2023: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: Incomplete

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It has taken a long time to write this retrospective of last year, mostly because continuing practical demands prevented me from actually taking the time to assess what happened in 2023, from a slow start segue into a local mass shooting, a heavy investment in our internal products paired with a disappointing reduction in client work due to external factors, culminating in a troubling end of the year, paralleling the rough period for individuals and small companies within the game industry at large. I decided that our performance deserves an “incomplete“, which matches the overall mood; we did lots of high caliber work during the year, but did not bring enough to completion to really justify a grade. As with such a grade back in high school, we now have a limited time to complete the work or lose credit.

Last year, Digital Gamecraft® and SophSoft, Incorporated earned a passing grade by virtue of surviving the year. I noted then that we “are in a similar position to where we were last year, albeit with fewer resources and a different calendar year. It could have been much worse.” Well, this year things are definitely worse, with very few resources remaining and another calendar year already more then a quarter gone.

Accomplishments of 2023

Given the circumstances, I must scale back to the top 5 achievements from last year:

  1. For Scooter Software, we shipped the internal feature update intended for future integration into Beyond Compare that we previewed early in the year.
  2. For Goodsol Development, we shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.7, which contains 900 different Solitaire games seen in the Windows flagship product, plus an additional 100 bonus games.
  3. We made substantial improvements to our 3D graphics capabilities and active knowledge, knocking off the rust and updating abilities, including technical functionality on multiple platforms, image rendering, file parsing, graphics shaders, and adding (for the first time since 2011) modeling skills.
  4. We made excellent progress on our unannounced Gamecraft Classics™ product previewed last year, showing outstanding enhancements in four (of five) key areas of development on the project. (I anticipate a public announcement soon and an initial release later this year.)
  5. We made fantastic updates and additions to our SophPlay System™, incorporating new capabilities into the library, revising and expanding existing classes, deprecating a few ancient (in computer terms) features [8-bit color palettes, anybody?], and improving external documentation. Most of this work was in service of the above product, but the internal impact extends far beyond that.

What Went Right / Wrong

Looking back to the 2023: Year in Preview, this is how I assess our ultimate results:

The top two product development goals were advanced significantly (reflected as #1 and #2 accomplishments above), although we did not actually ship the product during the year. The other 4 listed goals were essentially unaddressed, although I note that this does indicate an appropriate focus on the (related) top goals, rather than bouncing around among projects.

The client development goals were fully met, as expressed, having shipped one significant deliverable for each client. Alas, factors over which we have no control left the overall results less satisfactory than I had expected, and our income (and, thus, financial well-being) has taken a substantial hit.

The general development goals were partially fulfilled, with limited improvement on blogging (and outreach in general), very good progress on 3D graphics research, but very little movement at all on the pitch deck and company bible (which, to be fair, are important overall but provide no tangible benefit in the current circumstances).

The business goals, unfortunately, were a failure, like last year. Business income decreased significantly, dropping below current expenses, outstanding business paperwork remained outstanding (and now a year older), and the lack of increased income caused the renovation plans to remain on hold. 🙁

Personal goals continue to evolve, and I make progress towards them, tempered only by a challenging financial situation and the corresponding burdensome stress.

Conclusion

Last year was a struggle, and while I could see positive signs and room for some optimism, it seemed that a number of things broke against the company. Taking a lull in client work as an opportunity to advance internal projects did not work out at all as expected. Investing (early) to attend GDC 2024 was followed by an industry downturn (read: crash) that made it potentially the worst year for seeking contracts in the history of the conference.

The most positive aspect of this is that the company continues to function as a full-time game development company, the oldest independent game developer in the world, and it improves its assets and abilities constantly. Likewise, I get to spend my full time (and then some) enhancing my knowledge and skills. Our capabilities remain formidable, not to mention available for hire.

Unity and the Art of Self-Evisceration

Let’s Talk “Integrity”

Last month, Unity Technologies announced that they were changing the licensing terms for their Unity game engine, which they claim is used in the development of more than half of the top games for mobile, PC, and consoles. They boast that they have 1.5 million creators and two billion monthly end users. Well, maybe they had that many.

The Problems

Under the new terms, Unity were going to charge publishers up to $0.20 per installation of their games; note that this is not per sale, but per installation, which means that creators pay regardless of whether or not their game is bought or even played. The term “install bomb” came into broad usage immediately as shorthand for a method where nefarious actors could damage a developer financially by repeatedly or widely (via bots or networks) installing a trial version (and, not coincidentally, profit Unity).

This first problem was that it potentially turns game marketing on its head, where the free-to-play model (currently the only way to make money on mobile) is damaged, free trial versions are now costly, giving away software for charitable purposes is no longer viable, and the economics of other marketing models, such as bundles or console subscriptions, are disturbed. Ironically, this was introduced under (now former) CEO John Riccitiello, who infamously called game developers “some of the biggest f***ing idiots” for not focusing on monetization early, and then his company screws any early monetization plans.

The second problem is that professional developers (i.e., those making money or disinclined to advertise for Unity) are already paying at least $170 per month per seat (according to the website; it had been somewhat less when I considered licensing Unity a few years ago), with the calculation being that this was the cost of development to avoid backend expenses. Now, the backend costs are added and even if they replaced the monthly cost (which they have not), those companies have already paid that licensing fee; it is a sunk cost, so they are paying twice.

The third problem, related to the above, is that the installation charges are retroactive; even though they are started accruing in January, 2024, they applied to games that have already been completed and published. Companies could have moved on, no longer be using Unity at all, just selling a game they built in the past, and suddenly be on the hook to pay a company that they no longer have a business relationship with, or in the case of acquisitions, perhaps a company that they never had any kind of agreement with.

The biggest problem, however, is that Unity promised game developers that the game engine would remain royalty-free, built the Unity ecosystem based on that promise, and then reneged in a very big way. To be clear, this was not merely implicit: John Riccitiello made it very clear in his quote to GamesIndustry.biz:

If you’re a seven-figure developer, you can afford $75 a month, but if you’re not, if you’re just getting started or just choose for artistic reasons to give your games away for free, or if you’re a hobbyist screwing around or a student, this is free. You get the full power of Unity 5 for free. There’s no royalties, no f***ing around. It’s simple. That’s really what we’re announcing.

Well, they are definitely introducing a form of royalties (but worse) and are definitely “f***ing around”. To be clear, the costs would only apply after a game makes $100K, but the simple fact is that no professional game developer targets making less than that. Students benefit Unity greatly (and probably still don’t plan to make no money), and amateurs who are just making games as a hobby would simply move to a different engine that is truly free.

The Fallout

I don’t dispute that Unity Technologies had the legal right to increase costs and impose additional charges, especially after surreptitiously changing the licensing agreement (although I think the claim that they can charge retroactively for previously built games is tenuous, at best). I think that the manner in which they went about it was critically flawed. I am certainly not alone.

The backlash from the announcement was immediate, strong, and (appropriately) unified. Developers of indie games, who were arguably the most affected, were quick to condemn the pricing change, and many threatened to leave Unity, some stated they had already decided to move their games to a different engine, and the developer of one popular game even posted that they would remove it from sale when the policy took affect (although they later recanted, saying that it was a joke, but I remain unconvinced). Terraria developers Re-Logic donated $100,000 to Godot and FNA, two open-source engines, alternatives to Unity. Meanwhile, nobody outside Unity leadership tried to justify the new fees.

Unity tried, likely in vain, to quell the potential revolt against their game engine and, definitely in vain, to repair their damaged reputation by backing down on some of the changes. The revenue cap for not getting charged is being doubled to $200K, games which make less than $1M in “trailing 12-month revenue” will be excluded, and the fee will only apply starting with the next version of Unity, which will not ship until 2024 (at the earliest). They also gave an alternative option of a straight 2.5% revenue share (pure royalties) based on self-reported data. (To be honest, I find the concept of explicitly reporting revenue data to a tool manufacturer to be perverse.)

John Riccitiello was also “retired”, which step, to be frank, was way overdue. That should have been done well before this little debacle took place, but once it did happen, he should have received his marching orders within days or hours, not a month later. To be fair, it is not clear that he was behind this mess; it may have been forced by the soulless profiteers on the board of directors. As CEO, though, his ouster was an absolute minimum.

My Relationship with Unity

I personally have no skin in the game, nor does SophSoft, except insofaras Unity decided to eviscerate themselves before the SophPlay System™ was ready for external developers; we really could have had a boost from 1.5 million creators looking for a new home.

The company does not use Unity for its own projects, only for client work (and even then, not for a while now), and I do not particularly care for it. I know Unity fairly intimately, now, because the team I lead at DAQRI, the Advanced Concepts Group, was responsible for the development and maintenance of the Vos Extension for Unity, essentially the Unity SDK for the Smart Helmet and Smart Glasses. More particularly, I personally ported most of that SDK (with the assistance of a very talented colleague for the 3D mathematics) to run on hardware using an entirely different operating system, so any existing project would work with a simple setting change and rebuild.

Despite this knowledge of Unity, I find that I much prefer the “old school” approach of writing code and, importantly, being able to identify and enumerate all of the processes. I certainly appreciate the democratization of game development that a more visual engine provides, especially as I have watched designers and artists produce some wonderful prototypes without requiring a programmer, but I find that it doesn’t work as well for me.

About Integrity

Integrity is, literally, central to our company motto: “Quality. Integrity. Fun.

When we decided on this motto, we actively discussed the meanings and intent of each word, and in particular, the dual meanings of “integrity” and how we intended both. The first definition that usually comes to mind involves adherence to principles and values, honesty, ethics, and forthrightness. We want the company to be the business equivalent of a “person of character.”

The second definition, that is less common, is related to being complete and solid. We intended this meaning to apply to the company’s self-reliance, specifically in its production approach, being able to perform any (and all) aspects of game development, from concept and design, to programming, artwork, audio, and writing, through quality assurance, packaging, and publishing. (To be honest, marketing was the only development skill we have never really mastered.)

Our interpretation of this second definition was why we never tied ourselves to an external game engine (Unity, in this case, but there were several earlier options as well). To maintain corporate integrity, we would never commit to an arrangement where an external entity, particularly a money-grubbing conglomerate, could directly harm our interests. Developing in Unity binds a company to external actions and decisions, since there is no quick alternative should things go wrong (which we always articulated as “disappears tomorrow”); this is why the Unity policy change was so impactful to many developers. There is no way to quickly move a game developed in Unity to an alternative, so you can become a victim. On the other hand, if any major tool we use, say Visual Studio or Photoshop, were to disappear tomorrow, it would be an inconvenience but the code and artwork would still be usable; we would only lose the time it takes to switch tools.

Of course, Unity also badly violated the first definition of integrity. Making a promise of a royalty-free engine and then, deliberately, making unannounced changes in the licensing agreement to allow royalties and installation fees, and then enacting (or trying to enact) such additional costs is a high stakes “bait and switch”. The fact that it can be argued as legal does not make it ethical, and it definitely is not. The fact that this whole story arc unfolded under one CEO makes it that much worse, since the hypocrisy and unfair treatment cannot be explained by a signaled change of direction. Had Unity been acquired by another company with vastly different goals, one should prepare for such a turn of events, but for the most part, most people don’t consider an IPO a form of corporate takeover, though they probably should.

I contend that no company was ever purchased (including via IPO) to benefit the customers. Game developers are the customer here, and Unity’s actions signal their obvious intention to take as much profit from them as they can get away with. In this case, I think that they reached too far into their pockets and got caught, red-handed.

Conclusion

If Unity truly just wanted to get funding to improve the game engine, it could have signaled that policy change, consulted with its customers, rolled out a workable new policy and license agreement starting with the next version (not forcing anybody to upgrade), and then made tangible improvements to the new version. Game developers could make the choice between shiny new version with bells and whistles (and royalties) or the status quo (with the inevitable slow technical decay). I would even have planned to cut the older version loose, totally free or (better yet) open source, at some point a couple years down the road. They did none of that.

Instead, they blindsided customers with new, unworkable, and retroactive fees, against explicit promises, as an obvious consequence of attempted profit-taking for investors, not any concerns for their customers nor the end users that they claim (but do not service). I have no doubt that some hobbyists will keep using Unity because it is “free”, but those who harbor hopes of eventual success, or care about integrity, will likely look to other engines. Students will still learn Unity and other engines, but professors who currently focus primarily on Unity should be reducing this emphasis (and increasing emphasis on Unreal).

Professional game developers, however, will turn from Unity in droves. Some have already begun porting their projects in development to alternative engines. Some will hold their noses and continue with Unity for current projects, due to the cost of switching engines, but then use another engine when starting future projects. A few will determine that their processes are too dependent (unfortunately) on Unity and will continue with them rather than bear the expense of porting everything to a new engine.

The fact is that Unity no longer has any significant advantage over Unreal Engine, which has a reputation for better technology and a more stable platform, while Unity is known as the engine of low quality games and, now, a major lack of trustworthiness. As many professionals switch to Unreal, and Godot and others improve through additional support and users, the Unity community which has been building for years will deteriorate. Unity Technologies will be repaid for their greed by a substantial loss of value in their core asset.

Although it is not always (read: rarely) the easy path, is sometimes nice to see that our decision to commit to integrity can prove the correct choice. 😉

2023: Year in Preview

Given that 2022 was challenging, and then the first part of 2023 has been a disaster, there is no choice for SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft® but to make (the remainder of) 2023 a much better year. We are working to be somewhat more focused, and I am willing to push enticing projects to next year or later to keep a clearer direction now. This should be a year of resilience, recovery, and great progress.

Digital Gamecraft logo

Product Development Goals

The priorities for our major internal development projects have changed slightly from last year, but these same six projects top the list.

  1. Unannounced Gamecraft Classics™ product – this project is on the brink of being revealed (and I have dropped hints 😉 ), but we are waiting until a specific milestone is reached, so we can confirm certain features. This is a traditional game title that has been under planning and development, intermittently, for decades, but it was moved to the top priority late last year as a point of focus for production on multiple platforms. We hope to have an announcement soon, and initial releases before the end of this year.
  2. SophPlay System™ – this product combines libraries, tools, standards, and procedures into a complete development system for creating robust games on multiple platforms, and it has been in use here for more than 25 years. The primary work on this project at the moment is in support of the above project, with the fundamental new features being improvements to 3D rendering and cross-platform support.
  3. Unannounced productivity tool – this product has been under development for, now, 33 years, though obviously not continuously. Because progress on this ground to a halt last year, yet we managed to muddle through with existing processes and workflow, this whole project has been dropped slightly in priority this year. It is still massively important for the long run, but the decision was made to use more resources on the above projects in the short term.
  4. Unannounced console title – this is a game title that (perhaps unusually) focuses on accessibility and inclusion. The initial phase of product development is for PlayStation 5, and the product directly benefits from SophPlay improvements made to support the higher priority project, while also serving as a test platform, helping to confirm that these improvements are generally beneficial.
  5. Unannounced reference website – this is yet another project that has been in the conceptual and prototype design and development phases for ages. It is given this high a priority now as it helps support the highest priority project, and it also gives me a great deal of excitement and purpose, but as noted last year, it is still in search of a viable business model.
  6. Demolish! Pairs – this product has been available in its initial form since 2013 (on iOS, 2018 on Android). We refreshed the iOS versions in late 2021 and the Android version in early 2022. We still have an extensive roadmap that includes a free-to-play version for Android and a massive (2.0) redesign with additional platforms, which plans we have not abandoned, but have somewhat deprioritized. Currently, this title doesn’t quite earn enough to justify the time it takes to bring up the sales reports; its primary benefits are the exercising of SophPlay and demonstration of our various development capabilities.

There is a certain amount of interaction among these items, especially between the top two projects, which are being developed/improved more or less in parallel. However, for this year, if we can ship initial versions of one new product, on some platforms, which requires associated improvements to SophPlay, I will be pleased. If we can get much of that done in the first half of the year, allowing us to make significant progress on the other listed projects, that would be awesome; that is the target.

Client Development Goals

Right now, we have two active clients for whom we are doing product development work. However, unlike last year, when I posted that we were not seeking more clients, the financial hit we took means that we are now, in fact, seeking additional opportunities to increase our funding and replenish the coffers to enable more time to be spent on our own projects. If you or someone you know needs game development assistance, especially programming and production, please check our SophSoft site and contact me.

For Goodsol Development, we pretty much decimated the roadmap, in a good way 😉 , leaving few projects from last year to roll over into 2023; however, we also have not yet determined a solid plan for the new year, so I can only say with confidence that a new update for Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, with 900 games plus 100 bonus games, will be released fairly soon, since that is what we are currently developing. One could extrapolate previous patterns to guess what else might be updated and/or released this year, but it would not be a surprise that some products and platforms perform better than others, so there may (or may not) be a narrowing of focus there, too. Hence, beyond the product currently in production, I cannot officially say what else to expect.

For Scooter Software, we are just finishing an internal update that completes all of the core development for a feature that could potentially be added to Beyond Compare. (Like the previous update, there are enough “moving pieces” that finalizing the deliverable is taking longer than anticipated.) After that, our plan calls for an official alpha version that expands to a full implementation, and then a beta version that is feature complete. That said, the process for actual integration (if/when that happens) is very deliberate and outside our influence, so it will likely be quite a while before the public sees it.

General Development Goals

There are several dozen general development tasks on the list, including categories such as marketing, education, and research, in addition to many small projects that advance the business. This year, though we will perform as many of these tasks as possible, I am narrowing the focus to three priorities in particular:

  1. Blogging – this is reasserting a commitment to greater openness and transparency via blog posts in 2023. I want to get back to posting more about development topics and not solely business plans and exercises in marketing (time permitting).
  2. Continuing research into 3D graphics – this is the effort to support SophPlay improvements, which feed into all of our games going forward, and includes API design for cross-platform functionality. With OpenGL, Direct3D, PlayStation 4 and 5, Vulkan, and other APIs to support (eventually), this is a monumental task.
  3. Pitch deck and company bible – these documents give information about the structure and purpose of the company and its various divisions. Like this blog post, writing and editing these documents provides clarity of vision, which is a foundation of growth and, simultaneously, provides continuity should the remaining company principal (i.e., yours truly) become unavailable.

Business Goals

Our financial runway has been shortened significantly, so proper execution of the plan in place is more critical, thus the business priorities are (still):

  1. Substantially increase business income – clearly, the primary way to do this is to release new products, so that is the main focus, but increasing client work may also be necessary.
  2. Resolve outstanding business paperwork – organization and review of all business paperwork, and probably some consultation with our attorneys, should go a long way toward peace of mind.
  3. Advance home/office renovations – this will provide benefits such as additional safe and secure storage for equipment and documents, as well as a larger space for testing console and AR/VR products (not to mention a nicer place for breaks when nature calls).

Taking over the world is still in the cards. 🙂

Personal Goals

My personal goal is to make small, but consistent, steps toward an even better life. I will continue to be a strong presence in my grandchild’s life (as they get old enough that the number of enriching activities available greatly increases), and I will continue to exercise, enjoy nature, read more, play games, and write for myself.

I expect to find more ways to improve my outlook and mood, and after trying loads of different things recently, with varying degrees of success, I can confirm that developing games does as much as almost anything else for that improvement.

Conclusion

As always, the company has loads of work to do, on our own products, on client projects, and on support functions. Everything is in place to increase income significantly and then the foundations are sound to begin to grow again.

Most importantly, we have to acknowledge where we currently are and not spend a lot of time looking back, instead drawing a bar under the past and only moving forward.

Onward, Ho!

2023: Prologue

Due to the struggles of 2022, and the particular effort to get back to “normal” operations, I ended up working right through most of our annual shutdown period, when I should have been relaxing and unwinding in preparation for a strong start in the new year.

I emerged from this burnout risk directly into the anniversary of my wife’s tragic death (4 years ago), which has a way of negatively affecting mood and productivity long before one consciously realizes that the date is approaching.

Having already cleared my schedule, rather than pushing on an internal project, I chose to use the next couple of weeks to regroup, which was only partially successful. This “break” segued into necessary preparations for a quasi-vacation, previously scheduled.

I was then out of office, and even mostly out of the country, for the rest of January, returning with a case of “cruise crud”. Once that was shaken I was ready to get back to development, but I did not have a suitable period of time to catch up with my backlog (which I also underestimated).

February 6th was the first day officially back in the office, and I immediately set to work clearing the backlog of messages and responsibilities that had accrued in my absence. It took me the rest of the work week to get everything caught up, so I decided to return to proper routine and take time to reset over the weekend.

On February 13th, I started the day enthusiastically programming (finally!) and made great progress. I reached a good “stopping point” in the afternoon and switched over to some operational matters. I was wrapping up customer support (and had gotten to the part where I was just interacting with my friends/customers online) when I heard loads of emergency sirens, and then some police vehicles sped by (~25 yards/meters from my office window) with full lights and sirens blaring.

It was shortly after that point that I got a message that there was an active shooter on the Michigan State University campus. While I was looking for more information, a “shelter in place” order was issued (definitely including my location), and I learned that multiple people had been shot just a half mile South from here.

I spent the rest of that night taking cover, trying to get information about what was happening, and worrying about family. When it was confirmed that there had been a lone gunman and that he had killed himself (like the coward he was), the “shelter in place” order was lifted, and while we all collectively tried to catch our breath, I learned that the gunman was a nearby neighbor of my grandchild and child-in-law.

When all was said and done, 3 people had been killed, and 5 more were in critical condition with gunshot wounds. While, in retrospect, I was never actually in danger, there were numerous alternative scenarios in which family, friends, and even I, could have been in the firing line. Frankly, I have been far more shaken by this event than I would have imagined.

So… 2019 was the year I had to deal with the sudden and unexpected death of my wife (and business partner), 2020 was the year of the global pandemic, 2021 was the year where a friend and client very nearly died, and 2022 was the year where my personal life was in upheaval (and my stepfather died); I will be damned if 2023 is going to be defined by this mass shooting.

I ended up taking the rest of the week off from development, not entirely by choice, so at this point we are in the second half of February with little development progress to show. Therefore, I declare that the first seven weeks of 2023 are a mulligan. I will spend the next 10 days on planning, organization, and regaining development momentum, and then, like the Ancient Romans, I will start 2023 in earnest on March 1st.

My race number is 23, so this is going to be my year!

2022: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: Pass

Digital Gamecraft logo

The last year was particularly challenging for reasons mostly unrelated to business or development, so rather than give a letter grade, I merely graded our performance on a pass/fail basis. Since we made it through the chaos, that earns a passing grade. Now Digital Gamecraft® and SophSoft, Incorporated, are in a similar position to where we were last year, albeit with fewer resources and a different calendar year. It could have been much worse.

Accomplishments of 2022

We managed to continue development throughout the year, so here is a countdown of our top 10 achievements:

  1. We shipped a beta version of Action Solitaire in April. The fact that a release version has not yet been published accounts for this being at the bottom (well, top) of the list. However, this is a maintenance release only, so I can still recommend the current version, Action Solitaire 1.6; the next update will be free to all registered users.
  2. We shipped beta and release versions of FreeCell Plus (for Windows), FreeCell Plus Mac Edition, and FreeCell Plus Touch Edition in December, working right up to the end of the year. FreeCell Plus 4.40 (for Windows), FreeCell Plus Mac Edition 4.40, and FreeCell Plus Touch Edition 1.60 were all published in January 2023.
  3. We shipped a release version of Pretty Good Solitaire Mini (for iPhone) and Pretty Good Solitaire Mini 1.10 was published in January (2022).
  4. We shipped beta versions of Most Popular Solitaire and Most Popular Solitaire Mac Edition in March, a beta version of Most Popular Solitaire Touch Edition in April, and release versions of all three in August, when Most Popular Solitaire 2.40 (for Windows), Most Popular Solitaire Mac Edition 3.20, and Most Popular Solitaire Touch Edition 1.60 were published.
  5. We shipped a beta version of Pretty Good MahJongg in January, a beta version of Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition in February, as well as release versions for both; Pretty Good MahJongg 2.80 (for Windows) and Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition 2.80 were published in March.
  6. We completed a fully playable PlayStation 4 prototype of Demolish! Pairs in May. This marked a console development milestone set when we got our PS4 and PS5 kits; from this point we are performing a quasi-port of this proof of concept to PlayStation 5 by means of enhancing our SophPlay System™ for both platforms and converting any remaining code that directly accesses any PlayStation SDK.
  7. We shipped a beta version of a (deliberately undisclosed) feature for Beyond Compare (Scooter Software) in May. This deliverable demonstrated the feature functioning in an environment programmed in Delphi and represented a concrete milestone of moving from the research phase toward a complete implementation, though potential integration would not happen until 2023 at the earliest.
  8. We shipped two beta update versions of the Goodsol Solitaire Engine, in July and November, adding 50 more Solitaire games, along with supporting engine changes, each time. This brought the total number of implemented games to 1000, which count includes (100) bonus games. These new games should propagate into Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, and probably Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition (for iPad) and Pretty Good Solitaire Mini (for iPhone) as well, in 2023.
  9. We published Demolish! Pairs 1.10 for Android in January. This represented a significant amount of refresh work, as discussed in an earlier blog post, being the first Android project in more than 3 years. The end result was professionally satisfying, placing this accomplishment near the top of the list, despite earning, literally, nothing. 🙁
  10. We survived the year, again, with the business still intact, and I personally made it through a myriad of challenges as well. For the third year in a row, existential concerns have been paramount, with a global pandemic and other matters of life and death, literally, factoring into how the company operates. Here’s hoping that 2023 is a relatively uneventful year of outstanding productivity and no existential crises. [Voiceover: … but that hope would only last until Monday, February 13.]

What Went Right / Wrong

Looking back to 2022: Year in Preview, here is how I assess the ultimate results:

In general, despite the challenges, we continued to develop and make good progress. We completed 23 projects, including 10 published release versions, 2 active beta versions, one completed beta version pending release, 9 other completed betas, and 1 major prototype. We shipped products in 9 different calendar months (only missing June, as 50 Solitaire games were added to Goodsol Solitaire Engine, and September/October, as another 50 games were added.) Frankly, I was surprised looking back at how much was accomplished.

Our product development goals were not met, although progress was made. None of the (4) unannounced projects made enough progress to actually be publicly announced, although the Gamecraft Classics™ product made major strides and should be revealed soon. SophPlay System™ progress was good on multiple platforms, but significant work remains to be done. Demolish! Pairs got its Android refresh in January (after iOS refreshes in late 2021), as well as completion of the PlayStation 4 playable prototype, but the multi-platform redesign has not taken place yet, much less implementation and release.

Development for client projects, on the other hand, was quite successful. Although it was not explicitly mentioned, I enumerated 13 client projects for completion in 2022 and we completed every one of them. We also got clearance to publicly name Scooter Software as a client (only mentioned here because it was listed as a goal). The only drawbacks were that one beta product got stuck in the doldrums, and that there are fewer client projects for the new year.

General development goals were not met, though primarily because these are the kinds of projects that get deprioritized when resources (especially time) are constrained. We made limited progress on each item, but significant progress on only one, while the focus of the console goals shifted, and I made few blog posts, despite better intentions.

Business goals, alas, were a failure. Simply put, not only did we fail to increase income, but the extra challenges meant repurposing some of the funding for renovations into operations, so there was no time for reviewing paperwork and neither time nor enough money to begin renovations. On the other hand, that leaves these goals unchanged, and despite the larger challenges, I am more motivated than ever to fulfill these goals.

I did not publicly enumerate personal goals, but I did mention spending more time with my grandchild which definitely happened, albeit not as I had imagined, and we have a closer relationship now that I could have ever hoped for, which is the best outcome of the year. All of the other personal goals were totally shaken up by events, but I did my best.

Conclusion

Honestly, much of 2022 was fairly dark for me, so I am relieved to look back and see that the company continued to deliver for clients, and scaling back the goals ever so slightly allowed us to complete all planned client projects. When one is faced with concerns about the immediate welfare of family members or oneself, it becomes difficult to plan for the future, and very hard to dream of much beyond an end to the current crisis (or crises).

Now that most of these concerns have passed, I am beginning to plan and dream for the future again, while adjusting to those things that will never be the same (as I also had to do just four short years ago). I can’t say that I am quite back to 100% yet, but I am close enough that I have been able to get “in the zone” once more, and dismissing humility for a moment, I feel that my 90-95% is still much better than most developers at full strength. 😉

I can even say that I am truly excited for (the rest of) 2023 and the positive progress it will bring, and I am looking forward to much better things. Onward!

Wow! 40 Years in Business!

Today, the oldest independent game developer in the world celebrates the 40th anniversary of its official founding.

On Wednesday, January 13, 1982, forty years ago today, I took my completed “Certificate of Persons Conducting Business Under Assumed Name” form into the Ingham County Clerk’s office in downtown Lansing, Michigan, signed where I needed to sign, paid my $10 fee, and thereby officially established Sophisticated Software Systems.

Over the years, the structure of the business changed. After many years as a sole proprietorship, I brought in two partners and we incorporated as SophSoft, Incorporated in early 1996. A couple years later, we launched Digital Gamecraft, a division specifically for developing our own game projects, and last year we were awarded a registered trademark for Digital Gamecraft®.

In the early years, I developed products for a number of platforms and experimented with different business models. Our first legitimate success was a self-published title for MS-DOS, using the “shareware” method, in 1990. That game led to additional contacts in the retail game industry. We went full-time in 1994, and soon we had as much contracting work as we could handle; in fact, we had products in 3 different booths at the very first E3 in May 1995.

Since that time, we have done a great deal of work, especially in game development. The relative priorities of types of work have shifted over time; we still do contracting, but the focus recently has been on self-funded projects, while the retail game work, both contracting and pitches for funding, has necessarily waned.

Yesterday, I went back a did a cursory review of the work we have done over the years (and especially prior to this blog starting), and here are some fun facts:

  • We have pitched 8 different ‘AAA’ retail products (and teams) to publishers.
  • We have developed more than three dozen retail/commercial titles.
  • We have created 40 significant internal projects, plus 120 minor projects.
  • We have done work for 19 different clients, 8 of those for multiple projects.
  • We have worked on approximately 60 distinct projects for these clients.
  • We have been stiffed on multiple projects, and ghosted at least twice.
  • We have 32 projects planned and prioritized, plus 4 more added recently.

I am very proud of the work that the company I founded has done for the last 4 decades, and I am proud that I played a principal role in most of it. However, the anniversary is somewhat bittersweet because the two people who most helped me, my partners, Sherry Seelhoff (Director of Operations, and my wife) and Rick Tumanis (Art Director, and friend), did not live to see this day and to celebrate it with me.

Still here, still working, and still young enough to hope for another 40 years. 😉

2022: Year in Preview

Happy New Year!

I am generally satisfied that 2021 was decent, and somewhat better than 2020, for SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft®, but I am expecting us to perform significantly better this year, particularly in expanding our offerings and improving our finances. However, the development schedule will not be quite as aggressive as last year, which should allow for greater and deeper focus, and generally be slightly more realistic; it will still be challenging, though.

Digital Gamecraft logo

Product Development Goals

This year, I decided to break the goals into appropriate sections, so I start here with the priorities for (only) our internal development projects:

  1. Unannounced productivity tool – this product has been under development for, literally, 32 years, though obviously not continuously. We are fairly close to an early release version, at which point we will (probably) announce the product and unveil the web site for a soft launch. This is the highest priority because it helps manage the development and prioritization of all the other projects. While I see almost unlimited potential of this project, it is the means to an end, and should the internal ends be satisfied by an unpolished alpha version, the effort to polish the product for public consumption could be de-prioritized. (We have to get there first.)
  2. SophPlay System™ – this product combines libraries, tools, standards, and procedures into a complete development system for creating robust games on multiple platforms, and it has been in use here for more than 25 years. Although a public release has always been envisioned for the future, the development work this year is particularly in support of (all) internal game products, which is why it is given this high priority.
  3. Unannounced Gamecraft Classics™ product – this traditional game title has been under planning and development, intermittently, for decades. It was buoyed (back) up the list of priorities in the middle of last year when we were reassessing our product lineup. It was promoted due to the vast amount of research and code that was already complete and available, combined with its ready support of simultaneous improvements to SophPlay.
  4. Unannounced console title – this is a game title that (perhaps unusually) focuses on accessibility and inclusion. It started as the highest priority last year, but it became clear that 3 months of development was too optimistic an estimate, and combined with the economic realities of the situation, it had to be slightly de-prioritized this year, but by no means am I any less excited by the prospects, and the above two projects will help pave the way. (We need to hear back from Sony and Microsoft whether we can reveal which consoles are supported. 😉 )
  5. Unannounced reference website – this is yet another project that has been in the conceptual and prototype design and development phases for ages. It is given this high a priority now as it also gives me a great deal of excitement and purpose, and because it helps support one of the projects above, but it is given a lower priority than that project because we currently have no viable business model for it, and while we are more than willing to make it free in theory, that concept makes it much harder to justify devoting development effort (given the other projects).
  6. Demolish! Pairs – this product has been available in its initial form since 2013 (on iOS, 2018 on Android). We have early plans to refresh the Android version, and later plans to both redesign the mobile versions and expand to other platforms (such as Windows, where there has been a working prototype since 1999). Currently, this title doesn’t quite earn enough to justify the time it takes to bring up the sales reports; its primary benefits are the development and exercising of SophPlay and the demonstration of our capabilities on various platforms.

Although the above projects are given numbered priorities, which are generally correct, the fact is that there is some interplay among them, so we will not (and cannot) be just focusing on a single project until it is finished and then moving onto the next. For that reason, this year I will not be assigning or predicting target release dates; everything will just be “as soon as reasonably possible”, with the above priorities in mind.

Of course, we have a backlog of dozens of products in various stages of design and prototyping, and we know exactly what the next few games will be, but even touching #7 before 2023 is something of a pipe dream.

Client Development Goals

To be completely honest, I really like my two primary clients and the projects I get to work on for them, but I see the inherent limitations in trading my time (and skills) for money. I really should be charging them between more and very much more than I currently am, but that doesn’t really resolve the bigger issue. If I could quadruple what I charge and work more hours, I could go from struggling to comfortable, maybe even well off, but that does not scratch the itch. This is the reason that I have not really been actively seeking any more long-term clients, and also why I have (deliberately) not been filling all my development time with client work.

Instead, I have been relishing the actual work and the challenges it provides, as well as the experience and knowledge I gain (and, sure, the funding). At the same time, I want to make sure that, for each client, neither of us is overly reliant on the other, especially given how close we came to this being an issue last year. (Plan for the proverbial ‘hit by a bus’ scenario.)

For one client, I am working on a feature for an established (non-game) product that has involved a lot of research to this point. This has given me the opportunity to program in Pascal for the first time since the 1980s (and Object Pascal for the first time ever) and to improve my knowledge of JSON, while I exercise my intellect and my technical design, programming, and debugging abilities. In (the early part of) the new year, I expect to have the fundamentals of the feature ready to be integrated into the main product, and I hope it can be in a new release of that product (of which my feature is but a small part) ready before the end of the year. Also, I expect that I will be able to announce the name of the client and product.

For the other client, Goodsol Development, with whom I have been working for more than 20 years (!), the products are much closer to those that Digital Gamecraft develops. (In fact, our PC solitaire game prototypes date to 1989, predating Goodsol by 6 years, but they were put on hold permanently in 2001 when Goodsol became a client.) These titles provide the challenge and fulfillment that I would be seeking even were they not a client, while general knowledge cross-pollinates with our internal products; some features have been implemented more quickly (on both sides) because I already did the research and had the requisite knowledge, so products from both companies benefit.

Last year, we had an aggressive release schedule planned, but that was necessarily interrupted in April and, in truth, was a bit optimistic anyway. However, that means that the early part of the year is fairly well-defined as the carryover from last year’s schedule. You can expect to see releases for Pretty Good Solitaire Mini (not a stretch, given it was essentially already done in December), Pretty Good MahJongg (Windows and Mac), Most Popular Solitaire (Windows, Mac, and iPad), Action Solitaire (Windows only), and FreeCell Plus (Windows, Mac, and iPad). After that (or sooner), it would be a good bet that we would add new games to Goodsol Solitaire Engine and then have subsequent releases of Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition and Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition.

General Development Goals

There are always general development projects ongoing to support commercial releases, or just business operations. These can be tools or, probably more often, non-programming tasks such as documentation, research, and marketing. SophPlay used to be the perennial top entry on this list, but it has now been (appropriately) elevated to ‘product’ status. Here are the (5) main general development tasks to be completed this year:

  1. Pitch deck and company bible – these documents give information about the structure and purpose of the company and its various divisions. We have always bootstrapped the company, and we have never received third-party loans nor investment, but writing these documents gives a bigger picture view of the company and is very helpful. It is like writing a business plan without having to include nonsense numbers and projections to impress investors.
  2. 3D graphics research – this research is essential to our products going forward. It is no secret that most of our games to this point have been 2D or isometric, but that is definitely not the case going forward, especially with our expansion into consoles. We have been very rapidly expanding our knowledge and capabilities, but there is still much to be learned about the differences among the 4 or 5 different systems on the platforms we currently support. Additionally, I am personally learning to create 3D artwork, a skill I have never had before.
  3. Xbox project approval – this is required to release and market our upcoming console game(s) on the Xbox One. This development task consists of adjusting our design documentation to fit their desired format, plus the development of some mockups and other explanatory imagery. This is not (necessarily) a difficult task, just one that has not gotten completed yet.
  4. Blog writing – this is simply a greater commitment to openness and transparency via blog posts in 2022. The only blog post I wrote in 2019 was announcing the death of my wife, Sherry, who was also my only surviving business partner, and it has been difficult to get back into the swing of posting regularly since then. However, the facts that I enjoy writing, and that I do not enjoy the idea of providing free content on social media, combined with a huge upcoming anniversary, give me the impetus to really try this year.
  5. Nintendo Switch developer reapplication – this is needed to complete our portfolio of major console support. Nintendo was the first application we completed, and it was also the first that was rejected, although no reason (nor obvious means of appeal) was given, so I have no idea why we were turned down. Sony took seemingly forever to approve us, and it required a change in our registered business address; Microsoft took almost no time with only one casual clarification (via email with a real human being). With our newfound experience, it is only fair to give Nintendo another chance to get in on this opportunity. 😉

Business Goals

At this point, staying healthy, safe, and productive is a given, and continuing to make payroll should be considered a necessity though, to be fair, I personally have enough runway via available credit that I could continue to pursue these goals until 2023 even if company funding disappeared tomorrow. Given that, these are the 3 main business priorities:

  1. Substantially increase business income – clearly, the primary way to do this is to release new products, so that is the main focus. Half of the products listed as development goals should increase income, and each of those has the potential to be huge.
  2. Resolve outstanding business paperwork – Sherry was the officer in charge of keeping up the necessary business paperwork, and since she died, it has become my responsibility. While I think I have all the legal requirements fulfilled, I need to organize everything and make sure.
  3. Complete home/office renovations – while this is not actually a business function (and is not funded by the company), it will provide benefits such as additional safe and secure storage for equipment and documents, as well as a larger space for testing console and AR/VR products (not to mention a nicer place for breaks when nature calls).

We definitely take over the world in 2023. 🙂

Conclusion

We have a lot of development work to do to release more of our own products, plenty of development to perform for our clients, loads of support projects to complete, and a few major business goals, so we are going to be very busy… a good thing.

There are other activities that I will, personally, be participating in less this year, including social media, television, and newsgroups. I will, however, continue (or even increase) those activities that bring me joy, including spending time with my grandchild and the rest of my family, finding solitude in nature, playing games, and exercising (as well as programming and writing).

It may look overwhelming, but the counterpoint is that this company turns 40 this month! We have been doing this for a very long time, and we are still here, so we have the experience and (global crisis or not) 2022 is going to be a breakout year for us.

Let’s Go!

2021: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: B

Digital Gamecraft logo

This past year has been fairly decent for Digital Gamecraft® and SophSoft, Incorporated, all things considered. Despite the continuing pandemic, we made more progress, albeit not quite as much as planned/hoped, resulting in a grade slightly higher than last year, yet still well below our potential (and intention).

Accomplishments of 2021

Here is a countdown of the top 10 achievements of this past year:

  1. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.61 in January. We seemingly started off quickly, although version 1.60 was actually shipped in the dying hours of 2020, only becoming available publicly this year, and then requiring a quick maintenance update. (The details of my bugs are listed in the ‘My Mistake’ section of the previous post.)
  2. We shipped updates to Goodsol Solitaire 101 version 2.40 (for Windows), Goodsol Solitaire 101 Mac Edition 3.20, and Goodsol Solitaire 101 Touch Edition 1.60 in August. These were maintenance updates to use the latest engine and bug fixes, but included no new games or features, hence the combination of all three platforms being relatively low on the list.
  3. We made significant improvements to our development tools and internal development processes. This includes upgrading Windows development to Visual Studio 2022, adding a new Mac system, prioritizing 64-bit development (with 32-bit support) on Windows (to match the other platforms), incorporating extra code analysis, and further improving code standards, as well as enhancements to our SophPlay System™ for robust game development.
  4. We added 50 more Solitaire games, along with supporting engine changes, to the Goodsol Solitaire Engine, for a total of 800 games plus 100 bonus games in our library (closing in on the 1050 in the flagship product) and ran another short and successful beta test.
  5. We achieved major progress on a project for another client, working in Delphi (and beta testing Delphi 11 in the process). This is only listed in the lower half because a) the final goal, while close, has not been realized yet, and b) I still haven’t asked for clearance to reveal the product, so I have nothing to highlight or link. 😉
  6. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.70 in October, with those 800 Solitaire games for iPad, plus the 100 more bonus games. This update is listed below the Mac Edition only because it was easier; we already took the the deprecation pain for the last release.
  7. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.60 in October, with 800 different Solitaire games for macOS, plus another 100 more bonus games. More importantly, perhaps, this upgrade included Apple M1 support, MacBook touchbar support, loads of internal enhancements, and fixes to every reported bug.
  8. We shipped Demolish! Pairs 1.30 (iOS) and Demolish! Pairs FTP 1.21 (iPad) in November. Demolish! Pairs is the full version, and Demolish! Pairs FTP is the free-to-play version that supports in-app purchases. These upgrades were made under duress, specifically a threat from Apple to remove them from the App Store because they had not been updated in too long (and no other reason); they worked fine with no issues even on the latest version of iOS. Nevertheless, we reworked both SKUs, adding “support” for new devices and iOS 15 (not that a user would notice), resolving deprecations, and updating the source code to our latest standards. (This month, we got more than $6 from this effort — so worth it. 😐 )
  9. As of May 25, 2021, we have a registered trademark for Digital Gamecraft, so now we are Digital Gamecraft® (as astute readers may have noticed in the first paragraph). This is an exciting culmination to years of effort (and not insignificant expense). We popularized the term “Gamecraft” in the video game industry more than 20 years ago, but (for reasons of frugality, i.e., a lack of funds) we stuck with the old unregistered ™ symbol. Recently, however, there has been more and more encroachment into our (intellectual property) territory, including at least one attempt to deliberately trade on our good will, so action was necessary. We eschew legal conflicts, but when cease and desist letters are necessary, they will happen.
  10. We survived and even thrived in another difficult year. There were major challenges this year, plus some life-affirming events (see below), and while we did not accomplish everything we had planned, we definitely made progress on all fronts. It actually really helps to do these yearly reviews to get a better perspective. (After some initial doubt, not only did we get enough accomplished to have a top 10 countdown, but we even had to combine some products to keep it down to only 10.)

Bigger Issues

Although games are extremely important to me, personally, it is important to keep in mind the bigger issues that transcend (yet underpin) all of our usual day-to-day activities. I was not being flippant when I said we “survived” this year, as these three larger issues attest:

  • Birth: In March, my first (and likely only) grandchild was born. They are healthy and doing quite well (at 9 months of age now), and they have definitely shifted my life priorities. Their birth (within a few years of the death of my wife) certainly helped put things into perspective.
  • Death: In April, my friend and primary client almost died, and by that I mean that he came so close that it took extraordinary medical procedures (an open-heart surgery very few doctors could perform) to even give him a fighting chance. I was already contemplating my own mortality, and then suddenly I am communicating (and then unable to) with somebody who was literally facing death. The excellent news is that he did survive and is doing well now.
  • Illness: Of course, it comes as no news to anyone that the global Covid-19 pandemic lasted throughout the duration of the year, and continues. At least the vaccine arrived this year, and I got mine as soon as it was readily available (not being in any risk category, I waited until those who were had been served), and I got the booster as soon as I was eligible. All of my family and inner circle of friends have done the same (as any non-idiot has) and, so far, none have been infected. I still mask whenever indoors, other than at my own home/office where I live/work alone, the sole exception being while I am swimming (for obvious reasons).

Clearly, these bigger issues are ever-present, but I consider myself fortunate that all of the above have happy endings as of the end of 2021.

What Went Right

These things went right this year (referencing 2021: Year in Preview):

  • We shipped 12 SKUs, including 10 release titles and 2 current beta versions, along with 6 other betas. Although we did not actually ship a product/update every month, it was still quite good.
  • We met 2 out of 3 business goals. Specifically, we made it safely to this point, always making payroll along the way, and grew our income (albeit just slightly).
  • I personally took a chance and made an investment in myself and my family, my grandchild in particular, betting on (and facilitating) future success of the company.

What Went Wrong

These things went wrong this year (to be corrected in 2022):

  • We did not ship the console game we had intended to ship before the end of the year. The amount of supporting work (beyond basic product development) was greater than anticipated, and several external issues provided unneeded distraction.
  • We left 13 SKUs (including the above title) on the table, including a refresh of the Android version of Demolish! Pairs, two other unannounced internal products, Pretty Good MahJongg, Most Popular Solitaire, Action Solitaire, and FreeCell Plus. (To be fair, some were not done due to issues beyond our immediate control.)
  • We failed in one business goal, doing no outreach to other developers during the year. This simply fell off the radar in terms of priorities. (We may push this to 2023.)

Conclusion

I have colleagues who have day jobs and shipped just a single title, or were unable to ship anything, during 2021, and some other “indie” game developers have many times the personnel and focus on a single title for years (a luxury of funding we do not have). Given this, I think that a dozen SKUs cannot be a disappointment, even if it was only roughly half of what we attempted. Scaling back expectations is certainly a consideration.

At the moment, I am feeling fairly optimistic, but that is probably less due to the new year, nor even to the boost of looking back at our accomplishments, and more due to the fact that we are a couple weeks into our traditional year end break and, hence, I am “out of the trenches”. I am refreshed and ready to dive back in.

2021: Year in Preview

Happy New Year!

Although 2020 was fairly average for SophSoft, Incorporated and Digital Gamecraft™, I am not terribly satisfied with that outcome, given the huge number of internal (and external) projects we have and all of the unrealized potential. Therefore, with more than a little optimism, I have set a very aggressive development schedule for the coming year.

Digital Gamecraft logo

Development Goals

Our primary goal for 2021 is shipping our first, internally designed and developed, console title. This project is well underway, but still has a lot more to be done. We are hoping to be completed with the development within about 3 (more) months, but how long the approval and publishing process takes is beyond our control (or experience).

Depending on the success of that title, we may (or may not) adjust the rest of the schedule to take advantage of other related opportunities (in particular, adding another console platform or two to our repertoire). However, at the moment, the development schedule calls for brand new game releases in July and November, as well as the initial version of a productivity tool and the first look at another project, a reference site, as well as maintenance updates for Demolish! Pairs, during the year.

Combined with work for our current clients, we expect (amazingly) to have new products or product updates releasing every month in 2021.

For much of 2020, I have been working with a client who publishes a major utility to add a significant feature that will make an already indispensable tool (that I used and advocated prior to this gig) even more useful for programmers like myself. Although I have absolutely no control over feature integration or release scheduling, I am hopeful that the result of this work will become publicly available this year. (At some point, I will have to get permission to reveal the product name and promote it, instead of just teasing.)

Our work with Goodsol Development continues, too, and although I cannot give the planned schedule, you should expect to see many more games added to Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition, Pretty Good Solitaire for iPad, and Pretty Good Solitaire Mini for iPhone, probably some new layouts for Pretty Good MahJongg, and perhaps even some updates for Goodsol Solitaire 101, Most Popular Solitaire, FreeCell Plus, and Action Solitaire. Of course, these games are pretty great already, and Goodsol has not charged for updates for any of the above titles, so I recommend buying them all now. 😉

Business Goals

For the moment, the company has almost everything it needs to accomplish the above goals, although it will take a huge effort on my part. The one thing we still need is serious funding, such that we can afford more help, but for the moment we are still bootstrapping.

From the business standpoint, our basic goals are:

  1. Stay healthy, safe, and productive.
  2. Continue to reliably make payroll while growing income.
  3. Connect with a great artist (or two) for our games, and maybe a marketing expert.

Note that we are not looking to take over the world until 2022 at the earliest.

Evaluation

This post lays out the goals for the year, obviously, so we can look forward, but part of the purpose of the post is also so we can look back on them at the end of the year and assess how the year has gone relative to what we hoped and expected. (More often than not, something external, like a new client, an emergency project, or an unexpected international hit game [knocking wood], causes priorities to shift.)

This is, truly, an incredibly aggressive development schedule, and if we can even get close, without disappointing ourselves or any of our clients, then that will be worth an A+.

If we can complete at least three of the (five) planned major releases this year, that will still be a great performance, but bittersweet for not getting everything done. Anything less would be disappointing, although just making it to our 40th anniversary early next year would be an accomplishment itself.

Of course, we give client projects priority over our internal projects, which is why (in the past) we have not made the desired progress with Digital Gamecraft products, but I believe (without going into detail here) that we have the organizational processes and development foundations in place to accomplish all of the above (without “crunch”).

Now, there is nothing left to do but DO.

2020: Year in Review

Overall Performance Grade: B-

Digital Gamecraft logo

This past year has, surprisingly, been rather average for Digital Gamecraft™ and SophSoft, Incorporated. I probably would have rated it a C, but the fact that we did not merely tread water but actually made progress during a global pandemic gave it a small boost.

Accomplishments of 2020

Counting down the top 10 achievements of this year:

  1. We joined Apple’s App Store Small Business Program. This is at the bottom of the list because, frankly, we want to be ineligible by virtue of making more than $1 million per year, but since we have miles (and just about a million dollars) to go to reach that plateau, we will accept a larger percentage of the sales.
  2. We finally tracked down the cause (spoiler: bug in Apple graphics code) of a really annoying, and expensive, bug that affected our custom libraries, and we worked around that issue. In case you are wondering how a bug can be expensive: We had to buy a specific used piece of Apple hardware in order to even reproduce the bug, but now we have an Apple iMac for QA.
  3. We joined another Apple developer program, which includes a “loan” of the latest Apple hardware, so all new macOS (and iOS) development will be ready for the newest systems.
  4. We got our new Windows development system fully installed and configured, so all of the programming for Windows, Android, and consoles will be done faster and better in 2021.
  5. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Mac Edition 3.56 in June, with 750 different Solitaire games for macOS, plus another 100 more bonus games (not to mention the bug fix from #9).
  6. We added another new development platform, Delphi, for an important client, so I personally picked up Pascal after, literally, three decades away (and, of course, learned Object Pascal for the first time, and continue learning.)
  7. We shipped Pretty Good Solitaire Touch Edition 1.60 (just a few minutes ago, actually), with those 750 Solitaire games for iPad, resolving issues with 4 years of Apple’s aggressive deprecation over as many major iOS releases, and fixing every reported problem on all iPad models running iOS 9.0 or higher. (Expect the update in the App Store in early January.)
  8. We were approved for major console development with a proposal accepted (n.b., not funded), on both the (then) current generation and the (now) latest generation, and we have our DevKit and TestKit in house and operational, with development actively underway. The original proposed release date was (naively) this year, but the approval process took more than 5 months to complete (from proposal to actually having SDK access and hardware).
  9. We shipped Pretty Good MahJongg Mac Edition 2.72 in October, with 55 original Solitaire games played with MahJongg tiles, as well as 355 tile matching layouts. This was a major rewrite of the successful product, switching from Carbon to Cocoa and revisiting every piece of code in the project, resulting in an excellent game.
  10. We survived a difficult year and are still here, with optimism for the future. As noted before, this pandemic has a smaller impact on this company than most, but fortunately, despite necessary changes, our clients have not pulled back. Instead, we leave 2020 with two more development platforms and five more development systems than when we entered.

Personal Perspective

I am pleased, or perhaps just relieved, that I have not gotten sick from, nor even knowingly exposed to, Covid-19, and I remain in good health. All of my family (of whom I have knowledge) and most of my friends have also remained safe (and the few friends who did contract Covid-19 seem to have recovered fully). I would call this “fortunate”, but it is actually more down to safe living practices, including limiting time in places where you might be exposed to an idiot who refuses to wear a mask. (To be clear, that means everyone who refuses to wear a mask in public.) It will probably be another half a year before I will be eligible for the vaccine, so we must remain vigilant and proactive.

My only real indulgence in this difficult year was to pick up two more pinball machines (to join the one I have had for about 20 years). I discovered that somebody (relatively) local had a 1974 Gottlieb Big Shot for sale, and since this was the 2-player version of my favorite machine ever, I bought it for myself; this one is a bit of a project machine, and I am working with my sons on restoring it completely. Immediately after getting it, I found (nearby) a 1972 Gottlieb King Rock, the 4-player version of the machine that made me fall in love with pinball and was the seed of my actual career, so I (perhaps foolishly) extended myself to get that, too; this one, however, was ready to play, so it gets regular use, as well as minor repairs and cleaning.

The addition of the new games, and the chance to spend time with my children working on them, inspired me to refurbish the 1973 Williams Fun-Fest I already had, but which had fallen into disuse a bit; it now has been nearly completely revamped and thoroughly cleaned, with new bumper caps (needed since I bought it) and fresh rubbers, and gets played almost daily. I still need to “debug” one feature, resolder a few questionable joints, and replace some cracked bumper skirts, but it is nice to have this machine working well again (and playing faster than ever).

During this brief frenzy, I also chose to upgrade my tools, especially my soldering station and my multi-meter, and to stock some specialty cleaning and polishing supplies, so now I can be a proper pinball hobbyist, rather than somebody who just owns a machine. Beyond that, while I had the rented truck from one of the pinball purchases, I retrieved my (original) upright Galaga machine from storage, prepared to diagnose and fix or replace the broken monitor (control board); I still need to get this completed (remember, I am a “software guy”, so hardware repairs, especially board-level work to supply power to a CRT, are a stretch for me).

Ultimately, this year has brought me some moments of joy, and in particular [buried lead] the news that I will become a grandfather in the coming year. With the family growth, political changes, and new business opportunities, there is good cause for optimism and hope for 2021.