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My Name is Daniel and I am a Genre Addict

The Birth of the Genre Addict

One cocaine dispenser is as good as the next
Imagine that a game is a cocaine dispenser. There's a famous experiment with a rat pressing a button to get a dose of cocaine. To the rat, one cocaine dispenser is just as good as the next.

A similar thing occurs with game players and sequels. When a player purchases Doom 1, they will happily purchase Doom 2 and 3. Repetition with slight improvements still packs the same addictive wallop.

Drug resistance
"The first high is always the best." This is something that both drug addicts and gamers claim. How many times have you heard experienced players dismiss sequels as being less potent then the original?

The body adapts to addictive substances remarkably quickly and though a person may still feel compelled to perform an activity, the initial rush of pleasure diminishes over time.

The goal of a game sequel is typically to purify and concentrate the addictive qualities of a successful game in order to provide a stronger addictive kick. Each successful sequel is an increasingly potent cocktail that not only addicts more first time users, but also continues the pleasurable rush for older jaded players.

The Genre Addict
Players specialize in genres. A hardcore gamer may focus all their efforts on FPS, and disdain anything vaguely associated with RTS games.

Players specialize in each one of these categories primarily due to player conditioning. Players need to acclimate to a game before they get their addiction rush. Throw a user in front of a FPS for the first time and they will be clumsy and confused. The psychological rewards are not easily recognizable and the 'fun' factor is questionable.

Throw them in front of the second or third FPS that they've played and they will immediately start partaking in the psychological rewards. They'll gleefully look forward to discovering the next weapon or mowing down a cool boss. The pathways of repetitions, reward, and addiction are pre-burned and ready for use.

I just ran across another real world example of this. A now canceled MMORPG named WISH implemented movement with a point and click system instead of the 'expected' keyboard based system. Dozens of posts on the user forums complained. This one sums up the response quite nicely:

"With so many other choices, it's very easy to pass by Wish and move to another game where I feel I won't have to "learn" the basics all over again. I think all games should have the same basic movement system (each game having their own small tweaks) and have content and game mechanics be the differentiating factor. Maybe when the game is polished and established I'll give it a shot. Or maybe I'll feel the need to 'try something different' at some point, but right now WISH is not the game for me."

This process encourages users to seek out games that are like other games that they've enjoyed. Over time, you end up with stratified genres and sizable homogeneous populations of genre addicts that punish innovation.

Genre addicts create winner-takes-all markets
An addict of a specific genre desires the single most potent version of that drug that is available. If someone is addicted to cocaine, and you can promise them a slightly improved cocaine high for the same price, cocaine addicts will pound a path to your door.

The same thing happens with games. The RTS that is perceived as the best available at any one time sells the most copies. Think of this as the "Blizzard Strategy." If you can tap into an existing crowd of genre addicts with the top game in that genre, everyone who has that habit will buy your game. Software business, like most media with high up front development and marketing costs and low distribution costs, love a mega hit since it is usually 90% pure profit.

The result is the familiar rule of thumb that 5% of the games make 95% of the money. All the publishers are fighting to be the best version of a drug to sell to a market of genre addicted players. We can't even be happy with an 'A' title. Instead, we have to differentiate the top game by calling it a 'AAA' title.

The games that sell the most are not merely 'lucky'. The fact that a small percentage of games sold provide the majority of revenue is to not going to change soon. This is a fundamental market structure driven by buyers who are only willing to invest in the best of the best.

Playing King-of-the-Genre
Game companies are waging a giant battle of king of the hill. The major focus of every publisher and developer is to create the top game in a genre. The major focus of most gamers is to buy the top game in a genre in order to get their next fix. At stake are the sweet mega-hit profits that keep them in the black.

Publishers: How the Drug Lords of the Industry Profit

  The Birth of the Genre Addict
  Publishers: How the Drug Lords of the Industry Profit
  The Role of Game Developers in the Drug Trade
  Marketing Lessons
  Closing thoughts

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