drink, and Dexter Bell of The Utility Factory, who was handing out special SIC2005 copies of his FileBoss software.

Many of us sat around a large table at the end of the room talking until we realized that the bar had been shut down and the rest of the reception had disappeared. Having successfully closed the first official SIC event, I retired to my hotel room for a good sleep.

Common Ground update: Tonight I am missing Blue Öyster Cult, who I have not seen since the early 1980s, and blues legend Buddy Guy, who I have never had the pleasure of seeing. (I would not have bothered with Whitesnake.)

Shareware Industry Conference

Colorado seems a nice place to spend the next week.

This year, Denver hosts the annual Shareware Industry Conference (SIC) for the first time. As the name implies, this conference is devoted to topics affecting the shareware industry, which is primarily comprised of independent developers and publishers. SIC is presented by the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation (SIAF), and in recent years, the conference has changed location around the United States every couple of years. For the two previous years, SIC has been in Rochester, New York, and although Denver is a longer journey, it will be a welcome change.

I arrived in Denver, via Amtrak on the California Zephyr, fairly early this morning. The total travel time was about 24 hours, but with a laptop computer and traveling companions Fred and Jan Clabuesch of SigmaTech Software, the trip was enjoyable. We compared notes on Amtrak’s upsell telemarketing, where they called passengers scheduled in coach class and offered discounted “sleepers” for the round trip. Apparently, the program was successful, as the only upgrade for the return trip, once we got to Denver, was full fare, more than the round trip cost previously available.

The taxicab ride to the conference hotel was not as enjoyable as the train trip. Apparently, we were traveling right in the middle of morning rush hour, and there was all sorts of construction. Perhaps working at home has spoiled me, but this was the worst traffic I can recall seeing in recent memory, and the cabbie assured us that this morning was not unusual. Of course, it would have been nice had he managed to have fewer close calls and near misses (“near hits”), but we did get to the hotel relatively unscathed.

The hotel had been fully booked the previous evening, so there were no rooms available for early check-in. After a brief rest in the lobby, we ran into SIAF Chairman Mike Callahan, also known as Dr. File Finder, and volunteered to stuff “goodie bags”. We learned that SIC 2005 was likely to be the largest ever, and the anticipation was starting to build. After a few hours of volunteer work, we were treated to a lovely lunch at a hotel restaurant, and the conversation was thoroughly enjoyable.

After lunch, there were finally rooms available, so I was able to check-in and take my bags up to my room. Having spent a night in a coach seat on a train, it was nice to be able to finally get a nap in a proper bed. Shortly after waking in the early evening, Thomas Warfield of Goodsol Development, publisher of our Pretty Good MahJongg and Action Solitaire products, called from the lobby. I joined him and other shareware industry professionals, including Jerry Stern and Terry Jepson, who are promoting their new SpySafety site, Jan Goyvaerts, who writes the Shareware Beach blog, and Ryan Smyth, who flew all the way from South Korea to attend his first SIC.

A little bit later, I had a very nice dinner with Thomas and his wife Anne, where we discussed some of the exciting new projects we will be developing in conjunction with Goodsol, and the conversation lasted slightly longer than the meal. We returned to the pre-conference schmoozing, enjoying great camaraderie until everybody retired to their rooms (rather early for those of us still on Eastern time).

Common Ground update: Tonight I am missing The Allman Brothers Band, and although I saw them there previously, I am told that every one of their live shows is different.

What happened to June?

Time flies when you have too much to do.

June was a busy month, both personally and professionally (although sometimes it seems difficult to distinguish one from the other). My calendar is covered in all sorts of red marks noting events that occurred throughout the month.

On the professional side, the month started out with an IGDA meeting on Sunday, June 5th. Despite the calendar (meeting at MSU, out of session), the turnout was excellent. Patrick Shaw, formerly of Maxis (Electronic Arts), gave an excellent presentation on a game production technique based on “squads”, rather than the more traditional command hierarchy. Valeta Wensloff gave an introduction to Thief 2X, a fan-based update to the popular Thief 2 from the now-defunct Looking Glass Studios. The most amazing fact about this product is that Valeta and the others on the team managed to complete the free project over the course of years, with no compensation, while working remotely. This is the exception that proves the rule.

At the start of the meeting, I was introduced to Andy Nwoye and his colleague Jillian Caywood. Andy arranged for them to interview me for a documentary that they are creating, tentatively titled, “Beyond Games“. The film is about people who so enjoyed video games that they (we) turned it into a career. They interviewed me at my home office on Friday, June 17th, which was a very interesting experience. We discussed my career, several of our games, and issues affecting independent game developers. Afterwards, I played Midtown Madness 3 with my son for “B-roll” footage, in addition to some shots of my 1973 Williams Fun-Fest pinball machine that resides in my office. More information about the project is available in their production diary.

The following week I had a meeting with Ward Makielski from Ferris State University, Grand Rapids about their game development curriculum. As it turns out, we both worked on Legacy of the Ancients, albeit not together (different time, different SKUs), back in the late 80s. He went into education, while I continued to work in the game industry. FSU Grand Rapids is on the forefront of the movement for local colleges and universities to provide skills to students who want to pursue a career in games or related multimedia arts.

Back in the present, this week I travel to Denver, Colorado for the Shareware Industry Conference. Unfortunately, this means that I will be out of town for Lansing’s Common Ground Festival, which features a full week of popular bands on a couple of main stages, and we usually go to them all. This year, I have to miss them all. Tonight, I will be missing Journey (although I saw them at Common Ground previously).