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Why game discovery is vital – introducing Games We Care About.
by Simon Carless on 06/06/14 08:28:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

games_we_care

Every few months, I get an urge to try something new as a side project, related to a problem. This time – though I make no claims it will FIX EVERYTHING – it’s intended to address this simple issue:

“I like playing video games, but there are so many damn video games nowadays. How do I find out about video games I might want to play?”

Obviously, the discovery issue isn’t new – though it’s been getting much worse of late. Video game discovery woes extend past mobile to PC and even console, as my indie dev friends are bemoaning. As someone who spends a LOT of time reading about video games, I’m dazzled and very overwhelmed by the sheer amount of beautiful pictures, videos and playables of games made by small and medium-sized teams all over the globe.

Our experience? You see a great-looking game, you see 10, you see 100 – after a point, you can’t situate them all in your brain. (Especially if you have to worry about other things, like making rent or having a pleasant social life or talking to your family.) And many of these titles you read about you can’t actually _play_ yet – you have to file your positive vibes away for when that game is available – and actually spot that it came out.

So where do you go to find out what you might want to play right now? The video game platform holders (iOS App Store, Google Play, Steam, etc) certainly have front pages where you can see a whole bunch of games. But there’s two main barriers to you finding what you want:

1. The Monopoly Of Attention

Mobile game stores are increasingly free to play-focused. (And there’s quite a few F2P titles on PC that act similarly, including DOTA2 on Steam.) Many top F2P games, even ‘casual’ mobile ones are designed – frankly – to be the _only_ game that you play, just as World Of Warcraft pioneered in the MMO space for the last decade. In this market, the immersive and all-encompassing bird gets the worm – there can be only one.

There’s nothing wrong with that – and don’t you dare suggest I’m anti-F2P, because I’m definitely not. Many of these titles are well-crafted and cleverly designed and very social. But the people who make those top-grossing App Store games aren’t really interested in the problem of discovery, simply because they will be splitting their ongoing proceeds with other titles if you play more games. They don’t want you to discover other games, particularly, except perhaps their own. (This isn’t the same situation as console games at retail or even going to the movies  – film directors know you will be watching other films before their next one comes out.)

That wish – for players to keep playing a _small_ amount of well-crafted ‘sticky’ games that they like and play daily – is, abstractly, true for the platform-holders. By letting the front page of their store largely be dominated by the most popular, highest-grossing games, platform-holders are ensuring that the public decides what is popular. And there’s nothing wrong with engaged gamers using their store and/or hardware to enjoy hot, hot video games.

Having the same ‘hit’ top-grossing games up there, month after month, is not a problem for platform holders. Those games will keep people using their platform or hardware, and maximize revenue. And this method even maximizes enjoyment in a raw, compulsion loop stylee – because these games _do_ have a lot of fun and playability in them.

It’s just rough to get people to break away and try other games – because that’s how the games are designed – as an experience, one level beyond a service. Even a lot of the top-grossing non-F2P Steam titles like Rust are designed around these levels of immersion and social interaction.

Thus – everyone is striving for ‘the monopoly of attention’. Curating will always be a secondary concern, because by design, curation cuts against market forces for the developer _and_ the store.

2. Too much good stuff, bundled together, too cheap!

The other issues are more often discussed. Simply, PC and mobile game stores are being flooded by both excessive choice and excessive availability, exacerbated by the ‘bundled content’ trend and the apparent ‘free’ price tag of F2P titles. Let’s break these down:

- Excessive choice: this is obvious, and is much explored, most recently by Mike Rose’s Gamasutra article pointing out that there’s been more games released on Steam in the first 20 weeks of 2014 compared to the entirety of 2013. On the iOS App Store, it feels like only TouchArcade and Apple itself even has time to sift through the sheer amount of games that debut. (I once tried browsing every single iOS app/game that went live in a 24 hour period. WOW.) And then there’s the games that don’t even appear in any store – how do you even find those?

- Excessive availability: this is badly phrased, but what I really mean here is the following. When you made a Super Nintendo game, how much did it cost you to publish one extra copy of a game? Quite apart from the cost of packaging and the memory chips, you might have to do a whole new factory run of the game.

But if you made a game a year ago and somebody wants to put it in a bundle, how much does it cost you to pass it along? Essentially nothing. The near-zero cost of incremental digital goods – plus the inability of those goods to go ‘out of stock’ – is warping the entire structure of media as we know it, in good and bad ways. (And the cost of making games has come _way_ down at the same time.)

- The ‘bundled content’ trend: an interesting issue, and a trend that I freely admit to participating in through Indie Royale and via Storybundle. Firstly, I still believe bundling can be a good thing – especially compared to the value erosion around ‘monthly subscription’ or free streaming services in music/movies. But the danger is around the value gamers assign to the marginal titles in the bundle.

Generally, when you buy a bundle (of games, books, or anything) you’ll really be interested in one or two pieces of media in the bundle. On Storybundle, you might pay $12 for 7 books, but only really be interested in 2 of them. For those two, you’ve ‘paid’ $5 each, but the other 5 not only sit in your backlog to be read, you’ve ‘paid’ 20c each for them. Obviously, everyone is interested in different books or games or music, which is why bundling works. But the ‘near-zero cost of incremental digital goods’ problem is exacerbating the difference between release prices and bundle prices for games. (Release price: $20. Effective bundle price if you don’t care much about the game: 20c.)

And then, the danger is, bundles become curation events that actually _dissuade_ you from taking a close look at games when they release, because you might as well get the titles pre-curated at a massive discount, a few weeks/months down the line. That’s not good, long-term.

- The apparent ‘free’ price tag of F2P titles: the hourly cost of playing F2P titles _is_ actually low compared to historical costs for playing video games. This is because a smaller percentage of players – the whales – make up a majority of the revenue. Again, this is not a judgment, just an evaluation, but it makes it more difficult for those who charge once and once only for their games.

And when people are charging less for their game in bundles, that further muddies the playing field. We need people excited about paying the creator for a game when it comes out, because games cannot exist on Kickstarter & bundles alone.

So, my idea? Turns out it’s a Twitter account, Games We Care About – http://www.twitter.com/games_we_care – and it’s fairly simple. Four times a day, somebody will recommend a video game that they care about (or think you should care about), with three or four words about why it rocks. The entire concept fits in 140 characters (including URL and a screenshot.)

The only rules? That the title is out now, purchasable standalone, and you might not have heard about. No bundles, no special offers, no Kickstarters to fund. Just games you can buy now from its creator(s).

There are plenty of other sites out there and social media posts talking about games that you will be able to get soon, or games that came out a while ago and are now cheap. But Games We Care About is simple – it’s focused on playing games now. The additional twist? We’ll get lots of guest curators – so far including Adam Saltsman, James Mielke and Colin Northway, with LOTS of diverse folks to come – to pick the games, alongside me. When smart people can discuss the games that have fascinated them, you get a unique cross-section of titles.

Of course, I’m not expecting Games We Care – which already has in the high hundreds of followers – to have any significant effect on the sales of a particular title in the short or medium term. In general, it’s only popular YouTube streamers – with viewers in the hundreds of thousands or millions – that really move the needle on game sales.

But talking about games like this does two things:

- Firstly, it reminds an actual human being that another actual human being (several, including retweets!) digs their game. Having worked on PlayStation 1 games where I literally never met anyone who bought one of my games, and only found out later via YouTube that people have fond memories of it, that means a lot. Same is true here.

- It may help, virally, to get other people who have greater reach talking about your game – the standalone version, not the ‘it’ll be great in the future’ version or the ‘available with 11 other games and you barely look at it’ version. That would be nice. And maybe some of those new players will identify with the developer, follow him or her, and pick up their next game.

So it’s not just the recommendation itself, it’s what we are telling the game-playing community that’s important. It’s about reminding people they can just enjoy (free or paid!) games in isolation, as a work of art or a mighty fun time, at any point. Not a Kickstarter. Not a bundle. A single thoughtful recommendation, four times a day, in perpetuity. We’ll see how far it gets.


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Comments


Greg Scheel
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I think you touched on something in the second to last paragraph that is not often noticed or discussed, that is the importance of starting out in search of smaller audiences when first marketing a game. It is folly to think that pewdiepie, totalbiscuit, or angry joe are going to find and review your game, let alone even respond to an email. But if you start small, going after social media personalities that have less than 100k subs, it should be possible to build an audience, and grow it over time. Of course this will take effort and time, but it is bound to pay off in the medium to long term.

Sjors Jansen
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I like the idea, it will undoubtedly be a great resource for finding cool games.
I do see an issue with it in that I think it's important to know who recommends a game. People have different tastes and games have evolved far enough that stating "it's a great game" doesn't mean much without knowing who says it.
Plenty of people can tell me "Avengers is a great movie", but it just tells me we have different tastes. You get what I mean.

It's the same with the anonymous judge comments of the IGF we briefly discussed a long time ago. Some fellow developers have very different design principles so their comments taken by themselves objectively as criticism might have a lot of impact, but lose a lot of their meaning when you realise how they think about things. Disclaimer: I never submitted anything to the IGF, just know some judges' visions amd thus the difference in what you might call taste.

So I think knowing curators is important, I want to see a list of favorite games at minimum. That isn't so hard to figure out here, and I think it already covers a broad spectrum. But it might need to be more flexible (non twitter) to also accomodate different tastes.

Few curators also means a bottleneck, leading to developers trying to be friends with them, backdoor politics, swaying, bribing with party invitations and such (not meant as accusing, just extending it to the big industry stuff).

And to me as a consumer I tend to look to people that mean a lot to me or have the same tastes as me in order to find other good stuff. They're my curators. What I mean is, I'm open to discovering people with the same taste through this kind of system.
It might lead to more of the same (a good criticism) but I generally find people try out many different things and can recommend for instance "face/off" as a good action movie, even though they generally don't care about action movies.

In short, I like it and I hope it grows way beyond twitter and becomes an all encompassing monster that cares.

Ana Morgan
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This is an excellent idea! We're trying something similar with Greatest Indie Games http://www.greatestindiegames.com/ / https://twitter.com/GreatIndieGames/

Hopefully all these initiatives will help improve the indie game landscape by giving small and medium developers a chance to reach players! Especially since there are so many interesting games out there that don't get enough attention.

Jennis Kartens
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Great idea, but you should implement those tweets into a blog/hp because Twitter itself suffers under the same issue as every app store, so it's a bit ironic using it for better discoverability.

Rune Skovbo Johansen
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When reading the beginning of the article I hoped the announced project was a giant database of games where I could enter all the games I really like and it would find new recommendations for me based on my tastes, and keep me updated when new games came out that might match as well.

I don't see how a new "one size fits all" channel for recommendations solve anything about finding the right audience for the right game in a scalable way.

Alan Barton
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@"PC and mobile game stores are being flooded by both excessive choice and excessive availability"

Absolutely. Its the elephant in the room on all discussions of discoverability. Too many games are being made and the Internet never forgets, so unlike shop shelf space, the Internet shops have effectively infinite shelf space. So really, is it any wonder its getting ever harder to find games and so ever harder to earn a living.

But then we keep getting the "feel good" stories about how that's not a problem, when really they are using that story as a PR move to promote their game. The truth is, its a growing problem that we really don't have a true answer too.

Another list or another site listing top games isn't going to change that because frankly every developer secretly dreams and wants their game near the top of the list. If developers set-up the lists their games and the games of their friends will often be pushed near the top of the list and they will go onto these sites hoping to also promote their own games. Its like celebrities doing interviews to really promote their new films. It becomes another PR move just like the feel good stories. So what next, we all set-up lists and interview sites, so we then compete on list promotion? That doesn't sound like a workable answer.

@"Too much good stuff, bundled together, too cheap!"
Yes exactly, ever more games bundled together to create some value. The pile it high and sell it cheap method of business, which always happens in crowded markets. Its all part of (and signs of) a race to zero. More and more stuff on sale means lower and lower prices. So bundle more and more together and that gets cheaper and cheaper as well. If you think of this race to zero (income) as an evolutionary pressure, then it makes sense that free to play would emerge as a survival strategy. The ones that adapt will survive and the ones that don't, go out of business. I wish it wasn't going this way, but it is and that is that.

I've said before, I do believe that improving the stores based around better curated lists is one way to help filter out so many games, but the core problem is frankly too many games are being made and the old games don't die out on the stores, so we are drowning in games on sale.

Frankly the income we can now make as an indie games programmer is a big worry and its getting worse. Its become so hit or miss and fewer and fewer games will be a hit in the future, as the numbers of games going on sale keeps increases, so its going to get ever worse and all markets are going to go that way, not just mobile, because the engines are going to allow ever more games to be made for all platforms.

I wish I had the answers, but I don't. I'm going to give it a try again, and if that fails, maybe I should be thinking about getting out of games into other industries. I don't know what to do for the best. I think the damage to the games industry has already been done and there's nothing that’s really going to fix it but maybe I'm wrong. I keep hoping I can find an answer but earning a living in this industry is frankly blood hard work and its getting ever worse.

John Flush
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This is a very interesting concept, unfortunately it utilizes twitter which is hamstrung by its inability to give any real detail about anything. Like Jennis and Rune mentioned above I think discoverability is going to take a much bigger solution. Of course once a site like that is produced you now are in the same boat, trying to get your site discovered among the hundreds of video game news outlets.

I do like the focus on already released and available games though. when I go looking I'm never looking for something that might be out in 6 months. That and hype articles are mostly just a waste of time unless it is being kickstarted or something like that.

Jonathan Bergeron
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Having looked at the feed, I'm not sure this is a strong solution. Beyond submitting what amounts to a marketing tag line and a screen shot, there's not much curation taking place. Why are the games being recommended significant? What makes a curator a trustable source besides being a member of the game industry? Why not just use a hashtag and retweet tagged recommendations instead?

The solution to this issue to me seems more like a crowd-sourced Wikipedia-styled effort; a library of content catalogued and sorted with recommendations based on a submitted game name or a selection of criteria, and operated by an independent third party so that little bias occurs when recommendations for content are presented.

Jeff Leigh
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I have to agree with the posters above - from the title I was hoping this would be some sort of "Pandora for games" - something that was community driven to discover similarities between games and help me find the games that suit *my* tastes.

Really, I think that will be the key to a successful service like this. While the article goes into detail regarding the *authors* tastes and preferred monitization style, I don't think that really helps discovery beyond one particular market segment.

What I'd love to see is a website where you can feed it your favorite games (possibly through your steam account), tailor which of those games you actually like and didn't like, and it can suggest other games that suit my tastes and monitization preferences (if it's working, it would probably even suggest other games in my library it isn't unaware I already own). As I give it more feedback on what tags I do and don't like, it should get a better picture of my preferences and NOT suggest things. (And if ANY preference toward a sponsor is done, it should be clearly indicated - separated out of the search results and identified as an ad.) This way, personal preferences like "never show me f2p games", "never show me early access games", "never show me mmorpgs" or even (gasp) "never show me indie games" can be made by the user, rather than the site owner.

Julian Cram
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Decide-o-Tron from the Penny Arcade guys tried this.

http://www.thebinarymill.com/decide-o-tron.php

Jeff Leigh
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Yeah, I found a couple sites that had tried it and they were all struggling it seems. For games you need a really large database before it becomes useful, and unless it is connected directly to a store, it'll be an endless battle driving traffic to the site.

Julian Cram
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I agree with most of the other posters - great idea by I'm not sure twitter is the right way to go.

I already follow a heap of commentators whose game suggestions I like, and even then I don't really keep up to date with what they'e playing and suggesting.

I think twitter is too brief to describe why people are suggesting games, and a huge mess to actually be of any use for discovery for the vast majority of people.

Vahe Kocharyan
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It is a great idea, but i would have to agree with the fellow bloggers that twitter may not be the most efficient way of telling people why one cares. A thread on one of the gaming forums may work out better in my view.


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