Once you have a software company, your product will inevitably change. It will probably change based on many factors, but most notably it will change to the benefit of customers who have the most money and/or customers who complain the loudest and most often.
I have this Greek place that I go to fairly often with my wife. They, for as long as I have been going there, have always served lemonade similiar to their iced tea. In a large free pour container, from which I can assume was probably "Country Time" or some other powder lemonade mixed with water and maybe sugar. it was usually room temperature and melted quite a bit of ice nicely and just had a perfect flavor to me. No it wasn't fresh squeezed lemonade, but it was the drink I almost always had when I went there. For the longest time, I have been completely satisfied with my service.
We went there a few weeks ago, and they had replaced the lemonade with a fountain drink lemonade... Minute Maid. Now, I'm not exactly anti-Minute Maid, but Minute Maid is the kind of lemonade that kids drink. It's the sort of sugary sweet, kool-aid-esque, syrup-y thick lemonade that you can get at just about every place in the rest of the city. I was a little disappointed... admittingly, I was verbally annoyed. Well, I let it go and a few weeks later, we went back. I had completely forgot they had ditched the favored lemonade until I walked in the door.
I asked the manager, "Sir, why the change in Lemonade"
He replied, "Well, we just had people complain all of the time that we didn't have Minute Maid, and the other just wasn't as popular"
"Fair enough" I said.
Now, I am honestly over the lemonade switch, despite how hard it is to tell by this story. However, I was thinking about it today and discussing it with a friend. I can think back to numerous software companies making this type of choice. They seemed to stop responding the careful analysis of the cost, profit, and existing customer satisfaction based on the way their software operated and followed the forum complaints, support tickets, and general badgering into a new way of doing things.
My first experience with this was Ultima Online. A tragic quality blunder, but that's actually not what I am going to speak of. UO was openly PVP enabled. This meant that anyone at any time could kill anyone, anywhere (Except in towns and other certain rare special safe havens). However, as time went by, people complained and complained and some probably quit playing too. Point is, MANY people stayed around. Those people were barely considered when the game was split into two different new 'worlds'... one that was 'free pvp' and one that was 'completely safe'. Admittingly, the fun in the game for me was taking on unsuspecting travelers and such as a bandit (on one of my characters) and also playing the other side as a vigilante for justice (Anti-PK, they called them, or 'Antis' for short).
My second experience with this was Planetside. The game had a great beta. It was one of the most amazing games I had ever played. I was in love with driving around a tank while my close friend, Mike, ran the large cannon. We would weave in and out of trees, bases, and over and around hills using our rapid speed and maneuvering to run over almost any ground troops and powered armors while Mike blasted larger targets like tanks and vehicles with the cannon. Well, people complained... instead of using cover, vehicles, teleports, or the other thousands of options they had at their disposal, they simply complained that tanks were too over powered because they could run over people so easily. Well the giant nerf bat came down on tanks hard (a term lovingly used to refer to a 'softening' of a game feature to accomodate weaker players). They made it so that each person you ran over slowed down your tank CONSIDERABLY and powered armors brought your tank to a complete stop. It was absurd. They took it way too far and made the tank completely useless on the battlefield because people would throw themselves in front of it to stop the tank so everyone could hit it with dumbfire missiles.
My third experience with this was another SOE game, Star Wars Galaxies. I played from beta in this game as well and we had nurtered and built the game up as a community of beta testers to what we saw as a new social gaming success. A game that females would get into, a game that casual players could get into. It had a plethorae of non-combat options to get everyone involved. It wasn't just another medieval AD&D rip-off. Well, then World of Warcraft came out and just sold so many copies. The leadership of galaxies ruined the game by tweaking and tweaking and removing everything that had made the game what it was. Eventually the game utterly failed and is scheduled to be canceled and deleted. Frankly, I am glad.
One thing I have seen commercial products do, which is probably admirable to an extent, is the idea of configurability. one thing that I learned from Jez Humble in "Continuous Delivery" and from seeing it in practice is that Variants (or branching) is a bad thing! It brings development to a grinding halt or such a bad slowdown that you can hardly get anything done. Another reason that this configurability (while good intentioned) is bad is because the more complex it gets to configure your product the more you have to create "professional services" departments to configure it for your customers and the further and further you silo yourself in to being the only experts in your solution. An optimal product is a solution. It is something that is easily configurable, runs out of the box, and can be used by and supported by the densest (or just mediocre-est) of IT departments. Let's face it... look around at IT departments :) they're degrading badly :)
Anyhow, I think I have sufficiently smashed enough nuts in this post so I will move on now. Remember, keep your software focused, keep it clean, keep it easy to configure, and stay true to the original solution. If people complain... take it to heart, but don't change the core of your product if it means sacrificing your existing customer base and their satisfaction.