Wednesday, August 15th, 2012
The Internet has dramatically changed the worlds of economics, finance, and work. Gamers are responsible for many of those changes, and everybody is a gamer now.
But this isn’t just a passive change. Gamers have real power. You have a voice that can no longer be ignored. It’s time to use your voice and make some changes.
Before the Internet – say up to twenty years ago – you had no power at all. Companies developed products they could sell to the “mass market”, generic products for generic people. They didn’t know who you were, and didn’t care about what you wanted.
Big corporations have high overhead. They don’t stay in business selling customized products one or two at a time. It’s cheaper to make a million identical widgets than 500,000 custom ones.
That’s why adventure games died back in the 90’s. Each game scene was hand-crafted, with custom art, animation, and sound. They cost too much to develop, and their sales didn’t justify the expense.
First-person shooters brought joy to the game publishers’ bookkeepers. The early ones had a lot of generic hallways and grungy backgrounds. Cheap to make, and they sold at least as many copies as adventure games. The fact that all the games looked, played, and felt alike didn’t seem to matter to the players… and it certainly didn’t matter to the publishers.
Adventure games died, the developers moved to farms, and nobody much seemed to care… except the players who missed games with depth, puzzles, and story.
Working the Web
“I’m as mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore!” – Network
Things started changing rapidly in the last decade. The Internet became the new mass media, and the Web is fundamentally different from newspapers, radio, and TV.
You don’t choose products the way you did twenty years ago. Back then, we all got our impressions from the same mass media. Now, with the Web, you decide which sites you want to visit and support. The Web lets you vote with your clicks for the products you prefer.
Not everyone wants to play the same games. A lot of gamers love first person shooters, and they still have plenty of new games to play every year – Good for them! But if you want something else, you need to look a little longer and push a little harder.
It’s time to tell the developers what you really want.
The Long Tail of the Law
Speaking up might not be enough by itself. Big publishers still want to make big profits, and most of them are still mired in 20th Century thinking. They still only care about the mythical mass market.
But there is another way, as companies like Amazon have shown us. The Web makes it almost as easy to list 100,000 titles as 1000, and it turns out that the total profit from 10’s of thousands of low-selling titles is as high as the total from the top 1000. This is the “Law of the Long Tail”, and it breaks the old mass-market rules.
Can a few thousand adventure or role-playing game fans convince a big company to make a ten million dollar game in their genre? Probably not. But there are other ways. The Long Tail applies to companies as well as products. Now, with the power of the Internet, thousands of small companies can prosper by making niche products to exploit the long tail of gamers.
Kickstart the Games You Want to Play
Making high-quality games is expensive and game publishers are risk-averse. In the mass-market economy, that meant that there was no place for originality and innovation. A game that doesn’t appeal to the masses – or the publisher’s idea of what would sell – would never get funded. Players who wanted to try something different were out of luck.
The big studios are no longer the only ones in charge. Now the players help call the shots.
Here’s how Kickstarter works. First a company or individual comes up with a great idea for a product they would like to share with the world. They create a Kickstarter project, talk about their plans, and set a goal. They also create “pledge levels”, each with a reward, just as public TV stations ask for pledges to support their programming. The developers tell people about their project, and hope their fans will help spread the word.
Players like you visit the Kickstarter site and pledge to support it. This costs you nothing unless the campaign succeeds. At the end of the Kickstarter campaign, if the project has met the goal set by the developer, you pay the amount you pledged. After that, the developer is responsible for sending you your premium and making the product they promised.
Thanks to crowd-funding, a developer with a great game idea can appeal directly to you – the player. If you find a project that deserves support, you can “vote” for it by pledging as much or as little as you choose to pay. Your “votes” determine which games get made. How cool is that?
It’s your turn. You have the voice, and you have the power. It’s time to change the game!