Mackerel 1989 to 1997


Lessons learned at Mackerel remain relevant today. Every project we did things we had never done before.

We created successful pre-Web viral campaigns. Game-like sales apps, sized to fit on floppy diskettes, were shared among colleagues, copied to floppies or uploaded to Bulletin Board Systems by enthusiasts.

Virtual Bubble Wrap, a non-game we made in 1993 to mimic the hypnotic effect of popping bubble wrap, was originally buried as an Easter Egg in the first colour release of our own sales app The Mackerel Stack.

Then the Web happened and we were ready for the launch of Shockwave, the first web plug-in that made web games possible. Virtual Bubble Wrap went online that day, attracting international traffic.

We were surprised by the popularity of the high score competition. A team from Princeton tag-teamed to pop over 200,000 bubbles!

I have an essay work-in progress, Everything We Learned From Virtual Bubble Wrap. I ought to finish that.

Early on we did usability tests where smart people attempted to us a computer mouse for the first time, It helped us develop sympathy for the user, essential for interface design.


There was no one to hire with experience making interactivity media so we hired creative, excited people and everyone shared knowledge as it was gained. When you teach something you really learn it.


We ran our own BBS on innovative FirstClass software and invited our clients to be part of our online community.


For the record it was a failed merger that sunk the fish. Creatively we were having a good year. You can read Cory Doctorow’s account of the life and death of Mackerel in Burying the Fish. (The type is tiny but Reader View on your phone browser to the rescue!)