I stand with Stan

A comic book legend weighs in on video games.

As we approach the upcoming arguments before the United States Supreme Court concerning video games and the protection of free speech in this country, legendary comic creator Stan Lee has contributed some historical perspective to the issue, finding a direct parallel with attacks upon the comic book industry half a century ago.  That is why Stan Lee supports the Video Game Voters Network.

If you prefer your commentary irreverent, fast-paced, and visual (or even if not), I recommend viewing this video by Zero Punctuation (a.k.a., Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw) explaining the importance of VGVN.

Our Games.  Our Rights.

Join Now.

When I testified before the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee back in 1995 in opposition to proposed game restrictions in Michigan, one Senator (while I was still on the stand) equated the game industry with prostitution and essentially implied that I was a whore. When our government makes judgments that some expressions (such as his) are more worthy of protection than others, such as those reflected in video games (or books, movies, newspapers, etc.), they dishonor the Constitution and a fundamental principle of the United States of America.

By the way, for those who did not follow (or do not remember) the story at that time, Michigan went on to pass the legislation (which was similar to the California law currently under review), it was signed into law, and then it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court and overturned. In addition to the immense waste of time (not to mention, good will), the State of Michigan was forced to pay an extra $182,349 to game industry groups in restitution for legal fees amassed while opposing this foolhardy bill.

The big legal event is scheduled.

Of course, the really major upcoming issue is Schwarzenegger, Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants Association (#08-1448) being reviewed by the Supreme Court.  The case is on the docket and arguments are scheduled to be heard on November 2, 2010.  It is supposed to be the first case (of three) presented on that day.

Ultimately, the ruling by the Court could have a substantial impact on the game industry, either by curtailing the repeated attempts by legislators to treat games as an unprotected form of expression and erode the concept of free speech, or (if they rule incorrectly) by opening the door to many more of such restrictions, leading us to war games where soldiers bleed green and mature games being banned from sale altogether.  Fortunately, every court so far has ruled against these kinds of laws, including against this particular law twice previously.

For more information, please see my previous posting, Video Games facing Supreme Court review.

“Why does this matter?  Because if you restrict sales of video games, you’re chipping away at our First Amendment rights to free speech.”Stan Lee

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.

Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition 1.0

A favorite product is now available on a new platform.

This week, Goodsol Development released Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition 1.0, our very first published Apple Mac OS X version of this award-winning title.  Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition is a MahJongg solitaire game which has 160 different tile matching layouts, but also 32 original solitaire games played with MahJongg tiles, as well as a custom layout editor (only available in the full/purchased version).

The develoment of Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition took longer than originally anticipated, due at least in part to working on three different products for three different platforms simultaneously.  The end result, though is very satisfying, and this Mac Edition has all of the same gameplay features as the Windows version, including downloadable tile sets.  The next major update of PGMJME will bring the number of solitaire games (and tile matching layouts) even with its 8-year-old sibling, but that is in the (not too distant) future.  For the moment, I am looking for the expected 50% productivity gains on the other two major upcoming releases.

You can download a trial version of PGMJME 1.0 from the Mac Edition web site, and you can purchase Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition for only $24.95.  (Registered users of the Windows version can find a link for a discount coupon on the Goodsol web forum.)  What a deal!

I challenge anybody to catch me in Free Klondike (one of the original solitaire games in PGMJME, and my favorite) playing in climb mode.

RIP: Mike Dulin (1943-2010)

A friend and colleague passes away.

Last Wednesday, July 28, 2010, Michael Dennis Dulin died from complications of pulmonary fibrosis; he was 66.  [Here is his Obituary from the Janesville [Wisconsin] Gazette.]

Mike Dulin

Mike Dulin at SIC 2006

Mike Dulin was the founder of SharewareJunkies.com and other related web sites.  Within the shareware industry, he was perhaps better known as a perennially upbeat attendee at industry conferences, an advocate for software entrepreneurs, and the driving force (and voice) behind SharewareRadio.com.  (He interviewed me for his site back in 2007.)  Mike always had a story at the ready, including some amusing anecdotes from his previous career as an air traffic controller at Chicago O’Hare.  He qualified as a true “character” (in the best way), living and working in both Finland and Guatemala, commuting a couple of times each year.

At the time of his death, Mike Dulin was serving as the President of the Association of Software Professionals, a position to which I was instrumental in appointing him back in 2008 (when I was ASP Chairman of the Board).  Mike remained in that role and was still performing his duties for the ASP at the Software Industry Conference less than two weeks before his passing (and I am sorely disappointed that I was not there at SIC 2010).

Rest in Peace, Mike.  You will be missed.

SIA Foibles

The return of the Software Industry Awards is somewhat flawed.

As I wrote in a previous post, Software/Shareware Industry Awards are back, there were some questions yet to be answered about the Software Industry Awards under their new process and new name.  In particular, I wondered whether a list of nominees, or at least software categories, would be published prior to the conference, being especially concerned about how (or even if) game software would be handled.

Unfortunately, neither names of nominees nor a list of software categories appeared prior to the Software Industry Conference at which they were awarded.  This means that no software developers would attend the “Gala Networking & Awards Dinner” solely in support of nominated products.  Apparently, the overall conference turnout was noticeably smaller than in recent years, too (which is not any sort of indictment, as I prefer smaller, more intimate gatherings).

I did also mention that “all questions should be answered” after SIC, but that was almost not the case, as the official list of SIA nominees and winners has not, to my knowledge, been published outside the Association of Software Professionals (and only within the ASP by unofficial sources).  Aside from publishing the names of the software nominees beforehand, the conference organizers should also be proactive in promoting the results.  (After more than a week, the awards winners should expect to at least be able to link to an official results page.)

The good news is that “GAMES” was one of the categories in which awards were presented (of only eight).  The bad news is the nominees demonstrate a pretty serious misunderstanding of this segment of the industry.  I applauded the positive idea that “the nominators are asked to consider only software and services offered by MicroISVs”, a concept that seems to have been seriously ignored.  (I suppose that poor selections are better than none at all, which is what the educational software industry received.)

The SIA winner in the Games category was “Sam & Max” by Telltale Games.  The problem, of course, is that Telltale is nowhere close to being a MicroISV; they have had (literally) millions of dollars from outside investors, and 67 employees listed on their Our Team page (including an old friend, Tom Byron).  [I could also mention that “Sam & Max” is not a product, but rather a series of more than a dozen different episodes.]  One of the other nominees was “Family Feud” by iWin, which is also far larger than any MicroISV, listed as the #4 casual software retailer in 2009.

Therefore, the winner in spirit is “Fantastic Farm” by Kristanix, which is a fellow ASP member and, according to the web site, consists of only two people, hence a proper MicroISV.  Alas, this kind of victory comes with nothing of value, except perhaps this link to the Fantastic Farm page.

Here are a few more selected SIA results.

The winner in the “GRAPHICS SOFTWARE” category was “SnagIt” by TechSmith, a local company for which I worked briefly.  I was actually the sole programmer on SnagIt way back in 1992-1993, developing (only) version 2.1.  (They are now up to SnagIt 10, so I take zero credit.)

The winner in the “MULTIMEDIA MUSIC/VIDEO SOFTWARE” category was “Blaze Media Pro” by Mystik Media; our company once did some artwork for Blaze Media Pro (also many years ago).

The winner in the “PROGRAMMING TOOLS/UTILITIES” category was “Beyond Compare” by Scooter Software; this is a product that I use almost daily and is extraordinarily useful.  (As a coincidence, I happen to be wearing one of their “What’s the DIFF?” t-shirts at this very moment.)  I also use another nominee in this category, “CSE HTML Validator” by AI Internet Solutions.

Two nominees in the “ISV SERVICES” category also deserve mention: Freelance Works (Martha Seward), who helps promote our games published by Goodsol Development, and Software Promotions (Dave Collins), who use to do similar (but does not handle games anymore).

For those keeping score, the three remaining categories were “BUSINESS APPLICATION, DESKTOP”, “BUSINESS APPLICATION, SaaS”, and “INTERNET TOOLS”, for which I have neither the interest nor the time to write anything clever.

The ASP becomes the ASP

The ASP is renamed to the Association of Software Professionals.

After 23 years of leadership in (what was known as) the shareware industry, and now following the current trend, the ASP has dropped “Shareware” and officially changed its name to the Association of Software Professionals.

The change has been in the works for a while, but it was officially announced on the ASP blog in an article entitled, Shareware is dead – long live shareware!

A press release about the change can be found on Newswire Today, and proper coverage of the name change was recently published by Dr. Dobbs Editor, Jon Erickson, in a blog posting, Shareware: Thanks for the Memories.

When the ASP was formed back in 1987, it was out to promote the concept of “shareware”, a marketing method (n.b., not a type of software) where a user was able to try software before making a purchase (or not), and also to help independent developers/publishers learn how to use shareware (and other methods) to become successful.

The former goal was achieved long ago, as almost all mass market software now has a trial version available.  (See my Mission Accomplished! posting from a couple of years ago.)  The only skirmish remaining was that over the word “shareware” itself, but the ASP has now de facto ceded that control (for the sake of lasting peace, I suppose).  One only need look at this thread at The Business of Software to observe the rampant ignorance even among (nominal) developers, so I can certainly understand declaring that a losing cause.

The latter goal is actually an ongoing mission, and the ASP (regardless of the name change) remains the single greatest resource for independent software developers and publishers.  At only $100 per year, it is quite possibly the best money we have ever spent for our business.

Software/Shareware Industry Awards are back

After missing a year, the SIAs return for 2010, slightly renamed.

Recently, the Software [nee Shareware] Industry Conference unveiled a brand new web site design, which is much improved from the previous web site.  Kudos to Sue Pichotta of Alta Web Works for a job well done (and no disrespect for the previous designer, who I also know).

Perhaps lost in this story, though, is the fact that the updated web site quietly announced the return of the Shareware, I mean, Software Industry Awards and a new (hopefully improved) process for awarding them.  According to the Process & Rules page of the site, the awards are now determined by a score of unidentified “software industry insiders”, rather than by the whole of the industry, which should reduce the amount of bizarre results (from either manipulation or voter laziness) at the risk of making them less prestigious, no longer being truly voted by peers.  I do not know who any of these people are, only that I am not one of them and that I hope they appreciate our games.

One definite positive in the new procedure is that “nominators are asked to consider only software and services offered by MicroISVs“.  This means that products like Google Earth and Windows Live Messenger (Microsoft), both 2008 winners, should no longer be eligible, getting the focus back to the independent developers the awards were originally meant to recognize.  (We also go by the title, “the developers formerly known as shareware publishers“.)

The only obvious omission is a list of categories for which the awards will be presented, and specifically, whether any game categories are included (and if so, how many).  The last time games were recognized was 2007, when our own Pretty Good MahJongg won the SIA for Best Non-Action Game.  Hopefully, the list of nominees (and, hence, categories) will be announced prior to the conference; that would almost certainly increase participation in the “Gala Networking & Awards Dinner”, which attendance was reportedly dropping.

In any event, all questions should be answered in Dallas, Texas, where SIC will take place July 15-17, 2010.  Perhaps I will see you there.

Video Games facing Supreme Court review

The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal about a law restricting video game sales.

Two weeks ago, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal of the California ban on sales of certain “violent” video games to anyone under 18 years of age.

This case is very likely to turn on a decision about First Amendment protections of free speech.  On the one hand, this is a good thing, given that none of these types of laws has ever been upheld as Constitutional.  (At last check, video game and First Amendment advocates were 13-0 against overzealous legislators.)  Additionally, this Court recently held that it is perfectly legal to profit from video sales of animal snuff films (US v. Stevens, 08-769).

The scary part, however, is that this is also a Court that does not really understand current technology, as demonstrated in the questioning (on the same day) during City of Ontario v. Quon, when some of the Justices asked basic information about how text pagers work.  Further, recent Courts (with the same core Justices) have not been reluctant to modify the law of the land based on politics rather than law.

It is a crap shoot and we will have to wait until October for the case (Schwarzenegger, Governor of California v. Entertainment Merchants Association, 08-1448) to be heard, and probably even longer before a decision is announced.

In a recent opinion piece, The New York Times agrees that the law is unconstitutional, concluding that, “The Constitution, however, does not require speech to be ideal for it to be protected.”  Bingo!

Click on the banner below to join a free organization that informs citizens of these kinds of threats to free speech, and specifically to video games being treated differently from other forms of expressive media and entertainment, including films, books, and music.

If you are not easily offended, see this related piece of satire from the Onion. [warning: NSFW!]

Poll: Almost nobody disagrees with not regulating video games.

Earlier this month, U.S. News & World Report posted an opinion poll [still open for votes as of this writing] on its web site, using the misleading title, Violent Video Games: Should Kids Be Able to Buy Them? Of course, the poll question is “Should Kids Not Be Sold Violent Video Games?” which elicits an opposite response from the poll title.

Whether by a deliberate and hamfisted attempt to manipulate the results, or just utter incompetence, the confusing wording opens the results up to interpretation.  More than 70% answered the question correctly, and I estimate that 90% of the other respondents misread the question (missing the “Not” or simply answering the headline), so I place lamina in buccinator and conclude that more than 97% of the public oppose video game regulation.

Take that!  (I can be just as unscientific as the “mainstream” press.)

Most Popular Solitaire is #1!

One of our solitaire games tops the Apple Downloads charts.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Apple had stopped updating the pages on its Apple Downloads site back in March, so Most Popular Solitaire, our solitaire title with 30 of the most popular games, was reliably in the top 15 on the (dynamic) ‘Top Downloads’ list on the left of each page but was not listed at all on the ‘Most Popular’ pages in the ‘Games’ category.  (As of this posting, Most Popular Solitaire 2.02 is #11 of all Apple downloads, including Apple’s own products.)

This morning, though, Apple finally updated the pages and Most Popular Solitaire is at the very top of all game downloads, listed as #1 on both the Games: Most popular and Cards & Puzzle: Most popular pages.  Sure, this position is likely to be fleeting, especially now that new submissions are being posted again, but it feels good for the moment.  Of course, some of those new submissions will be from Goodsol Development, so we will be looking to match this success and get more of our games to the top.

Thanks to Apple for finally getting this fixed.

More than Just a Name

Most Popular Solitaire is the most popular solitaire game for Mac OS X.

The Good News over the last few weeks has been that our solitaire title, Most Popular Solitaire, featuring 30 favorite solitaire games, has proven to be the most downloaded solitaire game at Apple Downloads.  Ever since the latest update, Most Popular Solitaire 2.02 has been receiving amazing numbers of downloads, even eclipsing the Windows version of Pretty Good Solitaire.

Most Popular Solitaire appears on the ‘Top Downloads‘ list on the left side of every Apple Downloads page, and has consistently done so since shortly after its release.  Charting as high as #7 and only dropping off for a single day.  (As of this writing, MPS is ranked at #12.)  Note that this is for all downloads from Apple’s site, including such packages as iTunes, Safari, and Mozilla Firefox.  At times, our solitaire game has been ranked higher than QuickTime, and no other solitaire game has appeared on the list.  In fact, we have regularly had the most download game (period).

Now comes the Bad News.  Whether it is due to some oversight in the midst of the iPad excitement, or related to the recent change to remove the ‘Downloads’ link from the main Apple page (in favor of “iPad”), or just a run-of-the-mill screw-up, the ‘Most popular’ pages for each category are not being updated, and this problem has lasted for three weeks now, which means that these pages show the top downloads from just before our game update was released.  It is clear that Most Popular Solitaire should be ranked #1 on the Cards & Puzzle: Most popular page, and probably no lower than #2 on the Games: Most popular page.

Now we still have the problem that traffic is falling off due to the lack of updates, and assuming that the problem will be fixed (hopefully soon), there will probably be a frenzy of product submissions, especially with those already in the pipeline, and our products could become lost in the noise.  Since Apple Downloads is a very important distribution point for Mac OS X titles, this issue is already impacting our marketing.

Despite this inconvenience, development for this platform is continuing apace, and there should be an official announcement about Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition in the very near future, as well as one for a related platform, hinted at the end of the most recent post at A Shareware Life.

In any event, I am currently enjoying an absolutely beautiful day, with summer temperatures, bright sunshine, and the stress-free knowledge that all of our business and personal taxes have long since been filed.  Happy Tax Day!