AS I WRITE THIS, we are plunged in the gloom of a rainy mid-October day, but thinking ahead to the pleasures of Christmas, wondering whether it is going to be a boomer or a bummer for everyone involved in the business of computer games. The point I’m making about having to think ahead, is that it is one thing the software industry at large doesn’t seem to do very effectively. In almost all other areas of sales, it is accepted that you must have product ready for review (whether by magazines or chain store buyers) months and months in advance. For example let’s assume that CRASH wanted to sell a 1985 calendar through the larger shops. It would have had to be printed and delivered to the shops by August 1984, which would mean commencing design work on it in June at the latest. But it would have had to be negotiated (which requires a fully printed dummy) before Christmas 1983 to ensure good sales back up. Which means if we want to do a 1986 calendar, we would have to be ‘selling’ it to the shops’ buyers as an idea NOW.
Yet software houses, desperately keen to make a good thing of the Christmas period, all go and release games at the same time, and only one or two months, at the most, before Christmas. They all expect — or certainly hope — to get them reviewed well in time to entice customers to buy them. Now if 50 software houses each release an average of 3 games in October and November, there is no way it is possible to get all 150 reviewed before Christmas and indeed, with shop shelf space at a premium, it is unlikely that all of them will even get into the shops in the first place unless they have concluded negotiations way ahead of time.
It’s natural that everyone should want to release games at the same time before Christmas but it is a pity that they all assume magazines will get them reviewed in time. A little forward planning (that favourite phrase of strategy game players) would result in games being ready for preview from mid-summer on, thus ensuring a reasonable amount of time for reviewers to get to grips with them all.
CARRYING ON from the above piece, Christmas may be the boom time, but summer is the slump time, not only in the computer field, but generally. Magazines, especially, tend to drop in sales throughout the summer months. But I am pleased to be able to say that this has not happened with CRASH. In fact, recent figures have shown that CRASH is one of very few magazines (of all types) that has actually increased its sales over the summer and we are now well ahead of many in the field.
I’VE NEVER thought of myself as a prophet, so I was taken by surprise as much as everyone else when Sinclair Research released information about the new ZX Spectrum (and the machine at the same time!) only a few days after the last issue went to press containing an editorial which suggested that Sinclair should do something to upgrade the Spectrum. However, if it was prophesy, then it was inefficient prophesy, because Sinclair have really done nothing to upgrade the Spectrum beyond giving it a professional typewriter style keyboard, thus confirming their attitude to the machine that they do not see it as a games machine. Nothing has been done about the sound or colour attribute problems associated with the video display.
Whilst a more solid keyboard is to be appreciated, it is worth noting that you are effectively paying £50 for it — £5 more than, say, the DK’Tronics keyboard, which is also microdrive compatible. It’s true that Sinclair are giving away a little over £50 worth of software with the new computer, but they are doing the same with the old version. Fortunately, this lack of change also means that they have done little to upset the market balance for manufacturers of Spectrum peripherals (except Keyboard manufacturers), many of which have helped to make the Spectrum the best-selling machine in Britain.
It seems to me to be an oddly half-hearted decision rather like a car manufacturer who decides to give a model a new lease of life by putting it inside a restyled body shell. So it seems that the Spectrum owner is still to be denied the true delights of white noise explosions — the one real step forward that could have been made easily enough and at reasonable cost — in exchange for the clatter of hard keys. For myself — I’d kinda got used to the satisfyingly ‘squelchy’ feel of the old membrane keys...
AND GETTING RIGHT TO CHRISTMAS, our next issue (on sale December 13) is called the Christmas Special. As I’ve said before, it is effectively the January issue but on sale well in time for Christmas, and should fill in a few of those more boring moments during the holiday period. I’ve lost count of the prize value offered in numerous competitions! The CRASH reviewing team is getting together next week to put together two articles, one looking back over the year, and the other looking forward to what we might expect next year. Additionally, there is another article about CRASH itself. We have received several letters enquiring about how CRASH is put together each month, and there seems to be a general interest in the subject. Lots of readers may assume magazines sort of ‘happen’, without realising how much effort is needed, and people to make it just ‘happen’. This article will ‘blow the lid off’ and reveal the inside story! And of course there will be reviews, the grand slam Valley of Slime, POKEs Corner, and many other tit bits.
IT ISN’T THE FIRST TIME that magazines have taken the attitude that if software houses want the public to cease pirating software, then they must put their own house in order first. I’m not sure I go along entirely with the argument that this includes versions of versions of well known games. After all, if we really stuck strictly to the definition of ‘originality’, then (in writing) most novels would never have been written. There are only a few ideas in the world — the trick is to rehash them in new ways and relate the idea differently to life. So with computer games; just because one version of a game is original, it doesn’t mean it can’t be bettered. And where do you draw the line between what is a ‘copy’ and what is something different that has nevertheless used elements of a well known game type?
Where I do feel some software houses have been in a dodgy area is when they do use copyrighted material illegally. It isn’t a Spectrum game, but Mastertronic have been forced to withdraw their game Chiller because it used the music Thriller by Michael Jackson as backing. This was done without first obtaining a licence from Rocksoft, the sole exclusive agent for the original publisher of the song. As a result of legal proceedings, Mastertronic have been forced to withdraw the game and make what is described as a ‘substantial’ out of court settlement.
It is all too easy in a world where two wrongs are thought to make a right, to see that games buyers are going to argue that if they can try it on — so can we.