Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Friday, January 17, 2020

2020 Implications for Game Design

2020 Implications for Game Design

I was struck by an essay by VC Matthew Ball about 7 reasons why gaming will take over; stop what you're doing and read that essay, if you haven't already. It goes along with some of the things I’ve been thinking about, in particular how to best take advantage of the changes in the games industry and the game-playing audience. What follows are my thoughts on each of his 7 reasons as to why gaming will be taking over media even more in the future. You should go and read that essay, and refer to it as needed while reading this blog post. What I’ve looked at here is how I think his comments translate into actions game developers should consider when designing games. I am already doing this with StoryPHORCE Entertainment, and I’ll be detailing what I’m doing at in the future.

#1 The Dominant Attention Medium, Television, Has Peaked and its Time is Being Redistributed
Yes, and gaming is taking a major chunk of that time. Perhaps more insidiously, that attention time may be split among several things – playing a game while keeping an eye on a video on another screen, and texting with friends on social media as well as in-game audio chat. The player’s attention gets focused more when one of these things demands it, but there’s usually a constant background of several things vying for attention.

What does that mean for a game you’re designing? Several things, potentially. You could just ignore that and make the game you have in mind, a perfectly valid choice. You could try to make the game’s experience more intense so it keeps players riveted and less distracted – but that only seems like a good idea if it makes the game more fun, not if it means populating the screen with little things you need to click on constantly just to stay alive. Or you could try to make it easy to share parts of the game with others as you play, letting your game contribute to the larger social context the players are often part of. Or you could make the game easy for other people to casually jump into, so a player could invite a friend in while the game is going on. Of course, many of these things depend on the nature of the game play in your particular game – but it’s worth thinking about in the design phase.

What do all those ideas have in common? You’re thinking about the player experience, their overall experience, and trying to improve it or take advantage of it for your nefarious marketing ends. Sure, when you’re designing a game it’s usually starting at “this is something I think is fun.” At some point, though, you should think about what the players are going to experience, and how you can make things the most fun for the most players. That’s how you get a bigger, happier audience, which should lead to making more money (assuming you’re handling the monetization of your game well).

#2 Gaming is Replicating the TV Package
The core of what he’s saying here is that games need to be more available and accessible to players, in several ways: Technology, cost, complexity, information. Sure, much of the time the game you have in mind creating is bounded by the technology required. Maybe, though, it’s worth examining your game concept and thinking about how it might work on a wider variety of platforms. Mobile? Tabletop? Browser? Is there a value in having a larger audience? Sure. Just look at Fortnite, for example, with $1.8 billion in revenue in 2019. Two-thirds of that revenue came from mobile, where Fortnite is clearly not as good as it is on console or PC. Yet over a billion dollars came from people playing it on mobile – because that’s what they happen to have with them when they wanted to play.
The other value in being on multiple platforms is that it enhances the discovery of your game. People hear about it, then want to try it… and if it’s not on the platform they have, oh well, there’s another game to try. And if you didn’t give them a way to try it for free? There are plenty of other games to try that are free, and there are probably games that sound similar to yours.
The essay points out that game subscriptions are great ways to sample games. Sure, you think, but maybe you won’t get hardly any revenue from your game being part of that subscription plan. You’re not thinking about it the right way – that game you put in Apple Arcade, or that’s in the Xbox Game Pass, that’s a marketing tool. You should have other games that are tied into those games with explicit links, and those games you make good money on. If you can get a game into the Apple Arcade, make it a good one… and then have a game outside of Apple Arcade that extends that experience, or uses the background or characters or essential game play elements in ways that practically demand those players from Apple Arcade get your other game. And maybe that’s for an upfront price, or you have microtransactions you can sell them.
Note also that engagement with games is now variable – many people are just watching others play games, and they’re having fun doing that. Part of the promise of streaming games is that you can get new players to jump in easily – but your game design has to not only allow that, but encourage it. Is there a way to make that happen outside of streaming games? Sure, I can think of ways to design a variety of games that would allow people to jump in and play, whether it’s an RTS or an RPG or a shooter. Think about designing some limited units/characters that are explicitly for people to jump into while play is ongoing. No, they might not have very much control, but they could have fun without the need to learn a complex set of controls. No, it’s not something an experienced player would like – but the idea is to get new players in, ideally in seconds.

#3 Gaming Has Unprecedented Content Leverage
What he’s really talking about here is UGC as well as all the ancillary content for a game. Look, if you’re going to the trouble to create a game, why not create one that can last for many years, and have vast expansion possibilities, and if possible allow users to contribute to the content? Yes, that’s all more work than just cranking out a game; but it’s less work than cranking out two games, and it has at least some potential to be far more lucrative in the long run.

#4 Social Signals, Effects, and Reinforcement
Games are social media… why not internalize that as well as enhance it externally? If your game is fun, people will want to share it with their friends. Make it easy in the game to do that – share clips, images, whatever is fun. Look, social media and messaging comprise 50% of all time spent with mobile devices. Gaming on mobile is about 10% of all the time on mobile – yet it’s about 80% of all the revenue from mobile. I see vast potential here to make money with games on mobile.

#5 Tightest Feedback Loops + Culture
The best games are constantly changing and adding new things, which in turn engages their audience and encourages them to spend more time in that game. Creator tools are important for that, of course, but even beyond that you need to think about how to reinforce the culture of your game. Really successful games these days have their own conventions, where people get together in meatspace to enjoy everything about the game (BlizzCon, MineCon, etc.) You don’t even have to set up your own convention – become part of one of the many conventions already being held that probably include some of your audience, and grow from there.
There should be vibrant online communities, on Facebook or subreddits or wherever, and you need to stoke those fires with good moderators and plenty of new information on a regular basis.
Oh, and your game should consider public data – leaderboards, sharing successful games, showcasing players and competitions, whatever seems to go with the nature of your game and the audience.

#6 Consistent Growth Through New Devices, Categories, Technologies, Content
This is crucial – keep extending your game into new areas. Add a VR version, or maybe for part of the game. No, the market isn’t huge – but if you can do it without great expense, it’s great press (see Half-Life Alyx). Missed opportunity: I though it would have been cool to be playing Star Wars Battlefront on PS4, and have a mission come up where you get into an X-wing using your PSVR and fly the mission in VR, then drop back into the main game – with extra experience, cool badges, recognition for that amazing service you performed.
Cross-game integrations should be explored. Find ways for players to move characters between games, keep DLC, maybe get some perks for having played other games. They don’t even have to be your own games! Do some cross-marketing here with other game companies to expand your potential audience.
Once you start dreaming about where your game could go if you partner with others, there’s no limits.

#7 IP Kiln
The point here is well-taken – generate a lot of material and some of it is bound to be good, and can be the seed for even more successful products. You may be starting with a game, but if you do you world creation properly you can be seeing spinoffs in the future in other media. If there’s UGC involved, you could get an amazing amount of content. (Just be prepared for the future IP considerations when Hollywood comes around; you should have the legalities already dealt with far in advance.)

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