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Inside Mac Games Holiday Q&A 1: Spiderweb Softare
December 5, 2010 | Jon Carr

Welcome to the Inside Mac Games Holiday Season Q&A Feature! In this new series IMG's Jon Carr set out to interview some of the stars of the Mac gaming world about the current state of Mac gaming, as well as each company's plans to keep your gaming hearth warm this holiday season. In part one of the series we feature longtime Indie and RPG developer Spiderweb Software. Jeff Vogel kindly agreed to an interview about the status of Mac gaming, development of Avadon: The Black Fortress, and whether or not he still finds time to play games. Read on to find out!

IMG Holiday Season Q&A 1: Spiderweb Software

Jon Carr: The state of Mac gaming certainly seems to be on the rise, but in general there seems to be little transparency or interaction between Mac game porting houses or developers and the Mac gaming community. Is this important, and if so, what should be done about it?

Jeff Vogel: I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this, since I'm not really involved in the game industry in any meaningful way. I'm just some weenie guy who writes RPGs in his basement. However, I'm a little dubious about what transparency and interaction would achieve. Mac owners want more games. Porting houses license what they can when they can. The tools they use to do the ports are rough and inefficient, but, if they didn't use them, they just wouldn't make money. When we're all lucky, something decent gets released.

And, considering how weak and withered once-mighty PC gaming has become, sometimes I'm amazed porting houses even find anything to port.

JC: OnLive's streaming game service offers a mix of games for Mac users to access, which includes PC only and already available Mac games. Do you view this as a positive thing or taking away from current Mac game sales in other locations?

JV: Both?

I'm still one of the people who is skeptical that OnLive can really take off in a big way in the near future. I'm unconvinced that the internet can handle that much streaming video, and using streaming video just for games that could normally be played locally seems a really inefficient use of bandwidth. But then again, I've been wrong about plenty of things in the past.

Still, anything that improves the dire state of Mac gaming should be welcomed with open arms. Last time I was in a Mac store, they were still selling Fable. Fable! A game for the original XBox! From 2004! I really love Mac, but come on. That's embarrassing. Anything that improves that situation is all right by me.

JC: Valve's massive Steam network has arrived for the Mac and some view Steam as a monopoly in digital downloads in the PC market, do you think this could also happen in the Mac realm, with Steam taking over digital sales? It also offers a one of a kind game network, with Friends, News, automatic patching, frequent sales and Steamplay. Is this a model other companies should try to emulate or offer? Would you ever consider trying to get your games put on Steam?

JV: I would love to have my games on Steam. I definitely plan to pitch my next game, Avadon: The Black Fortress, to them. Will it be a good enough game to be worth them taking it on? I hope so.

Steam had a rocky start, long ago, but it's turned into a great platform. Gamers love it. Developers love it. It works. I think it's great that it's on the Mac. It makes Mac gaming more viable.

JC: Apple recently announced a Mac App store would be "Coming Soon." Do you view this as a possible threat to current Mac game stores? Or is it another positive option for Mac users everywhere? What should Apple be doing to help Mac gaming?

JV: I'm surprised that it took this long for the App Store to come to the Mac. I don't think it's right to see these things as threats. After all, all of the old ways of buying games for the Mac (Steam, etc.) will still work. But everything that makes the Mac more viable for gaming increases the market, which is good for developers and customers.

A huge portion of Spiderweb's sales come from Mac users. The worst thing for us would be for Macintosh gaming to disappear. Thus, everything that makes more Mac gaming makes me happy.

As for what Apple could be doing, I dunno. I'm sure a real developer would have a dozen good answers for that question, but, as for me, I'm content at the moment.

JC: The only DRM for your games is a registration code. Do you believe DRM really protects against pirates, or just makes it more difficult for legitimate customers who have to deal with all the measures the pirates simply bypass?

JV: Intrusive and obnoxious DRM systems that punish legitimate customers are a bad thing. They should go away. Period. But let's not overstate the case against DRM.

Like most game developers, I release a demo. Access to the full game requires buying a registration code from us. If someone needs a replacement code, that is free. No online verification. No limits on multiple installs. I think our system is pretty friendly to the customer.

The only alternative is to give everyone the full game immediately and then ask politely for them to stop by our web site and pay us. This would put us out of business in pretty much no time at all.

As I see it, the biggest issue here is not that customers are evil, but that human beings procrastinate. Procrastination is a huge and powerful force. Given the choice between playing my game and going to the web store, ordering, pulling out the credit card, entering personal information, etc., most people will just play the game. Until they finish the game. And then they will move on to another game. Sure, a few honest people will hunt me down to give me money. Not enough to stay in business.

A lot of people are honest enough to pay me for my work, thank goodness. But that doesn't mean they might not need a little nudge.

Some people have seriously told me that I should just release the full game without any limits at all. No. Nonononono! That's crazy! I mean, my god. Show a tiny bit of empathy for the developer! If going out of business is the cost I have to pay to make someone happy, I can't afford to have that person as a customer.

JC: Spiderweb started all the way back in 1994. What was your inspiration for creating RPG titles, and what keeps you going today?

JV: I've loved fantasy role-playing games, both paper and computer, for as long as I knew they existed. I started playing Dungeons & Dragons about thirty years ago, which seems like a crazy long time. When I was a teenager, I dreamed of making games for a living. When I was an unhappy grad student, I finally had the time and motivation to give it a try. Amazingly, people liked my work enough to pay for it. It was my childhood dream come true.

But working hard at anything for fifteen years can be tiring. These days, what keeps me going is the need for money to buy food for my children. Writing games is my job. A rewarding job that I have a real knack for, but it is work.

JC: As an Indie studio, how do you keep afloat in the progressively crowded game development market?

JV: To be honest, the market doesn't feel any more crowded to me that it did five, ten, or fifteen years ago. There have always been a ton of companies, making a ton of products.

What keeps me afloat is the fact that I have an under-serviced niche market. There aren't a lot of plot-heavy RPGs being made out there, and there are a fair number of people who really love games like that and will buy them. As long as those two circumstances continue (and I have every reason to believe that they will), it doesn't matter how crowded in the industry becomes. My little corner of it will treat me fine.

JC: You are currently working on Avadon: The Black Fortress. Why should RPG fans be excited about your latest project?

JV: Avadon: The Black Fortress is the first all-new game series from us in ten years. It has all new graphics, setting, game system, story, everything, and all the stuff I've learned over the last decade has gone into this game to make it as cool as possible. The setting and storyline are really neat, and the action is fun and full of strategy.

It will probably be out for the Mac in February, 2011, and it'll have a nice, big demo. Anyone who likes RPGs should definitely give it a look.

Learn more about Avadon by clicking on the link at the end of this article.

JC: As a small company it must be hard to find time to play games out side of work. Do you find time, and if so, what are some of your favorite games or genres to play?

JV: It's not hard at all. Most of the year, I work a fairly normal, 40 hour a week schedule. That gives me plenty of time for playing games. I play a ton of games. It gives me inspiration, and I've never stopped being a gamer at heart.

I play very few RPGs, though. After thirty years, I confess I've grown a little tired of them. I love Bioware games, though, and I'm enjoying Dragon Quest IX on the Nintendo DS. I'm loving Super Meat Boy and Red Dead: Redemption. And I have spent many, many hours over the last few years playing expert drums on Rock Band. (Expert Pro Drums now that Rock Band 3 is out.) The music game genre is dying, but I'll be one of the loyal dead-enders.

More Info:

Avadon: The Black Fortress is currently in development and Spiderweb Software is looking for Mac beta testers. Jeff Vogel also runs his own blog where he posts interesting thoughts, reviews and the latest status of his ongoing game development.

Want to know more about Avadon: The Black Fortress? Don't worry Spiderweb fans, you can expect an exclusive sneak preview of Avadon at IMG soon!

Related Links
Spiderweb Software
Avadon: The Black Fortress
Avadon Beta Testers Needed
Jeff Vogel's Blog


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