YOUR SPECTRUM: You have a very close relationship
with Sinclair Research - do you feel you are bathing in reflected glory
DAVID POTTER: Not at all. We have a good close relationship with Sinclair,
that's true. But it has worked to the advantage of both companies. Our software has contributed greatly to the success of Sinclair with both the ZX81 and the Spectrum. We estimate that we have 25 per cent of the Sinclair
software market and that's with only a dozen or so titles. But each one
of these is a high quality product and most important of all, they are
not ephemeral like many of the games for home computers are.
YS: But compared to Sinclair Research you have a very low profile. Is
that because you want to keep out of the commercial limelight?
DP: Again it is true we have a lower profile than many of the software
suppliers in the micro business. But I would maintain that it is software
that sells machines. Sinclair makes sure that we have machines well in
advance so that we can get the products to market at the same time as
the hardware is ready.
YS: Doesn't that mean that you are relying on Sinclair Research to do
a lot of your marketing for you, rather than getting your hands dirty
DP: Our first priority is to develop the best software in the world -
we should like to become the dominant micro software house in Europe. Yes we could have developed a large distribution arm but we decided not
to do that. I think it is a mistake to equate software supplying to pop
records or publishing. Movie making is a better comparison. There you
have two powers in the market place - the studios that create the product
which may cost millions and the distribution chains. We are more like
the studio and we leave the marketing to the distributors.
YS: In that case, why don't you have 'stars' in the same way movie studios
do? Most of your products are just credited to Psion - no author is mentioned.
DP: I don't think that is the way forward. We are a team of people and
I don't think you will find a team that is more dedicated or with a greater
sense of commitment and involvement anywhere. The reason for that is that
the best. We are creating the equivalent of the cars
and aeroplanes that were built in the early days of those industries.
We are not flashy, we are concerned with craftsmanship. That does not
mean that our programmers are not looked after. They are very highly paid,
as they should be in a prosperous industry. You won't find another company
with the capital investment per employee and we have development tools
that are second to none - including the larger software houses.
YS: So that means copyright ownership rests with the company - programmers
do not get royalties?
DP: Yes. We are concerned with building the reputation of Psion, not individuals.
I think it is a mistake to take the attitude of some of the publishers
that have moved into software and promote the author. Some of them are
finding this out the hard way and starting to take our view and set up
professional development teams with high quality tools. It is the only
way that you can put our sort of products together. A program like Flight
Simulation for instance uses lots of very complex mathematics
- there are in fact 12 non-linear, partial differential equations in that
and a lot of sophisticated transformations taking place in real time.
You can't get that sort of thing working without a lot of skill and first
rate tools. And it works - we've sold something like 250,000 units of Flight Simulation,
and who knows how many copies there are around.
YS: You acknowledge that your products are copied - is there any way you
can protect them?
DP: Sure there is a lot of copying going on and I don't approve of it.
We will crush any large scale copying activity but I suppose we must accept
the odd person to person situation. The best method is to keep the product
cheap in the first place, then people will want to buy the proper product
with the documentation that goes with it. We had a lot to do with setting
price standards, and software on the Spectrum is cheaper than on any other
machine. I think because of that the quality and range of software on
the Spectrum is in a league of its own.
I think the worst offenders are teachers who think it is quite moral to
buy one copy and spread it around the whole education system. As a result
the quality of educational software is awful - no one
wants to spend money developing a high quality product that is going to
sell only a couple of copies. Teachers don't live in the commercial world
and don't see that it has to be worthwhile for a company to get into developing
YS: Does that mean that you lose the educational potential of computers
- because there is no software?
DP: We are in the early stages of the development of home computers -
they are not really functional at this stage. There is no communications
available and there is not enough mass storage. But there is tremendous
drive for people to learn about computing and that is why Sinclair's cheap
computers have been so successful. But we see our products as being educational
- take Scrabble - that has tremendous educational qualities. Another of our products that
has sold very well is VU-3D which helps people understand about planes and space.
But the point is that they will not just be fun and not just educational
- soon they will become essential parts of our lives. I think a lot of
people have bought the Spectrum as a cultural tool - to learn about the
computer culture. It's very good for that, despite the criticism it has
received, and it's a good deal more powerful than it is given credit for. Scrabble uses
every byte of a 48K Spectrum and is immensely complex. We were asked to
build a Scrabble program for the BBC
Micro but I don't think it is possible because the machine can't handle
it. There you've only got 32K and lots of that is taken up with the screen
We have purposely tried to bring out software of the highest quality and
with Sinclair we have concentrated on sophisticated products that are
not necessarily just video games. They are educational in the broadest
sense. Flight Simulation can teach you a lot about bearings and radials as well as about navigation,
YS: So what is your policy in selecting products?
DP: It's a very competitive market and I think I would stress high quality.
We have to follow what the market wants but in some ways we can also lead
it - if we do it well. Looking ahead, and without being arrogant about
it, we think we can keep it up.