No Crash in Computers
Even though the stock market took the big dive last October 19, even though many analysts are calling for a slowdown in the economy (or worse, a possible recession, or for the real doom-sayers, a depression), personal computer hardware and software sales are expected to remain strong and grow stronger.
Almost everyone is expecting 1988 to be a good year. Microsoft, the number one software publisher, predicts that sales of personal computers will rise 26 percent in their current fiscal year (July 1987 to June 1988). Since Microsoft is the supplier of MS-DOS, the operating system for IBM PCs and compatibles, it should have a good idea of sales strength.
Apple Computer also sees a year of growth. John Sculley, Apple's chairman and CEO, recently told a group of analysts that his company foresees an increase of 30 percent in personal computer sales dollars this year. Obviously, Apple hopes a big part of that increase is spent on Macintosh computers.
Fourth-quarter sales for both Apple and personal computer powerhouse IBM showed that lots of people and businesses paid little attention to the market's crash. IBM's final quarter was 6.3 percent better than last year's, while Apple's was a whopping 57 percent higher.
At the consumer end of things, retail giant Sears, Roebuck, & Co. projects a 10percent growth in its computer sales. That's double the increase in 1987. And home computer hardware and software sales, says the Electronic Industries Association, will be better this year than last. Home computer sales will be up 12½ percent, while software sales should jump 25 percent, says the Association.
But it's difficult to explain why businesses and consumers are still going after big-ticket items like computers. One reason may be that several computer companies-Apple and IBM in particular-are coming off a year in which they introduced new and more powerful models that have caught everyone's eyes. Price cutting is another possible contributor, especially in the IBM-compatible market, where clone manufacturers continue to offer more machine for less and less money. Home computer sales may be up because many people will have a bit more money this year, since the tax cuts take effect. And some businesses may see additional personal computers as a way to make their operations more productive, an important consideration if there is a down turn in the economy.
- Gregg Ketzer
Game of Glasnost, Comrade?
The first entertainment software designed in the Soviet Union is now available in the U.S. for IBM and Commodore 64 computers. Called Tetris, the game is a cross between arcade-style action and strategy. Tetris was designed by 30year-old Alexi Paszitnov, a researcher at the U.S.S.R. Academy of Scientists (Academy Soft); it was programmed by 18-year-old Vagim Gerasimov, a student of computer informatics at Moscow University.
The premise of the game is deceptively simple: Four squares, in various configurations, drop from the top of the screen toward the bottom. The player rotates and flips the pieces as they descend in order to form complete horizontal rows where they land-with no blank spaces.
Tetris reached the West after the head of Academy Soft sent a copy of the program to a Hungarian programming company, Novotrade, which has produced software for British and American publishers for the past five years. Spectrum HoloByte is making it a cornerstone of the company's new International Series of entertainment software.
For the American version of Tetris, a Spectrum HoloByte development team rewrote the program, incorporating colorful background scenes representing Gorky Park, Red Square, and other Soviet views.
The IBM version of the game has a suggested retail price of $34.95, while the Commo dore 64 version is priced at $24.95.
- Selby Bateman
Computer Games Go VCR; Teenage Boys Hit the Couch
It's a first. The popular California Games from Epyx has been transformed into a VCR game by the company's new Consumer Electronics Division. VCR California Games is one of three new VCR game ventures being tried by Epyx, a company best known for its entertainment computer software.
Marrying elements of video and board gameplay, VCR California Games begins with players who are out of money but are in a race to reach San Diego from San Francisco. To make enough money for gas and car repairs, contestants take to the surfboard, skateboard, sailboard, and other totally Californian devices, hoping for big prize money and instant fame. At various places on the board game, players turn on the VCR and watch the action as surfers wipe out, skateboarders skate or die, and BMX bikers fly through the air.
Patterned after the hit computer game of the same name, VCR California Games obviously hopes to tap into the huge VCR audience, which includes far more households than the home computer marketplace. Other games planned for release are VCR Golf and Play Action VCR Football. A second line of games uses audio tapes for play-by-play highlights.
Epyx may be basing its VCR expectations on the results of a survey the company recently conducted which said that the majority of boys between 12 and 18-typically the group most taken with computer action entertainment software-would rather watch TV than play sports.
The survey of 1,000 teenage boys may not be an accurate depiction of American teen behavior, but it makes interesting reading nonetheless. Slanted toward electronic entertainment (75 percent said they bought computer games, while less than 20 percent of American households own a computer), the survey reported a stunning 35 percent relaxed by watching TV. Playing sports was a distant second at 18 percent, while using a computer came in third at 13 percent.
- Gregg Keizer
It's All in the Game
They're back ...
Dedicated videogame machines, and the cartridge-based software they support, celebrated a stunning return to form-and profit-in 1987.
According to industry sources, the videogame hardware market alone grew from approximately $100 million in 1986 to over $700 million last year. Such figures may even be conservative: Nintendo, by far the industry leader, claims 1987 sales in excess of $650 million. The Christmas season alone saw sales of 3 million Nintendo game units.
Sharing the spotlight with Nintendo-or peeping out from under that giant's shadow-are Sega, now a division of Tonka, and old familiar Atari, which claims more than 2 million XE game systems sold in 1987.
Nor are the registers through ringing when the unit is sold. The cartridge market is estimated now at over ¾ billion dollars annually, and still growing.
Naturally, such sales surges are attracting some attention within the entertain ment software industry. Those Nintendos, Segas, and Ataris may not all represent lost computer sales, but it's a sure bet that some of them do. This is despite the deeper and more sophisticated gameplay offered by microcomputers.
In some ways, it's easy to understand the soaring sales figures. For one thing, video game systems are less expensive than computers. For another, Nintendo advertises. Hard. Taking advantage of celebrity endorsers, and appealing to the 8- to 12-year-old market, the company has peppered TV with spots citing outstanding arcade action and edge-of-the-seat excitement.
Computer advertisements, on the other hand, aim almost exclusively at adults, pushing productivity, profits, and performance. Hardly the stuff to make Junior lobby mom and dad for a PC under the tree.
Last winter, though, Commodore returned to TV with a series of ads for the 64 that touted superior playability, while also noting the variety of alternatives that a computer makes possible. Other computer manufacturers are also beginning to cite entertainment as a benefit of owning a computer.
Software publishers are also responding to the Nintendo/Sega challenge. For one thing, 1988 will see more, and more dynamic, arcade-style games released for microcomputers than in any recent year. Some of these games are directly imported from the coinop and cartridge worlds; others are wholly original.
The publishers are also picking up some extra profits by licensing computer games for translation to arcade machines.
Looming over all of the interplay are memories of the videogame collapse of the early 1980s. At the time, Atari was in the driver's seat: The crash nearly brought Atari down, and didn't work wonders for its then-parent Warner Comunications, either. There was, to be sure, a simultaneous crash in the computer and software market, but observers have noted that the software crash was neither so severe nor so long-lasting as the collapse of the game cartridge.
The feeling now is that game cartridges are probably a cyclical market, one that will come and go every few years as new crops of children age into and then out of the Nintendo/ Sega/Atari spell.
Computers, on the other hand, tend to grow with their users, as does entertainment software. Once a child out grows videogames, the game machines tend to find their way into closets. Outgrowing arcade software, though, opens the other areas of computer entertainment. And when entertainment pales, there's education, productivity, creativity. . . which is why computer software publishers, while not unmindful of the game machines' renewed growth, are not terrified of it, either.
- Keith Ferrell
The Medium and the Message
Ford Motor Company and Time Magazine are among a growing number of companies mixing their media to get their message across: Computer disks that complement their products can also serve as marketing tools.
Time's NewsQuest is a weekly quiz-on-a-disk based on the current issue of the news magazine. Educators who take part in the Time Education Program, a magazine educational service for schools, can use the disk as a supplement to reading, history, political science, and related curricula. Offered in Apple II and IBM formats, the NewsQuest disk contains a current events quiz based on the articles in that week's issue of Time, as well as ten levels of other test materials. Time is even sponsoring a national competition for $10,000 in scholarships for the school with the highest cumulative scores throughout the year.
A minimum 30-week subscription to the 5¼-inch disk format is $89 plus $16 postage and handling. In 3½-inch format, the price is $109 plus the same postage and handling fee. The disks arrive weekly by first-class mail. For more information, call 1-800-523-8727. (In Pennsylvania, call 1-800637-8509.)
Ford Motor Company puts you in the driver's seat with the Ford Simulator, a $4.95 software package that contains information about the company's products as well as a colorful racing simulation game with drag strip, slalom, and Grand Prix courses. It's available for any IBM PC or compatible with 256K of memory and color graphics capability.
The simulator features animated screens that show off everything from how air bags inflate and how cars cut through the wind to the way an engine runs. A buyer's guide section on the disk has information on five different Ford vehicles. You can configure each car with various options, calculate the sticker price and installment payments, and even compute financing costs. The test track portion of the disk features three racing games.
Ford Simulator is available by check or money order for $4.95 from The Ford Simulator, 14310 Hamilton Avenue, Highland Park, Michigan 48203. Or, you can call toll-free and order the disk with VISA or MasterCard at 1-800-521-3350, extension 300 (Monday-Friday 8:30 a.m.-8:00 p.m. EST). In Michigan, call 1-800-482-5507, extension 300.
- Selby Bateman
Tandy Corporation, maker of Tandy and Radio Shack computers, has signed an agreement with Amway Corporation, seller of household items, wherein registered Amway distributors are given discounts on Tandy computers. Amway product distributors will need the machines to run Amware, special Amway software intended to help the 1 million distributors of Amway products with paperwork and organization.
According to Bob Vis, Amware Project Manager, the software, which Amway sells for $199, contains several modules, including accounting and telecommunications, the latter allowing Amway agents to automate their ordering process by having their PCs communicate directly with Amway's computer. With Amway now selling over 300 products, including its namemaking soap as well as such unlikely items as MCI longdistance telephone service and home security devices, Amware may also ease the burden of inventory tracking for its distributors.
Amware is being licensed by Amway from Internomics, a small California firm that spent over four years developing the software, which is specially geared to managing a multilevel selling agent's business.
By offering them discounts of 5 to 15 percent on computers, Tandy dealers are no doubt eager to get as many of Amway's independent distributors through its doors as possible. Amway, which scored over $1.5 billion in retail sales last year, also gets a percentage of each computer sold.
- Clifton Karnes
RAM Through the Roof
February saw RAM prices nearly triple in less than three weeks. Prices for a megabyte of 256K-bit chips had been around $100, but a combination of the weak U.S. dollar and speculation by Eastern businessmen caused prices to skyrocket to $300 and above.
"The supply of RAM has been dwindling for about a year," says Jack Coakley, of RAM Explosion, a Fairfax, Virginia company specializing in memory expansion hardware,"and prices have been rising slightly, but January and February were unbelievable." RAM supplies have been lowered simply because suppliers can't seem to keep pace with the personal computer industry's ever-increasing demand for more memory.
In Japanese markets, chips aren't being sold at a fixed price; they're being auctioned to the highest bidder. "If you're a gambler," concludes Coakley, "sell your pork bellies and invest in dynamic RAM."
In a related story, Lotus, Intel, and Microsoft have announced a new Expanded Memory Specification (EMS 4.0) that allows owners of IBM PCs, XTs, and compatibles to access up to 32 megabytes of expanded memory. Makers of expanded memory boards, such as AST, Bocaram, and Quadrant, are working to create the EMS 4.0 software drivers for their expansion units. The first of these should be appearing by the time you read this.
The question is, will PC users be able to afford the extra memory the new EMS makes it possible to use?
- Clifton Karnes
MacBiomorphs Are Coming!
Creating life in the lab is nothing startling these days. Whether it's cellular cloning or test-tube babies, scientists are exploring a wide range of alternative lifestyles. Add to their ranks now a growing number of evolutionary biologists, biochemists, and zoologists, all who are beginning to use the computer to mimic evolution by creating artificial life.
Thanks to renowned biologist Dr. Richard Dawkins of Oxford University, Macintosh owners can take part in such evolutionary experiments without leaving their own era. Dawkins' critically acclaimed 1986 book, The Blind Watchmaker: Why the Evidence of Evolution Reveals a Universe Without Design, is now a $7.95 paperback available with an optional Macintosh disk from W. W. Norton & Company. With the software, purchased separately from W. W. Norton, you can breed endless successions of biomorphs, Dawkins' computer creations that can look vaguely like trees, animals, objects, and whatever else they evolve into over many generations.
There's even a $1,000 prize for anyone who can find the genetic key to create a particular Holy Grail-like biomorph whose formula was lost after it evolved. The book, which has been hailed as one of the most important science books of this century, is fascinating, exceptionally well written, and highly recommended. The Macintosh disk was created by Dawkins himself after he received many requests for such a program from readers of the hardback edition. The program requires a minimum of 512K to run and costs $9.95 plus $1.00 postage and handling. Details on ordering the disk are in the paperback edition of the book, available at most bookstores.
- Selby Bateman
PCs Linked in Telemarketing Scandal
If it sounds too good to be true, maybe it is.
Atlanta, Georgia entrepreneur James Ray Houston is connected with two companies being investigated for operating a nationwide trivia game involving PC users. Trivia Masters Productions of Atlanta and Mutual Telecommunications Network of Tampa have recently been linked to scandal in these companies' home towns, as well as cities in Louisiana, Wisconsin, Iowa, Ohio, Maine, and Washington. Both the Associated Press and the computer press have filed reports indicating that these companies may be taking advantage of both the local PC operators they hire and the general public.
The telemarketing plan works like this: Mutual Telecom munications places ads in local newspapers and computer magazines, offering up to $300 a week to PC owners who are willing to let their computers be used for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. In order to be used for telemarketing, the computers need some special hardware and software (both provided by Mutual), for which the owners are required to pay a $600 deposit.
When the system is set up, each PC owner, called a SYOP by Mutual, spends about two hours a day doing housekeeping on his or her system so it can tirelessly make local calls.
When someone answers a call from the computer, they're asked several prerecorded trivia questions. Consumers answer these questions by pressing buttons on their telephones. If they answer correctly, they're told they must pay to play at the next higher level to get a chance at the ultimate grand prize-$100,000. Consumer groups, local Better Business Bureaus, and at least one state attorney general's office are investigating this operation.
According to the Atlanta Better Business Bureau, the president of Trivia Masters Productions, James Ray Houston, has been involved in three other businesses that are no longer in operation, two of which had legal problems. They are advising consumers to exercise "normal economic precautions" when dealing with Trivia Masters.
COMPUTE! contacted Mr. Houston to clarify these charges; we discovered that he started both businesses: Mutual Telecommunications, which contracts local PC users to make calls, and Trivia Masters, which uses Mutual's network to contact consumers and get them to pay to play the trivia game.
"Our problem was that we started this thing by calling people randomly," said Houston. "We wanted to contact as many people as possible, and this was what upset everyone. People didn't understand that they had to pay to play, and they got mad."
According to Houston, Trivia Masters will no longer call people at random. Instead, the company plans to contact probable players in a mailing-players will be told they must pay to play and that they must send in their money before they can play. Longrange plans include having a cable television station display the computer/player interaction on games that reach highstakes levels.
But since Trivia Masters has suspended operations, and local PC SYOPs are not being payed for their efforts, the future of this telemarketing scheme seems uncertain. Mr. Houston is optimistic, however, saying, "We may have started out in the wrong way, but we're on the right track now."