Daily Archives: February 1, 2007

Vanguard As Killer App?

Looking at Vanguard and its steep hardware requirements from another angle.

Applications can sell hardware.  A killer application can make hardware a best seller.  VisiCalc made the Apple II a business computer and pumped up sales.  Lotus 1-2-3 made the IBM PC a must have and put it in every big company in America.

Games can also fill this role.  I know this from experience.

Back in the early 90s I was doing a stint in a computer store after the start-up I was working for folded rather suddenly.  I used to work the weekends while I fished around for a new opportunity during the week.  I had a low cost living arrangement at the moment, so I could afford to wait for the right job.

The store itself specialized in Macs.  It was called ComputerWare. 

Every few weeks, the local Mac user group would hold a meeting a few blocks away, after which they would meander over to ComputerWare to check out what was on the shelves.  We had a few machines up for demos, including the latest and greatest at the time, so there was plenty for them to do in the store.

One of the machines had a CD-ROM drive hooked up to it, a rare thing for the time.  The Apple SCSI CD-ROM drive went for nearly $500 at that time, and a lower cost competitor we stocked was a mere $349.  These were single speed drives, mind you.  They were mind numbingly slow.

There was a game we used to stock as well called Spaceship Warlock, from a company called Reactor.  It was unlike any game on the market at the time.  It was quite a visual experience.  You really felt immersed in it when you played.

It was created in a then little known program called Director by a little know company called Macromedia.  Yeah, them.  Yeah, that program.

So the game was “multi-media,” which meant it had good sound as well.

The problem with the game was that it was so big that it had to ship on a CD-ROM.  In 1991, very few people had CD-ROM drives.  The target audience for this game was, thus, very small.  Minuscule.

I began to notice something every Saturday that the user group came into the store.  If I took our demo copy of Spaceship Warlock and put it on the system in the store that had a CD-ROM drive, I would inevitably sell both of the $349 CD-ROM drives we kept in stock, along with both copies of the game we were allocated for inventory.

It was like clockwork.  I could sell two $349 pieces of hardware, two $40 games (very expensive at the time), and usually some other piece of “fig leaf” software, like Groiler’s Encyclopedia, per drive every time the user group meeting let out. (You see honey, I bought this so our child could have access to an encyclopedia on the computer! Now pardon me while I try out this game I picked up as well.)

This was software driving hardware sales.  This was, essentially, a $400 computer game.  I must have sold a couple dozen CD-ROM drives with that game.

A killer app.  Something so compelling that you are willing to make the investment in hardware just to use it… or play it.

Which brings us back to Vanguard.  Could it be a killer app?  Will it be good enough, some day, to drive the sales of nVidia 8800 series video cards just to experience it?  Will the visual experience, the immersion, the game play be enough?

Sometimes games can do that.  I will be interested to see if Vanguard can generate that kind of interest.