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My Name is Daniel and I am a Genre Addict

Marketing Lessons

First, I'm assuming that if you are already making king-of-the-genre titles, you don't need my help. What saddens me is the multitude of games on the market that don't heed the basic lessons of catering to genre addicts.

Lesson #1: Always claim that you made a king-of-the-genre title
Game magazine readers purchase magazines in order to choose the best genre champions out of all the contenders. The only way to get coverage is to play along. When the reviewer asks "Is your title better than Halo 2?" the answer is always "You betcha!"

Also, reviewers are almost always jaded genre addicts. They live to catch a glimmer of the joy that playing a particular genre once brought them. Only a king-of-the-genre game is worth their attention and adoration.

Lesson #2: If you have an innovative game, don't tell anyone!
The last thing that the gaming public wants is an innovative game. The vast majority of paying customers are raving hardcore genre addicts that give a wide berth to anything that won't give them a guaranteed fix.

Instead promote your game as the best of the best of a particular popular genre. Casually mention innovative features as support for your argument that this, indeed, is the best game ever.

A master of this marketing strategy is Peter Molyneux. The titles he is associated with are some of the most innovative games released on the market. Yet he took great pains initially to promote Fable as 'The best RPG ever'. He then listed its supporting innovative features as evidence. Eventually he retracted some of his statement, but I believe his ability to tap into a genre addict feeding frenzy heavily contributed to Fable's success in the market.

Lesson #3: If your amazing game is innovative, plan on poor initial sales
An attempt at creating a new genre requires a large amount of positive press and word of mouth. The nearly insurmountable goal is to convince traditional genre addicts that they can get their fix from something different. A few large publishers can generate this blast of great marketing. (Nintendo with the launch of Pikmin comes to mind.) Most cannot.

Indy developers are particularly in a bind since they are additionally hampered by a very poorly developed channel and marketing apparatus. There are no pre-existing genre addicts to spread the word of mouth about your title. Such titles rarely gain the critical mass necessary to become financially successful.

Wik & The Fable Of Souls has received wide critical acclaim, with rave reviews, warm letters from happy purchasers, and now having made the finals of the Independent Games Festival competition, it is difficult to imagine being happier about the way people have received Wik. And yet to date, the product has underperformed commercially.

Indie Postmortem: Reflexive Entertainment's Wik & The Fable Of Souls on Gamasutra.com

The history of gaming is littered with games that are interesting, different and complete commercial flops.

Lesson #4: If you are an indie developer, focus on dead genres if you desire financial success
You can't compete with the big teams in existing genres and there are massive entry barriers for creating new genres. Luckily, there is an untapped market of dead genres that are too small for the big publishers to bother with.

Here is a quote by Stardock, a great company that makes a cookie cutter 4X turn-based title called Galactic Civilizations. This genre has been ignored by big publishers for years, but the addicts never went away. Even better, under the rallying banner of persecution, the genre addicts have organized and there is a home grown web of fansites and forums that will inform the brethren about new and exciting games in their genre.

"We'd been told for years that the turn-based strategy market was bad, so when we made Galactic Civilizations we budgeted for it to only sell 30,000 units. That's a fairly typical number for indie games that manage to get into retail. The game actually ended up selling something like 120,000 copies at retail world wide, and that's not counting the 10 to 15 thousand we sold electronically off our Web site."
- Brad Wardell, Stardock CEO

From the perspective of genre addiction, it is hardly surprising that the top performing indie games are Mahjong titles.

Lesson #5: Tap into existing interests to slip your customers an innovation mickey.
Thankfully the world is not composed completely of hardcore gamers. People have other interests that can serve as a hook to get them to play your game. You have a variety of options that, though far less powerful than genre addiction, can draw uninitiated users into your game

  • Licenses: Lord of the Rings, Spider Man, etc.
  • Sports: Golf, Football, etc.
  • Hobbies: Comics, etc.
  • Major game franchises: Mario, Prince of Persia, etc.

As long as you play lip service to the basic theme, you can often get players to try out wildly innovative game mechanics. Existing genre addicts will inevitably see through your ploy and dismiss your game. Many are reacting as much to the fact that you didn't make a great FPS as they are to the fact that you are using a license as a hook.

Be forewarned though. If you do your job well, you'll inevitably create a new genre and in turn more genre addicts. That is a great thing financially if you can maintain creative leadership of the new game genre. Be sure to get exclusive rights to the license that got you this far.

The winners

Top Publishers
The business savvy game lords like EA, Sony, and Nintendo control the means of game production and will only benefit from the inevitable consolidation of the next round of consoles. They know how to satisfy genre addicts and will continue to build their core business around cloned titles that serve repeat customers.

Mainstream Hardcore Gamers
If you like FPS or other hot genres, this is the best time in history to be a gamer. There is massive quantity and the quality is the highest at any point in history. All trends point towards this continuing. Someone has to one up Half Life 2.

The losers

Gamers addicted to smaller gaming genres
When you are in love with a dead genre, you have two choices:

  • Move on and learn to love Halo 2.
  • Support independent game developers who are still mining the possibilities of your preferred genre. The games they create will never live up to your memories of past glory, but it is the only way to get your fix.

Developers who want to try something new
Imagine you are a talented veteran game developer and you have a great idea for a radically new type of game. You have two obstacles that make success extremely unlikely.

  • Publishers don't want to increase the risk of their portfolio. You pitch your prototype to a publisher and it turns out that they've already allocated their 2% budget for experimental games. So sorry.
  • You release the game as an indie project. No one buys it because they don't care about games that are not part of established genres.

Market growth
New genres grow the total market by creating new addictive experiences that appeal to new customer groups. The Sims, for example, added millions of new gamers to the gaming market.

When publishers reduce risk by focusing on proven genres they end up selling to the same people over and over again. The result is slower than expected growth due to a lack of investment in the development and promotion of innovative games.

Look on the bright side though. Even if the industry is growing at a sub-optimal rate, it is still managing to grow at 14.3% CAGR 2003 through 2005. That is a drop from the industry average of 20% CAGR in previous years, but it is still better than the stock market. When you sell a highly addictive substance to a large market, you don't have to have great management to make a decent profit.

Closing thoughts

  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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