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The Almighty Buck Businesses Entertainment Games

Why Do Games Sell? 103

Posted by Zonk
from the psychic-powers-beats-gang-violence dept.
simoniker writes "Game designer Pierre-Alexandre Garneau has published a new article compiling a list of factors that make games popular, and although he notes: "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," his comparison of GTA 3 and Psychonauts tries to apply common-sense reasoning to why one sold well and the other did not."
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Why Do Games Sell?

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  • Why do games sell? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:21AM (#17996034)
    Marketing.
    • by iamhassi (659463)
      "Marketing."

      No. Psychonauts was all over TV with flashy commercials and it still didn't sell. It did encourage me to download the game though and but it sucked, I'm glad it wasn't a success.
      • by GFree (853379)
        FWIW, I bought the game when it was re-released on Steam and strongly disagree with your sentiment that it sucks (and a lot of people agree with my view). It was too different to sell well, and because of opinions like yours we're doomed to bland, cloned games, because no-one will have the guts to try something different.
  • Fan base (Score:2, Insightful)

    by jaymzru (1005177)
    I've been a casual player of GTA for years, and I imagine a well established fan base is a huge factor.
  • Newsflash (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Timesprout (579035) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:27AM (#17996090)

    critically acclaimed games like Psychonauts and Beyond Good and Evil have sold far fewer sales than they deserved.
    Critically acclaimed movies usually tank at the box office and critically acclaimed books and albums are usually the preserve of pretentious/elitest twats.
    Who was the clever chap who said "Give the public what they want" ?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:27AM (#17996094)
    There are some tits on the box.
  • by EvilCabbage (589836) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:34AM (#17996142) Homepage
    If you think this article is awesome, wait until my submission hits; "Why is water wet?".
  • Because they're either well-made or well-marketed.
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Comfy1 (1011347)
      You mean, because they're either well marketed or well marketed.
      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by Psychofreak (17440)
        Well marketed crap is still crap.

        Starcraft is still being sold, now over 8 years past it's release date because it is a great game. There are a lot of games that were marketed harder and not as profitable.
        Sorry, I don't have numbers or names to back this up. I'm looking forward to seeing some replies with well marketed busts and less marketed winners.

        Phil
        • ...marketed busts

          Daikatana. 'nuff said.

        • ...less marketed winners

          I don't think Tetris started out with any real marketing. I think the fact you could get it for specific systems was marketed somewhat, but the game itself was insanely popular, with little or no formal advertising.

    • Thanks for the summary. Looks like the article is almost as insightful as Malcom Gladwell's Blink, which offers the thesis that "You should trust your instincts except when they're wrong."
  • I think its very likely that most people don't first look at a review or try to learn about a game from an outside point of view before they decide to buy... its mostly what they hear from the hype, from commercials on tv, from ads, and from walking in the store and looking at the box. I don't know about anyone else, but just based on the "cover", GTA looks more enticing than Psychonauts. Not because of the guns, or the hip look of the box, but because after I look at the game Psychonauts, I can very quic
  • by bogjobber (880402) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:45AM (#17996214)
    2006 top ten:
    Madden NFL 07 - PS2
    New Super Mario Bros. - DS
    Gears of War - Xbox 360
    Kingdom Hearts II - PS2
    Guitar Hero 2 Bundle- PS2
    Final Fantasy XII - PS2
    Brain Age: Train Your Brain - DS
    Madden NFL 07 - Xbox 360
    Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter - Xbox 360
    NCAA Football 07 - PS2

    2005 top ten:
    Madden NFL 06 - PS2
    Pokemon Emerald - GBA
    Gran Turismo 4 - PS2
    Madden NFL 06 - Xbox
    NCAA Football 06 - PS2
    Star Wars: Battlefront 2 - PS2
    MVP Baseball 2005 - PS2
    Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith - PS2
    NBA Live 06 - PS2
    Lego Star Wars - PS2

    2004 top ten:
    GTA: San Andreas - PS2
    Halo 2 - Xbox
    Madden NFL 2005 - PS2
    ESPN NFL 2K5 - PS2
    Need for Speed: Underground 2 - PS2
    Pokemon Fire Red - GBA
    NBA Live 2005 - PS2
    Spider-Man: The Movie 2 - PS2
    Halo - Xbox
    ESPN NFL 2K5 - Xbox

    Out of the thirty possible, there are only three games that are not sequels or licensed content: (Halo, Brain Age, and Gears of War). 1/3 are EA Sports titles. That's pretty sad.
    • by westlake (615356)
      1/3 are EA Sports titles. That's pretty sad.

      Not sad. Predictable.

      Sports fans obsess over details. The rules. The line-ups. The stats. The stadiums. The uniforms. The "game day" experience, at least as they know it from television.

      • by cowscows (103644)
        It's not sad at all. I don't understand the hate piled onto EA for making Madden games every year. There's obviously a lot of people who want the games and enjoy them.

        The game in almost every way; gameplay, graphics, characters, etc. all is reaching towards a known and well understood target, real NFL football. And the games slowly march closer to that goal, and people appreciate that enough to buy it. Why is that a problem?
    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by LoudMusic (199347)

      1/3 are EA Sports titles. That's pretty sad.

      Sports are a proven entertainment industry. There is a fan base of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions. A lot of them are cross sectioned with video game players. It just makes good business sense, really.

      Personally I hate sports video games. The only ones I've really ever found myself enjoying (so far) are Techmo Bowl (NES) and Virtua Tennis (DC) and Gran Turismo 3 & 4 (PS2).

      It's like Lego hooking up with the Star Wars franchise. Lego is cool. Star Wars is cool. Make Lego Star Wars sets and

      • by tepples (727027)

        The only [sport sims] I've really ever found myself enjoying (so far) are Techmo Bowl (NES) and Virtua Tennis (DC) and Gran Turismo 3 & 4 (PS2).
        Have you or have you not had a chance to try Wii Sports yet?
        • by LoudMusic (199347)

          Have you or have you not had a chance to try Wii Sports yet?
          Actually I haven't, but a Wii is on my next Christmas list. The last Nintendo console I owned was a NES. It's probably time to revisit the great Nintendo empire.
      • by bogjobber (880402)
        Actually, I usually buy the NCAA Football and Madden games every year. There's nothing wrong necessarily with sports games, but it sucks when something with that little "substance" takes such a large share of the pie every single year. At least they're relatively good games, though. It's even worse when crap like Star Wars Episode 3, Spider-Man The Move, or *shudder* the Matrix games sell a lot only because of their title and graphics. Remember Masters of Teras Kasi or Episode 1: Pod Racer? God those w
        • by LoudMusic (199347)

          Actually, I usually buy the NCAA Football and Madden games every year. There's nothing wrong necessarily with sports games, but it sucks when something with that little "substance" takes such a large share of the pie every single year. At least they're relatively good games, though. It's even worse when crap like Star Wars Episode 3, Spider-Man The Move, or *shudder* the Matrix games sell a lot only because of their title and graphics. Remember Masters of Teras Kasi or Episode 1: Pod Racer? God those were some awful games. Even Hollywood gets original movies in more often than the video game industry. Sure Happy Feet and Night at the Museum sucked, but at least they're not goddamned sequels.

          I think what blows me away is that the sequel sports games are usually 'full price', for what is essentially a database update. New team / player stats, and a handful of new features. They're not really creating anything, they're just digitizing it. And once they have a foundation it's basically a money train.

          • by tepples (727027)

            I think what blows me away is that the sequel sports games are usually 'full price', for what is essentially a database update.
            Because they let the NFL charge them that much for the database.
      • Lego Star Wars, and the Star Wars Battlefront games are actually fine games. When I first heard of them I was expecting crap too, but amazingly they pulled it off.

    • by Jartan (219704)
      That list can only be a US only list. Considering that video games are one of the few industries where the US are not the majority market such a list is actually quite useless.

      I would be willing to bet some good money that Madden has never been the top selling game in any year ever.
  • Hindsight is 20/20 (Score:3, Insightful)

    by remmelt (837671) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:47AM (#17996228) Homepage
    Great! Speculation mixed with after-the-fact analysis.

    This should all be nothing that a good marketing campaign can't handle. Notice how all the questions are very fuzzy, you can interpret them in any number of ways and answer them favourably for any game on the market.

    Some examples
    Sims: you can play.. people, leading... ordinary (quote, unquote) lives. Doesn't look especially nice, not based on anything well-known. Initial target market: Who knows? Girls? Kids? Yes, afterwards it turns out everyone and their dog plays Sims. Social uniqueness: it was funny that I could exchange Sims with other savegames.
    Sims: Big hit.

    Commandos: does not stand out at all, even at the time. Looked rather dull, with its faux 3D. Gameplay was nice but you had to use the keyboard for fast movement in the later levels, so not really for the inexperienced gamer. No social play. Communication of idea: "you blow up enemies in WW2", so much for standing out, right? But wait: this is in 2D! Game is based on a known idea only in so much as it is a WW2 game and view from the top 2D, so rather something to avoid. Target market: fuzzy question. You never really know who turns out to be a fan, right? So, anyone who likes Starcraft?
    Commandos: Big hit.

    • by Itchyeyes (908311)
      He's not presenting this as some kind of crystal ball that is going to tell you exactly how many units a game will sell. The questions are fuzzy because it's a subjective test. This is an article with game developers as the intended readership. Yes, you could answer them favorably for just about any game, but this isn't some kind of marketing tool to pull the wool over the publics' eyes and make them think a game is better than it really is. These are questions for a game developer to honestly ask thems
    • by westlake (615356)
      Sims: you can play.. people, leading... ordinary (quote, unquote) lives. Doesn't look especially nice, not based on anything well-known.

      Sim City in 1989 defined the Sim genre as open-ended game play with an anchorage in real life. There can be few franchises with deeper roots in PC gaming.

      • by tepples (727027)

        Sim City in 1989 defined the Sim genre as open-ended game play with an anchorage in real life. There can be few franchises with deeper roots in PC gaming.
        How about the Microsoft Windows franchise, which has roots way back in CP/M? Or the Solitaire franchise, which debuted with Microsoft Windows 1.0? Where would PC gaming be without the monopolistic dominance of Windows?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @09:49AM (#17996246)
    Nothing like getting a lecture from one of game development's leeches - 'game designers' aka level monkeys.

    Wanna know why your game costs 60 bucks? Overhead.

    Overhead is the number one issue in game development. Teams are filled with clowns like this guy and a million different types of talentless producers and other dead weight. Add up their salaries over a couple year project and you have a massive amount of cash you need to make back in game sales.

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by joystickgenie (913297)
      You have got to be kidding. You can't know anything about the game industry if you think that designer positions are useless. That's like saying that programmers are useless. Design is a very important step in making the game and ultimately determines if the game is any good or not. Tell me have you heard of the names Sid Meier, Shigeru Miyamoto, Hideo Kojima, Warren Spector, or Will Wright. If these names aren't familiar to you, you have absolutely no business in telling anyone about making video games and
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Dutch Gun (899105)
      DOOM 3 is a great example of a game that, to its detriment, focused way too much on technological prowess and neglected solid game design. (i.e. can't use flashlight and gun at the same time, an entire game of enemies magically appearing behind you, etc)

      Every game I've worked on (I'm a programmer, not a designer btw) had a critical need of a designer to shape the direction, design all the missions, tweak all the numbers (skills, weapons, spells, enemies, items, rewards, etc), and ensure the game is balance
  • Because people like to play games? Seriously, what kind of ridiculous question is this? Is this a joke or something?
    • by tepples (727027)

      Seriously, what kind of ridiculous question is this?
      The article states that the real question is: why do some games not sell?
  • Publicity? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by faloi (738831) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:05AM (#17996364)
    You can thank Jack Thompson and Hillary Clinton (among others) for high GTA sales. Tons of publicity, making it the "maverick" game to play. I bet if a Senator had asked for a probe into Psychonauts, it would've sold a few more copies.
    • by Buddy_DoQ (922706)
      More like GTA looks fun, while Psychonauts looks weird.

      Everyone can "get" GTA style graphics, but not everyone can "get" Psychonaut's Tim Burton look. I was one of those who didn't even bother with Psychonauts based on visual style alone, I just didn't like it.

      I also didn't pick up GTA:SA for the same reason, I find the 80's pulp melodrama much more interesting than the 90's gritty gangland I grew up with. *shurgs* (Plus, the music was so much better, and you know it!)
  • by Opportunist (166417) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @10:21AM (#17996528)
    And in exactly that order.

    You can pump a mediocre game into the heavens by throwing a truckload of money into its marketing. It's even enough to hint at what you would probably play, as long as there is action and as long as there is ground shaking graphics. Whether that would need a 10 GHz machine with a graphics card that becomes available somewhere in late 2010 doesn't matter. It looks great. And the marketing spin does the rest.

    Name is another reason. There was a good game that sold, so this will too. Civilisation IV would have bombed without the Civ-tag to it. Duke Nuke... ok, ok, no bad jokes, I promise. Everquest 2 is a very average fantasy MMORPG, really vanilla and bland, but it has the EQ name. Generally, you can sell a game that has a great name, even without too much marketing spin. People will even preorder it, without even having seen a single screenshot, the game can already sell its first batch of copies before you started coding.

    And finally, quality. Quality is the poorest seller, and it's amazing how many high quality games collect dust on the shelves simply because nobody ever heard about them. Quality is a seller once someone starts a hype around them, starts recommending them and thus it sells. But this kind of "marketing" is getting more and more out of fashion. Studios prefer to pump their money into marketing instead of programming, and squeeze out yet another "graphics enhanced" version of the same old game to trying something new.

    Well, people, we get what we buy...
    • by Paradox (13555)

      And finally, quality. Quality is the poorest seller, and it's amazing how many high quality games collect dust on the shelves simply because nobody ever heard about them. Quality is a seller once someone starts a hype around them, starts recommending them and thus it sells. But this kind of "marketing" is getting more and more out of fashion. Studios prefer to pump their money into marketing instead of programming, and squeeze out yet another "graphics enhanced" version of the same old game to trying somet

    • What, I'm sorry but that's rubbish. Yeah lots of good quality games don't sell but that doesn't mean that lots of bad quality games do sell. Generally all the top selling games are high quality products, especially when you project sales over 5 or (hey duke nukem) 11 years.

      Quality is the NUMBER 1 decider on a games sales in the long term. But other things influence this in the short term. Marketing hype can make you buy a poor quality game, but generally this doesn't produce sustainable sales, since pretty
      • I've seen to many crap games hit the infamous "top 20" shelf just because it had a certain brand name slapped to it to believe that. And I've seen too many "XXXX 2004, XXXX 2005, XXXX 2006..." games which are essentially clones, sometimes even with better graphics (rarely, but at least sometimes), sell well to accept that quality is the decider.
        • Sure like I said brand name has some importance. But most of the EA franchise games are pretty good too (I'm assuming you mean them). There is no way people would continue to buy those games if they sucked. And EA has the highest repeat buyers in the market. Sure sometimes one in the sequel is crap, and very few of their games are truly brilliant, but they're certainly not poor on average.

          But EA also have a fantastic advantage in sports games and that's that sports teams change EVERY year. So all their game
          • I'd rather say their games have a built in best before date. I mean, would you buy NHL 2004 today?
    • And in exactly that order.
      I think it's name, marketing, and then quality.
      Just slap the pokemon, mario, or star wars name on a game and it will sell without any marketing.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Because people buy them.

    Demonstration : if nobody buys the game (or any product), it won't sell.

    Next question, please !
  • Why do game developers thing their games should sell when they make games based on teh weirdest stuff imaginabe without doing any market research about the themes and ideas they are doing?

    The truth is not that original games suck, it's that the so called "original" game isn't original most of the time and creatively and thematically they game is way out there (like WAY out there).

    Take for instance Planescape torment. It was an excellent game if you LOVED TO READ TEXT and CLICK THROUGH DIALOGUE for hours on
    • Take for instance Planescape torment. It was an excellent game if you LOVED TO READ TEXT and CLICK THROUGH DIALOGUE for hours on end, but for people more action or task oriented, it's a very tedious thing. It was also based on the baldur's gate engine which we had seen before

      The point behind Planescape is the STORY. It has a vast number of interesting NPC's and one of the more original stories I've seen (how many other games have you playing an immortal amnesiac who is trying to die?). It may have been more text-heavy than Baldur's Gate but that's because there was a more interesting setting to go through with more interesting characters (the Forgotten Realms have been done to death), if you want a game with no story and lots of action then play Diablo.

      Then there was the fact that it in no way associated itself with Baldur's gate or Forgotten realm properties and franchises

      That's because it wa

  • From the article:

    Is the Idea Behind the Game Easy to Communicate?
    Can players explain quickly, easily and in a convincing way why your game is awesome? Can the marketing team? If the high concept of the game is hard to communicate, then you'll have a hard time convincing players that it's worth their time.
    [...]
    Is the Game Based on Something the Market Already Knows and Loves?
    Put in other words, will the market "get it" quickly? It's a lot easier to convince people that a game is good if it's related to something they already like.

    Perfect example: Deer Hunter. Perfect name, perfect subject, perfectly low system requirements. (i.e., runs on any celeron 400mhz or higher, I'd say.)

    Crappiest... game... ever! But I still find it installed on relatives' computers all the time.

  • > Why Do Games Sell?
    Because they're sitting in stores with price tags on them?
  • - Daikatana
    - Anachronox

    both failed, yet they contain the elements of success
  • I don't like the "social" bs. For me, it's a turn-off. I prefer my friends in RL, thank you very much. I game alone. When I'm not busy with more interesting things, that is.
  • I really don't think Psychonauts was that good, I don't see why people elevate it to Sacred Cow status. The reason I personally didn't buy it was because I played the demo. It's a generic 3D platformer with a collect-a-thon bolted on. A cute art style and nice writing are irrelevant when the game isn't very appealing.
    I basically thought that getting it when I still have Shines to collect in Mario Sunshine (which handles better and is more fun to jump around in, despite having zero writing) would be a waste
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I had the same reservations after playing the demo, but the full game is another story entirely. For some reason that likely comments on the industry as a whole, Double Fine thought repetitive platforming was the best sell to the widest audience of potential players. The rest of the game is extremely story based and anything but repetitive.
  • This is the power of social networks. Everyone may mutter to themselves 'Oh, I told everyone I know about Psychonauts,' but did those people pass the message along? Obviously not like GTA 3 spread. Its only sad if you cared about the game in the first place. As a side note, and just to make sure I get nailed as offtopic as well as flamebait, another great game that never really took off was Kung Fu Chaos...
  • Good != Popular!!! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by UnknownSoldier (67820) on Tuesday February 13, 2007 @01:54PM (#17999818)
    Microsoft Windows, and TV with its crap "unreality shows" is proof that good is not equal to popular. Popular is (almost) all about marketing. SOMETIMES they overlap, aka the iPod.

    NOW, if you want to know what constitutes a _good_ game, then EVERY game has 1 or more of these properties:

    * Acquisition
    * Communication
    * Competition
    * Cooperation
    * Creation
    * Destruction
    * Environment that is interesting
    * Execution -- how well the game executed its principles
    * Exploration
    * Fun
    * Navigation
    * Organization
    * Pattern Recognition
    * Strategy (Problem-Solving)
    * Tactics
    * Trade

    Bridge is a popular card game because it is one of the rare card games that has both Competition & Cooperation at the same time, amongst Acquisition, and Communication.

    Tetris is a good game because it has: Strategy, Tactics, Navigation, Pattern Recognition, Organization.

    Counter-Strike: Competion, Cooperation, Destruction, Creation, Communication, Navigation, Exploration, Organization.

    World of Warcraft: Every single property!

    But what do I know, I'm just a game dev.
    • by turing_m (1030530)
      Interesting.

      A small quibble, I don't think fun should be in that list. A good game is fun by definition. I've never been addicted to a game that wasn't in some way fun.

      Now if you don't mind, I'm off to fill out my tax return. It's got: Trade, Tactics, Strategy (Problem Solving), Pattern Recognition and Organization. Looks like it's gonna kick ass!
      • You have an interesting point -- can you have a good game that isn't fun? Probably, as you point out by definition, since you can have popular games, that aren't good games. What's really counter-intuitive is that a good game is _relative_ to the player. EverQuest is a good example of how NOT to design a MMO -- I think its design is utter crap, but the merits for what constitutes a good game is made soley on the fact that if at least one person enjoys it, then it was a good game for that person.

        But I was
  • I sure know how NOT to sell a game:

    You announce a sequel to an extremely popular and profitable game, vanish, come back every two years and announce that "we are completely rewriting the engine to leverage the latest hardware," and then vanish.

  • Games are the opiate of the twenty first century.

    South Park nailed it in both the "Towelie" and "Make Love, Not Warcraft" episodes. An addicted gamer has very similar symptoms to chemical addicts. Gamers:
    -get irritable without their fix, and angry when denied it
    -think about the game when they are doing other things
    -spend all their leisure time and time when they should be doing chores or work playing the game
    -build up a tolerance, and then go searching for something new and better that triggers the same rec

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