Proximity Effect

For some time I’ve been reading the words of naysayers who believe that the golden age of indie game development has passed and that there is too much competition. When you were the only one around, it was “easy” to make a living from your games. Now there is too much competition and it is hard to get your name out there. Blah blah blah.

Seth Godin wrote about the proximity effect. It basically describes how most products actually sell well when they are part of a category. Books sell next to other books. Fish sells next to other fish. No one is complaining about how there is too much competition in a bookstore because it is exactly where the sales occur.

Steve Pavlina’s article on how to create successful shareware games mentioned the idea of selling the sizzle instead of the steak. The difference between your freely available demo and your full version is what you are selling. Don’t tell me that I’ll get the five levels from the demo. I already have them. Tell me about the 100 levels I’ll get if I pay for the game. Of course, if you go to a higher altitude and compare your offerings with your competitors, what are you selling now? You may offer 105 levels, but if the other game can run on an operating system of the player’s choice, will it matter?

At a bar, you don’t have to sell vodka. You should have to sell why your vodka tells a better story than the other guy’s vodka.

You should be concerned about how your potential customers will perceive the benefits of paying for the full version, but you should also think about how paying for your full version compares to paying for someone else’s full version. Why should I buy Flatspace 2 when I could buy Gish or Tribal Trouble? Why should I pay for Darwinia when I could pay for Geneforge 3? Why Alien Flux instead of any of the above?

Of course, no one wants to get into a silly cold war by claiming to have one more feature than the competition. Mainstream game developers and publishers already do so when they make a sequel to a game that has more graphics, more sound, more controller buttons, more more more more more…

Still, there is more to worry about than how your game competes with itself. Indie game portals may make it easier to get an audience, and obviously competition is a concern, but you basically have to convince the potential customer that your game is well worth the money AND worth more than an offering from another developer.