Reply To: Power Chess

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(re: Power Chess) Here’s a bit of the history to Power Chess…
One of my goals for Sierra was to expand our market leadership into additional categories besides adventure games. At the time, chess was a great category. There was one product, I think it was called Master Chess, that was dominating the category. My recollection is that it wasn’t a huge category, but it was a predictable, and solid category.
I don’t remember the numbers, but think it was roughly a $25 million business.
This may be more than you want to know, but, here’s how I thought about it, from my perspective as a software company CEO: My goal was to grab a little more market share in the space each year, with a five to ten year plan to own the category. Generally speaking, when there is a dominant product in a category, you need a lot more than just “the best product” to really win the category. Specifically, Master Chess was entrenched, and there was no amount of money we could spend to immediately own the category. My goal was to have an awesome product, but recognize that our plan was going to be to take 5-10% of the business in year one, and then add 5-10 points per year for each of the next five years.
In other words, I built a plan which called for us to lose money at first, through aggressive spending on product development — but, ultimately win the category.
My designer on the product was a genius (literally) named Elon Gasper. There are some people who you meet in life that you never forget — and, Elon is in this category. An incredibly gifted person. Whereas I thought about Power Chess as a business problem to be solved, Elon had a much more noble cause — he wanted to build the worlds best chess game. Power Chess was Elon’s baby. We had tons of never-before-seen features, all of which were Elon innovations.
I’m not sure what happened to Power Chess, but here’s my educated guess:
To me, Power Chess was a huge success. We launched the product, to critical aclaim, against a product that had been in the market for over a decade, and that was considered to have a virtual monopoly. My recollection is that we exceeded my target market share of 5% by at least double. Everything was on track.
Then, we sold the company. The new owners took one look at the P&L, and said “Why are we spending a million a year to build a chess product that is a distant #2 in the category?” And, promptly axed the product. No one ever called me to ask what my vision for the product was, or why we built it in the first place.
And, as they say…. now you know the rest of the…..
-Ken W