Friday, March 26, 2010

Targeting hardcore gamers – Part 2

Soon after I understand that I could only make a good game if it’s targeted to me, I started thinking about real market opportunities. These are the external reasons; I mean all the reasons independent from myself, my skills and my ability to make games. I would have jump into game development even if I didn’t find anything cool during my researches, but – as results are good – I think it’s worth sharing my conclusions here. And it’s always invigorating to know you enter a cool and welcoming area.

As I said in part 1, a first reason to enter the game development could be the community by itself. Indie game developers love to blog, tweet, talks in forums, etc. And it’s an awesome resource for newcomers. Of course, this epileptic network activity is a way to get exposure on the net, and I couldn’t say that this is not one of the goals of Indie Game Soup (despite the fact that my blog is anonymous). But that’s a lot more than this. I don’t think you can make friends when your goals are purely commercial. And I’ve read many posts on the Indie Gamer Forum where it’s obvious to say that friends are talking together there.

So, Ok for the dev community, what’s about the real market? Well, my deep feeling, as a customer, is that hardcore gamers are not fed with the current offering for small titles. And this is especially true for those who don’t own the Xbox360, where the XBLA has a lot to offer (but also a lot of so-so games). On PSN and Wiiware, there is more selection by Sony and Nintendo, and, consequently, there are far less titles. So, is it an Eldorado for indie game developers? Unfortunately, the answer is No. As a console gamer, I looked at this business first, and I must admit I felt frustrated by what I discovered: the current state is that it’s longer and longer to get your game approved on XBLA, while it’s very hard to put hands on PS3 or Wii devkits if you are not yet in the industry. The fact is that it’s a pain to get on consoles if you are not supported and sponsored by a publisher. As a consequence, the console market is not the “cool and welcoming area” I talked about. That’s more like a fortress. And to smash in the portcullis of the console fortress, you will first need a success on the PC side or get enough exposure during your development to speed up the XBLA approval. Anyway, if your game design requires a gamepad, I could only recommend going XBLA, simply because most PC gamers don’t have any gamepad. If, by chance, your game has mouse and keyboard controls, then rush on the PC side, because that’s where heaven is waiting:

The facts:

- Steam is king.

- To get on Steam, you need to have either a publisher or very good reviews of your game.

- You can get reviews by 1) having a great game and 2) competing at the Independent Game Festival.

And this is supposed to be heaven?!? Ok, this still sounds difficult, but the bet looks more winnable to me, especially if you consider a true hardcore game, simply because they are not enough such games. If we consider the Indie section of Steam, here is the picture:

Total games released on Steam in 2009 in the Indie category = 68.

The average is between 5 and 6 indie games per month. These are low numbers. In Q1 2010, Steam has released 20 games in the Indie category, 30 in the Action category and 31 in the Strategy category. Of course there are some overlaps but we can quickly conclude that there are more big titles out on Steam than smaller games, maybe twice. This sounds like a paradox since Indie games usually don’t require as much time to develop as AAA products. Maybe the Steam internal policy is to limit the Indie offer so that it does not “pollute” too much the primary store, but I don’t think so. They simply want the best offer for their hardcore audience. And, naturally, they are demanding and this is exactly why they ask for good reviews.

In part 3, I will give try to explore why so few developers go this way. This will conclude my thoughts about the external reasons I can find to make games for hardcore gamers.


  1. Nice and interesting post.

    But I think you have omitted a major domain: mobile.

    When I say "mobile", I'm talking about ALL mobile devices (DS, PSP,
    mobile phones, iphones, smartphones, ...)

    Basiclly, gamers are going more and more on mobile devices. It's a really the trend.
    - it's more handy (you can play whenever and wherever you are) and prices are quite cheap.

    - quality and hardware performances are still increasing a lot (actually the same differences from DOS to Direct3D, but faster)

    - development time/investment are much lower

    Sure, there is no silver bullet to make a "hit" thru those platforms, but I really
    think that "regular consoles" and workstations aren't attractive anymore for
    indie and/or small game companies.

  2. Thanks for your comment. I'm afraid that smartphones games (in their vast majority) do not target *hardcore* gamers but the casual crowd. I will explain in a further post that iPhone games are definitely *not* for gamers, even if every geek around has an iPhone. That's a matter of inputs: true gaming need buttons, and touch screens are OK for casino or point-and-click adventure games, but I won't play anything close to Zelda/Mario on them.
    This is very different from the DS/PSP where there are true gamers controls, but then you do need a publisher...

  3. Thanks for your remarks.

    But I guess you didn't play last games released on iPhone/iPodTouch.

    Just have a look on:

    Actually, they're released thru well-known publishers, but there are still rooms for other developers with great ideas for hardcore gamers ;) ...

  4. Thanks for your links.
    Please read here what real gamers think about SFIV for iPhone:

    My position is exactly this one:
    "the iPhone audience was not primarily gamers and that games like Street Fighter, Assassin’s Creed, and Mega Man, which play poorly on the iPhone (like games ported to the Tiger Electronic Handheld), are nothing more than a way to sell a brand."

    My conclusion is that it's not impossible to make a game for hardcore gamers on iPhone. But that's simply not the best platform to do so (the #1 reason is the lack of buttons). I wouldn't develop a game for the fridge of a harcore gamer if it were possible, I prefer to target his PC :)

  5. You're right. iPhone is not the best platform for gamers. Console are the best ones, not PCs.

    PCs are too heterogeneous (too much card/driver testing).
    Moreover, what do you mean by PC? notebook/cheap PCs or latest-graphic-driver-ultra-3d-card-with-huge-memory-big-CPU-PC-not-stable ?

    Actually, I recommend you to target iMac machines. There are great opportunities on those platforms. You should give a try.

    You're right about button on iPhone; but there are still room to find other original gameplay without the need of "actual buttons".

    You can also do great stuff in 2D with Web technologies. This way, your game may be playable accross different platforms.

    So for me, PC games can only achieve with huge investment on many years with big dev teams.
    No other way on this platform for now.
    But I still think there are some challenges on new "mobiles devices" or Mac platforms.

  6. Yeah, but as I wrote in my post, consoles are a like a "fortress" for indie game developers. My point is that there is a lot of space left for smaller games than AAA. See Braid, World of Goo, etc.

    The QA is always a serious thing, whatever the platform is. But for PC hardcore gamers, there is a small advantage: they have high-end computers with top-notch gfx cards:

    I agree with your views on iPhone/web games but that's mainly for casual games... Games for hardcore gamers deserves all the power of your PC (or iMac, why not...).