Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Guessing What Is Going To Kill Me

I think it's a good idea for anyone in the software business to try to predict the thing that's going to bankrupt them. Of course, that's a good practice in any field, but it's especially important with computer stuff, since the industry moves so fast.

So what will put Spiderweb Software out of business? Or deal us a serious blow, one that won't kill us alone but, in combination with other hits, could knock us down for the count?

The Destruction of the Internet - The Internet was not made to be this mega-global network used by everybody. As time goes on, more flaws show. When e-mail was new and exciting, we didn't see what a horrible mess spam would make of it. Maybe a series of viruses or other new hacker trickery might make the network unusable. And then I am screwed.

Likelihood - Very, very low. It's hard to imagine a hacker trick that could defeat everyone else on the Net. But it is very helpful to remember that the health of my business is inextricably tied with that of the Internet.

The Internet Being Remade By All-Powerful Corporate Interests - They're working on Internet 2.0. Maybe they will make it, and it will take over and only let giant businesses with tons of money function on it. Or Internet Explorer will decide to stop working with all websites and mine won't make the cut, or Windows will stop running demos not specifically cleared by Microsoft and I won't make the cut, or ... or ...

Likelihood - Sorry. I can't stay to answer that. I have to go make my new tinfoil hat.

I know, this stuff sounds crazy. But, years ago, when someone downloaded a demo of my games, Internet Explorer didn't try to scare them into not running it. Now it does. And I am not the only one who worries about these sorts of issues. It's very important to look at the programs your business absolutely needs to function and consider how they could be used to cut off your air supply.

Banzai Lawsuit From Hell! - Someone's son goes crazy and shoots up his school. The parents find a bunch of computer games on the kid's system, one of which is mine. They start suing, and I get caught up in it. From there, there's all kinds of ways for things to go real bad.

Likelihood - I want to think it's low, but ... Liability insurance for computer game makers is CRAZY expensive right now. I pay a LOT. When insurance companies are scared of taking your money, don't get too cocky.

People Stop Playing Games On the PC - The PC game industry has seen hard times in the last decade. If you aren't making money through monthly subscriptions, the world doesn't look pretty. You could probably be making a lot more money developing for consoles.

Look at it this way. I used to play tons of PC games. Now I play console games almost exclusively. You see, I can play console games on my couch, upstairs, where it's nice and warm. To play PC games, I have to be down in the basement with the cold and the spiders. And when you look at the sort of product you create and go, "Well, yeah, I don't really like that sort of thing anymore," it's time for a reality check. Now.

PC single-player gaming is dwindling. Maybe it'll dwindle too much.

Likelihood - I wonder. If this happens, it'll take quite a while, but the trend with PC gaming is unmistakable. But hey, I'll be one of the last people left writing PC games, so there'll be no competition and I'll make tons of money, amirite?

The Macintosh Dies - People have been predicting this for years and years. And the Mac is half my business. If it goes away, I probably will too.

Likelihood - Once high. Now low. Whatever I might think of Steve Jobs, his revitalization of the Macintosh brand has been crazy good for my business.

Hmmm ... This game is kind of fun. I think I will continue the litany of impending doom next week. Some of the threats get mighty plausible.

And this is a game you can play along with at home. What do YOU think will put me out of business? Tell me in the comments.


  1. So, Spiderweb has pretty much a lot to continue doing and producing without serious interference ;)

  2. Illegitimate government audits order and paid for by mega-corps whose best interest is to keep independent thinkers and designers down.

    Liklihood - Slim, unless your next game includes major anti-new world order content, bashes currently favoured American administrations, or exposes the name, address, and home security passwords of each member of the Bilderberg group.

    So yeah, just don't do that stuff and you'll be okay.

  3. Worrying so much about unlikely scenarios you fail to function and your family has you committed to a nut house, your company then crumbles in your absence and your games live on only as fond memories of a few nostalgic geeks.

    Liklihood - Slim to nil, you aren't an idiot(obviously) or a lunatic(?).

    Seriously though I doubt any of those tragedies will occur. The internet is filled with people like us who value unique and original thought, as long as we make up at large enough portion of this jumbled mess, people like you will continue doing what you do so well.

    Number three does seem more likely than the rest, on second thought. Though not by much, it's not like your games are visually violent compared to other stuff out there. They'll look at it and ask "How old is this game, really?". ;)

  4. All your scenarios have too slim a chance of happen to be worried about.

    How about "My company start making sucky games which no one will buy"? Or "A big publisher buys my company and proceeds to tear it apart"?

  5. Jeff Vogel gets bored with making things the same. But he's also sick of the stress of having to bet his livelihood just to do something different. So his subconscious gets him out of this dilemma by having him make one last totally insane game that couldn't possibly sell.

    Likelihood: moderate.

    Variant scenario: the last insane game is more popular than porn, Jeff buys Hawaii and retires. Likelihood: it could happen.

  6. Look at it this way. I used to play tons of PC games. Now I play console games almost exclusively. You see, I can play console games on my couch, upstairs, where it's nice and warm. To play PC games, I have to be down in the basement with the cold and the spidersTwo words: Gaming Laptop

    A GeForce 8700M plays Mass Effect just fine. And the PC interface is better than the X-Box one.

  7. Console Games? What is this? Seriously, until they port Dwarf Fortress to the Wii I don't think there is much risk of me becoming a hard core console gamer. Admittedly I like playing the Wii (The Blob is a lot of fun) with my kids. But I don't see it displacing my PC gaming habit (small as it is).

    Scenarios that may cause Spiderweb software to go under:

    Increased Bureaucracy targeting small businesses. The annoying paperwork demanded by the evil overlords takes up so much time that there is no time to actually produce games.

    Likelihood: moderate

    Solution: Move to Japan - independent businesses are quite popular and the tax write offs for having a home office are quite sweet.

    Skynet Kidnaps Owner of Spiderweb to design new T-10F based on the Fyora.

    Likelihood: Moderate (upon the evolution of skynet)

    Solution: Stop skynet (duh!)

  8. Heh. Jeff, you did kind of forget to factor in laptops. I take mine everywhere, and play games on it whenever possible. Mine personally probably won't run the absolute newest high end stuff, but it can handle your games and last year's Windoze stuff just fine.

  9. Scenario: All the single person RPG players get older and older until they die, and nobody remembers the genre at all.

    Likelihood: It'll happen eventually, just hopefully not for a while.

    Solution: Get new people interested! Somehow!

    On the decline of PC games, I wouldn't worry that much. TV use is declining in relation to Internet use, so I'd expect to find more and more PCs near the couch, or at least in the warm.

    I have to play console games as a second-best*, because the rest of my family is hogging the PC.

    *A console-ation prize

  10. I always worry about losing my eyesight... or my hands.

  11. I can really relate to the concern about PC gaming. I used to be a die-hard, nothing-else-will-do PC gamer. Now, I have a job where I work at a computer all day, and a university curriculum that requires the same. When I actually have a spare moment to relax and enjoy a game, I sure as hell don't want to have to sit in an office chair with a mouse and keyboard to do it.

    I know you've discussed the downsides of developing for consoles before, but it wouldn't hurt to see how the modularity in your code required for the Mac->PC porting might also be helpful for porting to console, should the absurd price ceilings be lifted.

  12. It's possible that no new IP coming from Spiderweb will hurt. Hopefully the next series is different enough, but staying in the same genre of games of course.
    If you decide to make a Slavernum I-VI or BeanForge I-V series next, there may be pitchforks and torches heading toward your office.

  13. I will not worry PC game sales. I got Sega, XBox etc, but still feel most comfortable using PC mouse (but one of my friend has to use a joystick).

    However if I lose my job I will stop playing games. So if the economy keeps tanking, that could hurt you.

  14. Actually, the death of the net is slowly creeping in on us. This morning I heard a report that there are 50% more zombies on the net this year than last (12 million IP addresses just since January) and the number of computers on the net hasn't increased nearly that much. Email is already perilously close to being made useless by spam (when you send an email you have no idea if some helpful filter along the way will summarily destroy it). Sigh.

  15. PC-Gaming is not going anywhere especially not with Blizzard pushing it forward with World of Warcraft, Diablo III, and Starcraft 2 coming around the bend. The Sims 3 and Spore from EA also is another indicator. And then there is also the casual games market which is largely a PC-based phenomenon.

    My honest opinion is that the biggest fear you should have is tax hikes from the Federal or State level to support all the new government programs. It'll hit home especially when your $1000 tax credit for having a kid is gone.

  16. Jeff, it sounds like the company is pretty much dependent on YOU.

    What about some kind of illness that puts you out of commission for, say, 3-6 months. Can you get by on sales with your existing games, or are you dependent on constantly rolling out new products.

    (Sorry if this is kind of morbid...)

  17. @SoccerShoutPhil:

    At my regular job people put risk evaluations on the knowledge and expertise loss should someone "get hit by a bus" and how that would affect the business.

    I like putting a more positive spin on that risk by saying something like... "Winning the lottery." :)

  18. @Jake Hammell - "Illegitimate government audits order and paid for by mega-corps whose best interest is to keep independent thinkers and designers down."

    This is pretty close to the new national sales tax system they're setting up. But these problems are generally solved by throwing money at them. Annoying, but rarely fatal.

    @Paul: "It's possible that no new IP coming from Spiderweb will hurt."

    I'll deal with this next time. The biggest risk to me IS trying to make a new IP.

    @SoccerShoutPhil: "Jeff, it sounds like the company is pretty much dependent on YOU."

    Yeah, if I get run over by a bus, Spiderweb Software stops. But I ignored that since I won't be around to worry about it. :-)

    @arcblade "Heh. Jeff, you did kind of forget to factor in laptops. "

    Nope ... I'll talk about the rise of the NetBook next week.

    - Jeff Vogel

  19. If the Macintosh dies people will simply get the Windows version of your games. One problem is: there aren't many games that support Mac, but tons are made for Windows. Those who own a Mac but still like games will buy your games, but if they are forced to switch to Windows they have a larger selection, and may decide to buy another game over yours.

    As for PC gaming, some people say that NetBooks are the NBT (Next Big Thing), and those can't play graphics heavy games, but should be able to play your games well enough.

  20. maybe he should port his next game to linux- for the netbooks.

  21. Internet explorer? Who uses that anymore? Especially given mac (which will never die!!!)
    I must say I prefer computer games over console games. Learning one keyboard is easier, and laptops are nice. Consoles are expensive as all get out, and computers are great for multitasking.
    However, decreasing computer gaming is probably the most likely, sadly.

  22. I don't know about the "console gaming killing PC Gaming" thing, and I may just be an exception, but I like PC gaming MUCH more than console gaming. I used to be a big time console gamer, but now I almost exclusively play PC games. I can't stand playing games on consoles now!

    I read an article a year or so back (I have no idea where) talking about the waxing and waning between PC vs. Console. They were saying that when Console gaming is in it's prime, obviously PC gaming slows down, but it always reverses itself and PC gaming really comes back in full force.

    Anyways, on topic, I suppose it's a little anxiety-invoking having 2 hugely successful game series coming to an end nearly simultaneously. I don't think I have to go into what could go wrong from there. I think it'll turn out alright though. Might just be a little slow at first regaining game name recognition. Maybe we could see some character centric storylines? ;) The character(s) could still be fully customizable, but just have real ties to the story world.

    And yeah, I drool every time I hear (...err, see) the words "Diablo III" or "Starcraft II"... :D I don't see PC gaming going anywhere.

  23. I don't think anything will cause the death of Spiderweb Software, unless it's the death of it's creator. :P

    Seriously, I think people will continue playing Spiderweb Software games for years. I know I will. And the older generation with educate the younger ones.

    The only thing that concerns me is that computers might get too advanced for your games, in which case we'll have to design workarounds (like trying to make older games work on Vista).

  24. If I may make a suggestion: if you have a little free time, read What Would Google Do. It might give you some additional ideas on what might kill you, but more helpfully, it might give you some ideas on avoiding death. :)


    Or at least get your publicist to read it. ;)

  25. Waning Morals

    'Paying for a computer game' is a tragedy of the commons. It's bad for an individual if they do it (ignoring the emotional pay-off), but good for all individuals if everyone does. What protects us from certain crappy scenarios is the social conditioning that tells us it's wrong (providing the emotional payoff) to act in a way that detriments society when we all act that way. Should that conditioning lose influence, it's bad times for game developers, and probably everyone else.

    Likelihood: Minimal. Given the current ideological trend of reverting to more fundamentalist belief sets, and the fact that education insitutions don't really pop out a whole lot of highly logical beings, you'll be able to count on 'moral fibre' until you retire.

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