ReAction: Colossal Cave – ✨ Out & About ✨ & 20% off Sale on Steam Two Days Left!

Greetings all!

I’ve spent the last week researching marketing for games.

The sales curve for most books, movies and games reminds me of a fancy dinner at home. You spend all day in the kitchen, slicing, dicing, prepping, cooking, plating, etc. And then, the food hits the table and it’s all over in 20 minutes. Game development is a little like that. Years are spent in development, and then comes launch day. In the first week after launch there is a lot of excitement. Your game is featured everywhere. The game releases, and in the first week, you book most of the revenue you’ll ever see.

In my old days running Sierra, launching a new game was mostly about “loading the channel.” In those days games were sold in boxes and we would load in pallets of game boxes at retailers like Walmart or Costco. We wanted the game to be in front of everyone, no matter where they shop. On a hot title we would often load the channel with a hundred thousand or more copies of a game. In the weeks following the release, there would be a massive explosion of sales, followed by a return of any unsold inventory, and then some steady level of sales would continue for a fairly long period of time.

That’s not how it works in today’s world. There is still physical distribution of games, but it’s not the bulk of revenue. In today’s world, most sales come from online distribution. With our Colossal Cave game, effectively all revenue will come from a player going to an online store, for example, Steam for PCs, or appearing inside their VR headset, or on their Switch or Playstation. These stores usually feature a handful of products that are NEW or ON SALE, and in most cases that’s what players will buy. Appearing up front on one of these stores is the equivalent of my old Sierra days where selling games meant locking in retail shelf space. Looking at industry stats, in 2022 one of these online stores, Steam, had nearly 11,000 new games released, with the number growing every year. Their current catalog shows over 50,000 games! How does a game get attention in that crowd?

We’ve now launched our game on a few platforms with some bigger ones launching over the next couple months (Playstation, Mobile, LOTS of new VR devices). We have a lot of marketing to do, and after every launch comes the effort to keep the game in player’s minds. We have the good fortune that Colossal Cave is a game that has been around for nearly 50 years. It’s a classic, and something that has become a part of modern culture. Virtually everyone has stumbled into phrases like “XYZZY” or “PLUGH” at some time or another. There are 10s of thousands of websites that refer to the game. We are also in the fortunate position that word of mouth and reviews on the game are positive. I need to figure how to get that word out, and convince players to go the extra mile to search for our game in stores, long after we’ve been dropped from the NEW page.

Bottom line: Game Development is easy compared to Game Marketing in today’s world, or so it seems. I spent the weekend watching Youtube videos on things like “Marketing Strategies on TikTok” and “How to advertise on Adwords.” I’ll figure it out, but coding is a lot more fun….

And with that said, there are some special treats in this issue of ReAction! I stumbled into an old interview with Roberta from 1991. In it she predicted the game market expanding in the future, and pondered the question of how her games might be able to compete in a crowded market. There’s also an awesome interview we did with a YouTuber named Kilg0re_Tr0ut. We had a blast doing it, and the interview shows that. 

Best wishes!

– Ken Williams

In this edition …
  • Ken & Roberta chat with Kilg0re_Tr0ut during GOG’s livestream
  • Roberta was interviewed for Sports Illustrated’s Video Games.
  • Roberta made USAToday’s list of Women in gaming!
  • A reprint of a 1991 French Magazine interview with Roberta
  • Final two days of Steam Spring Sale! Colossal Cave 20% off!

Thank you for reading.

Ken & Roberta

Out & About

Ken & Roberta chat with Kilg0re_Tr0ut on GOG’s Twitch Livestream! They go into depth about their history with Colossal Cave, and the formation of Sierra On-Line.  Not to be missed interview!
Roberta was Interviewed for Video Games on Sports Illustrated – get her insights in this article here by Georgina Young.
Reprinted from Tilt Magazine, 1991
Originally published in French

Tilt: Roberta, many of our readers admire you and would like to know a little more about you. What were the events that led you to become an author of adventure games for computers?

Roberta Williams: It all really started in late 1979. I was in Los Angeles with my husband, Ken, who was working as a programmer there. I think that was when the Apple II first came out. And Ken wanted one! Having a computer in your home in 1979 seemed weird, especially to me because I knew Ken was working on huge computers for boring things like payroll, taxes, etc. Besides, such a purchase was a big deal to me. Besides, such a purchase was a lot of money (12,500 francs), more than our monthly income. The arrival of the Apple II did not immediately change our lives. The first spark came from somewhere else. One day, Ken brought home a terminal so he could work. It was one of those old terminals (revolutionary for its time!) that looked like a typewriter, linked by modem (the old model where you use the telephone handset) to the mainframe. There was no monitor, in fact, a printer was used as a screen and displayed all the data input and output! It was on this strange terminal that I played my first adventure game! Ken had connected to a mainframe that offered a text-based adventure game called Colossal Cave. You could only enter verbatim commands, like go north. I loved it so much that I asked Ken if there were similar adventure games on the Apple II. We later found out that there were very few on the computer, mostly by Scott Adams (Adventure International label). I played all the games available on the market but I didn’t find them as good as Colossal Cave. That’s when I was tempted to write one myself. That’s how Mystery House was born. Remember, at the time, there were only text adventures on the market. Introducing graphics into Mystery House was, in my opinion, the best way to offer a decisive “plus” over the competition. Unfortunately, there were no graphics utilities available for the Apple II (in 1980). So Ken developed a graphics utility that could integrate the images into my game.

T.: I suppose you did all this in your spare time.

R. W.: I had plenty of time because I was a housewife. Ken was working on Mystery House in his spare time. I’ll continue my story… When the game was finished, we placed an ad in Micro Magazine! We were immediately inundated by a flood of submissions. This was to be expected as it was the first graphic adventure game on the market. Every Apple II owner wanted to have it. We spent hours duplicating it on our Apple II! I was also in charge of the accounting, and writing a new scenario (Wizard and Princess, in color to boot!). That lasted for six months until we decided to get more serious about this business, hence the creation of Sierra On-Line.

T.: We know the rest of the story with the success of King’s Quest. I’d like to get your opinion on the evolution of our economic sector and the place that a company like yours could take in it.

R. W.: If you compare our industry to the movie industry, we are still in 1929, which was the transition from silent to talkies. We are going to make a fantastic leap in the next few years and join the world of entertainment, especially the cinema. It is thanks to sound and special effects that cinema has become this gigantic industry. When computers are able to offer the same thing at a reasonable price (which will be soon), we will make that famous leap. I’m thinking of CD-ROM.

T.: Developing products on CD-ROM, for example, will be very expensive, according to the industry. Many people think that game publishers on computers will not be able to keep up, unless they are as powerful as Walt Disney or Lucasfilm. What do you think?

The creator of King’s Quest speaks…

R. W. That’s probably true, and Sierra is trying to make sure that it can keep up with the times. King’s Quest V, for example, was designed in anticipation of a CD-Rom edition. This product cost us a million and a half dollars and we had to adopt cartoon-like development techniques. Will we have the financial and human resources to develop even more ambitious products? I think so.

T.: You are now at King’s Quest V which, if I believe the figures, is a huge success in the United States on PC. We’re talking about 200,000 units sold! Tell me frankly, aren’t you tired of creating sequels to King’s Quest?

R. W.: (Laughs). How can you be blah in this fast-paced business? I can’t say I’m bored, but I do wonder about my writing skills!

T.: The success of your titles is proof of that.

R. W.: Yes, but… I’ll tell you an edifying anecdote. A few days ago, a conference was held in Sierra that brought together the company’s directors. The question of the day was why King’s Quest was so successful. All of them answered that it was due to the VGA graphics, the sound, the brand image of the series, etc. In short, the success was due to the fact that the game was a technical breakthrough. In short, the success was due to the technical aspect of the game! It gives you pause, as an author! Now let’s assume that all adventure games had the same technology as KQ V. It would come down to determining the quality of the game by its storyline. I must admit that this is what scares me. When that time comes, will I be recognized as a good writer? That’s the question that worries me!

T.: You don’t know if you have time, do you?

R. W. Absolutely. There’s not enough competition out there to get a sense of my abilities.

T.: But isn’t it stimulating to try to find out what you’re worth?

R. W. It’s challenging and scary at the same time. How will my games be perceived in five years, when there will be high quality software on the market? Will they be boring, without personality? I don’t know and that makes me anxious.

T.: Have you thought about changing the register. I mean, doing something else than KQ?

R. W.: Yes, and I’m actually going to try a new kind of adventure game. I tried a mystery with Colonel’s Bequest, but the result was not very satisfying to me. This time I’m going for the Indiana Jones genre.

The answer to Roberta Williams’ scary question will be given to us in front of our machines…

on the Steam Spring Sale!
Get Colossal Cave 20% off
in this glorious sale!!
in summary


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