Saturday, June 11, 2016
Create Games For a Brand, Not a Platform
Fortunately the tools to create games have advanced even faster than the hardware. There are now multiple choices for excellent tools like Unity, Unreal Engine 4, and many more services that take care of handling servers, payments, and all manner of fiddly pieces of software that developers used to have to write themselves. Or spend endless hours debugging platform makers' tools and early dev systems.
Now, unless you're pushing the hardware limits of a particular platform, more resource can be spent on design than was formerly the case. Heck, you don't even have to chase the best possible resolution for your artwork -- stylized art can be easier to produce and look very nice. Even a style as basic as Minecraft works just fine, thank you -- 100 million copies says artwork is not necessarily the only reason people will buy a game.
Now VR is sucking up a lot of time and energy among developers trying to figure out how to build great VR titles while the hardware is still in flux, and the tools are still being refined. Profits are years away, in all likelihood. Does that mean we shouldn't build VR titles? No, the effort has value in many ways -- and at some point VR will become a market where a developer can make a profit, and those who have labored in the trenches are going to be more likely to reap the early benefits of that.
Still, game developers should realize that the platform is not the most important thing any more -- your brand is. Game players are less platform-fanatic than they used to be, and with the incredible expansion of the game-playing audience through mobile devices all the most dedicated game players have at least two game-playing platforms: Their console or PC and their smartphone. Many have multiple game-playing devices. Do they only play games on one device. Nope, for the most part, they play on the device that makes the most sense at the moment. Hearthstone may be better on a PC, but when you're away from your PC it plays just fine on your phone.
The larger audience of game players cares more about playing their game than on what device it's on. Play Candy Crush on your phone while you're on the train, on your PC at work (during breaks, I hope!). Games should try to be on the platform where their players are likely to be found.
Besides, profits come from games that last for years -- and those are brands. Look at Call of Duty, for instance -- does it matter what console or PC you find it on? Not so much as the brand name does. Sure some game brands are tied to a platform, like League of Legends. But many of the games that earn a billion dollars or more a year are found on mobile -- which means, at minimum, Android and iOS, and probably a special version for the iPad, too. Most top console games these days are found on the PS4 and the Xbox One and on PC as well. Most of those top console brands also have mobile titles linked to the brand, even though the gameplay may be completely different. Heck, Fallout 4 had a top mobile title for months simply on the strength of its brand being applied to the smartphone game.
So, while you may spend a lot of time getting your game to work on given platform, if you want to make money in the long term with that effort you should be thinking about how you can extend that brand to as many platforms as you can, assuming it's successful on the first platform. Don't be thinking "I make (platform X) games;" instead be thinking "I make (specific genre) games" and try to figure out how you can get those games in front of all the players who'd be interested.
Brand first, platform second. That's how you should think about building and keeping an audience over time, which is ultimately how you make money with games.
Posted by Steve Peterson at 7:20 PM