There's an old saying that essentially says "Understanding the true nature of a person is as simple as looking at their bank record." You can tell a whole lot about a person by what they spend their money on. While it's not a bulletproof way of identifying a person's interests, it is an extremely accurate approach to establishing a baseline.
Imagine if you actually kept track of every penny you spent for an entire year, then looked back and started categorizing and organizing all those purchases into one giant pie-graph. What do you think yours would look like? Well, that isn't quite the point of this article. I'm not here to tell you how to spend your money, I'm here to tell you how to sell your games.
A Letter to Developers: Is Buying Your Game Even Worth It?
For game enthusiasts, money spent on games is an intriguing indicator of interest. Granted the water is muddied a bit by the recent rise of free-to-play games, where players can rack up massive hour-counts in games that they haven't actually invested money in. Still though, the majority of players spend money on the games they play most, including many F2P titles. There are lots of reasons players will choose to spend money on a mostly free game, but I'm not here to break that down either.
The point I'm trying to emphasize is that we aren't spending our money just to get access to a game. For many of us, we're spending money for exclusives, aesthetics, and most-often: to purchase additional features for an experience we already enjoy. The majority of us don't spend our hard-earned money frivolously (well maybe kids spend their parents' money that way - but if that's what you're targeting, shame on you).
Pay-Walls and Pitfalls
Now don't get me wrong - I am definitely not against games having pay-walls. In a lot of circumstances they are quite preferable, sometimes even necessary. For a great many games though, pay-walls don't make any sense at all. There's no worse feeling than purchasing a game that ends up feeling like a giant heap of crap once you start digging into it. Sure there are lots of review sites out there, but quite often there's really no way to tell how accurate they're going to be. User reviews are helpful, but easily manipulated by invested parties purchasing positives reviews (not that you are, but how can we know).
In the end it really all boils down to whether we actually like your game or not.
For games behind a pay-wall, that can pose a problem. Without good transparency and honest advertising from an established (and trusted) company, you run the risk of alienating potential future customers. Every individual is different, and it's literally impossible to properly price a game based on the value it will offer the consumer. Some of us get more value out of certain features or elements of game-play, which means that some games are worth more to us than their MSRP, while others are worth much less.
Many times, it's not necessarily that a game is bad or good - but that it has either overachieved or underachieved on advertised elements. Far too often you guys do a poor job of accurately advertising your game to us and we get left with a very sour taste in our mouth - which may or may not dissuade us from continuing to purchase products from you in the future. For all those reasons (and more) pay-walls and advertising work hand-in-hand to undermine the player experience if not handled properly.
At the same time, if you don't do any advertising and/or require no financial return from us players - professional quality games simply would not exist. You as developers have to monetize your efforts, and you have to do some advertising (even in the modern internet age of social networking). The trick is doing both cleanly and clearly. Games (or studios) that fail in either of these departments typically don't get many opportunities to make more games (something you might be well aware of).
Growing Pains of the Industry
Because everyone is so different, and we all have different tastes and values that we are seeking from games (which are more and more becoming a universal form of entertainment), good games aren't necessarily defined by their content anymore. They're defined by how clearly that content is presented and whether or not it is priced fairly in comparison to similar products.
More and more developers, artists, and creators are participating in game-development these days than ever before, even if they have very little knowledge or understanding of the history of video games (as it is one of the most rapidly growing entertainment markets world-wide). This is leading to a lot of innovation and progression in the industry, which is introducing more people to the concept of gaming who would not have typically been interested before.
That's a good thing, even for those of us who have been gaming all our lives.
The downsides of course are that it's going to get increasingly more difficult to sift through a growing multitude of games for the ones that we like and are actually interested in. That means that developers and creators producing the type of content we enjoy will be harder to find amidst and otherwise disinteresting sea of boring. It also means that user reviews are going to grow less and less helpful as a wider variety of tastes and opinions get thrust into a world that for the longest time has been "ours".
What I mean by that, is that gaming for a very long time has been a bit of a niche hobby dominated by interests and preferences of tech-savvy "nerds" that have generally been like-minded (when compared with those who wouldn't typically refer to themselves as "gamers"). Now we're literally being forced to share our unique fantasy-worlds with an influx of new users embedding themselves that (quite often) have very differing view and opinions on the status quo.
Please note that my above remarks are not a specific reference to the GamerGate movement. They are merely a statement of the fact that more and more people with different personalities, interests, and lifestyles are picking up video games and playing. These new consumers bring with them their own sets of wants and needs and are greatly affecting the market in a multitude of ways, many positive, and some negative. There are no "sides" to be taken in such an event - as millions of users of varying genders, races, religions, and sexual preferences (in all kinds of different combinations) have been playing your games for a very long time.
The fact that any feel the need to pick up torches and pitchforks and declare war on one another and push each other into stereotypical extremes is way too political for my tastes. Games are a place where many seek an escape from the normal trappings of life, and dragging real life drama into the middle of them is completely counter-productive to the very essence of gaming. That's not to say that games shouldn't emulate life, drama, joy, or hate to tell a story; but rather that any such infusion of relatable humanity should be added to provide entertainment value within the games themselves or to add perspective to how we as gamers (of any gender, nationality, or social category) understand real life.
Swiss Army Knife of Entertainment
Games aren't really meant to function as anything in particular. Sure, specific games will have a purpose, and audience, and an intended use; but gaming itself serves a variety of purposes. Games are a medium of communication and entertainment. Some will be informative, some will be puzzling. Some will be short and easy, others will be long and challenging; and still others may be short and challenging or long and easy. There's really no template that must be followed - which is the real beauty of video games.
They can be anything you want them to be.
Games are like an interactive version of cinematography, although they aren't limited to just story-telling alone. They are a multifunctional tool that can serve so many different purposes in life aside from pure entertainment, and they can be as complex or as simple as you want them to be. It's really all a matter of what you're trying to achieve, what you're trying to communicate, and what experience you want us users to be getting out of it.
Applying What We've Learned
For me personally, that's the first thing I want to know about a game before I buy into it. I want to know the purpose. I want to know what the game is trying to tell me, and what kind of experience you're offering through it. If none of those line up with any of my interests, then I don't buy it. And you can certainly guarantee that if the actual experience turns out to be different than advertised I am going to feel baited and duped by you, even if it wasn't intentional.
That is why proper marketing and advertising is so important to me, and why I believe it is the primary factor that games will live or die by (actual gameplay quality be damned). Even some of the crappiest games ever made have a probability that at least one person in the world will absolutely love it for some reason or another. That's why it's not about the quality, the content, or style of the game - it's how well all those things stand up to presentation.
You all would do well to ensure that you're being as clear and accurate as possible when marketing your products - especially when it comes to communicating the game's content, purpose, and intended user-experience. When it comes to online multiplayer games, it also helps if the you thoroughly understand and research the market you're creating for and ensure that there is an interested audience that will buy into the proposed value and sustain the type of population that you're designing the mechanics around.
Those are absolutely critical to the success of most games, but especially of MMORPGs.
Far too many game developers and studios have unrealistically hyped recent titles and ended up disappointing your target audiences by not delivering exactly what you promised. Too many times, your company has let its audience believe in assumptions that just aren't accurate (probably to allow for increased initial sales), and it's only been detrimental to the health and longevity of those games. That's not the players fault, that's the fault of the either the community management or brand and marketing teams (and usually a combination of both).
When your game is behind closed doors (or a pay-wall) we don't know what it's supposed to be, what experience it's offering, or who the game is meant for. It's your job as a developer to accurately provide that information to us - unless of course you're just trying to generate as many one-time sales as possible and have zero interest in creating repeat customers.
If you've ever wondered why Twitch.tv is so popular, you shouldn't anymore. People are tired of wasting money on products they never should have bought to begin with. Twitch allows potential customers to get a taste of what they might be buying. Twitch is as popular as it is because of the functionality it offers to games consumers everywhere. It is a testament to the failure of brand management and advertising by developers and studios for their products, (even though there are many enjoy twitch for other reasons too). It isn't all bad though. The availability of twitch means that you can gate access to games succesfully again (ensuring a population of players that are invested in their experience), as they will be able to guage whether a game fits their tastes or not (at least much better than they could purely in-house advertising).
Twitch and Youtube are my go-to tests for games, as I just don't feel like I can trust what's being advertised (or by two line text-reviews and star ratings). Marketing in the gaming industry has gotten pretty ugly, and I don't feel as though you as developers are being as honest as you once were with your products. If you don't know the details right now, that's fine; just say you don't know, with as much transparency as possible. But if you don't know what the core purpose and intended end-product experience of your game is supposed to be and can't properly communicate that, you probably shouldn't be making it - and you definitely shouldn't be advertising it.
A Skeptical Gamer
(P.S. - Here is a very relative and interesting Youtube video highlighting one of the major issues gamers today are facing and how publishers aren't doing a very good job of addressing getting games to the players they're built for.)
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