20 Years Of Evolution: Scott Miller And 3D Realms
August 21, 2009 Page 1 of 10
At the moment, Scott Miller is an underrated figure in the history of the PC game industry. His innovative ideas in software publishing rapidly moved the business of shareware PC games from a dead-end prospect to a lucrative profession. Along the way, his company sparked multiple revolutions in the field
But you won't hear his name dropped casually as one of PC gaming's forefathers -- at least, not yet, anyway. In the public's mind, he currently resides on the fringes of popular acclaim.
In the early 1980s, a new breed of game authors emerged. They distributed their product for free as "shareware," allowing copies of the entire game to be duplicated without charge and, in turn, asked for recompense if the player liked what he played. Unfortunately for those brave authors, few players ended up sending payment.
Miller saw the fundamental flaw in this system and created the "Apogee Model," named after his shareware company, which saw games split into multiple parts. Apogee distributed the first episode of each game for free, essentially as a demo for the whole product. If the player enjoyed it, he could purchase further episodes from the company.
The model proved wildly successful, and publishers like Epic MegaGames (now Epic Games) soon followed in his footsteps -- as detailed in our earlier interview with Epic founder Tim Sweeney.
Miller achieved this publishing triumph by utilizing almost entirely digital distribution methods before the internet became mainstream. Once seeded by Miller, Apogee titles spread like viruses through BBSes and online services like CompuServe, usually with little more than enthusiastic fans as the vector. In today's web-driven world, this doesn't seem like much, but it was an innovation.
Through the model pioneered by Apogee, Miller inadvertently invented episodic gaming and made the now ubiquitous free-but-limited game demo an essential tool for marketing any new PC title.
Miller also personally coaxed two young programmers named John Romero and John Carmack out of Softdisk, a disk magazine publisher, and gave them a convincing reason -- promises of riches in the shareware industry -- to consolidate their powers as id Software.
Through Miller's hands-on involvement with id, Apogee found itself the pivot point of the industry's massive shift to first-person shooters by publishing 1992's Wolfenstein 3-D. Id parted ways with Apogee soon after, and blossomed into one of the mightiest independent game development juggernauts of the 1990s via Doom and Quake -- and distributed its early games the Apogee way.
The Early Years
Where and when were you born?
Scott Miller: I was born in Florida in 1961. I lived there for 11 years. I moved to Australia for five years and went to high school there, then came back to the United States in '79, and I've been in the Dallas area ever since.
What took you to Australia?
SM: My father, Boyd Miller, worked at NASA when we were in Florida. He was part of all the Apollo and Gemini shots, and he was an engineer on the whole program. After the Apollo program closed in '72, he ended up working for E-Systems and got a job that transferred him to the very center of Australia -- the outback -- to a town called Alice Springs, which at that time had about 11,000 people.
E-Systems and the Australian government shared a joint spy-satellite tracking base there. A couple other big American corporations were involved as well. These corporations from America would transfer engineers over to Australia to be stationed there for two- or three-year tours, and my father ended up doing a couple of these tours. And of course, where he goes, I go, when I'm that young.
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