Really? So you were that deeply involved with the development process.
SM: Oh yeah. For instance, I designed the first 15 levels in that particular game. For the first Duke Nukem game, I did all the sound effects for the game, and I designed all the levels in the shareware episode of the game. So yeah, we did much more than just giving notes and stuff. We were also designing these games.
I had never known exactly the extent of your involvement with those games because, usually, they are credited to a developer that's not Apogee. I think history doesn't pay enough attention to the contributions Apogee -- you, George, and whomever -- had in developing those titles.
SM: Right. Back in those days, George and I had a policy where we didn't care about getting credit whatsoever. We just wanted to make a great game, and if we did that, everyone won. We were never credit hounds. We put lots of great ideas into so many games that we never got credit for. But even to this day, that's perfectly fine. In the end, it all works out.
At that time, were you more of a manager or marketing specialist in the company, and maybe George had a different role? What was the distribution of labor between the two of you?
SM: I definitely was more of the business manager at the time than George. Just because when he was brought on board, I was already running those functions. By that I mean, I was the guy who would work out the agreement with new developers, and work out the business relationship, and that kind of thing. George was more of the hands-on producer/co-game designer for a lot of these projects. But I did that too.
What was the last Apogee game you programmed yourself?
SM: I think it was called The Lost Adventures of Kroz. It was the last Kroz title.
Did you prefer the producer-manager role over the technical-coding aspect of game development?
SM: You know, coding is a lot of fun. You can get lost in the world of coding. You're solving very interesting problems when you do that, and it's very focused, and you're not distracted about a million other things. But then again, now my role is higher level, and that's also tremendously fun -- thinking of the bigger ideas, and the marketing angles, and that kind of thing. I like it all.
How did you first learn about the shareware model?
SM: Just through being deeply involved in the BBS scene.
The term was around for a while before you were making your shareware games.
SM: Yeah, I think shareware came into being around 1982 or '83. I think that's when that word was coined, and I think Jim Button is the guy who coined it. Before I came along, there was a group called The Association of Shareware Professionals. All the top shareware authors were part of this, and there were a lot of people making a lot of money in shareware, but they were only making money in areas of PC productivity. There was something called "Automenu" at the time.
Like a DOS shell kind of thing?
SM: Right, it was a launching deal, sort of pre-Windows. That guy was making tons of money. I can't remember his name. There was also PC-Write; I can't remember all of them. But there were lots of word processors and database programs that were made as shareware.
These guys were making a lot of money, but no one was making money in games. I really don't know why. I guess it's just human nature that if you download a game, and you have the whole game in hand, what's the incentive to pay money for it? And games are seen as trivial programs, whereas these other things like PC-Write were seen as major programs and people felt more obligated to send the guy money.
So really what Apogee was doing back then was releasing demos of our games, and really we were the first company to do that too. No one else was ever releasing demos of their games back before we did it.
Where did you get the idea for episodic gaming -- the "Apogee Model"?
SM: I just knew from talking to other shareware game authors who were making no money and saying, "Don't get in this if you want to make money," that the fault in their plan was they were releasing the whole game. So basically, I decided to release a demo and have that demo have an advertisement screen -- or multiple screens -- that told people, "Hey, this isn't the whole game. If you like this, there's more you can buy."
You'd see that screen when you loaded up the game, you'd see it when you exited the game, and you'd especially see it when you'd finish the game. It'd say, "Hey! Your adventure doesn't end here. Order these next two episodes and continue your adventure. Call this 800-number." That method was like striking gold. It was the right combination.
It was almost like a marketing Trojan Horse. After you got the demo in their hands, you had a marketing vehicle right there for the rest of the product.
SM: Right. Now what was interesting was that the Association of Shareware Professionals -- a group that I tried to join after doing this -- rejected me as a member because they said I violated the "Customer Code," as they put it. And that code was, "If you release something shareware, you have to give them the whole thing." You can't "cripple" it -- that's the word they used. They said that my games were "crippled" because I didn't give away the whole game. And so for years, I was not allowed to be a member of this association because...
They must have really enjoyed not making any money at all.
SM: [laughs] Eventually they caved in and they rewrote their rules to where they allowed me to be a member, and they allowed any member to distribute games like I was doing in that "crippled" way because, clearly, that was the way you made money. And now, everyone in that association does that technique.
It's definitely the way to go. Was there one game's success that made them change their mind and let you in?
SM: Yeah, it was a couple games. It was finally after the release of Wolfenstein that they basically saw the light and they were pretty stubborn about not wanting to change their rules, because they felt like they had made such a huge argument... You know, there were actually hundreds of emails within their forum on CompuServe.
I would have these huge long arguments with them in that forum saying, "Hey look, guys. This is the way of the future, this is clearly a proven technique." I said, "And the proof's in the pudding: no one's upset with this. No customers are saying, 'Why the hell am I not getting the full game here?' They understand the principle behind sampling a game and then paying for the rest of it. There's no uproar over this, so why are you guys not allowing it?"
So they finally caved in.
Some people have credited Michael Denio's game Captain Comic as a pioneer shareware game. Do you have any comments on that?
SM: That's one of the guys I talked to who said, "Scott, you're not going to make any money making shareware games." And then, after I basically proved him wrong and was making lots of money, that's one of the guys I tried to recruit: "Hey look, you're obviously a great game maker. Just do it right -- work through Apogee, and we'll make lots of money." But he had a pretty secure job somewhere else -- I forget where now -- and just didn't want to fool with it.
Well, he did eventually release Captain Comic in a semi-episodic format like your Apogee games: he used his first game to promote a non-shareware sequel, so he learned something from you, I guess.
SM: Hm. I wasn't aware of that. At that time, he had already released the full game, so that probably hurt him quite a bit.