How the golden age of shareware subverted, shook up, and reshaped the video game industry, and kept independent game development alive.
As commercial game distribution professionalised in the 1980s, independent creators with scant resources or contacts were squeezed out of the market. But not entirely. New technologies and marketing/distribution concepts were creating a hidden games publishing market. One that operated by different rules and that, at least for the first several years, had no powerful giants.
It was a land of opportunity and promise and a glimpse of the digital-first future. And for some indie game developers, it was home. This is the story of the games and game developers who relied on nascent networking technologies combined with word of mouth marketing in an era before social media.
Shareware Heroes: Independent Games at the Dawn of the Internet takes readers on a journey, from the beginnings of the shareware model in the early 1980s, the origins of the concept, even the name itself, and the rise of shareware's major players – the likes of id Software, Apogee, and Epic MegaGames – through to the significance of shareware for the ‘forgotten’ systems – the Mac, Atari ST, Amiga – when commercial game publishers turned away from them.
This book also charts the emergence of commercial shareware distributors like Educorp and the BBS/newsgroup sharing culture. And it explores how shareware developers plugged gaps in the video gaming market by creating games in niche and neglected genres like vertically-scrolling shoot-'em-ups (e.g. Raptor and Tyrian) or racing games (e.g. Wacky Wheels and Skunny Kart) or RPGs (God of Thunder and Realmz), until finally, as the video game market again grew and shifted, and major publishers took control, how the shareware system faded into the background and fell from memory.
Featuring numerous interviews with creators, developers and early shareware heroes, Richard Moss, author of The Secret History of Mac Gaming, once again brings to light a forgotten era of game development. Shareware Heroes is a comprehensive, meticulously researched exploration of an important and too-long overlooked chapter in video game history.
*Book designs and cover are for illustrative purpose and may differ to final design. Text shown in page design is placeholder.
An Experiment in Economics
Software used to be free. Back in the 1970s, its job was to sell computers. Occasionally it sold services. And even for the customers — the people whose businesses and institutions bought computers — software was seen as a means to an end. It was a way to be more efficient, or more accurate, or sometimes merely to further the needle — to venture deeper into the vast unknown of what computers could accomplish.
Nobody thought about making money from their code. Computers cost millions of dollars. Who in their right mind would be willing to pay that kind of money only to be stung again for the tools that make their computer useful? No, software was free for everyone's benefit. And the most prolific users of computers, those same people who invariably wrote all the new computer programs, liked it that way.
To the idealistic programming whiz-kids profiled in journalist Steven Levy’s book Hackers, code was meant to be uninhibited. Computers and everything connected to them were tools of learning. Value was derived from them in the form of knowledge — knowledge gained through their use, but also through taking them apart — that in turn enabled improved systems.
Thanks to everyone who's pledged and/or helped to spread the word about the book so far. We've rolled on past the 20% milestone and as I write this are sitting at 22%, which is a solid start. I'd love to see us pass 30% by this time next week, so please keep on bugging your friends to hop on board.
We got a brief shoutout on Kotaku this week, too, which is great, and I hope we can get some more…
Hi! Thanks for being here. For this first update, I thought it'd be good to go over how this campaign and this updates blog are going to work, as well as to tell you a bit about the direction I'm coming from with this book project. And also to lay out the different ways you can help out.
For those of you unfamiliar with Unbound, here's a quick primer:
Unbound is kind of a mix of traditional…
These people are helping to fund Shareware Heroes.