Game Development Games Marketing/Business

Why Good Games Don’t Sell Well

This past weekend, I had a chance to play Prince of Persia: Sands of Time. My girlfriend’s cousin owned the game. I’ve been wanting to play this game for quite some time, and I finally did for a couple of hours. From the beginning, I could see why people loved this game. Just doing acrobatic moves without much effort was really cool.

I talked with my girlfriend’s cousin about how the game was a lot of fun and that I can’t believe no one bought it. He mentioned that his friends generally felt that the game looked like a “ripoff of Aladdin” and so they wouldn’t even give the game a try. Too bad for them…and unfortunately, too bad for the developers.

Over at Zen of Design, there is a post called Viewpoints on Why Great Games Don’t Sell. It cites a forum post on Idle Forums and a post by Scott Miller about the games Psychonauts and Ico. Both games are supposed to be amazing, and yet they had terrible sales.

While playing PoP:SoT, I did find that the jumping puzzles could have gotten frustrating. I wanted to fight off a group of opponents with flourish instead of jumping across pits at the right moment to avoid a buzz saw. On the other hand, running along walls and leaping from pillar to pillar was kind of fun in its own right. Apparently Ico and Psychonauts also had jumping puzzles.

Scott Miller provides a few of his own reasons for why a good game can fail, but I think part of the problem was the lack of marketing. I saw an ad in PC Gamer about Psychonauts. It didn’t immediately appeal to me and I still can’t tell you what the game is about. The review, on the other hand, made it sound kind of cool. I guess I didn’t read it very thoroughly though. And Ico was mentioned many times in the “Difficult Questions About Videogames” book, but I still don’t know anything about it. Of course, I don’t have a PS2, so I wouldn’t have played it anyway.

I suppose Miller could be right about the “kid’s game” idea. After all, Prince of Persia: Warrior Within was made darker and sexier than SoT, and it sold a lot better. But perception is a marketing problem. Obviously, Psychonauts looks childish, but I’m sure marketing could have figured out a way to convey the game itself rather than the idea that it is just a kid’s game.

Now, blaming it all on marketing is a cop-out, and I don’t believe it was the sole problem with these games. But I’m sure more could have been done to prevent this problem. Play testing is important. Are you telling me that no focus groups are arranged to figure out first impressions on games as well? “Based just on this ad, what can you tell me about the game? How do you think it would play? Would you buy it?” Tailor your ads based on the feedback you receive here.

Also, do something about the jumping puzzles and similarly tedious gameplay mechanics. It could be that no one really enjoys them. SoT at least made them interesting and fun for the few hours I got to play.

Game Development Marketing/Business

Outsourcing Artwork for Game Development

I’ve always been able to draw well. Give me a pencil and a piece of paper, and I can probably draw a fairly accurate portrait. Of course, art isn’t my concentration when it comes to game development. I can draw, but I’m terrible with tools like Blender and the Gimp. I’m a programmer. And programmer art is what I make when making a game.

Programmer art isn’t good enough for professional quality games, so I plan on outsourcing my artwork. Jon Jones recently wrote an appropriate article: Outsourcing Art: Ten Steps to Success.

I think it is really informative, but I think it also shows a disconnect between artists and game developers. While I don’t have much personal experience with game development, I’ve heard and read enough about the way games evolve during development. It isn’t always possible to plan out all of your art asset needs. Communication is definitely key, as Jones points out, although I think he places too much of the blame on game developers when relationships have gone sour due to poor communication. Both parties are involved in communication, so if one failed to communicate, the other failed to communicate as well.


LinkedIn for Networking

David St. Lawrence of Ripples had posted about the importance of networking. He mentioned an online tool called LinkedIn.

LinkedIn is basically a way to network with others. You might have a list of people you know, but LinkedIn allows you to keep those contacts in an easy to use yet formal way. On top of that, you can meet others through the people you know.

LinkedIn uses the concept of connections. If I know you, we can make a formal connection between each other on the site. So let’s say that I make a connection with the CEO of a game company, and you are interested in meeting that CEO for a business proposition. If you know me, you can send a message to the CEO through me, and I will forward the message on for you. Naturally, if I don’t know you or don’t think it would be good to pass the info on, I won’t. But connections are made quickly, and you can grow your personal network to discuss business opportunities, gain expertise, or just keep contact with old coworkers.

I’ve long known that I needed to discuss game development with a mentor or two. I’ve just signed up, but I’ve already made contact with a few Chicago-area game developers that I didn’t know before. It’s still early to say, but LinkedIn might be one of those tools that you can’t live without. The Beta Subscription is currently free, and I think the people behind LinkedIn are trying to figure out how much to charge in the future or if they should use advertising. Part of subscribing for free is to fill out a survey to help them decide.


Superstitious Pigeons

Seth Godin wrote wrote an article a few years ago in Fast Company called The Threat of Pigeons and Other Fundamentalists. He claims that not too much has changed today.

It basically talks about how people make business decisions based on what they think the truth is. Pigeons, it turns out, are superstitious. If you put them in a cage and feed them at regular intervals, they do whatever it was that they were doing when they got fed. They apparently believe that if they got fed while spinning around, they must be getting fed BECAUSE they were spinning around.

Contrast with a company that becomes successful while concentrating its resources on some specific aspect of the business. If that aspect doesn’t apply anymore, how long will it be for the leadership to adjust its view? If the company did the equivalent of spinning around while becoming successful, it will be difficult to persuade the people involved that they are being superstitious.

The article caught my eye because PigeonGB is my handle when I play games. It was a nickname in college.

Game Development Marketing/Business

Chicago Game Dev Meet-n-Greet

Last night was the a Meet-n-Greet for the Chicagoland game developers at Gameworks in Shaumburg. People from the Chicago Indie Game Developers, the Chicago chapter of the IGDA, and DeFrag were there. There was also the special guest: James C. Smith of Reflexive Entertainment.

It was quite a turnout. Attendees ranged from aspiring game developers to more established names. We spent a good amount of time just talking to each other. Actually, it was more like yelling at each other over the televisions, music, and arcade game sounds. Still, it was great talking to people.

I even saw someone I knew. Shawn Recinto recently incorporated his own game company. I remember brainstorming with him and a bunch of people when we were all going to work on a game project together. I left the group after I felt the project was too ambitious and didn’t like the direction it was going. He’s working on making mobile games and showed off a Frogger clone he had made. We exchanged some interesting ideas for game design and development.

Eventually we moved to the nearby Starbucks, which was relatively quiet, although I think the acoustics are terrible for big groups. People showed off demos and others asked questions.

Joe Sislow of CosmoOSe showed off an integrated circuit board that could be used for arcade games instead of hard drives and other devices which may get jostled during shipment. He talked about how inexpensive they were to make and that some interesting games could be made with them. Lower development costs and the ability of CosmoOSe to do field testing should allow for some innovation to enter into the arcade scene once again. I talked to him later about potential innovation in real time strategy games and found that he was a Wizardry fan as well.

Action of Curiosoft showed off his Einstein gameography work-in-progress. There were now some particle effects and a new game mechanic that I thought was pretty cool. It really looks like a game that could teach people to think differently.

I didn’t get the name of the person from TC Cons, but he showed off some games he made using Game Maker. He also mentioned making a horseshoe game that still sells fairly well because it is the only horseshoe game in existence. What a niche! He referred to himself as a second generation “new” game developer since he has made games in the past but now finds himself learning about game development again.

James C. Smith showed off some developments on Big Kahuna Reef. He mentioned that people liked making levels for the game and that he was trying to make it easier for those level makers to decorate their designs. He was also talking about making a word game to complement the match-3 game.

People suggested books and mentioned articles. They talked about games they’ve made and business models they’ve tried. It was really cool to talk to so many more people than from previous meetings. I felt that there were some people who didn’t get to converse much, but hopefully that will change next time and as Chicago builds its online game development community.


Ok, I’ll Be Selfish

Kathy Sierra, an author from the Head First series of Java books, has made an open post where anyone can comment and trackback, no matter how off-topic or shameless. So, I’m taking advantage of it. B-)

Well, to make it more useful, I’ll say that I wouldn’t mind seeing Head First Game Development, but I’d prefer C++ in my game dev books.

Geek / Technical Marketing/Business

Anti-FOSS Conspiracy? Meh.

In “Something’s Amiss in the Linux Community”, Walter V. Koenning suggests that there are people who are so against Linux and Free and Open Source software in general that they will take the time to post negative comments under articles that are pro-Linux. He notes that the negative comments appear to be copied and pasted into each article. At the same time, he notes that there seems to be more articles praising the merits of Windows.

Yet, I propose there is one big difference. The difference is so major that it allows me to smell the fishy smell, and notice that which has gone amiss and still sleep well at night.

Linux did not get to where it is today because it was promoted extensively, strategically deployed, well marketed, etc. It got to where it is today because there is an unquenchable thirst in the world (I’m talking about all of humanity) for creativity and collaboration.

Thousands of people have volunteered their blood and sweat to OpenSource because it matters more than general economics or power.

What we create with our minds and fingertips together with others we’ve never seen matters and benefits many and leaves a legacy that money can’t buy and power can’t wield. It’s not possible to stop inner human passion. Nor will it be possible to undermine the community that makes it tick so well. Instead, for every action, there will be an equal and opposite reaction.

If there are forces at work to try to undermine FOSS and make it appear dangerous and inferior to proprietary products, then doesn’t it mean that the people behind those forces are afraid? If it really was as bad as they say, FOSS wouldn’t survive on its own merits.

Yet it does. And apparently if the trends the author indicates exist, people are dedicated to spreading Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt to slow it down. It simply demonstrates that Free and Open Source Software is important enough to be a threat, which means that it is good enough to compel people to switch.

Quite simply: they’re afraid.

Geek / Technical Marketing/Business

Marketing for DLC Results

The DePaul Linux Community had the technical presentation last week on Thursday. Before I reveal how well marketing did, I’ll note some general data regarding our previous presentations:

  • there are usually only a few people who show up (between two and six non-members is normal)
  • we usually only post fliers and tell people in our own classes

The difference in marketing this time around: I sent out an email to over 20 professors.

The difference in attendence this time around: we had over 15 non-members.

Only one of them could be directly linked to an email I sent to a professor. The rest said they found out about the event through the website (a marketing tool which I will need to make sure is working to its full potential) and through other friends. I don’t know how many of those friends knew about it from my letter to a professor. Still, this is very encouraging.

Also, we found a lot of people were very happy with the event, titled “Developing for the Modern Web”. Larry Garfield did a great job talking about the wonders of CSS. Many, myself included, were surprised at the number of things that you could do with it. My favorite comment on the feedback forms we had: “Excellent presentation. Thanks for sharing this ‘untaught’ knowledge!”

Geek / Technical Marketing/Business

Marketing for DLC

I’m a member of the DePaul Linux Community. We usually hold events each quarter, and this quarter is no different.

Last year we determined that we need to do more marketing. All we’ve ever done is post fliers up around campus, and the results have been decent. Unfortunately no one wanted to be the main person responsible for marketing. Since that time, I have learned quite a bit about running a business, and I know that marketing is definitely something I’ll need to get better at if I want to do well. I volunteered this quarter, partly to help the group and partly to practice my marketing skills.

I recently finished Jay Abraham‘s Getting Everything You Can Out of All You’ve Got. At one point he describes direct mail. When I thought of direct mail before, I thought of junk mail, or snail mail spam. It still is for the most part, but I also see that it can be a valid marketing too. It’s still unsolicited, but the marketing message is in its entirety, allowing the reader to get the full message. It’s supposed to have a higher response rate, and it makes sense that it should, especially over fliers.

Today I wrote an email and sent it to a number of faculty members in the CTI school of DePaul. It basically provided the information about the different events, a link to the website, and a blurb about the mailing list we have. It suggested actions to take, explicitly asking for them to post a section of the email on the announcements page of their class websites and making in-class announcements as well.

Unfortunately our first event is only a few days away, but hopefully the turnout will still be improved by this email alone. And it also sets the stage for the next few events.