“The goal is minimal content…”

03 Jul
July 3, 2012

says indie dev, before going on to conclude that his team’s game flopped because of poor marketing.

Yeah. Sure. The marketing.

Maybe I’m being a little harsh on the dude, maybe it’s just a poor choice of words. Maybe he didn’t want to talk about all the effort they put into making it a great game, because he wanted to write an article focusing on the marketing side of things.

But that isn’t the impression I got, reading it. Instead, what I saw was “minimal content, no really stand-out features but polished. Got a couple of good reviews, so the problem must be marketing.”

Your first thought, if people aren’t buying, should always be “is this game good enough that lots of people would be willing to pay for it? Even though they could be spending that money on something else? Is my game better than the proverbial something else?”

If you’ve made an arcade game with “minimal content” and are trying to sell it amongst a sea of other arcade-style games, with the only thing to distinguish your product being “nostalgic old-school feel” (where a ton of other indies have already adopted that tactic), then it’s very possible that you’ve made a game that simply isn’t good enough for people to pay for.

Play for free, sure. Talk about positively in reviews? Sure. But pay money for? That’s the real test. At the end of the day, all the talk in the world means nothing, if it doesn’t translate into people who want to pay you money for the game. If they don’t, then they probably don’t value the game enough. Harsh, but it’s a reality you must be willing to consider.

Always start by assuming the gameplay is the problem. A great game, you show it to people and they’ll get excited, tell their friends. Dwarf Fortress earns enough in donations to keep its developer going, just because people share their DF gameplay stories with their friends. An ok game, they might say they enjoy about it while playing it, then forget about it. A great game, people follow. They come to your site, they want to talk about it, they want to know when it will be finished. They follow the developer on twitter.

Don’t aim for minimal content. Aim for a great game. Aim for exciting. I don’t know how much content that is, exactly, it’s hard to give a solid metric for “exciting”. But, at a guess, I’d say a generous amount of content is more exciting than “minimal”. Just my intuition. Your game isn’t being marketed in a vacuum, you’re competing against everything else that player could want to spend money on. Creating a lavish experience is actually safer than being stingy, people are doing the mental arithmetic in their heads.

Like I said, maybe it was just a poor choice of words. And of course marketing is important. But sometimes, you have to step back and evaluate what you’re focusing on, and what your assumptions are. In this age of connectivity, I have a feeling that great games will find a market for themselves. And it becomes even more important to think like this if you’re going to jump into the mobile space, where a massive gold rush is going on.

And I think this article reflects some of that gold rush mindset, to be honest. He could have called it “How much gold you can expect to find in them thar hills. Not much, boy howdy.”

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