Editorial license. (meeting and functions of the Software Publisher's Association) (Editorial)
by Clifton Karnes
If you've heard of the SPA (Software Publisher's Association), you probably think of it as the software police. The SPA certainly has been the most active counter-piracy group in the country, and the organization has played a key role in several arrests and legal actions against software pirates. Recently, for example, the SPA aided the FBI in closing down "Rustie & Edie's," a huge pirate BBS located in Boardman, Ohio. This counterpiracy activity is important, and it's worth noting that this not only helps software publishers but protects consumers, too. But the SPA is much more than just an antipiracy organization, and that's what I want to talk about this month.
The SPA is a worldwide association with more than 1000 members from the software publishing industry. The membership is generally divided into business, consumer, and education groups, and the entire body meets twice each year, in spring and fall. The SPA spring symposium was held this past March in sunny San Diego and was attended by a record number of members. I attended several meetings, and what impressed me most was that the focus was not on software publishers themselves but on consumers. On how to give us more value for our money. And on how to make it easier for us to make buying decisions. Here are some examples.
At one of the symposium's first meetings, Phil Adam of Interplay Productions told a group of assembled consumer section members that all software publishers needed to arrive at a standard way to express the requirements for their software. "If we can make our packages clear and easy to understand, so someone standing in a store looking at our software can tell in a few seconds if the program will work with his or her hardware, we'll make it easier for everyone to make intelligent decisions on whether or not to buy our package. If our software won't work on a user's system, or won't work well, we don't want someone to buy it and be disappointed later when they try it. And if every package in the store is labeled in the same clear way, it will be easy for consumers to compare and easily tell what's going on." Clearly Phil is interested in more than just sales. He wants to increase the overall quality of software across the board, so end users are better served.
The next day, in a session devoted to the future of consumer software, Jeff Braun from Maxis gave a visionary's view of the future. "Every year," he said, "we have to give consumers more of what's important to them." One aspect of this escalating value is the integration of different software products, something like the way Windows programs can integrate with each other using DDE and OLE. Jeff said he's working with Mallard, the maker of top-notch flight-simulator scenery disks, so that Maxis's Sim products can be integrated with Mallard's scenery disk technology. "With this cooperation, you could, for example, fly over a city you've created, increasing the value of the experience you'll get from the software." Jeff also thinks it's important for larger software companies to nurture smaller companies. "When you find talent," he said, "do everything you can to make it grow."
Another expression of this attitude came from Mike Knox of Park Place Productions, a company that develops software for Spirit of Discovery and several other labels. Recently, his company developed a math-learning tool that Grolier is marketing. "We really worked on this at my company, and it was fun! It's the kind of product I really like to do. We're paid by Grolier for producing a good product, Grolier gets revenue when it sells the final program, and kids learn some great math skills. Everybody wins, and that's how I like to do business. In fact, if it doesn't look like everyone's going to win when a project's starting, I cancel it."
These are just three snapshots from a conference that lasted more than four days, but they show you that the SPA is more than just the software police. It's a group whose members are trying to produce better software products for all of us.