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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.
- Approximately 360 pages
- Royal hardback with head and tail bands
- Two colour plate sections featuring glossy photographs and screenshots
- Includes a bookmark, high quality printing and internal design
*Book designs and cover are for illustrative purpose and may differ to final design. Text shown in page design is placeholder.
Richard Moss is an award-winning writer, journalist, and historian. He's written extensively about the history and culture of videogames for around two dozen leading games and technology publications, including Ars Technica, Gamasutra, Edge, Eurogamer, Mac|Life, Polygon, Rock Paper Shotgun, Vice Motherboard, and many others.
Richard is also the author of The Secret History of Mac Gaming, which tells the story of the little community of game developers and players who broke new boundaries and made the Mac a special place for games in the 1980s and '90s — even as the rest of the world forgot it. And he produces the narrative podcasts Ludiphilia, which shares stories related to how and why people play, and The Life & Times of Video Games, which offers documentary-style episodes on moments and people from games history.
He lives in Melbourne, Australia, in a house ruled by a bengal cat named Max.
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.
- 24th December 2021 December update (we have a new book subtitle!)
I don't have a lot to share for this end-of-year update, but the news is good:
First up, not long after I published last month's update my editor at Unbound came to me with a proposal they'd cooked up internally for a change to the book's subtitle. Before I tell you what that is, let's step back a moment for context. The original subtitle I'd come up with was Independent Game Development at the…14th November 2021 November update
Sorry I missed the update last month. I was busy with lots of things — a Shareware Heroes copyedit review, podcast stuff, Secret History of Mac Gaming Expanded Edition launch prep, FPS documentary work, freelance editing work on somebody else's book, and preparing for the impending arrival of my first child — and never found the time to write something out for you.
Now, book production…13th September 2021 September Update
Sorry about missing my monthly update in August. I got sidetracked with work on FPSDoc, The Life & Times of Video Games, and The Secret History of Mac Gaming Expanded Edition.
Since my last update I've gone through the notes, comments, corrections, and suggestions from the development editor. I made loads of revisions that improved the flow and clarity of the manuscript, and at the editor…12th July 2021 July update (editing news!)
I got the development edit back on Friday, and the feedback is tremendously-upbeat. Here's a snippet:
I'd been hoping it was a strong manuscript, but I knew when I submitted that I was too close to it to be able to judge for myself — so to get this praise back from a stranger (via my editor at Unbound) is a great relief for me, and I suspect also encouraging news for all of you.
For those…1st June 2021 June update
Hi all, sorry I missed last month's update. There wasn't much to talk about, so I had planned on discussing more of my research findings or methods, but I never quite got around to figuring out exactly what to share.
This is very much the quiet phase of the process. We have an editor looking the manuscript over at the moment and I'm told that the current prospective publish date is August 2022…14th April 2021 April update (manuscript finished)
Good news, everybody! The manuscript's done. I submitted it to Unbound just before Easter, then took a week off to rest and do whatever (read: watch TV, go hiking, and build a Nanoblock sailing ship) because I worked on all-but-two days through February and March.
My final word count was around 73,000 words, spread across 14 chapters (I previously stated there'd be 15, but I merged two of them…7th March 2021 March update
Hey folks, it's time for one final writing progress report:
I'm not quite done yet, but I'm inside the final 10,000 words now — most chapters are 90-95% done, with only a few still well short of completion — and I expect there'll be a finished draft in about a week's time (~5-8 days, based on the trends of the past month). It'll then take another week or two after that to revise and polish the…10th February 2021 February update
I wanted to give you an update on how things are going, but I'm too deep in the writing process right now to come up with some interesting big-picture insights or cool research findings, so I'll keep this one brief:
Writing is coming along well, though still some way from done. I've now written eight or nine chapters (out of 15-16 total) to completion or near-completion, and have a…1st January 2021 Happy New Year! Here are a few neat research findings
Happy New Year from down here in Australia, where I'm spending my first day of 2021 writing a chapter about several shareware games from the early 90s.
I didn't progress as far as I'd hoped on writing in December, but I now at least have words on the page for every chapter, four of which are nearing (or already at) a point of completion, and interviews wrapped up with five more people than a month…28th November 2020 Writing and research update
I hope you're doing well as we enter the weirdest holiday season that I think I can remember.
Now that I've been working more consistently on the book for a while, I wanted to give you an update on where things are at, how it's been going, and what's still to do:
Let's start with the research side. Books like this are enormously research-heavy. They involve laboriously poring over…9th July 2020 Kickstarter finished and funded! Next steps...
First off, big thanks to everyone here for helping to make this campaign such a resounding success...eventually. It took a long time to get here, but the Kickstarter to make up the shortfall in funding finished yesterday and it managed to hit the heights of 182% funded and 515 backers.
That success means we were able to hit two stretch goals: I will record an audiobook version, which…17th June 2020 Sharing some research findings
(Cross-posting this from Kickstarter, where things are going great — 88% funded with 22 days to go! Which means we're at approximately 95% funded overall.)
We're almost there! Just a little more and we'll be funded.
In the meantime, I thought it'd be nice to share a few cool things I've found in my research and interviews so far.
I've been talking to people across a broad spectrum of roles…8th June 2020 An announcement, and an update
First off, I'd like to apologise for the lack of updates — though the truth is, sadly, there wasn't really anything to update. Before I get into that, an announcement:
Shareware Heroes is now on Kickstarter; if you've supported the book on Unbound, you don't need to support it again. The Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing attempt to raise the remainder of our funding goal, so it'd be helpful if you…18th January 2019 New Year 2019 update, and we need a big push
I hope you had a good end to your 2018. I know it's been a while since my last update, but I've not stopped working on the book and I'm trying now to get some real momentum going again on this crowdfunding campaign. For that I'll need your help, but first here's a little encouragement to bolster your enthusiasm.
I'm actively tracking down more of the people I'd…12th October 2018 Still trucking along...
I've had a super-busy past month of freelancing, and am still going to be flat-out with non-book work through to the end of this month, but I wanted to give you a quick update on how things are progressing.
On the funding side, we're steadily rising — albeit at a much slower rate than I'd like. I hope to get that accelerating towards the end of this month and all through November, as…14th September 2018 22% funded! Also, tell me about Amiga shareware games
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…31st August 2018 Welcome! Here's some more detail to get us started
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.