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Je ne comprend pas

December 10, 1998
by Zac Belado

There are times when the computer industry is totally flummoxed by the success and enthusiasm that some products generate. The two primary examples of this (at least this year) have been the game Deer Hunter, published by GT Interactive, and the iMac from Apple.

For those not familiar with it, Deer Hunter is a first person action game that puts you in the shoes of a hunter scouring some rather generic woods in search of deer. You then shoot said deer. That's it.

The game is, at least to those that play "traditional" action games, pretty damn boring. But then so is real-life hunting; a fact that seems to have escaped most reviewers. The graphics are laughable, the pace is slow and it's buggy (hell, it sounds like Windows 2000). The game really has very little to redeem it.

It was also sold more copies of any game (other than Myst) in 1998 and has spawned a huge series of clones.

Your average game reviewer or industry writer is typically driven to tears of rage when talking about the game. They don't understand how something that is so shoddy, boring and awful looking can sell so many copies. Or, more to the point, they don't understand why people would buy so many copies of a product that by standard definitions wouldn't even be produced.

And that becomes the crux of the problem. The general market for software and hardware is finally reaching out to the masses. Or at least to a different market segment than it has previously. It's not just computer nerds and simulation freaks that are buying computers and games. Deer Hunter appeals to an audience that has probably never seen software titles marketed to them. An audience that doesn't read science fiction, and thinks that Quake is a diminutive form of 'Earthquake'. These people haven't seen a product that directly appeals to them, have been largely ignored by the game market (or at worse ridiculed by games like 'Redneck Rampage') and have finally proven that they have not only the desire for software products, but the money to pay for them.

Computers are making their ways into the homes of people that two or three years ago wouldn't have been able to afford a computer or wouldn't have seen the point. It's hardly suprising that GT Interactive, a company that originally made its fortune remarketing games to companies like Wal Mart, was the only distributor to see the real value of the product. What is surprising is that the idea of games like Deer Hunter still gets ridiculed.

How soon people forget Myst

Myst sold enough copies to become almost as ubiquitous as AOL signup disks. Myst was even bundled with some computers. And yet Myst really sucks. As a game it isn't really all that good. But then I'm a 'typical' gamer and the real genius of Myst isn't the look or the gameplay, it's the targeting.

I have a friend who doesn't like most games. She hated Doom, she hated Marathon but she loved Myst. As soon as she found out that she wasn't going to get killed in Myst or get jumped by some slobbering creature she was hooked. She played Myst for days on end and told all her friends to get a copy. And they told two friends...

There are niche markets that get addressed by products like Deer Hunter and Myst that point the way to the aims and desires of the wider, developing, market for software products. A market that typically gets ignored by the existing producers of software and multimedia products because they have no interest in programming products that aren't of interest to them. And it's because of this that huge market segments, like Deer Hunter or Myst players, get left out.

The next influx of users isn't going to be geeks. And they're probably going to be using an iMac.

It has been quite some while since a computer product has been as routinely savaged by the press as the iMac. Maximum PC has branded the computer the 'Worst Technology of '98'. (Small note. This is also the same magazine that, a page earlier gave, Microsoft's now thankfully cancelled, ChromeEffects a '1998's Most Innovative Technology' award) The editor of PC Gamer took time out from his last column to blast its lack of a floppy drive. It seems that people either love the machine or loathe it.

But its selling faster than Apple can make them. So what are we to think?

Obviously there is a market that simply wants to plug their machine in, turn it on, and send some email. I'm certainly not in that camp anymore and I don't think I ever was. I want far more from my machine than that, but it isn't very hard for me to think of at least 10 people I know that have eschewed computers in the past that might easily use an iMac. No need to know how many free IRQ numbers you have, no need to remember whether your hard-drive supports the bus mastering driver you just loaded. It's just an appliance.

Which is probably the point.

Zac Belado is a programmer, web developer and rehabilitated ex-designer based in Vancouver, British Columbia. He currently works as an Application Developer for a Vancouver software company. His primary focus is web applications built using ColdFusion. He has been involved in multimedia and web-based development, producing work for clients such as Levi Straus, Motorola and Adobe Systems. As well, he has written for the Macromedia Users Journal and been a featured speaker at the Macromedia Users Convention.

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