Snood is basically a clone of Bust-a-Move -- an excellent one, and something that has wasted way too much of my time -- but I'm not writing about it because of the gameplay; I'm writing about it because of its history, and its business model.
In 2001, Jupiter Media Metrix, a research company, released a report in which they listed the ten most-played computer games. Not the ten best-selling computer games; they asked people what games they actually had installed on their computers, and what they played most often.
Not surprisingly, the list was led by Solitaire and Minesweeper; and a few commercial games, including The Sims and Roller Coaster Tycoon were on the list. The surprise was #9: Snood.
Snood is what today we would call a casual downloadable game, but at the time, this was a category that did not yet exist. It succeeded wholly as shareware, without any kind of portal exposure, and yet it has sold in the millions. As I wrote in 2003:
- Game developers almost can't take Snood seriously. Its success calls into question their very lives--the long hours spent laboriously building these huge, expensive 3D worlds, these involved software engines with amazing visual effects and complicated AI. If it's all really as simple as Snood, why are they working 60 to 80 hours a week for years at a time?
Well, as the explosion in casual games, broadly defined (that is, Flash games and social network games as well as casual downloadables) shows, it really is all that simple, and there's a large and in many cases profitable market beyond the hardcore.
In fact, for years I thought Dave Dobson, the game's creator, was being foolish for not taking Snood to casual game channels; companies like PopCap and Playfirst were making huge amounts of money through the portals, and there was no obvious reason that Snood couldn't do the same. He was, I thought, leaving money on the table.
But today, that decision doesn't look so foolish. Revenues for the developers of casual downloadable games are trending toward zero, with the portals and intermediaries like Oberon now typically demanding an absurdly greedy 80 fucking percent of consumer revenues, and sites like Big Fish offering access to every game in creation for a few bucks a month, with the developers getting mere pennies as a result.
Dobson has lost a lot of exposure, and doubtless many unit sales, by avoiding the channel -- but he's still getting 100% of the consumer dollar (minus credit card fees and such). He doubtless did miss out on the casual explosion, back when it was good for developers -- but he's not getting screwed, the way everyone else is, today.
Maybe there's life in shareware games yet.