Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Shareware is dead. Long live shareware.

The first thing I want to do in my official position as author of this blog is thank whoever first came up with the idea of using the word Indie to describe what I do. Indie developer. Indie game design. Whoever did this, you deserve the Nobel Prize in Awesomeness.

I will explain.

When I started this business in 1994, when the web barely existed and I did most of my business over AOL, CompuServe, and BBSes, what i wrote was called Shareware. From the Latin roots 'ware', meaning "Loser" and 'share', meaning "Big, Fat".

Sometimes, people would ask me what I did for a living. I said that I wrote shareware. Then one of two things happened. Either they didn't know what shareware was, in which case they looked at me with bovine incomprehension. Or they did know what shareware was, in which case they'd ask, "Ah. And what do you do for a living?" And then, in both cases, I'd say, "Actually, I squeegee car windows downtown for spare change." And this would make them nod approvingly, because it was far more plausible.

Shareware doesn't really exist anymore. Selling software by freely distributing a demo is standard operating procedure now. (Go read the first paragraph of the Wikipedia page on shareware. Doesn't that describe all software now?) And now I despise the term 'shareware,' because of the connotations of shoddiness and amateurishness the term carries. But that left me needing a new way to describe myself.

Now, when someone asks what I do, I say, "I run an Indie game company." And it is completely sweet.

Isn't that a great word? Indie! It has this aura of cutting-edge and danger about it. Like Indie rockers. Like I'm Kurt Cobain, if he never left his basement or something. Indie means I'm cool, and independent, and fighting The Man. And it even goes a long way to explain why my games look like they were made on basically a zero budget. Because they were. But it's all right. Because I'm Indie. MAN!

It's even in the header of this blog.

I suspect it sounds like I'm attaching too much importance to this, but I'm really not. If you want to do something for a long time, self-respect is important. Feeling like a bottom-feeder gets to you after a while. I'm doing something cool and difficult. I want a term that reflects that.

So, "Indie" guy? Thanks.

98 comments:

  1. Great blog post Jeff, can't wait for more!

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  2. Added to my RSS feed; I've read your various other writings for a long time (and bought and played most of the Geneforge series).

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  3. I'm always surprised, though grow slightly more disappointed in humanity as a whole, by how much difference a subtle bit of branding like that can really make. Great post.

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  4. I remember how many awful connotations the term "shareware" had. At the same time, I think the general consensus was that there were at least SOME real gems hidden among all the crap, and the daunting quest to find those precious few great releases (games as well as apps) did lend a certain adventurous, even romantic aura to the whole concept...

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  5. The PC club we had (well still have, though it's basically dead) at work used to have stacks of boxes of diskettes with shareware on them. I remember spending days hunting through them.

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  6. People used to *sell* floppies with shareware on them. Which would basically be like selling a DVD today with a bunch of game demos on them. What?

    I'm guessing people probably made more money selling floppies with my shareware "demo" on it back in 1994-95 than I did from the game itself.

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  7. "People used to *sell* floppies with shareware on them. Which would basically be like selling a DVD today with a bunch of game demos on them. What?"

    Ah, those were the days. I miss them. I made a ton of cash from registrations off those floppies and collections.

    - Jeff Vogel

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  8. My first experiences with Spiderweb Software games was actually with one of those collation discs. IIRC, it was "1000 Games for Windows" and it had demos of Exile 1/2 on it.

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  9. Completely true. I lecture on this in a university games course, and trace the history of shareware and how it morphed into Indie game development. It's really taken off in the last few years with people getting access to console APIs.

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  10. Great post. I remember being excited in 1987 when my shareware app for the Mac was accepted on a shareware disk (3.5" floppy). It was quite a badge of honor at the time.

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  11. I remember my wife telling a guy that I had released a couple of games as shareware. The guy sneered that noone pays for shareware. My wife told him that, true, we got no checks some weeks, but in a good week we'd get 2 or 3, from places all over the world. "That's not true. Noone sends money" he insisted. She tried, but weirdly, she just could not get him to understand or admit that some people sent money for software that was already unlocked.

    I'm guessing that it was a defense mechanism on his part to avoid a twinge of guilt for not paying for software he was using. But it takes a special kind of mind to deny evidence that's right in front of you.

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  12. But a free demo isn't shareware? Okay. You're right. But in this open source day and age that's where shareware has gone. Now we can collaborate on games openly and freely.

    Check out this website where you can trade games online: http://www.playnswap.com

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  13. I somehow got hold of a shareware disk sometime in the late 90s that had the demo of Exile 2; I don't even remember where it came from, but it introduced me to Spiderweb, for which I am grateful. I still have a certain nostalgia for the term and the games it reminds me of, but I agree that it tended to be synonomous with "crapware" to many people, while "indie" tends to evoke "strange and weird, but maybe not in a totally bad way."

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