VIDEO GAMES For 'Snood' fans, shareware title is just the right fit

The game has spawned two sequels and provides a manageable dose of play.
Maybe you've never been online. Maybe you're from an alternate reality where "Internet" refers to the lining of your swimming trunks. Those are the only viable excuses for missing out on "Snood."
As "Snood" creator Dave Dobson put it in a recent phone interview, "It's everywhere."
Though it shares some design features with other games (notably "Bust-a-Move" and "Bubble Bobble") and may have been imitated more than any game other than "Tetris," the original "Snood" is as wildly popular now as it was when Dobson unleashed it on the world in 1996.
Birth of 'Snood'
Dobson, now an assistant geology professor at Guilford College in North Carolina, needed a distraction from his doctoral dissertation while at the University of Michigan. He's had a passion for gaming and game programming since his boyhood and decided a puzzle game would suffice.
"I'd seen a lot of puzzle-type games you could do in a short time and have some fun with without having to commit for 20 hours," Dobson said. "Also, I wanted something my wife would play."
Nearly eight years later, "Snood" is the scourge of college dorms and offices or just about anywhere there are PCs, Macs, Game Boy Advances, personal digital organizers or cell phones.
Snood is ridiculously easy -- at first. Rows of Snoods, colored animated shapes with silly faces, are stacked at the top of the game screen. Players launch other Snoods one at a time from the bottom of the screen. When you match up three or more Snoods of the same shape and color, they vanish. The object is to clear all of the Snoods from the screen before they march down and reach the bottom.
It is primarily available as a downloadable shareware file (except in the case of Game Boy Advances). After a free trial, players can register their copy, pay $14.95 and get the entire game with advanced levels of fast-moving Snoods.
"At first I thought I'd be happy if I got 10 copies registered," said Dobson, 34. "Then it just kind of took off. College kids were playing all the time, and then they'd take it home at Christmas and share it with their families. It was sort of like viral marketing, I guess. I really didn't have a plan."
Target audience
He was sort of halfheartedly targeting casual gamers such as his wife, he said, realizing that "a lot of people don't consider themselves gamers even though they certainly enjoy games. If you don't think of [gaming] as a major life activity, then you have maybe five or 10 minutes to spend playing while you're waiting for a meeting or a phone call."
Dobson isn't averse to the more involved big-budget games. He recently finished the first-person shooter "No One Lives Forever" and started on Activision's World War II shooter "Call of Duty."
But his little pet of a game has grown into a raging monster with demanding fans. An estimated 10 million to 15 million copies of "Snood" are floating around ("It's certainly improved my financial standing," Dobson said), and an online Snood store sells T-shirts, caps, coffee mugs and posters.
A follow-up game called "Snood Towers" debuted this past fall, and Dobson said his Snood company plans to release a game tentatively titled "Snood Factory" this year, along with the "What's New" memory game and an update of the classic game "Space Wars."
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