Joined: 25 Sep 2000
Location: Colorado, USA
|Posted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:33 pm
New Year's Letter from Zugg (Plans for 2006)
Happy New Year!
It's traditional for me to review the past year at Zugg Software and give you a preview of what's coming for the next year. So, let's first look back on 2005:
Zugg Software in 2005 - A humbling year
In some sense, 2005 was a failure. The eMobius email project turned out to be much larger than I had ever anticipated, and never got written. I spent most of the year working on the zApp Development system to try and make it a real commercial product, and it failed.
As mentioned in last year's letter, I hired a marketing firm to work with me to get zApp some attention. This was a total failure. After spending over $10,000 marketing zApp, I ended up with just a handful of sales. I didn't get any sales at all from the big developer's conference in July.
So, not only did eMobius *not* get written, not even zApp sold enough copies to help us much. Our income from zMUD continued to be stable, but we were still (and still are) losing money every month.
Our negative experience with zApp has been a real eye-opener. I mentioned last year that I wasn't sure if developers were ready for zApp. Apparently I was right. Nobody seems to be interested in a simpler way to script user interfaces or to write small customizeable applications. Developers only seem to want big visual development environments, or .NET stuff.
Also, I learned that the price of a product has a real impact. zApp was just too cheap, so most developers dismissed it as a "toy" product. If I had charged $199 for it then it might have gotten noticed. Then again, zApp was never meant to compete with full visual development environments such as Delphi or Visual Studio. But that's what developers seem to want. Few seem to care about simpler systems like zApp for making user-scriptable applications.
Even I learned the limitations of zApp when I was trying to write eMobius. While zApp is great for smaller applications, it's hard to write something large and complex like a full Outlook-type application with it.
So zApp was a big failure and it caused me to rethink a lot of my future plans.
On the zMUD front, I did end up releasing a new version in 2005 with spellchecking features. In addition, I ended up redoing the entire copy protection system and finally eliminated the eLicense system from all of our products. Not only did this save us money (we paid eLicense fees), but the new license system is less intrusive than eLicense and our email support load has already dropped below where it was with the eLicense systems.
While updating the copy protection system, I wrote the entirely new Zugg Software Store part of our web site. This was a complex task, resulting in, not only an online store for buying our products securely, but also a full customer database where customers can retrieve their own license keys and update their own contact information over time. This online store rivals that used by many large companies and I'm very proud of how it turned out. And customer feedback for the new store has been extremely positive.
The best part of 2005 was my switch to a low-carb lifestyle (see Blog entry). This change in lifestyle gave me more energy and made it easier for me to concentrate and think. Remember all of those ideas that I'd get when I was sick in the past? Well, I get those ideas all the time now! It has been an incredible improvement to my life and Chiara's life.
So while 2005 was a failure from a business point of view, there were many positive aspects of it that will continue having an big impact on our future.
The Future of Zugg Software in 2006
When I was talking to a friend about my plans for eMobius and zApp, he made a comment that really caused me to stop and think. He said:
|Let me see if I understand this: You want to give up your market leading position in the MUD community so that you can be a small niche player in the email market?
Well, when you put it this way....he really had a good point. In fact, in the 2 years since I first started thinking about an email client, the competition (Mozilla Thunderbird) has really improved a lot. Was this competitive email market really where I wanted to be?
One of the reasons I was originally thinking about an email client was to boost sales and stay in business. But after the zApp marketing fiasco, I'm no longer convinced that an email client can help. It's clear that I'd have to spend more money than I have to market eMobius enough to get it enough attention. And more money means investors and a lot of stress and complications. Did I want to spend my life in that kind of market?
And what about MUDs? Are they really dying? I was worried that MUDs would be killed by big graphical games such as World of Warcraft, EQ2, Guild Wars, etc. But this hasn't happened. Sure, some MUDs have had trouble with decreased player population, but some MUDs seem to be fine. In fact, as some people have gotten bored with WoW, or been annoyed at Sony's changes to Star Wars Galaxies, some MUDs have gotten an increase in players.
MUDs certainly haven't died. In fact, another friend made another interesting comment:
|Maybe your zMUD sales have decreased because you haven't really been actively working on zMUD for five years now!
Maybe that's true. Between AC Explorer, zMapper, zExplorer, zApp, eMobius...zMUD has gotten very little attention for over 5 years now. And that's about how long sales have been dropping. So, were MUDs dying, or were people just less interested in buying zMUD if it wasn't being actively worked on?
The business problem with zMUD was the promise I made 10 years ago about free upgrades for life. With free upgrades, it's difficult to fund new development. And since zMUD was originally written for Windows 95, there are a lot of problems with zMUD that can't be easily fixed. How do you completely rewrite an application when there is no business case for doing so?
Well, the solution as you have probably already heard about is do make a whole new MUD client product. The new MUD client is called CMUD (Chiara's MUD Client), named for my wife (For more details on CMUD, see the CMUD Beta Forum). This MUD client is being written specifically for Windows XP and will be compatible with existing zMUD scripts. But the new CMUD client will not have free upgrades for life...it will only have free upgrades for 2 years. This will make it possible for me to continue working on CMUD and still make enough money to stay in business.
In fact, as I started looking into doing a new MUD client last August, I started thinking of all sorts of things that could be done better than zMUD if I didn't have to worry about old versions of Windows. Old versions of Windows had severe resource limits that are not a problem in Windows XP. zMUD doesn't even compile in the later versions of Delphi, which makes it hard to work on. With CMUD, I can use Delphi 7, which is what I used for zApp, allowing me to build upon the zApp technology that has been developed last year for user-interface scripting.
The more I thought about a new MUD client and how it could be improved, the more excited I got. And when I posted a survey to the web site about "zMUDXP", the positive response was overwhelming.
So in 2006, I am returning to my roots. I am re-focusing Zugg Software back into the MUD market.
In 2006 you'll see the first Beta version of CMUD around the end of March (release dates always subject to change). Then, during the Beta period, you will see many new enhancements added to CMUD with regular updates. You'll also see a CMUD-Pro expansion that integrates the former zMapper functionality with CMUD, and adds SSH support. You'll also see a zTelnet product that strips out the MUD-specific features of CMUD, and adds just the SSH features from the CMUD-Pro expansion into a separate product for the business market.
After the public version of CMUD is released (probably late in the summer), you'll see more focus on the mapper aspects of CMUD and CMUD-Pro.
My desire is to rekindle the MUD fire. With improved mapping graphics and capabilities, I think MUDs can become better and better. We all know that many graphical MMORPGs are just simple MUDs with a pretty graphical interface. The gameplay of most MMORPGs pale in comparison to many MUDs with their deep gameplay and roleplaying.
But MUDs are not going to get attention by themselves. They need a developer working to improve the client and to do some marketing to get MUDs noticed again. And that's where Zugg Software can help.
As part of this focus back on MUDs, I plan to start playing MUDs again myself, and will be teaching Chiara how to play a MUD (so she can write some really killer documentation and tutorials for you). I haven't played MUDs in over 5 years, and I think that shows in what has happened to zMUD during that time.
So 2006 should be a big year for MUD players. CMUD will bring MUD clients back into the modern age and give me something to build upon for the future.
Conclusion and Summary
2005 was a learning year. While a failure from a business point of view, the zApp technology that was developed will become a crucial part of the new CMUD client and future products. But in all of our future products, I want to keep "FUN" in the forefront. Zugg Software is not a database company, and it's not an email company. Zugg Software is a gaming company and I'm here to create products for gamers. I'm here to have fun, and to help you have fun too. I lost this focus last year, but I've learned from my mistakes and will try to make up for it with a great 2006. I hope you will join me.
For those who really wanted to see eMobius, I apologize, but I suggest that you take another look at Mozilla Thunderbird. It's a good Outlook alternative that's getting better all the time. Sure, it's open source, with all of the pros and cons of that, and it's not eMobius. But it's good enough for most.
For those who really wanted more zApp, don't fret. I'm using zApp technology in CMUD and it's not going away. While I might not market it as a major development system, and might not ever get around to making a graphical IDE for it, zApp is still useful and will continue to be useful. Future updates to zApp are still a real possibility.
For those who wanted to see more zMapper, you'll be happy in 2006. While zMapper may change as a product and see more integration with CMUD, you'll get a lot of the features you have been looking for in 2006 and beyond.
And for those who still play MUDs and understand how much better they can be than those MMORPGs with the pretty graphics, you'll be really happy in 2006 as I focus all of my attention on the new MUD client and growing the entire MUD community.
I've learned that I can't please everyone. I can't keep trying to write *all* of the applications that I have ideas for. There just isn't enough time for a single developer to do a quality job on multiple projects. I've learned that I really need to be focused and need to stick with core products that have an existing customer base.
Thanks to all of the customers and zMUD supporters who have stayed with me during the past few years. I apologize for taking focus away from our core products and disappointing you for these past couple of years.
Finally, I want to thank my wife Chiara for all of her support and inspiration. Chiara is becoming more involved in Zugg Software in 2006 and that will show in many ways. And without Chiara, I would have never discovered the low-carb lifestyle that has made such a difference in my life and given me the energy that I thought I had lost.
Stay tuned, it should be a fun year!
New Year's letter from 2005
New Year's letter from 2004
New Year's letter from 2003
New Year's letter from 2002
New Year's letter from 2001
New Year's letter from 1999
New Year's letter from 1998
Survey results from 1999