Everybody in the gaming industry has a great idea for a game. The desire to see that idea become a reality is what brought many of us to this industry. Sadly, the quality of this idea – or even of the game itself – isn’t enough to guarantee a commercial success: critically acclaimed games like Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil have sold far fewer sales than they deserved.
How can you tell if a game has the potential to become a huge hit based only on its design? Marketing executives at major publishers have sophisticated tools to evaluate that kind of things, but you don’t need all that complexity to find the potential of your idea. With just a few questions, you can evaluate the marketability of your game. I compiled these questions in a simple test that you can use in 10 minutes.
The test assumes that the game is good – if it’s bad, chances are it won’t sell no matter how high it scores on this test. Many factors affect the success of a game beyond the marketability of the initial concept. This test will give you a rough idea whether a project is worth pursuing or not, but it doesn’t replace market research and focus groups.
Is the Game Distinctive?
Does it stand out viscerally?
Does the gameplay stand out?
Does it involve the player socially in a unique way?
Can the Game Reach a Large Market?
Is the idea behind the game easy to communicate?
Is the game based on something the market already knows and loves?
Is the target market large?
That’s it. The more questions you answer “Yes” to, the easier your game will be to sell.
The two big questions to ask yourself are whether your game will stand out from the crowd and whether it’ll be able to reach a large audience.
If your game isn’t distinctive enough, it won’t stand out from your competitors. It would be hard to sell a new World War II FPS with no unique features these days because there are so many on the market. It could be a great game, but few players would notice it since their attention is split among other similar titles. If your title stands out, players will give it more attention and are more likely to purchase it.
The reason for the second big question is obvious: if your game can’t reach a big market, it won’t sell much. There are two parts to this: to target a big market and to successfully reach it. If the market is small, you’ll have few sales even if the game is perfectly suited to it. On the other hand, if the target market is huge, but nobody understands or likes what your game is about, nobody will buy it.
Let’s look at each sub-question in more details. They’re the key to answering the big questions with a resounding “Yes!”
When people look at a 30 seconds trailer of your game, is their reaction “Wow! This is cool!”? If so, congratulations, your game stands out viscerally.
This question is all about gut reaction: if people have an immediate positive reaction when they see the game, they’ll want to know more and they’ll want to play it. This factor is very important because it’s easy to show in advertisements. Deep and subtle gameplay is a great thing to have, but it’s a lot harder to convey in a short trailer than awesome graphics.
Indeed, awe-inspiring graphics are one of the most popular ways to make games stand out viscerally. Gears of War owes much of its success to this. Problem is, everybody is trying to have great graphics, so you need great technology, great artists and a big budget to be distinctive this way.
Good news is, there are other ways to stand out viscerally. Okami did it with its unique visual style, Nintendogs did it with cute puppies and Burnout did it with over-the-top car crashes. If you don’t have the greatest graphics on the market, be creative and find another way to give players a positive gut reaction when they see your game.