Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, September 16, 2014
Triple A games for the masses

The sales strategies for video games for different market segments appears to be pretty much set: On the one side we have expensive triple A games for a small hardcore market, and on the other side we have cheap or pseudo-free games that sell millions of copies to casual gamers. You only earn small amounts of money per game on those casual games, but as your production cost are low and you sell so many copies (or make money from a few whales among lots of free players), overall you make a profit. But what if you could have the best of both of these worlds: A game that sells for $60, which also sells millions of copies to not-so-hardcore average gamers. How could you get there?

Well, one thing to consider is that if you design games in a specific genre for a hardcore audience, you tend to add more and more features to it. That moves the game away from the average customer's needs. So if you want to make that triple A game for the masses, you will need to make the most generic version possible, one which appears to be rather bland and unexciting to the hardcore players. You will need to make the everygame for the everyman, a game that is clearly identifiable as being at the very core of a genre without adding anything new to it. A game that doesn't require familiarity with the genre to play, because most of your target audience is people who don't usually play such games.

Then of course you will need to market your game in a different way. You need a much bigger advertising budget. And you need to concentrate on advertising your game in places where regular people will see it, from bus stations to regular newspapers and TV ads. The specialized gaming press isn't your focus here, they'll write about your game anyway once everybody is talking about it.

If you look at this plan to make a triple A game for the masses, it might look somewhat familiar. Isn't there a Destiny advertisement at your bus station or in your newspaper? Haven't you just read some Destiny reviews calling the game generic and lacking innovation? Hasn't the game shipped $500 million worth of copies at launch anyway? Haven't you played the most generic MMORPG with millions of players and the most generic RTS with millions of players from exactly the same company?

I think that if you see the mediocre reviews of Destiny in specialized gaming magazines or on Metacritic, you might be getting a wrong impression of that game. Who needs a high Metacritic score when you target customers who don't know about Metacritic, but read the positive stories in the Washington Post instead? I don't think Activision Blizzard worries much about the bad opinion some core gamers have of their games as long as those games make millions of dollars. And they do. If there is one company that has understood the secret recipe to making extremely profitable triple A games for the masses, it is Activision Blizzard. If you hate their games, it is because you simply aren't their target audience. If their games appear well crafted, polished, but somewhat generic and inoffensive, that is by design. And the ultimate joke is that the core gamers are going to buy the games anyway, because they can't afford not to know the game everybody is talking about.

AAA games have been mass market for years by financial necessity.

They also appeal to the "core" audience for the same reason.

Core and hardcore aren't the same thing.

Destiny is very much a core focused game and in my opinion too hardcore focused.
Correct me if I'm wrong, please, but isn't Destiny by Bungie, of Halo fame; and not Activision Blizzard? Or has there been a merger/acquisition that now puts the two in the same bed? I'm not up-to-date with the current 'who's who' in the gaming world, I have to admit...
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See press release here. Bungie is the independent developer, but Activision Blizzard is the publisher of all Bungie games for the next 10 years.
Oh wow... well, I didn't realise that. Thanks for the update.

Kind of odd that this wasn't plastered all over the gaming news (Or maybe it was and I just missed it)...

Either way, I should have commented on the article, as I found that it was quite an interesting take on the game. I played the beta, getting into it thanks to a PS+ subscription on a PS4, and found it to be moderately entertaining, but not enough to actually buy give that I've got Borderlands 2 if I want a big lootfest shmup...

I have to wonder if the AB publishing had an effect on it...
I can't see Destiny making a breakthrough with non traditional gamers. Even if it has simplified game-play it has all the trappings of a traditional gamer's game. A non gamer will take one look at the publicity shots of gun toting he-men in suits of power armour and switch off. I think most non gamers would find that sort of marketing intimidating.

If you look at titles that have been successful at attracting non gamers they (Wii sports for example)don't look like traditional games. Unfortunately for the these titles even though they have attracted non gamers they have been singularly unsuccessful at turning them into repeat customers.

I'm still not seeing this simplified game play and casual leaning that are the premise behind this conversation.

Compared to what?

Halo? No

Cod? No

The recent Wolfenstein reboot? No

Raids with no "flex" or "LFR" mode - where are they? Even the default difficulty strikes are a good challenge when at the correct level and really require voice communication. No checkpoints between waves in the many wave encounters can test your patience and time.

It's far from casual. It's no more targeting a wider audience than existing AAA shooters do and they of course are viewed as mass market casual games by your 40 hour a week hardcore mmo types.

It might be casual in the eyes of the hardcore MMO player but it's par for the course in the eyes of an average console shooter player.

Activision sure haven't aimed it at the house wives in my old WoW guild. It's aimed squarely at 15 to 30 male who usually buys CoD each year.
When I think of "regular" (non-tablet/social media based) video games that broke into the non-traditional gamer crowd, I think of two titles: Myst and The Sims.

Both of those games were different than their contemporaries and were broad enough in appeal to reach far beyond the core gamer crowd.

And neither of them involved killing people and/or looting their stuff.
I haven't seen a game marked to hardcore MMORPG players since eve.....maybe darkfall thanks to wow all we get is trash for the masses, and marketed to those ppl.
You should see the marketing for Wildstar: They made one video which consists mainly of repeating the word hardcore over and over.
@Tobold: are you already in the endgame and can verify that it's accessible for people without serious time commitment? Or are you just comparing the marketing of Destiny with the horrible one of Wildstar.

Please don't forget that Destiny - unlike Wildstar - is a "buy a box" game, so if they can convince a housewife to buy it, they got money even if she stops playing after 2 hours.

And herein is the problem I have with all the people who complain about "they didn't listen to the customers" when they mean "didn't listen to forum posters."

I occasionally make the point on Massively that doing the opposite of what the comments want is tends to be the more profitable decision. The people who comment on fansites & forums are very unrepresentative of the customer dollars.

I think Fire Bush reversed it: WoW did not cause the casuals or mass market: the mass market caused WoW. WoW was just the first to market to them well. Even if WoW never existed, a "hardcore!!!" Wildstar was a poor business decision versus to trying to make your mass market game appeal to a mass market.
Speaking of the latest to tilt at the hardcore windmill, the August Raptr numbers show Wildstar's graph continuing as expected.
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