[MUD-Dev] Marketing Resources?

Koster, Raph rkoster at soe.sony.com
Sat Apr 30 12:05:18 New Zealand Standard Time 2005



Mike Rozak wrote:
> Raph Koster wrote:

>> Don't get me wrong, many games do still grow by word of
>> mouth--Runescape is the current poster child--but particularly
>> for something competing in the retail world, the patterns look
>> increasingly like the movie business.

> "Increasingly like the movie business" - Don't say such depressing
> things! Even though they're undoubtedly true.

I didn't say I liked it. :)

> I suppose your opinion depends upon whether you're a big company
> or a small one...

Not to depress you more, but I don't think it makes that big a
difference. Basically, when the whole market goes in a direction
like this, the stuff that doesn't make the cut has to find an
alternate market. Even indie films have to live with and aspire to a
basic level of production values that is established by the major
studios. Even the small companies have to decide whether they are
going to compete with the big guys.

There is the possibility of seismic change though. Online
distribution has the potential to upset a lot of applecarts in terms
of the way that the games biz works right now. The Valve/Vivendi
settlement today seems to point towards a somewhat different
future. We're just not there at the moment.

> The problem with the movie industry model is that it makes for
> extremely expensive MMORPG launches.

And development, too. If your biggest hope is a strong opening
(since the alchemy of steady word of mouth growth is far from
predictable), then you are signing up for a certain sort of
development, namely one that is big. The blockbuster mentality in
Hollywood has resulted in certain types of films getting made.

It's worth pointing out though that Hollywood has reached an
accomodation with a broader film ecology than the games industry has
with its ecology of game types. Will Wright, should he decide to
make a small puzzle game on a whim, is unlikely to get EA to publish
it. It's not the sort of project that they do. Hollywood has managed
to find ways to let talent alternate between big blockbusters and
smaller, more intimate or more personal projects. The indie scene is
regarded as a farm club for new talent. Working on indie films is
regarded as a mark of seriousness and quality. Indies occasionally
rise up to reach broad audiences. Peoplke like Chris Nolan or Darren
Aronofsky move between indie and blockbuster projects.

The game indie scene does not yet have those qualities. Instead, it
increasingly looks like simply a different market, obliged by
budgets and distribution constraints to focus on casual games. We
don't see the major publishers consciously carrying a range of
titles; instead, they seem to trending towards the big productions
only (EA being the poster child for this trend). And the jump from
casual games developer to blockbuster developer seems unlikely or
rare--they aren't seen as the sort of thing you move between. If
anything, there's a bit of flight from the blockbuster side as
developers like Phil Steinmeyer decide that they'd rather be an
indie and control their own destinies.

>>>   5) Your competitors get to see what your VW looks like 2 years
>>>   before it's done, or at the very least the get a
>>>   warning. (Assuming you do the standard MMORPG trick and put up
>>>   screen shots as soon as you have a single avatar running
>>>   around in a treeless world with one house.)  >> So?

> Letting competitors see hacked-up visuals isn't an issue, but
> having a USP trumped by a competitor is very disheartening. (I
> know.) Announcing your USP 2 years before ship enables them to do
> this. (Technically, marketing announces the USP one year before
> scheduled ship, but the product slips an extra year in that time.)

If your USP can be that easily duplicated, it probably wasn't enough
of a U. ;)

>>>   6) If you put up a web page before your public beta, the main
>>>   feature you'll be competing on is "my screenshots look better
>>>   than yours". You can describe your really cool crafting
>>>   system, but until players can try it out, they'll look at the
>>>   screenshots instead. (I'm being a bit cynical here.)

>> If you're not competing on those grounds, you are going to lose
>> anyway. For better or for worse, the audience IS significantly
>> driven by presentation. This is true in pretty much every
>> industry, not just games.

> Another depressing thought. Again, it might be a size
> issue... Smaller MMORPGs can't compete on bleeding-edge visuals,
> and their niche-market users don't expect them too.

No, but they still compete on visuals within their niche. You plain
just can't ignore visuals and presentation in general. It's
incredibly important, much as we might wish that it weren't. Even in
text muds, whether or not your default palette of colors for text is
eype-bleedingly garish or not is an important early determinant of
whether people stick. A nice ASCII title screen matters. Pretty
presentation of help files matters. In general, aesthetics matter.

-Raph
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