CIPS CONNECTIONSINTERVIEWS by STEPHEN IBARAKI, FCIPS, I.S.P., ITCP, MVP, DF/NPA, CNP
Internationally Renowned Multimedia Authority
This week, Stephen Ibaraki has an exclusive interview with Gary Rosenzweig.
Gary Rosenzweig is the Chief Engineer, founder, and owner of CleverMedia, a game and multimedia development company in Denver, Colorado. He has written 10 books on Macromedia Director and Flash.
Gary has degrees from both Drexel University in Philadelphia and the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. He has been building multimedia projects since 1989. CleverMedia was founded in 1995 and has produced more than 250 Shockwave and Flash games for CleverMedia's sites and other companies.
Gary's book credits include:
Q: Gary, as a leading authority on multimedia, we are very fortunate to have you with us. Thank you!
A: Thank you.
Q: You participated in the SPARC program while in high school. Was this part of the catalyst which prompted your interest in computers and technology?
A: I was actually interested in computers from a very early age. I played with a PDP-11 and an early Apple in the 70s and then lobbied my family hard for my own computer when I was 12. Within days of it arriving, I had begun to program games in BASIC.
Q: You have a computer science degree from Drexel University but you learned even more about newspapers while there. Comments?
A: I lived two lives where at Drexel. One was as a typical geek computer science student. I loved programming. But my other life was as another type of geek -- a newspaper one. Over the course of my undergraduate career, I rose to be Editor-In-Chief of the paper. So I'd alternate between writing recursive sorting algorithms and writing columns criticizing the school administration. By my senior year I figured I should continue to learn more about journalism. So I applied and was accepted at the University of North Carolina for their master's program.
Q: What tips and lessons can you share from your Master’s in Journalism and Mass Communications and then your stint at the Baltimore Sun and your work in media research?
A: The best things I learned in j-school were the basics of writing, reporting, the newspaper business, and so on. I've been able to apply those basics to my current business. Running a network of game sites is kind of like being a publisher as well as a game developer. So I am fortunate that I understand a bit about publishing.
As for my media research, it was too early to really learn anything. That was 1992-94, just before the Web. I predicted over and over again that newspapers would be delivered electronically. It was only a few years later that my primary news source became the Web. Today, my custom My Yahoo page is my "newspaper".
Q: You had a “blast” while building a multimedia news magazine for Ingenius, a Reuters and TCI Cable company. What is involved and what valuable experiences can you share from this time?
A: Ingenius was ahead of its time in all aspects. We delivered a multimedia news magazine to kids 5 days a week. This was a set of large files that were sent out over early (one-way) cable modems every night. The stories had images, text, sounds, video and activities and games.
The whole experience was like going to school to learn about the Web business before the Web business existed. The problems the company had, both technologically and economically, were the same ones that Web companies would face in the late 90s. Ingenius even dot-bombed before the dot-boom.
But what Ingenius did was amazing. There were 3 journalists, 3 educators and 3 multimedia authors all working on up to 6 stories a day. So it was kind of like a newspaper in a way. My job was to maintain the underlying application that presented the stories each day, plus the tools the authors used to compose the stories, plus add games. The whole thing was done in Director 4. It was exciting and fun. After it ended, we all scattered to the far ends of the new Internet economy. So there is a little bit of Ingenius everywhere.
Q: Share a tip from your books including: "Special Edition Using Director MX" (Que Publishing); "Advanced Lingo for Games" (Que Publishing); "Flash MX ActionScript for Fun and Games" (Que Publishing); "MacAddict, Making Music with GarageBand"
A: The best tip from all of them: Programming is just problem solving. Writing a program is just like solving one big problem. But every big problem can be broken down into smaller problems, and so on. So whenever a programming problem seems too hard, it is just because you haven't broken it down enough.
For instance, "making a space invaders" game might seem too hard for a novice. So break it down. "Moving the gun in a space invaders game" might seem too hard as well. So break it down. "Recognizing the left arrow key is being pressed" is doable for a novice. So do that one little bit and then move on to the next little bit.
This one piece of advice can be used to answer about 90% of the email questions I get.
Q: Tell us more about CleverMedia (past, present, future).
A: I left Ingenius because I wanted to be a game developer. Before October 1995, you really needed to work for a large company to develop games. Otherwise, you couldn't get your games in the stores. But in 1995, Shockwave enabled me to make games and then publish them on my Web site. The thing that amazed me was that my little site and a site like Microsoft.com were equally as accessible -- to everyone, all over the world.
So I was one of the first people to have a go at being a Web-based game developer. And it worked. The early business model was to have larger companies license the content to promote their own Web sites. But soon, Web ads took off and we earned money from our own traffic.
CleverMedia ballooned to 9 people in 1999. But that didn't last. When the Web ad market busted, it not only had a direct effect on us, but an indirect effect as most of our clients also were hurt. So I gradually took the company back down to just me and Will Follet, my Art Director since the very start. Will and I actually worked together as a team at Ingenius as well, which means we've now worked together for almost 10 years.
For a while, CleverMedia released a new game every week. That's how we came to have so many games at our sites. We're different than most of our competition because all of our games are ours -- we developed them. Other sites, like Shockwave.com and such, license a lot of their content. The overwhelming number of game sites out there are just free and licensed content.
Q: If one of our readers wanted to start their own technology company, what advice would you give them to ensure their success?
A: 1) Do something that you are passionate about. If you lose interest in the product, then all is lost. So don't start a company to make better widgets because you see an opportunity. Start a company to make better widgets because you love widgets!
2) Planning is fine, but doing is better. I saw lots of companies use up time and money and never get out of the planning stage. If you really want to do something, then start doing it.
3) Focus. This is my problem. CleverMedia has too many different aspects -- licensing, Web ads, shareware, side projects, etc. I'm jealous of people that have a company with a single focus. I notice that they are usually successful.
Q: What valuable lessons can you share from your current projects?
A: You get out what you put in. One of our recent games, Gold Strike, is a huge success. The main reason, I believe, is that we really took the time to perfect every aspect of the game. It wasn't rushed. We could have had something 90% as good in half the time, but I don't think it would be the success it is today.
Q: Please share two surprising experiences.
A: 1) In 1997, we produced a game CD-ROM collection of 25 of our most popular games. We surveyed 1000 people at our site and asked them if they would buy it. 33% said yes. But the reality was that only about 1% bought it. How could that survey have been so far off? Getting people to pull out their wallets is a lot tougher than I thought.
2) My wife owns a used bookstore. She wanted to put all of her books (like 50,000) on the computer and then sell them online. I told her that it wouldn't work. No one wants to buy a $2 used paperback online. The funny thing was that I am mister "the Internet is the future of everything" so it surprised her that I didn't think it would work.
Well, she did it anyway. After 6 months of work, she uploaded her data to some book sites one night. Several orders came in right away, more the next morning, then more and more. It has been pretty much non-stop for the last two years. I've never been more wrong about anything Internet-related.
Q: What future books can we expect from you?
A: None. I'm done with writing books. I'd rather DO. Writing books is a great way to establish yourself in an industry. But at this point, it won't help me. I may be persuaded to write an update to my Director book series, but that's it.
Q: What are the most important trends to watch in your industry, and please provide some recommendations?
A: 1) Web-based games are getting better. Higher quality is expected from the audience.
Q: What kind of computer setup do you have?
A: Right now my main machine is a 17 inch PowerBook with OS 10.3. At work I plug in a keyboard and second monitor.
Q: If you could ask the questions, what would they be and what would be your answers?
A: Q1: Besides the books, do you also have material online that people can read for free?
Q2: You do both game development and other sorts of programming. Which do you like best?
Q: Gary, thank you again for taking the time out of your busy schedule to do this interview.