Sunday, January 29, 2006

Shockwave market confusion

Yesterday, I sent Alice of Wonderland a tip that the inspirationally awesome Dodge That Anvil game had a demo out, and she added it to her gaming blog.

Now, Alice is a knowledgeable tech writer, well-steeped in the games industry and cognizant of both hardcore and casual gaming trends. And yet, she said that the game is "a 3D platformer built entirely in Flash." She also says, "Give it a few more years and we'll be seeing Windwaker in flash, I don't doubt."

This irks me somewhat because Dodge That Anvil was built in Director, not Flash. Even someone as clueful as Alice can't differentiate the two. This is no fault of hers, mind you - as always, I'm impressed that she dug a little deeper and thought about what it means for the future of gaming, the sort of stuff which makes her blog a joy to read.

My gripe is with Macrodobe. They have done a very poor job in differentiating the two products because they keep changing the names of the damn plugins. "Shockwave" started out as the Director playback engine. Then the golden-haired Flash came along, and the Flash plugin was named "Shockwave for Flash," and was largely referred to as "Shockwave," with "Shockwave for Director" used as the identifier when speaking of the Director plugin. Now that everyone is used to thinking "Flash equals Shockwave," they've gone and named the Flash plugin "Flash Player," and the Director plugin "Shockwave Player". To think that anyone but Flash and Director developers could keep this stuff straight is lunacy. The end result is that people misattribute great Director content to Flash.

Now, Director developers are already feeling a bit like second-class citizens compared to Flash developers, left in the dark with only sporadic updates, and these delivering mostly UI improvements, not the things we desperately need like an update to the 3D engine, OS controls, and nested movies like Flash has with their movieclips. In fact, the last major feature was adding Javascript support to Director as a concession to Flash developers.

Because Director has to compete directly with Flash for development dollars within the company, it's especially painful to see great Director content mistaken for Flash content. Not only does this not increase demand for Director content, thus not helping its position within the company, but it artificially inflates demand for Flash content, which actually hurts its relative value.

Macrodobe is in a position where they could corner the casual games development market. It's taken a while, but Shockwave3D is finally starting to demonstrate its real power as developers start coming out with their offerings - games like Dodge That Anvil! are superb examples of this. If the executives are smart, they'll capitalize on that, and not let the opportunity continue to languish. They need to start a marketing campaign aimed at casual game developers to show them what Director can do for them, and they need to dump development dollars into the product to bring it up to date. If they do it right, no one will be able to touch them. If they do it wrong, someone else will reap the benefits, and myself and a bunch of other Director developers will have to abandon our years of knowledge and start afresh somewhere else. I just hope they see the gold mine they're sitting on.

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