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.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Targeting hardcore gamers – Part 1

A screen from one of my never-completed game project on the Amiga (1990)

When starting a new game project, and before to jump into game design, a first question could be: who will play my game? In other words: I need to choose a genre and a target audience, and this choice can be roughly seen as: “Casual or hardcore gamers?”

So I jumped on the net, reading forums and taking advices here and there. I’ve found some really interesting point of views from very smart people. But all I gathered was external answers, and as I said in my previous post: creating games is what lies inside me. So how can I seriously reach the answer to the “who will play my game” question with Firefox? The answer is more likely in the dozens of drawing sheets that I’ve made during the past years: they show many game mechanics and design, some look good, some do not, but all of them shown premises of games that I want to play. By this time, I didn’t envision to start converting them to real games, so they are very good candidates now in my quest for the most authentic answer.

My point is: if I claim to be an Indie, my game cannot be only motivated by a Business Plan or anything that shows a stairway to a money spring. In France, where Cycling is a religion, we often hear that the ones who get the money are not the ones who race for money. And I believe in that. I believe that success cannot be the consequence of any cold calculation, but the consequence of something authentic. I cannot dissociate the word authenticity from the word indie, definitely. If I am wrong, being indie would be equivalent to: get the same job as anywhere else + have the luxury to keep your pajamas all the day long.
Back to my old drawings, what are they telling me? They tell me an authentic and internal reason to choose hardcore gamers as an audience, simply because I am a hardcore gamer.

This leads me to the internal reason why I’ve chosen to target hardcore gamers: that's what I love to play, and if I build something I enjoy, there are great chances that it can be appealing to others.

If I had an iPhone and played 3 hours a day with that cool Poker game, I would have followed another path. But that’s not my reality. My reality is: connect to Steam, buy and play indie games, turn off the PC, play those rarely action games on the Wii, turn off the Wii, reinvent everything that mankind has ever known about Greek mythology with this awesome 1080p God of War 3, etc. I think you get the picture.

Well, although I play unbrained games, I think I still have a brain. And, as I said above, there are tons of good advices to get on the web, and especially on the Indiegamer Forums where, luckily, many smart people have chosen to share their experiences. I’ve read their posts during years, and understanding them all and taking all their point of view into account was an unprecedented challenge precisely for my brain. Thanks to them, I have now a better view on the market and, luckily, there is a vast land to explore for hardcore game makers.

In part 2, I will put words on the external reasons to target hardcore gamers.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Dad's going to write games!

Dream Run
Image courtesy of Rhys Davies

1972 was the year of Pong, and destiny was playful enough to make me come to life this same year. After a decade of random navigation in the serious world, writing business plan stuffs and trying to convince myself that the game business was not worth to go in, I feel the urgency right now to dive into game creation.

First off, there is no bad reasons to write games. Some say that making games is the only serious reason to practice computer science. That sounds a little extreme, but anyway, that's not the point. The point is: this is what lies inside me, in the deepest of my mind. I wouldn't even imagine getting old and say to myself "hey dude, you never wrote 1 game (except those odd flying pixels on your 32Kb TO7)".

Funny enough, that's my son - a Mario addict - that saw me debugging some obscure source code and asked "will you ever write games?". I was confused about my future, threaten by code outsourcing, condemned to project-management tasks. But my son's cleverness was like a light in the dark.
So yes kid, dad's going to write games!