Pop quiz—Reintroducing old software that's already been published is like (choose one):

a) Refurbishing worn toothbrushes

b) Re-chewing chewed chewing gum

c) Remarrying an ex-spouse

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Take two

Pop quiz—Reintroducing old software that's already been published is like (choose one):

a) Refurbishing worn toothbrushes

b) Re-chewing chewed chewing gum

c) Remarrying an ex-spouse

If you picked a, b, or c, congratulations—you, too, can be a software publisher.

See end of article for related links.

Historically, software companies have been averse to re-releasing products that have had one shot at the shelf. The reasoning seems to be that once a package has been found unworthy by retailers and consumers, it is unclean, forever branded with a scarlet mark-down tag.

Yet rampant republishophobia frequently ignores the underlying reason why bad things happened to good titles: Distribution or marketing may have been so poor the first time around that most consumers didn't know it was available. The software may have pushed the technology envelope so hard that there weren't enough people who could run it. And many products

created during the 1994-96 multimedia

CD-ROM blitz simply came on the market before there was a critical mass of multimedia PCs in the hands of a broad base of consumers.

A few companies have finally realized this, and apparently have rethought product strategies to include the possibility of a re-launch. It can pay off: A current best seller, CyberFlix's Titanic: Adventure Out of Time, is actually a two-year-old product that could have drowned when its original distributor, GTE Interactive, sank. It has been revived by CyberFlix and Cendant Software to ride the wake of Titanic's film popularity.

Others have found new life at new prices or with new publishers. Budget publisher Expert Software has re-released the excellent astronomy program RedShift 2, developed by Maris Multimedia and originally published by Maxis. Bellevue-based Corbis, which created a half-dozen critically acclaimed nonfiction multimedia products, sold distribution rights last November to Canadian publisher I. Hoffmann + Associates. Virgin Interactive has sorted through its own catalog to create the White Label, a low-priced brand for once-popular games such as The Seventh Guest and Command & Conquer.

But there are still a lot of good multimedia programs that essentially are out of print, such as the charming Muppets CD-ROM from Bellevue's Starwave. Re-release now would likely be both a welcome surprise for consumers who may not have owned PCs during the first multimedia "bubble," and a way for publishers to recoup some sunk

title-development costs.

Truly good software should never be allowed to die. As in any relationship with potential, just because the timing between a publisher and customer wasn't right the first time doesn't mean the sparks can't fly when both partners are finally willing.

Playtime

Want to buy that new game you just heard about? Better not blink. An analysis of PC Data's game-sales figures for the 12 months ending in March showed more than 4,600 different games spent time on shelves during that year—a number up 10 percent from a year earlier.

While this means a lot more choice for game buyers, it also means the typical game likely has a lot less shelf time to prove itself. Computer superstores carry an assortment of 1,600 software packages on average, and mass merchants fewer than 600—far fewer than the number of games

vying for a spot. The reflex that gamers ought to practice isn't fire, but grab.

The truth is out where?

The release this month of The X-Files Game simultaneous with the X-Files film may hide a bigger product conspiracy: why no one at publisher Fox Interactive seems to want to admit who actually created the software. When questioned at the Electronic Entertainment Expo trade show last month, Fox public relations representatives appeared unaware that the title was developed by Seattle's HyperBole Studios, and had no idea whether anyone from HyperBole was even there. Perhaps they should ask the Smoking Man.

Web agnostic

Bellevue Community College hosted its annual MediaFest awards for student work in digital and electronic media this month, including a refreshing Web Authoring winner from Jim Miller. His Web site, rather than specifying it was "best viewed with" Microsoft Internet Explorer or Netscape Navigator, had a similar logo that instead suggested, "Any Damn Browser."

MS-prescribed

The latest business software tip making the e-mail rounds: 1) Go into Microsoft Word. 2) Create a new document. 3) Type in "Unable to follow directions," and highlight that text. 4) Under the Tools menu, select Thesaurus. The suggested replacement seems to call less for step-by-step oversight and more for a doctor's prescription for Viagra.

Free stuff!

To honor this week's release of Windows 98, a question (and contest): With the expected eventual merging of Windows 98 and Windows NT, what should Microsoft call the next release of the Windows operating system? E-mail your suggestion no later than July 1 to contest@catalanoconsulting.com. The winner gets a selection of fabulous prizes culled from the free stuff I pick up at computer industry trade shows. Unused, of course.

Frank Catalano, a Seattle-area analyst for computer industry companies and the co-author of Marketing Online for Dummies, can be reached at catalano@catalanoconsulting.com.

Related Links and information:

X-Files

http://www4.xfilesmovie.com/

Starwave - Demand they bring back the Muppets

http://www.starwave.com/

 
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