Making Games Into Hits
The hype cycle for games works in a fascinating fashion. The gaming industry doesn’t operate in exactly the same way that other entertainment industries do. While film and television studios rely on advertising and to a lesser extent from media coverage, the gaming industry uses the opposite ratio to drive up coverage. They also thrive – or die – based on the opinions of anonymous message board denizens and blog commenters.
Game companies seek to cultivate relationships with members of the gaming media, giving them access to exclusive information for previews and other articles that will build up interest in their games. Marketing departments try to let out a regular stream of new media and information to try to keep their game in the consciousness of the gaming public for as long as possible. This can lead to trouble, as the gaming journalists have a strong incentive to remain positive about an unreleased game – and going after a project in development isn’t exactly fair – which can lead to a disconcerting flipping effect. A game that previews very well can turn out to be a bomb when it’s released.
The gamer community is rather unpredictable and difficult for marketers to manage. Buzz about a game can spread quickly through networks of friends online, and can quickly determine whether a game succeeds or flops. Generally, a game that is truly incredible can’t escape the attention of the gaming masses for very long. Even an independent game with no marketing budget like Mount and Blade can become a significant hit with enough positive buzz. Message boards are too diffuse for marketing teams to address generally, although many companies elect to run their own discussion forums and blogs so that they can affect the pace of discussion and what is discussed.
In the case of MMOs, community management is often a job for a team of moderators. Conventional game companies only have to convince their customers to buy their product once – for subscription games, they need to convince them to keep coming back month after month.
Consumers should inform themselves about the games that they buy. Go to critics that you trust and communities that you respect to solicit opinions. Coverage of games – both positive and negative – helps developers make better games. They can’t possibly solicit the number of opinions that they need from focus groups and testers. The gaming community shapes the future of games by sharing what they think. Your opinion matters.