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Sunday, November 23, 2003

Comments

Charles E. Hardwidge

If I can strike a positive note, I don't think anyone here is seriously suggesting they have THE answers to everything, and the overwhelming majority of comments have been excellent contributions.

While it might seem like a retrograde step, I'm wondering if Scott might like to show us what he thinks the mainline consensual view might be. That way we might all have a common platform to build on in future.

Tom Richards

My knowledge of the gaming scene as a whole is a little out-dated - I don't play much these days, and my practical knowledge of marketing is based entirely on theatre. However, I hope I can say something of vague use, relevance or interest. First, I do believe that there is a sense in which "marketing" needs to be incorporated into games design: with any artistic venture it is necessary always to think about the audience, and what they want. However, this is not the same as thinking directly about how to sell the game, or play, or whatever to them. If you have features that make the game enjoyable to play, these will in all likelihood also be features that make it easier to sell. You do not need to think in terms of marketing per se while designing a game, because a game which lacks strong selling points almost certainly does so because it is a bad game in the first place. Of course the converse is not true: a bad game may well have strong selling points. As far as concerns trying to create a system of rules or principles of game marketing, I would advise caution. At best you will be coming up with things which are often a good idea or helpful, and which enough sensible thought could generate from scratch in a more precise, case-specific and useful way for each new product. They are better than having no clue at all, but no substitute for real intuitive understanding of what will work. There will always be exceptions to "rules" of this sort, and it is possible to learn to spot them in advance, even if you could never explain the process by which you do so. Spielberg knew Star Wars would be a huge hit when everyone else was certain it would crash (though even couldn't quite have envisaged how huge). Theory over.

Before I go though, I would like to acquaint readers of this board with a gaming case study I suspect most of them may be unfamiliar with, due to living on the wrong side of the Atlantic. This is the Championship Manager series. Up until around 1995 or '96, there were a number of moderately successful competing titles in the football (soccer) management category, including Premier Manager, Tracksuit Manager and Championship Manager. From that point on, Championship Manager rapidly accelerated away from the competition (and indeed all other PC games in terms of UK sales). By their nature, these franchises release one game a year, each very substantially based on the last. The sales breakthrough for Champ Man was not made by a game which represented any major advance on its immediate predecessor. Nor was it prompted by a huge marketing blitz. What had happened instead was that over several years of experimentation, gamers had realised that Champ Man was simply vastly deeper, more complex, more detailed, more challenging and in all better than its rivals, and stopped buying them. Since probably 1997 or '98, each new Champ Man game has been in the UK top 10 from its release till the release of its successor. Individually, they outsell any other PC game in the UK, collectively only Pokemon, on all formats, has shifted more copies as a franchise.

Of course, what underlies this case is a number of vital differences between Champ Man's position and that of other games. First, football in the UK is such a mass-interest as to render massive cross-over success, not among the gaming public, but among the general public, a possibility. Second, as a consequence of this massive popular interest, a huge amount is known about the game's subject matter by its potential buyers, making it easier for them to recognise a game as an excellent simulation, and not be put off by a complexity which might otherwise render it unplayable; I think that very few people unfamiliar with real football would enjoy or be good at Champ Man. Third, the game is very undemanding technologically, with almost no graphics whatsoever, which made it initially quite economical to produce as one predator among many in a niche market, allowing word of mouth to build up. Finally, once success had been achieved, it was possible to put the game indefinitely beyond the reach of the competition because a large part of its excellence stemmed from the depth of underlying research, research which took years to perform and set up the necessary contacts for, and whose capacity for expansion (to including leagues from more and more countries, and more and more players from each club), requiring further investment, enabled the game to consistently snowball further and further from its nearest competitors in respect of this depth which players found so compelling. Sorry, rather a Proustian sentence there, but I think it's grammatical and I hope my point is clear. There will always be special cases, and all cases are at least a little bit special.

Vega

Well, this is all well and good, and some interesting insight into the minds of marketers...

But let's hear from a gamer, shall we?

Now, I should qualify what follows with the fact that I am potentially very unlike most people. I like Pepsi WAY better than Coke. Not because it's "hip" or "for the young generation" or because I like blue better than red (which I don't) but for the plain and simple fact that it tastes a lot better. I avoid buying things based on hype for the simple reason that hype usually means that Marketers have been feverishly trying to impart as much pizzaz onto a lackluster product as they can, in hopes of duping the masses into buying their crap.

The reasons why I bought Max Payne 1 and 2 are a perfect example.

First off, I had barely heard anything about Max Payne before I was chatting with a friend of mine about games we liked, and he mentioned it. Since I had been looking for some games with a good single player experience, I decided to download the demo and give it a try. After playing the demo about twenty times over, I was totally sold on the game. Why? Not hype, not the name, not the box art, but for the plain and simple reason that the game was: interesting, incredibly cool, and FUN!

I bought the first game, and found myself unable to stop playing for about eight hours straight the first day I got it. I was totally absorbed in the storyline, the slick film noir style, and the incredibly cool gameplay. This game was just excellent in every way that counts. I finished the first one, and I had to have the second; not only because of the gameplay, but mostly because of the story; I wanted to know how it turned out.

I was even more blown away by the second game than by the first. Everything that made Max Payne great was there in Max Payne2, but had been made that much better.

Why did I love these games, and why am I almost certain to buy Max Payne 3, if it gets made?

Because I like and identify with the characters, because the storylines are engaging and interesting, because they are extremely freakin cool, and because they are enormously fun.

It's basically the same reason why I find TFC to be the best multiplayer game ever and Counterstrike to be a steaming pile of crap.

TFC is just plain fun, despite its lack of flash and marketing, while Counterstrike is a stupid, clunky, lame ass game that is about as fun as banging one's head against a wall.

If you want to make games that sell, gentlemen, make games that are FUN to play, and whose fun factor doesn't wear off the second time around.

akmal

i agree with vega. cs is a game that's too "realistic" and, we have seen a lot of this type of game around. tfc's a lot better, conquer and eliminate...

max payne really stands out from the shelves. simple name, great story telling, nice assortment of "tools", simple game concept, great features(ah.. bullettime).. the works. a text-book example of a great game.

game designers should really run this through their mind each time they make a game, FUN FUN FUN

Jeffool

As a gamer, and wannabe-programmer, I think it's safe to say that Scott's definitely not trying to take anything away from the game. If he thought it was crap, I'm sure he would've had nothing to do with it. And I really don't think you guys believe that anyone thinks Max Payne was a success solely because of marketing. But it is an important part of any product. It might seem as if it's sullying the product to you guys, but it's true. You know that.

And just because something is marketed doesn't make it less of a good product. All movies, music, and books all make concessions in their content for the purpose of getting their work out. That doesn't make Citizen Kane any less of a movie. And sure I'm painting with a very wide brush. Some arts are done with only personal regard. But most of those are not for mass-consumption or were not intended to reach the massive level they do.

And many fun games don't do well, as 'fun' is relative, though often commonly agreed on. I mean, just how much ass did Rocket Jockey kick? I'll tell you. Much ass. And if that game were given a slight tweak in graphics, I've little doubt it would be a nice, fast play over the internet and catch on quickly. But, you and me, we're gamers. We know what 'we' like, individually, but everyone else? Well, many games enter the best-sellers list that I don't dig.

John Hikeman

Somehow I get the feeling that Duke Nukem Forever is history just like "Prey". While I agree that quality matters, at some point 3drealms has got to draw the line and release DNF as they've got it so far. Remedy has already released Max Payne 2 and 3drealms still has not released DNF. Scott, as a supporter, I seriously recommend that you guys at 3drealms stop outsourcing yourselves to other game companies and concentrate on finishing DNF this coming year. There's no such thing as a perfect game and in the gaming world, as Sam Stoddard once pointed out, there's always a game that comes out one step ahead.

Scott Miller

-- "I seriously recommend that you guys at 3drealms stop outsourcing yourselves to other game companies and concentrate on finishing DNF this coming year."

Hear ya, John. It's happening. The "outsourcing" stuff (working with third-party studios) has probably set us back six months, not a bad trade-off for the return. Still, everyone here knows DNF is too long in development. Everyone here also sees the light at the end of the tunnel now, and knows this game is no Diakatana. I'd love to say more, but we must all be a patient a little longer. ;-)

Meban

Thee best bloggg

TurgoN

Nice and (for me) still interesting article.
But i had to laugh: "The game should not be too long, or complicated (...)".
(tip error, but a funny one.)

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