Big Game Studio Mocks Indie Developer For Saying He Wants To Connect With Fans

from the how-nice dept

It seems that no matter what area of the content creation business we talk about, when we talk about business models that work for smaller, indie content creators, which focus on connecting with fans and giving them a reason to buy, we almost always get someone scoffing about how that model doesn't work for the big blockbusters. First of all, I don't think that's true, but more importantly, it misses the point. If the content creator is happy making a good living with happy and loyal fans, what's wrong with that? Two recent stories in the video gaming space highlighted this issue.

The first, found via Karl Bode, is a story about how Mark Rein, a VP from Epic Games, the large video game developer behind Gears of War among other games, audibly scoffs at Cliff Harris of the one-man shop Positech Games (whom we've written about before, concerning his plans to "compete with pirates.") Harris was on stage discussing how indie developers, like himself, had an easier time "forming personal relationships with gamers." Apparently, Rein loudly announced that forming a personal relationship with "a small number of gamers" was a "waste of time." Harris shot back on his blog, pointing out that (a) whatever he's doing is working for him, because he's been happily making games (and a living) for 13 years and seems to have a devoted fanbase and (b) Mark Rein is a jerk for acting the way he did.

I think it has something to do with the mindset of those who focus on shooting for "blockbuster" type successes. They know that direct one-to-one relationships don't scale to the blockbuster level (not that there aren't different ways to connect with fans), so they look down upon it. But, the thing is, for those who aren't aiming for blockbuster results -- but a good living -- it works out great. And the nice thing is that it's possible to do that these days without having to sell your soul to some company only targeted towards making blockbusters.

Along those lines, JohnForDummies, points us to a talk by BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk at the same conference, where he noted that trying to develop blockbuster video games these days is probably a mistake. Basically, the risk is way too high, because you have to become a top 10 seller to make back your money. Instead, he suggested focusing on more specific, and achievable goals -- which certainly could include focusing on a niche and better connecting with that niche, as Harris described above, despite the scoffing from Rein. The problem is the same one we see in music, movies, books and other arenas, where people have defined "success" one way for so long, they don't quite realize that others define it differently. Where it becomes sad is when it leads to personal attacks on those who have forged their own path successfully.


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  1.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 7:45am

    Most of this comes from executives critically misunderstanding economics. Their definition of success is: making enough money to buy Fiji each time. The more appropriate definition is: making enough money to do it again tomorrow with a little left over to spend on improvements.

    But shareholders don't like the slow-and-steady approach to making money. They want 1000% increase each quarter.

    It's no wonder that when everyone is basing their decisions on an incorrect assumption that an incorrect conclusion will be reached.

     

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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 7:52am

    Another great example...

    And it doesn't even have to be what some call "bad" or "lackluster" games. What you do is find a niche, find a fan base that is dedicated and sizable enough that marketing to them makes sense, and then make a product perfect for them.

    For example, I offer up the Baseball Mogul series. It isn't sexy, the graphics are laughable, and it's market is relatively limited.....and they've been succesfully making them for YEARS. Why?

    Because it's for baseball nerds. We want stats, not graphics. I don't need to see the ivy on Wrigley's walls, but I do need to see how my players' WHIP and OPS+ stats have performed both in the now and historically. I don't need to see every grain of dirt on the pitching rubber faithfully reproduced, but I DO need an accurate reproduction of Aramis Ramirez's slugging numbers as he gets older.

    Baseball Mogul is....perfect. It's for baseball nerds, and it does the job tremendously well. Which is why they're steadily producing games year in and year out....

     

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  3.  
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    John Doe, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:07am

    This is the heart of the problem with big business in the digital world

    By this logic, 99% of everyone should just sit at home and do nothing. I am a computer programmer and if Bill Gates was defined as the measure of success for programmers, than the rest of us might as well hang up our keyboards. Instead, there are many thousands of programmers doing quite well even though nobody knows our name and we don't knock down 7 figures and in many cases even 6 figures.

     

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  4.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:10am

    They scoffed Cliff Harris?? Maybe they are just jealous because he can go about making fun games for real gamers instead of stupid games for drunk frat boys playing Gears of YAWN!

    neeeeeerd raaaaaaaage!

     

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  5.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:13am

    Re:

    It's no wonder that when everyone is basing their decisions on an incorrect assumption that an incorrect conclusion will be reached.

    Calling it incorrect assumptions is too charitable. Use the old name - it is called greed.

    In the financial sector it has just caused the credit crunch - it always causes problems.

     

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  6.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:31am

    Minimum lesson

    There is some evidence that it is possible to connect with fans at the blockbuster scale. In fact, there have been some movies that were a hit BECAUSE someone involved with the project. "Snakes on a Plane" comes to mind.

    The blockbuster-oriented studios may not be interested in connecting with fans, but there is at least one little lesson they could learn. If you can't connect with fans individually, at least try not to piss them off as a group.

     

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  7.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:44am

    Re: Re:

    Greed doesn't cause problems, it has problems that naturally come along with it. So does any other motivator for that matter.

    On the other hand, it leads to things like automobiles, hi-def televisions, your morning coffee, and personal computers. It's also the prime motivator behind Moore's Law.

    Unrestrained and taken to ridiculous extremes, anything becomes absurd. Including both greed and the desire to temper it.

     

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  8.  
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    minijedimaster (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:21am

    Re: Minimum lesson

    Did you just seriously state that "Snakes on a Plane" was a hit?

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:36am

    Re: Re: Re:

    you maybe confusing ambition with greed

     

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  10.  
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    VoicesInMyHead (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:38am

    Re: Minimum lesson

    In fact, there have been some movies that were a hit BECAUSE someone involved with the project. "Snakes on a Plane" comes to mind.

    Reality is the leading cause of stress...
    ...amongst those in touch with it.

    Minimum lesson is obviously stress free..........

     

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  11.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:39am

    Re: Re: Minimum lesson

    maybe by hit, he means made way the hell more money than it would have if it didn't connect with fans.

     

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  12.  
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    Rekrul, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:42am

    Along those lines, JohnForDummies, points us to a talk by BioWare co-founder Greg Zeschuk at the same conference, where he noted that trying to develop blockbuster video games these days is probably a mistake. Basically, the risk is way too high, because you have to become a top 10 seller to make back your money. Instead, he suggested focusing on more specific, and achievable goals -- which certainly could include focusing on a niche and better connecting with that niche, as Harris described above, despite the scoffing from Rein.

    Maybe if the game companies didn't waste money on celebrity voices, copyrighted music in the soundtrack and didn't write the games for only high-end systems, they'd sell more games.

    Computer gaming systems are typically outdated in 2-3 years. Now that DirectX10 is only for Vista/W7, once game companies start using it, XP users will be left out in the cold. Of course to run Vista/W7 properly, you need a top of the line system anyway...

    I greatly enjoyed the two original Thief games from 1998 & 2000. I'd happily buy more Thief games, even if they were done with the same "outdated" engine. Unfortunately, I can't run the third Thief game, because my graphics card doesn't support pixel shaders. I enjoyed the original Halo, but I don't want to have to install Vista/W7 to be able to play the sequel.

     

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  13.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:43am

    Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Nope, ambition is generic in it's desire connotation. Greed is the desire for financial/material gain. Thus defined, I stand by what I said.

     

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  14.  
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    Berenerd (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 9:54am

    Re: Minimum lesson

    i think a better example might be "Serenity" over "Snakes on a Plane".

     

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  15.  
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    Raybone (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 10:11am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    correction: Greed is the unhealthy desire for too much...or as oxford puts it

    "excessive desire to acquire or possess more (especially more material wealth) than one needs or deserves"

    I disagree with your assertion that this was the motivator
    behind any of the advancements you mention or to your implied position that greed is necessary for progress.

    Other factors such as prestige, curiosity, or an insatiable desire to solve problems or discover come to mind as motivators. As for Moore's Law, you really think greed is the prime cause of the desire to put more transistors on a chip? Not a desire to do or compute more?

    Please note that simply a desire for financial gain is NOT greed.

    No offense, but man you live in a cold world.

     

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  16.  
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    Hulser (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 10:21am

    Re:

    I enjoyed the original Halo, but I don't want to have to install Vista/W7 to be able to play the sequel.

    Looking at it one way, you can say that high-end PC games are a niche market -- the kind of which is targeted by indie developers -- in comparison to the blockbuster console games. You don't want to upgrade your computer hardware to the latest and greatest very year, that's fine. It just means that you're not the target for the developer who creates games that push the envelope.

    It's funny that you should use Halo as an example because as someone who doesn't own a console, I was quite disappointed that they stopped making PC versions of Halo. I happened to enjoy Halo 1 and 2, but I wasn't about to buy a console for the "opportunity" to give up my mouse/keyboard for a console controller. So, in a weird way, Microsoft are being more inclusive, not because they require you to install Vista/W7 to play a years-old version of Halo, but because they stopped putting out PC versions of Halo so they could focus on the broader console market which doesn't require you to upgrade your hardware every couple of years.

     

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  17.  
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    zegota (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 10:27am

    Re:

    I don't think companies are going to start developing games for lower-end systems; instead, they are likely going to stop making games for PC at all. Hell, even now, the PC versions of most top games, other than maybe Blizzard games, Valve games and MMORPGs, are just crappy ports of console games with layer upon layer of DRM.

     

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  18.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:29am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    The words excessive and unhealthy are completely subjective in this context and will vary wildly between individuals, so can safely be ignored. Unless you believe you've been handed The Truth on what is excessive or unhealthy desire for material wealth? Nobody gets to decide how much you or I should desire in the way of material wealth; we call this freedom. So, we're stuck falling back to my original definition.

    You're misunderstanding me on how greed motivates creation though. It might be deliberate, it might be I didn't make my point clearly enough. I don't know, so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    Greed does not create by itself, it's incapable, nor is it the only motivator of the creative. It does, however, fund the creative and gives them time to create. It then takes the creations and makes them widely available for a fee. While there are other motivators that can bring a product to ubiquity, none surpass greed in efficiency. None even come close.

    Greed is not perfect. It can be twisted upon itself by those who feel entitled to further gain rather than simply strive for it honestly. An asshat misusing greed can no more blame greed than an asshat misusing a gun, freedom of speech, or the desire of a minority for equal rights. This is why we have laws.

    Now, I know you take issue with the definition still, so let's add "unending" as a qualifier. I still stand by everything I've said. Once the desire for material gain ends, the pressure it exerted for growth ends. I think we can both agree this is a bad thing.

    Yes, I live in a cold world. We all do. Some of us just refuse to wear blinders over our eyes as to the nature of our world.

     

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  19.  
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    Danny, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:30am

    Re: Re: Minimum lesson

    Actually "Snakes on a Plane" does apply here, but I don't think it works the way you intended.

    You have movies and shows that after a while (usually years after they have fallen off of the mainstream's radar) become cult classics. Firefly/Serenity is a good example of this.

    What the people that did "Snakes on a Planes" f'd up on is that they didn't want to wait the 3-10 years it takes for a movie to become a classic on its own. No they wanted classic status now so they could score on it now. And as a result we got viral like marketing and made up hype for a movie that is so bad that it will more than likely never become a cult hit. Its like the makers intentionally tried to make a movie that "was so bad it became good"...and failed.

     

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  20.  
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    Danny, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:33am

    Its all about the big short term score

    The reason larger companies think that they need blockbuster titles is because they want the big short term score. They don't want to have invest in a loyal fan base for 5 years before seeing profits. They want to released a well known title, score big, then move on to the next big score.

     

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  21.  
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    Rekrul, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 11:47am

    Re: Re:

    It's funny that you should use Halo as an example because as someone who doesn't own a console, I was quite disappointed that they stopped making PC versions of Halo. I happened to enjoy Halo 1 and 2, but I wasn't about to buy a console for the "opportunity" to give up my mouse/keyboard for a console controller.

    The controllers are exactly what I DON'T like about consoles. I grew up with Atari and the C64. I've never liked gamepads and their insistence on forcing people to play left-handed.

    Play a first person shooter on a computer and right-handed people aim with the mouse using their right hand. Play on a console and you're expected to aim with your left hand. Why?

    If you could hook up a mouse & keyboard to consoles and then remap the game controls to them, I'd have no problem at all with console games. Well, other than the fact that most of them still use the idiotic idea of only having designated save points.

     

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  22.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 12:18pm

    Re: Another great example...

    For example, I offer up the Baseball Mogul series. It isn't sexy, the graphics are laughable, and it's market is relatively limited.....and they've been succesfully making them for YEARS. Why?

    Heh. Same thing for Out of The Park Baseball, which in my experience I liked better than Baseball Mogul. Much more in-depth, and similarly rabid fanbase. If you like Mogul, you should check out OOTP.

     

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  23.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 12:24pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Perhaps you would like to explain to us why the remaining six deadly sins are all hunky dory....

     

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  24.  
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    Richard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 12:27pm

    Re: Re:

    Maybe because Microsoft and Sony have been buying up all the game companies..

     

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  25.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 12:40pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    Zingers: for when you can neither be bothered to read what someone said nor write an intelligent rebuttal yourself.

     

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  26.  
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    Faceless Minion (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 12:52pm

    Re: Re:

    And yet World of Warcraft is making the kind of money that the Call of Duty developers would sell their souls for... And it's making it steadily, and consistently. Though there are only a few breakaway titles on the PC, they are titles that end up being totally horrid when adapted to consoles.

     

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  27.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 1:45pm

    Develop just published their take on this along with Mark Rein's apology letter.

    Looks like he's not a complete arsehole after all.

     

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  28.  
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    Tom Landry (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 2:08pm

    Rein has always been a loudmouthed lout. Granted, he is good at what he does but his abrasive personality is legendary.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 4:21pm

    Re:

    You are woefully ignorant if you think that you need a top of the line machine to run windows 7.

    Furthermore, even terrible GPUs with pixel shader support will run you less than $50. $50 to replace something you've used for god knows how long at this point is a fair price.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 5:12pm

    Re: Re:

    "they are likely going to stop making games for PC at all"

    And that is why we have crappy games today. They cater to the console gamers, a bunch that can't tell the difference between a good game and a bag of bricks. As long as the bag of bricks has shiny graphics, they'll buy it.

    They have heated arguments on the internet comparing a still image from the same game on two different platforms and arguing about who has the better graphics.

    In the meantime, the PC modders have already cracked open the game, fiddled with the renderer and have graphics that simply murder the consoles.

    That's the main reason the game makers hate the PC market. If you have modders and mappers, there's no reason for people to buy your shiny dlc that brings two new maps and one skin. The modders can make a million of those, a hundred times better.

    If you look at the most successful games, you'll find that they are often the most modded (Half-Life, Quake 3, UT, Warcraft 3). And that is powered by the PC gamers, not the console ones.

     

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  31.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Jul 19th, 2010 @ 5:42pm

    UPDATE: Looks like Mark Rein has apologized.

    http://www.develop-online.net/news/35418/Exclusive-Mark-Reins-indie-apology

    From the letter:
    "After spending the whole day on the plane ride home from England yesterday I was greeted with a link to your blog post and boy do I feel like an ass now. Since I got home last night I've been trying to think of a proper response but I decided just to send you an apology and try to clear up a misunderstanding.

    First of all I want to apologize. It was completely rude of me to interrupt your panel with my opinion no matter how well intentioned. I'm supremely passionate about the plight of indie developers, and game developers in general, and I heard something I thought was incorrect advice and I just couldn't keep my big mouth shut. But there's no excuse for bad manners. You called me on it and it made me realize that it is a behavior I need to try and change for these types of events in the future.

    It's not like some great injustice was being done and needed commentary from me. I was just being a jerk."

     

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  32.  
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    Jay (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 7:20pm

    Note to self:

    When I graduate from college, NEVER work at Epic Games. This also applies for Activision/Blizzard and any other big business entity that doesn't understand this simple concept.

    Glad he apologized but he's still an A-hole.

     

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  33.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:10pm

    Re: Re: Another great example...

    Okay. I'm going to their website right now and ordering it. I hope it's worth it....

     

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  34.  
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    Chargone (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 8:50pm

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re:

    which doesn't necessarily mean they don't make a point worth considering.

    doesn't mean they do either.

     

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  35.  
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    Mike Masnick (profile), Jul 19th, 2010 @ 10:35pm

    Re: Re: Re: Another great example...

    Okay. I'm going to their website right now and ordering it. I hope it's worth it....

    I've bought it 8 straight years in a row, and spend way too much time on it. The interface may take a little getting used to, but once you realize how much power there is, you'll be amazed.

     

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  36.  
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    Dark Helmet (profile), Jul 20th, 2010 @ 6:30am

    Re: Re: Re: Re: Another great example...

    It finished downloading last night. It's a shame that company's website is such a momumental waste of space. In any case, I'm looking forward to checking it out after work...

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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