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The legacy of shareware is ubiquitous

The legacy of shareware is ubiquitous
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To this day I had no idea how important shareware was and probably still is to the gaming industry. For me, shareware was the few games I could play for free in the 90’s. Specifically, Duke Nukem 3D at lunchtime at Rupert Loman’s. (Rupert is the founder of Eurogamer/Gamer Network.) And there, in the corner of our screens, was the little shareware reminder that we were playing an unregistered version of the game. But that wasn’t a problem, it was real, it wasn’t pirated. We could play as long as we wanted. It’s just that if we wanted more levels than the opening level around the cinema – with the toilets you could pee in and the mirrors that actually reflected you (wow!) – then we would have to pay for it . And I don’t think any of us have ever done that.

But that was shareware: finding stuff for free. Or at least that was what it represented to me – now I realize I could have been part of the problem. But I was a teenager! i was broken So in 1998 I got sucked into Dope Wars with all my other MSN Messenger buddies, buying and selling drugs at very competitive market prices (in one game!) and how I found an RPG called Dink Smallwood which I remember vividly that day. Has anyone else? I’m really curious.


Dink Smallwood. Some of you must have played it! No? No one?

In fact, shareware started a long, long time ago, but it’s still around today (whisper: “freemium”). And I learned that from a new book called Shareware Heroes written by Richard Moss. It attempts the daunting task of telling the story of shareware by telling the stories of everyone involved. It’s equivalent to trying to follow all the individual threads in a bowl of spaghetti. But Moss pulls it off admirably.

He outlines the origins of shareware in the ’70s and how the movement got its name from a magazine poll in InfoWorld – apparently one of its strongest competitors was “Wrath of Conscience” because the longer you used the software, the more it would wear on your conscience, that you should pay for it, which sums up the idea of ​​shareware nicely.

The Shareware Heroes book pictured on Bertie's beautiful colorful rug.  On the book cover, four purple hands are pulling a disk with the book's name and author Richard Ross on it.  The rest of the book is colored yellow.

Shareware Heroes by Richard Moss, which does an admirable job of capturing a messy story. Also pictured: my carpet.

But the games apparently struggled to monetize it early on. Back then, it was mostly word processing and other utilities that made money. It wasn’t until a motivated guy called Scot Miller came along and created Apogee, and the idea of ​​breaking a game into three parts, one of which you could have for free and the other two you had to pay for, did it really take off. His Kingdoms of Kroz games, released in 1987, fetched an outrageous $80,000 to $100,000 at the time.

Because of this success, Miller began looking for people to work with and his search led him to John Romero and what would later become the legendary id Software team. And there is the wonderful story of how Miller had to be careful about approaching Romero to sell him because Romero was already working at SoftDisk making games.

Miller’s plan was to write fan mail to Romero under a pseudonym to persuade him to contact him. Miller would tell Romero he loved his games but he had spotted a bug so can he please call or text him back. Yours “Scott Mulliere”. Romero received some of these. It wasn’t until he read an article about Apogee and saw the business address at the end that his mind went into alarm and he realized what was going on. And he wasn’t happy, but the two struck up a conversation and a deal was struck.

This deal changed everything. It would lead to the Commander Keen series, Wolfenstein 3D, and finally Doom, all released as shareware. And each rocked the industry like an earthquake until Doom id made software, shareware, and gaming mainstream.

The iconic shareware game Dope Wars from 1998. It's a glorified Windows pop-up box of a game with a few drop-down lists, some stats, and blurbs.  How much do drugs cost in a given neighborhood today?  An age old question.  Good match!

Dope Wars, a shareware classic from 1998. A great game to play while chatting with friends on MSN Messenger. Ah, memories!

The other big line is Epic Games – or as it was originally called, Epic MegaGames. Tim Sweeney founded and grew this company through shareware, although his idea was more about giving people a platform to download games and create content on, and eventually an engine to create games on – an idea , which is not a million miles from what Epic is today with the Epic Games Store, Fortnite and Unreal Engine.

But those are the big stories. Equally important to author Moss and to the shareware movement are the many other stories about the many other people involved. Shareware really was infinite. It didn’t belong to anyone; therefore it belonged to everyone. There were no rules, no owners, and that was the basic appeal. Shareware was freedom: a way for people to share things without interference.

That’s how the world got what was probably the first LGBTQ+ themed game: Caper in the Castro, released in 1989 by non-binary transgender creator CM Ralph to raise awareness and eventually money for the AIDS epidemic. The game was about a lesbian detective looking for a drag queen girlfriend, and instead of asking people to pay for it, Ralph instead asked for a donation to an AIDs charity of the player’s choice. And when someone picked up a disc of the game on a business trip to the UK, the game spread there and across Europe as well. Hundreds of thousands of people have downloaded the game.

That’s the power of shareware. And that’s really why “shareware” is going to mean so many different things to so many people. For me it’s Duke Nukem 3D and Dope Wars and Dink Smallwood (which was technically “freeware” but shhh), but for you it’ll be something else. And even if you’ve never seen the shareware label, you’ve felt the effects of it – you’ve played the demos, tried out the free-to-play games. The legacy of shareware is ubiquitous.


#legacy #shareware #ubiquitous

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