Saturday, February 18, 2012

Best-Selling Games vs Best-Made Games (Or, Reaching A Larger Audience)

Recently I had a chance to reread Robert Kiyosaki's book Rich Dad Poor Dad. In it there is a section where he discusses an interview he had with a young journalist who expresses her desire to become a best-selling author like him. Kiyosaki tells her that her writing is excellent, tough and clear, and asks her what is holding her back from achieving her dream. Quietly she responds: "My work doesn't seem to go anywhere. Everyone says my novels are excellent, but nothing happens. So I keep my job with the paper. At least it pays the bills." When she asks Kiyosaki for suggestions on getting her work to be more noticed, he gives her what is retrospectively almost an obvious answer: "Learn to become a salesman." Indignant at the thought of "stooping so low" as to learn to be a salesman, she begins to pack her things and begins to leave. Kiyosaki stops her momentarily and points out that the article she's written on him says "Best-selling Author." He tells her that her ability to write is far beyond his. He says that she is a great writer, he is not. He points out that difference between them is that he is a great salesman, she is not. (Click here for the full excerpt)

Hopefully by now you are starting to connect what a book about business and finance and the game industry have to do with one another. How many times have you seen a best-selling title and thought "I can make something far better than this, why is it that their game is so popular?" How many times have you thought: "This game is so poorly made, all this company must care about is the bottom line!" I'm pretty sure the latter of these two statements is not completely true in most cases, but the simple answer is that the companies pushing these titles are better at selling than everyone else.

We all know at a basic level that marketing and salesmanship is important for getting your game to be noticed by the masses. We are no longer in the early days of gaming where simply making a great game was enough to boost you to superstardom. "If you build it they will come" is a great ideal, but it is no longer the reality of the industry we are in. Unless you know how to sell, how to capitalize on your game ideas, the chances of your developing that mega-hit that brings you fame and fortune are very slim. Let me be clear, I am not saying that we should sacrifice the quality of our games and focus on putting trash out there. No, I am saying that we as game developers need to make sure that we've added the tool of salesmanship to our game development tool-belt.

A couple weeks ago, there was a feature here on Gamasutra by Jeff Vogel in which he details the method by which he makes money doing what he loves. His message initially seemed to be about catering to a particular niche of gamer, or what kind of games to make if you want to make money. As you progress through the article thinking in terms of "Best Selling vs Best Made," you will notice, however, that he's actually discussing how to sell your game. This is a man who has figured out how to take something that is seemingly not popular and get it into the hands of the masses well enough that he can continue to do what he loves for a living. This is suggested reading if you have a few spare moments.

Around the same time, Tyler York also released an article about selling your games. Specifically, they speak to balancing your game's content and style with the monetization thereof. This is a fairly short read, but they hit upon a few key points, and in particular one what was also made by Mr. Vogel: "Sell experiences." Meaning that, as game developers we are not so much in the business of selling things as we are of selling experiences. Our product is adventure, entertainment, drama, social connection. The actual content of our product is the means whereby we accomplish this, but a 20,000 page Tolkien-esque epic means nothing if the user-experience is not first and foremost in your design.

Finally, Wojtek Kawczynski gives us lessons learned as he and his studio released two iOS titles: Garage Inc. and KULA BLOX. Primarily these lessons pertain to marketing on the app store, but the spirit behind the message is applicable to selling your products anywhere. Keep your marketing short and sweet and your message clear.

Summarily, the ability to sell is equally as important as the ability to make a great game, assuming that you'd actually like people to know about and appreciate your game. It would be of great worth to all of us to take time out of our busy schedule creating great games to become at least half as good at selling our games. Such is my take on the matter, anyway. I'd love to hear thoughts anyone else may have on the topic, so leave me a comment!

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