Game Development Marketing/Business

The Long Tail of Casual Games: You’re Doing It Wrong

Raph Koster linked to a Forbes article complaining that casual games aren’t exploiting the long tail.

Well, duh.

Indie game developers seem focused on making games that will be accepted by the portals. They think, “If you don’t use the portals, how will anyone hear about your game? Making a game that the portals won’t take is the Kiss of Death. Well, except for all the successful games that don’t use portals. But those are exceptions, of course. They don’t prove anything.”

The portals only take a few types of games. If you make a casual RTS, good luck finding a portal that will take it. They’ll argue that their customers aren’t looking for that kind of game.

Well, who cares if most of their customers aren’t looking for that kind of game? The point of the long tail is that each game is just a database entry anyway. It doesn’t cost any more to offer a wider variety, and you still make the sales. Half of Amazon’s sales come from its major hits, but the other half comes from everything else combined. Imagine if Big Fish or PopCap offered more than match-3 and hunt-the-item games.

But then again, the long tail is really only a big benefit to the portal anyway. Being part of the long tail might mean more customers, but as Cliffski has complained many times, if you sell through a portal, the portal gets your customer’s info. You don’t. All you really get is a portion of the sale, and maybe that is a sale you might not have had if it didn’t get the exposure the portal provides.

[tags] marketing, long tail, casual games, indie [/tags]

One reply on “The Long Tail of Casual Games: You’re Doing It Wrong”

Current thinking is the long tail only makes sense for the portal not the developer. 70% of people go for the blockbuster hyped up WOW 10% of games. That leaves 30% picking through the long tail which contains 90% of the games. Considering there are many thousands of indie games released each year (plus all the old re-released bargain bin mainstream titles) then that is a lot of money for the portal (steam, direct2drive, gametap, stardock, reflexive, google adwords, etc) but a tiny pitance for the developer. The 30% off the top of everything going to the portal adds up nicely, but my 2 extra sales a month buy one pot noodle.

If one developer could make 100 games then the long tail could be viable, but if you’re making one game every 1-2 years then forget it. You need to focus on games that can generate hype and shift big numbers. Want to be a full time indie? Well, you’ll need how much a year? $60k perhaps? The long tail won’t give you anywhere near that. You need to generate huge media interest to power your own website – can you do that? Introversion can, but then they started with 1 programmer and 2 marketing people, now they employ 5 marketing types full time. I don’t know any other indie with a sustainable growing business that isn’t making console or portal games. There are casual and hard core PC portals (hard core ones are MUCH smaller) and they have vast oceans of web traffic that an indie can only dream of. Sad but true.

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