Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

25 August, 2015

Building a game: your company and your market
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 6:04 AM

Blaugust, day 25

Yesterday, we looked at the fundamental questions to determine what kind of game you should build. Today, we’ll look at how those answers look in the context of the company you’re building the game with and how that impacts what market you might want to go after.

When you start a project, there are two paths you could be taking: one is where an existing company is developing this new game project, and the other is a new company. The company’s history is going to impact the choices you make. Even the history of the game’s developers will be important; given that I’m mostly known for running a PvP game, working on another PvP game brings up certain expectations.

Play to your strengths?

If your company already has a successful game, any subsequent game is going to be looked at through the lens of that game. If the first game is well-known, it might make sense to piggyback your new game on the reputation of that prior game. You’ve already built that audience, so you can potentially build off that audience as you grow it further if you build a game that will attract that same audience.

The easiest way to do this is via cross-promotion. Have something in one game that leads players to your other game. The prime example of this comes from social network games, where you will often see ads for other games by the same developer in each of their games. Tired of clicking on city buildings to collect resources? Try clicking on a farm to click resources!

A concrete example of this is Candy Crush Soda Saga, which is obviously aimed at the same people who enjoyed the original Candy Crush Saga. Since there was already so much marketing and so many players of the original, it was easy to release the next one and have the existing marketing and playerbase generate excitement about the new game.

You can also think about this issue as a new company. Do you go after an existing market? If you’re doing an MMO, do you go with a high fantasy theme park like many others? There’s obviously an audience for that type of game out there, but will you be able to appeal to them?

Worry about cannibalization?

Once you release a subsequent game, you do have to start worrying about cannibalization. What will happen with your prior game?

A single-player game with a one-time purchase is probably least affected by such concerns, but it’s still an issue. For example, what happens when people see both old and new games? You might lose some potential sales of your earlier game because people just buy the more updated version. In general, if you’re making enough money from the sales this might not be an overriding concern.

On the other hand, if your game has an ongoing business model, such as a subscription, this becomes a more immediate concern. What happens if players switch to your new game and find it lacking? They may not want to go back to the older game, particularly if the newer game offers a better general experience but isn’t as fun for them overall.

And, if your game is multiplayer, then a drop in population might be seen as the game “failing”. The remaining players of the prior game might not have much interest in playing the new game, but are having less fun in the older one because the people they played with went to the new shiny game.

This has been a big worry for MMO games, where a newer version of the game might drop an older game below the point of sustainability. But, EverQuest 2 didn’t kill all interest in the original EverQuest, so it’s possible to do a game in the same gameplay genre without necessarily destroying your older game.

Blue Ocean strategy?

The other option is what is called the “Blue Ocean” strategy. The theory is that it might be easier to create a new market instead of competing in and overcrowded market (the “Red Ocean”). The idea is that if you can reach people who aren’t already bombarded with options, you could establish and hopefully dominate a new market.

The classic game industry example of this is what Nintendo did to some success with the Wii. Instead of pouring money into developing a console with powerful specs, they created a console with a unique control system (the Wiimote) and went after non-gamers. This was highly successful for some time, but it appears that these customers weren’t quite as loyal as the traditional hard-core gamers; while the console sold well, the number of games sold per console was a lot lower. But, it seems this strategy was an overall success for the company.

With less competition you have to do more marketing to reach your potential audience. And, you might be able to develop entirely new forms of games that would be accepted by this new audience that might be looked down upon by the existing audience. But, sometimes finding out how to reach this new audience can be really tough, and you run the risk of ending up spending a lot more on marketing for less return on that investment.

What’s the right strategy? I think the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It really depends on the game you’re making, and other factors like budget, schedule, the team. We’ll talk more about those topics later this week.

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