When the web started eating into the BBS scene, did it eat into Apogee's profits as well? Or did it enhance it by allowing games to be transferred more easily?
SM: It probably enhanced it overall, even though... Basically, the web replaced BBSes, so for us, it was all the same. As long as people were still able to get the games...
So you didn't think, "Oh no. No more BBSes, no more shareware!" because shareware was still around.
SM: Yeah, it was still available. The emphasis was just shifting towards the web as a distribution point versus individual BBSes.
When that happened, and when other companies eventually started making their own demos available that weren't necessarily shareware publishers, did you feel bad that they were intruding on your turf -- that they were using the model that made Apogee unique? Did that bother you?
SM: Not really. You can't copyright or patent those ideas. I'm sure there was a company that came out with bottled water first, and now everyone's doing it, right? So you can't copyright those kinds of ideas.
So you don't think it hurt Apogee's financial prospects by potentially watering down the idea of being a publisher that distributes software electronically?
Remembering my own history, in the BBS days, Apogee games were everywhere. Everybody played them and knew them. Once the web started showing up and the internet took over, it seemed like shareware games from Apogee and Epic didn't have the same dominance and influence as they did before.
SM: Another thing was coming into play, that I think was the bigger factor. Just by coincidence, during the same time the web was becoming all-powerful in the mid-'90s, Epic and Apogee were both seeing a big shift away from these smaller arcade-like titles to bigger budgeted games.
We started putting more money into bigger budgeted games like Rise of the Triad, Duke Nukem 3D, and Shadow Warrior -- those kinds of games. And Epic was putting more effort into building their Unreal franchise and dropping the kind of games like Epic Pinball, One Must Fall, and Jill of the Jungle. Those kinds of arcadeish games -- as successful as they were -- just like Commander Keen was successful for us back in the early '90s -- they couldn't really support a growing company. They were good for a small team, but as the competition kept rising, you needed games that... Those kinds of games were good for hitting singles, so to speak. We were looking for games that could hit triples, home runs, and even grand slams. For us, Duke Nukem 3D was definitely a grand slam.
What do you think was the watershed game that started pushing the shareware industry toward bigger budgets? Was it Wolfenstein 3-D?
SM: Yeah, that game sort of rewrote everything as far as the potential of a shareware game. Up until then, we were making about $10,000 a month off of Commander Keen and we were making about $15,000 a month off of the original Duke Nukem game. Then Wolfenstein came out, and we were making about $200,000 a month.
So everybody took notice, I'm sure. Not just you.
SM: Right. It was like, "Okay. Do we want to keep making games that make us $15,000 a month, or do we want to start making games that make us $200,000 a month?" So that's what happened; what really happened was Wolfenstein. It kind of rewrote the whole rule book on the potential of what we could earn from games.
At that point, everyone's eyes opened to the power of 3D. Pretty much from that point onwards, a lot more focus went into making games that were 3D in nature.
It seems to me that Wolfenstein received much more mainstream coverage than any previous shareware game, right? As far as visibility is concerned.
SM: It was so hugely successful that -- yeah, I saw coverage everywhere. It seemed like everyone knew about the game. It was a paradigm shift.
How did it feel to be at the center of that shift? That new genre?
SM: It was like hanging on to the outside of a rocket ship. It was entirely unexpected to that degree. I think that both us and id knew that Wolfenstein was going to be big, but I guarantee you that no one at either company knew it was going to be anywhere close to being as big as it became. We thought if it would make $25,000 a month, we'd all be happy. Like I said, it averaged $200,000 a month for a year and a half.
So immediately the focus shifted to the desire to make more 3D games. And of course id went on to make Doom, which was a much bigger hit than Wolfenstein. At first, we focused on Rise of the Triad, and then we did Duke 3D. And Epic shifted to making Unreal. So it changed everyone's plan going forward on what kind of games to make.
When id broke off and started publishing and distributing their own games, did it hurt your feelings in any way?
SM: No, it was entirely understandable and expected because, at that point, they had learned all they needed to learn from us as far as how to market these things. They had all the money they needed to go off an do it on their own -- they didn't need anything from us. I would have done the same thing in their shoes. It was natural to go ahead and remove us from the equation at that point.
Did you think, "Oh crap. We've lost our star developer"?
SM: It would have been nice to still be working with them. You can't really get too upset about these things. You just have to go on, and it is what it is. They went off and made Doom, which was giant for them, and Quake also, and luckily we had our big hit with Duke Nukem 3D, then we had Max Payne. For both companies, it's been really good, actually.
As for Epic, they had Unreal, and now they have Gears of War, so really I think Epic is really ahead of both us and id Software combined. They are by far the most successful company. Other than Valve, I would say that Epic is probably the most successful independent developer in the world. I'd put them at number two.