Global Game Industry News Blog

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Trouble with Markets

Those guys at are always serving up some piping hot and superbly crafted commentary on the video game industry. Today is no exception.

I also have quite a few concerns about markets, and more particularly the way they are defined, constituted, designed for, developed for, and marketed to. Just in case they forget, this is the "mass/mainstream market":

The Mainstream Myth //
The industry has become so used to dismissing its own products as hardcore or niche that it has actually thrown a whole nursery school of babies out with the bathwater. Games industry conventional wisdom says that a narrative where space marines shoot aliens can't possibly be mass market - but yet Aliens is one of the most iconic films of the last thirty years. Independence Day was one of the top-grossing films of its decade. Need I mention Star Wars? Our conventional wisdom dismisses wizards and barbarians and their fantasy trappings as being too hardcore to appeal beyond the existing gaming audience, but it's perfectly obvious that franchises like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings have become a core part of global culture, with a universal appeal which far exceeds that of almost any videogame.

The problem is not the themes of videogames. It's an altogether more bitter pill to swallow, but the problem is that with a few unique exceptions, videogames aren't using those themes in an effective, gripping or mature manner. All too often, games fall short because while they do everything required to satisfy certain segments of the core gaming audience, they miss out on key aspects which would vastly expand their appeal - and from the gamer's perspective, it can sometimes be hard to tell why a certain game achieves a level of mass market recognition, when another does not.
This is another core truth about the mass market which the industry has failed to realise. The "mass market" is a myth; the reality is a huge collection of individual niches, some larger than others, but none of them all-encompassing. There is certainly scope for videogames to expand into new niches, as the example of Silent Hill - and indeed of Nintendogs, or Brain Training - displays. However, more importantly, right now videogames are failing to effectively harness their existing niches. Weak narrative, poor direction and pacing, unsympathetic characters, excessively complex control systems, bad music, graphics glitches and a host of other sins which are often forgiven readily by the hardcore are preventing the bulk of this industry's product from having any impact with the vast majority of consumers - and even our military sci-fi or swords 'n sorcery fantasy titles are utterly overshadowed by Hollywood's most vacuous blockbusters.

The question currently being asked in the games industry is, "what new kinds of games can we create which appeal to the mass market?" This is the wrong question. The right question is, "what is it about our existing games that limits their appeal - and how can we change that?" That's a harder question to ask, because videogame creators - from designers right through to publishing bosses - like to believe that their existing products are absolutely fine for their markets, and that it's now time to conquer new markets. Until that attitude changes, videogames will never achieve the success within our culture that other mediums enjoy.


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  • I agree. From one side, the spending mass is brought to believe that game products and game production is booming and happening.

    On the other side, the game industry is unstable (read in deep trouble). Companies shutting down or bought for a penny, indies picking up the tasks that were meant for internal studios, ridiculous high management salaries, drafting professionals from movie-television replacing game veterans with their own clique of friends that generally hate games.

    One very fundamental shortcoming about the game industry, is that it promotes itself as knowing their field. How could they not self-proclaim that they are the game specialists? Especially if the utlimate client is the shareholder, honesty is out-of-line here. As it could hinder shareholder investment in game companies as a whole.

    I always thought, as a game developper myself, that the utlimate client is the gamer, for his appreciation is the only thing that will prove you wrong or false, with sales figures.

    Did you know that game companies don't actually know the figures of their product sales? It could take a whole year before Walmart give a update on the sales. On top of that, th sale figures are often mixed up with pre-orders, free offers and free bundles. So we don't know if the sequel is actually requested from the audience. For all we know, shareholders would invest in a franchise that the media would be interested into talking about. Of course this is image manifacturing.
    The real place where games are conceived is not in the conceptual department, nor the technological engeneering dept., but at the marketing office. I even saw companies that outsourced their marketing to California, simply to facilitate forged hype (they're good at it with hollywood movies).

    Although all of this situation is happening at the highest step of the hierarchy, I can see the insidious effects of the market in my day-to-day basis. When I started in games, 10 years ago, I was encouraged to innovate, provide quality. Now it's been years that I am secretly required to do only old stuff (because of risk), and providing above the expected is now completely untuned with the companie's "philosophy", whatever it is. Knowing this, as a game enthusiast, is not making me very expectful about what I can get my hands on in the future.

    Good luck in having fun !!

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 3/18/2008 03:18:00 PM  

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