Shareware: what, how, why....
by Jeff "Yak" Minter

Jeff 'Yak' Minter, year 1999
Jeff "Yak" Minter in 1999

The following text about the concept of shareware was written in the early '90s by Jeff Minter, a legendary videogame programmer obsessed by llamas and goats who created psychedelic games fo the Commodore 64 and Amiga such as Sheep in space, The attack of the mutant camels and The revenge of the mutant camels.


All commercial games are designed for a theoretical entity known as
Darren. Darren is a spotty 14-year-old male who doesn't get on that
well with people, so he spends  all his time in his bedroom playing
games on his computer.  Darren is easily impressed  by graphics and
music, and he doesn't really want to learn anything really tricky -
as long as it has  Ninja Hampsters  in and works  with a  Kempston,
that's OK. Somehow he can persuade his Dad to fork out 25 quid once
every few weeks  for the  latest version of  R-Type  with different
graphics on his  Amiga,  don't ask me how.  Either that or he waits
and hits up  his  mate Wayne  for a  pirate version  in a couple of
weeks' time.

Consequently,  it has become much harder for  programmers to retain 
their creative  integrity and  earn a living too.  It is  virtually
impossible for a small independent developer to get games out to the
people without  first hooking in to one of the larger companies for
distribution and  advertising, and those  larger companies  tend to
want stuff that's very normal, spaceship-and-alien stuff, no llamas
please and not too weird.

However, with popular disk-based machines, the idea of Public Domain
programs has really come into its own. PD libraries give access to a
large amount of free software.  PD is usually sub-commercial stuff,
often good utilities but without the 'polish' of commercial versions.

It would  be nice  to use  the existing PD libraries  to distribute
software to anyone who is interested, and make a bit of money too -
and that is where Shareware comes in.

The principle of Shareware is simple. The game is distributed by the
PD libraries, by uploading onto BBSES and giving copies away. Users
can get  a complete version  of the game just  for the price of the
media,  and then  take it home  and play it.  If the user likes the
game, he sends the author a Shareware fee. Usually, the author will
send back a few goodies (as an incentive to register) and, if enough
people send in the dosh to make it worthwhile, he may do more Share-
ware stuff.

Naturally you don't have to pay anything if you don't like the game.
Of course a lot of people might like the game and decide not to pay,
but if too many people  do that then  nobody will ever bother doing
any decent Shareware at all, and it's back to Darren's 25 quid games.
So, it's down to the users  -  if they're honest,  then programmers
will be more inclined to work hard on Shareware releases.

The idea of Shareware is very idealistic, perhaps impracticably so,
but the  advantages  over the conventional videogame  market are so
enormous that I thought it had to be tried, at least once.  The re-
sponse from this experiment will determine whether or not I will re-
lease any more shareware.

Advantages of Shareware:

1- It is a totally honest way of selling. All users can try the game
and only those who get hooked are morally obliged to pay the fee.
Nobody is disappointed or feels ripped-off.

2- There are no constraints on creativity. No-one says 'we cannot
publish this because it ain't mainstream'. Programmers do what the
hell they like and the users vote with their Shareware fees.

3- Anyone can play.  The mechanism  of distribution  is  already in
place in the form of PD libraries. All the originator has to provide
is a disk to each  of the PD libraries with game and documentation.
So if you have good stuff it doesn't matter if you aren't signed to
a major label - if it's good, it'll get passed around the PD scene;
if it's bad nobody will bother with it. The author could be working
for a company or coding in his bedroom; the potential for distribu-
tion is the same.  Forget spending  thousands  on adverts trying to
convince people  to spend lots of money on a game they haven't even
played yet...

4- The concept of piracy becomes null. All that business of hacking
and cracking  doesn't apply to software  which is both free and un-
protected.  Shareware authors  WANT their software to be spread and
copied. If it gets onto a BB in America and spreads all over the US,
well and groovy! Good Shareware exports itself!

5- Prices can be way low.  Since the  authors have  no overheads in
terms of production and advertising, they don't need to ask as much
in payment.  And the users pay  the programmers directly  -  nobody
else takes a cut.  100% of five pounds  is better than 5% of twenty

The  advantages  of  Shareware  as  a  democratic,  honest  way of
publishing  software  are pretty obvious,  but it does  have to go
both ways.  If a programmer puts a lot of time and effort into his
code and releases it as Shareware,  he's trusting you,  the users,
to be honest and pay him if you like his program.  If you all just
skive off and  take the stuff for free,  he won't bother to do any
more stuff.   If you support the author,  he'll be  inclined to do
much better next time - and you'll be the ones to benefit!