The Hook

13 Dec
December 13, 2013

The indie team behind “Ethan: Meteor Hunter” posted a post-mortem of their development, along with revealing their disappointing sales figure : 127 copies sold.

Which is obviously fairly heartbreaking. Especially for a 7-person indie team who’d sacrificed much of their resources to get the game finished. That’s the unfortunate reality of the world, one I face myself (ulp). Outside of your friends and family, customers don’t care how much effort and time you put into something. Only what value it offers to them.

But that aside, their reasoning for why their game didn’t sell seems a bit flawed. This reddit comment sums it up nicely.

“Good” is not enough to sell a game, or even really to be noticed by the press and customers. Good is assumed, as a baseline. “Interesting” is what sells games.

(Of course, many games aren’t good. But the hope/assumption, when customers buy, is that they are. And we have things like the review profession to help us filter out games which don’t meet that standard.)

So what does that mean, “interesting”? It means there is a hook. An aspect of the game, or aspects, that draw you to it. That say “pick me, out of all these others”.

Now, what that hook is, will vary from game to game. As will the type of person who would find that hook appealing. For some, it might be bone-crunchingly visceral combat animation, for others, a deep, complex simulation of war.

I’ll list, in no particular order, what I think are the main categories of “hooks” in games.

An interesting or unusual mechanic/set of mechanics

New mechanics, or new permutations of old mechanics, will tend to draw interest.

Portal

An interesting story or setting

The power of a good story has moved mankind from the dawn of time. Nothing has changed there. A game with an interesting story, characters and setting will generally find an audience.

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A engaging mood or tone

Funny, scary, silly, mysterious etcLike most entertainment media, customers are looking for an experience that moves them, emotionally. Tapping into the full gamut of hum

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An appealing personal fantasy

Does this game let you indulge in some favourite fantasy, power or otherwise? Superhero, general, fighter pilot, vampire, badass soldier saving the world? Different fantasies will appeal to different folks, of course, but tapping into one of those fantasies can draw players even if your mechanics are business as usual.

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An appealing audiovisual aesthetic

Some games, you play for the “feel” of the experience. The lushness of the audio-visual experience.┬áSimilar experience to another game I loved, or in my favourite genre. You can sell games just by giving people more of what they love, so long as the competition isn’t too stiff. You don’t necessarily have to innovate.

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Competition

Some games we play not because they’re that much better than any other title, but because they’re competitive arenas and have critical mass of other players. Whenever a new Battlefield game comes out, a lot of players migrate over just to stay playing against the crowd.

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A game that looks like that other game you loved

This one’s a bit tongue-in-cheek, because really what you’re interested in is whatever the hook was in that older game. But, for sales purposes, drawing a strong link to an older, beloved title can be enough to get you at least attention and support, if not sales.

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That’s my list. Have I missed anything? Feel free to add to it in the comments!

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3 replies
  1. steph says:

    As a self proclaimed gamer, I must say I tend to go with what I know snd remember. Buying games for nostalgic selfishness. But its costly to branch out, both monetarily and often in time. Well written, a pause for thought.

    Reply
  2. Colter Cookson says:

    For me, the chance to playtest a game can be a hook. I’ve tried games that otherwise would not have appealed to me primarily because I enjoy the chance to play games while helping other people.

    Reply
  3. gareth says:

    Colter, that’s a good one! Yeah, we’re definitely seeing that ‘hook’ come into play more, in this era of Alpha Funding and Kickstarter.

    Reply

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