Tim runs Acorn Arcade, and his columns cover a wide range of topics including general rants about the state of the RISC OS gaming market and site related issues.
I'm beginning to get rather annoyed with the general attitude of RISC OS companies in releasing very little information about new products only to the newsgroups and then moaning about constant speculation in the RISC OS community and lack of sales.
Take the Star Fighter "Other worlds" CD for example. iSV Products post an announcement out of the blue that they're releasing a CD with an updated version of SF3000 on, but in the announcement they don't actually give the info people really want (i.e. is it a commercial version of Chris Bazley's patches). They post the announcement less than 24 hours before the show where it's being released, and only to csa.announce. I'd say the majority of RISC OS users don't follow the newsgroups, and those who do certainly don't check them every day. AA gets around about 300 visits a day, yet they don't think that posting the press release to the most popular games site might be a good idea. All it would have taken would have been to add email@example.com to the CC field of the announcement email.
On Monday, ProAction posted an announcement to csa.announce, again out of the blue, about a new "games guide" which will shortly be available. The only info given is that it contains "hints, tips and cheats", "reviews", and "4 ex-commercial games". There's no clue as to where the majority of this material comes from - it could be ex-magazine articles or it could be a few paragraphs someone's rattled off in 5 minutes. The "hints, tips and cheats" could either be some quality original material or it could be the hundreds of Desktop Hacker generated cheat modules that everyone's got already. No clue is given as to what the 4 commercial games are, yet they expect lots of people to come running to them and pre-order a copy.
When I contact David Bradforth to try and get some more information for a news item on Acorn Arcade I get very little. I try and at least pin him down about the commercial games (which seems reasonable I think, how many people are gonna pay 20 quid for 4 unknown games?), but still I get almost nothing.
With so little real information to go on, it's little wonder that the newsgroups - the consumers these companies seem to be targeting - resort to speculation, based sometimes on the flimsiest of pretexts. Once the press release is out, some companies seem content to just sit back and wait for the "phone to start ringing", while the newsgroups rage with misconceptions and half-truths spawned as much by the original announcement as by over-active imaginations. If the truth was known from the outset, there would be no room for speculation.
As well as co-running Acorn Arcade and The Icon Bar I also run a couple of PC gaming sites. For these sites I get several news submissions a day, from companies wanting extra coverage of their product and from other websites on the same topic wanting extra publicity for articles they've put up. Comparitively, trying to find content for Acorn Arcade can be like trying to get blood out of a stone. Yes it's partly because of the size of the market, but there IS news out there, a lot of people just don't get to see it.
To a lesser extent, the situation is the same over at The Icon Bar. Although we get some press releases (largely from RISCOS Ltd., Pace, Cerilica and RiscStation), most of the time we have to chase people for news, even though it's in their interest to talk to us!
Other companies, burnt in the past by making early announcements for products not yet complete are understandably reluctant to make the same mistake again. They'll only publish details after the release, or think very carefully before indulging everyone's requests for info. This is their decision, but it's more than a little frustrating for prospective purchasers.
PC games sites on (proportionately) the same scale as AA get companies haggling for space on their news pages. They get free review copies of games before they are released so that they can get the review up on the day of release. They get beta copies of games during their development period so that they can CREATE a market for them through glowing previews.
RISC OS companies don't seem to understand this. They see review copies as "one less sale", rather than something which actually INCREASES sales. Consequently they just ignore us completely, and if we want to review a game we often have to pay for it out of our own pockets. This makes us much less inclined to do what is actually the publisher's job of informing the public of a release.
A lot of RISC OS companies still seem to expect RISC OS users to buy every product regardless, so we end up with lots of products developed without any real feedback from the market being sold at rip-off prices (Cyber Chess for £35 anyone?). While this price might seem fair to the publishers, it certainly doesn't to the buyers.
Would you fork out £35 for something based on its name alone? Would you fork out £35 for a "major new title" which has just appeared as if by magic? I wouldn't. Now, sell me that £35 title which I've been awaiting with eager anticipation, each preview leaving me drooling over my keyboard - sure, problems were highlighted, but this is a company which I know will address them, and the next preview (or full review) will prove it.
It's time companies realised that communication with their users, through all the different advertising routes available to them (newsgroups, RISC OS websites, their own website, magazines...), is the way to generate more sales in a market too often blighted by lack of advertising and information.
Tim Fountain, with contributions from Richard Goodwin and Musus Umbra.