Your Spectrum
Issue 9, November 1984 - Circe
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Surviving the software market is no easy ride ... even if you do have Matthew Smith in tow. Sue Denham tackles Colin Stokes of Software Projects on topics past, present and future.

Though not actually exhibiting at the PCW Show this year, Software Projects made its presence felt through the persistence of its self-confessed sales supremo, Colin Stokes. Seemingly at the centre of many 'hold the front page' stories over the last nine months or so, he seemed eager to talk about the exploits of SP, the trials and tribulations of his last company Imagine and, of course, their director and 'ace in the hole' Matthew Smith.
"Matthew left Bug-Byte because he became disenchanted with the company - whatever programmers feel they're worth, they rarely get it, so he decided to join us. The guy's a genius, although he doesn't think he's a megastar or anything - he's not into flashy cars or big holidays, he's just a down-to-earth bloke. Matthew's also a profit-maker and at the end of the day, that's what we're talking about.
"I'll always remember March 9th of this year - the day we released Jet Set Willy - we had virtually every distributor in the country waiting outside our offices in an assortment of taxis, cars and vans; they were so eager to ship the product to the shops. It was very exciting."
So how has Matthew's fame and fortune helped Software Projects? "Of course, it's been great - to the point that we must be considered one of the biggest software houses in the UK. I couldn't give you a definite figure for our sales of JSW, but I reckon it must be in the region of 200,000 - and we're not finished with it yet, especially as we've now cracked the Japanese market, the first UK company to do so I might add.
"There have been disadvantages as well. Programmers with a good piece of code are always phoning us up announcing that they've got the next Manic Miner and so on, and expecting us to give them money and fame instantly. The software business just isn't like that! There are many misconceptions about the
software market, and the cost of producing the right kind of product is increasing all the time - for programmers it's getting very tough to barter their way against so much opposition. Also, because they're talking to Software Projects, they want lots more money than usual - and we just don't work that way. Just look at the way the big chains are selecting the games they choose to sell - if there are five games all purporting to be flight simulators, only two will ever get the high street exposure they'll need to become successful. Twelve months ago, the industry would be quite happy with middle-of-the-road product, but now the whole situation has been rationalised. From what I can gather, the mean average shelf life of a software package is around four weeks - and wholesalers are demanding new products all the time backed up by a wealth of good back product. It's pretty tough out there."
Moving on to SP's brush with the Guild of Software Houses (GOSH) and their unsuccessful attempts to become part of it, Colin was most adamant on his criticism of the group. "GOSH is an achievement which has decided not to encompass the whole of the software industry. SP decided not to take advantage of GOSH, especially as they seem to hold a personal vendetta with us since a few of its members decided that we 'stole' Matthew from Bug-Byte. Anyway, the aims of GOSH seem to be totally wrong - what they should be doing is talking about reducing the discounts offered by the wholesale industry, discussing sale or return deals and really talking about the industry as a whole, especially the aspects of protection that we've pioneered and are striving to achieve."
Moving back in time nine months to Colin's swift departure from Imagine, where he was in charge of the sales force for over a year, it's departure from Imagine, where he was in charge of the sales
force for over a year, it's obvious that the bitterness has not yet died down. "They bugged my phone, took conversations I'd had out of context and used them to discredit my reputation. I was even wrongly accused of stealing some of the company's tapes and had my house searched by the Fraud Squad when my wife was pregnant. As a company, Imagine was inept, unprofessional and immature. I know certain members of Imagine are setting up a new software house - they even had the nerve to ask me whether I'd like to help them - but if things work out for them, then that's fine.
"I'm happy at Software Projects - it's a good, professional outfit and, while the rest of the industry goes into decline, I see our company growing. That's not to say that I can give any guarantees of success - but then no-one can say that have with the market in the state it's in at the moment. Although Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy were both superb and original programs, I think you have to look at Europe and the USA to see good quality programming."
As to the future of Software Projects, what will you be doing over the next few months? "Well, obviously Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy will be converted for virtually every home computer you can think of. This has been imposed on us in many ways; every software house gets lots of mail, but we get thousands of letters just asking us to put either of Matthew's 'Willy' games on to their particular machine - the object of the exercise after all is to give customers what they want."
And, of course, the inevitable question - what's Matthew up to at the moment and when is the next Jet Setting program going to be unleashed on the public? Refusing to be drawn, Colin settled for a simple reply ... "Soon". On being reminded that Christmas will soon be with is, Colin merely smiled and came back with, "Very soon!"

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