Posted by Rampant Coyote on April 15, 2014
I once heard a veteran of the arcade-game industry talk about how the arcades were a great place for business Darwinism: Rapid turn-around, and the successes quickly rose to the top while the lesser games – and it was implied these were “not great” games though not necessarily bad games – quickly disappeared. According to this veteran, this caused a rapid “evolution” towards better games, as the best features of hit games became emulated.
I was too young to really see what was going on, so I can’t comment on that. But it does make me wonder if it was the quality or style of the games themselves that were truly the cause of the rise and fall of games in the arcade, or if it was more of a case of marketing and external elements. I don’t entirely embrace the “evolution” argument. Did games truly become better, or simply more similar? Perhaps the overall quality did go up over time – but I don’t believe that the barrier to success was restricted to game quality and appeal.
A friend told me about an experiment in inequality and the “cultural” marketplace. Test audiences were exposed to new music, and invited to download and keep some songs. The songs had indicators of how much they’d already been downloaded. Some of the songs had an artificially inflated number. What they discovered is that the artificially inflated number helped the popularity of some songs within the controlled audience, but could not others. In other words – some songs had hit potential and others did not. If a song had both hit potential and an apparent wave of popularity behind it, it could take off. A song that sucked rarely did well. Hit potential could not guarantee success, but it’s lack could guarantee the lack of success – or at least a large success. In other words, the distorted perception of popularity had some effect, but was not the sole contributor to the success or failure of the song.
The brave, new world of indie games completely dwarfs the arcade era in its heyday. In terms of both audience size and quantity of games getting released to the market, the difference is staggering. We have the Darwin machine on fast-forward once again, with success rapidly emulated (how many “Flappy Bird” clones have we seen in the last three months?) and failures lost and forgotten in no time.
I suspect that the more crowded a marketplace becomes, the higher the impact of the “distortion” the experiment references. Nobody can keep up with all the releases on mobile or PC. That’s both exciting and overwhelming. But it means that the audience becomes increasingly dependent upon some kind of filter to limit their choice to only those titles they are likely to enjoy. As a gamer, I don’t care so much about giving all games a fair and equal chance – I want to know I’m not wasting my own time.
This means that an increasing number of really good games are flying underneath the collective radar. As a game developer and someone with an interest in the industry as a whole, this bugs me. It means that only a subset of games are really getting a chance – and a lot of stinkers are getting much more opportunity than some far superior titles.
I don’t know how to combat this. One of my great loves is to discover one of those unknown gems, and just have a delightful time playing a game that nobody has ever heard of. But it’s not like I have a very loud voice, or a lot of time. I guess that kind of defines the problem – the guys with the time and broad audience are by definition the filters that get used. What is a good mechanism to help people discover these “best-kept secrets,” particularly in ways that are not subject to massive “gaming of the system” by developers / publishers?
Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 8 Comments to Read