Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Visibility: Screaming at the Top of Your Lungs

Posted by Rampant Coyote on May 20, 2015

I don’t like to rant. I don’t like to scream. I don’t like to shock. I like to stay positive. Maybe that’s why I have no future in this business, I don’t know.

It seems that as anything moves out of a niche to the point where the market gets saturated, anything that isn’t effectively screaming at the top of its lungs to get noticed is… well, often not noticed. I was talking to Charles Clerc about this the other day – about the whole “Ya Gotta Have a Gimmick” thing.  Which he was (understandably) a little resistant to. I am too. You think, quality ought to stand for itself. But quality is a curve where the cost quickly outpaces the appreciable gain, and becomes harder to judge unless you are chasing revolutionary technology. Back when graphics was improving by leaps and bounds every year, that was a profitable way to go, but it’s less so now unless you are chasing emerging technologies like VR.

Otherwise, once that curve flattens out, it seems to all be about making the biggest noise.

And sadly, sometimes it feels like it’s only about the noise. Without the gimmick, there’s nothing there. But in an overripe field with more than anyone could possibly keep track of, let alone sample more than a tiny percentage of, a product (yes, I’m saying product here, to be as generic as possible) needs something to stand out from the pack. Maybe lots of somethings. If a book is simply a “really good fantasy novel,” and there are a thousand really good fantasy novels out there, then the chance that a potential customer will pick the one novel out of the pack is about one in one thousand — the same as any other book that isn’t screaming at the top of it’s lungs “Pick me! Pick me!” and providing some interesting reasons.

Ditto for a puzzle-platform game for Android. Or a tower defense game. A roguelike on the PC? Sheesh. Yeah. Sure, maybe somehow one of them stood out enough or got lucky enough to snowball the recommendations, but there may be another just as good (or better) that sits unnoticed with two dozen downloads.

Maybe it’s because of where I am and some of the things that I am doing, but it seems that many of the games / comics / books / movies nominated for critics’ awards have a much heavier representation of shock / controversy / social hot-button aspects than the market as a whole. Maybe that’s how you appeal to a bunch of jaded critics acting as judges. They need bigger and bigger shocks to supply their entertainment high. I don’t know. But a lot of times, when I peel back the “gimmick,” what’s left doesn’t really stand out. Maybe it’s not all sizzle, but the steak isn’t anything to write home about. And when the “gimmick” is to shock my sensibilities… well, more often than not, it leaves me cold.

I know I have to work hard to make time even for the great stuff, so even a game or book in a favorite genre has to work extra hard to get me to play or read it. These are strange times indeed when it’s easier to get me to buy it than to play it… but considering my backlog… I guess that’s how it is. But yeah, something does have to have more going for it than being just a good genre product for me to make the time for it. But I still try, even when a game doesn’t have some kind of big “gimmick” to pull me in. I’ve enjoyed some really entertaining games that way.

Maybe some day I’ll be so jaded and tired that it requires some major shock value or special appeal to my vanity to get my attention. But I hope not.

And for a special bonus… this amusingly related comic comes from Ludeme Games:



Filed Under: Biz, Indie Evangelism - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Rachel said,

    well.. that’s marketing for you. If your game doesn’t have something unique or awesome about it, why should anyone bother playing it?

  • Tesh said,

    Given the Hugo kerfluffle and GamerGate, I think it’s safe to say that critics’ awards are a joke.

  • Ayrik said,

    I generally don’t gravitate towards anything with a particular gimmick or a feature that’s really unique, and I hope there are more people like me out there. Sometimes you just want more of the same. Call of Duty and the many Assassin’s Creed sequels are a testament that most people are that way.

    I think it’s important as a creator of things, whether it be games or books or anything really, that you really own what makes your product special. Maybe what makes it special is that it is generic! I mean, how often do you see a generic top-down hack and slash with simple classes like warrior and wizard anymore? I think it’s ok to be generic, but you have to OWN it.

    Bottom line: making and selling stuff is hard work.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Rachel – you are exactly right. But sometimes the “unique” isn’t that unique, and there’s not much else there.

    I’m reminded of when I used to work for a multilevel marketing company, and they threw some SERIOUS awards for “best costume” at Halloween. Naturally, people went all-out for Halloween. But the judges were… the top officers of the companies. One of the winners that year came dressed as the company president’s Blackberry. Now, it was a decent costume… I personally thought there were more worthy costumes, but it was clearly in what would be considered an award-worthy tier of costumes.

    But it was unsurprising (yet disappointing) that it won a prize (which IIRC was like a couple hundred dollars…). Obviously pandering to the judges. And in retrospect, that WAS a company where they tended to award people who sucked up. But I was pretty unimpressed.

    Anyway – Tesh – a lot of the folks here in this community ARE judges / critics / etc., and I know they do *try*. But it’s not easy… especially at the nomination level, where you have to plow through a ton of “slush pile” stuff to try and elevate the ones you think might be better than the others.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    GREAT comment, Ayrik! And not something I considered. You may be right. The trick remains – how do you sell that? How does that inspire someone to pick it out of a sea of stuff that – at least on the surface – sounds pretty similar.

    ‘Cuz sometimes what I want, more than anything else, is a good ol’ fashioned dungeon hack-and-slash.

  • Tesh said,

    I’m all for reading individual critics’ work and their rationale for promoting games, it’s just been my (increasing) impression over the years that most if not all curated awards in any form of entertainment are insular and representative of little other than “sucking up”, PR stunts and social politics.

    I still read game reviews and critiques, but I place no stock at all in awards these days. That’s unfair to those who act in good faith, but I don’t trust the process any more. I’ll find reviewers that are clear about what they think and why and check a few different ones and go from there.

    Then again, the various awards were never enough to sway my purchasing decision anyway. I’d rather read about someone’s experience with the game and decide based on some choice vignettes, even (sometimes especially) the critical ones. And, well, I usually get better information from players and bloggers than official critics.

    Maybe it’s partially from my experience as an artist in college, where I learned to see through the PR and flowery smokescreens. I value honest reactions to crafted responses.

    It does make it hard for smaller games to gather those responses, but that’s one reason why I’m fond of Steam, where anyone can post a review of the game and the community reacts to it. Of course some of those will be stunts, PR or bitter grapes, but once I can get a half dozen responses or so together, I usually have a handle on whether or not I want to try out the game.

  • Corwin said,

    Your points are very valid Jay and I think you do the right thing. You inter-relate with your ‘market’ and you inter-relate with sites like the Watch which are designed to help promote your work. At least that way your ‘message’ is getting out there and I’m sure it helps your sales. You might never become a millionaire, but who needs money right!! 🙂

  • Namco said,

    I disagree with what Ayrik says because let’s have a look at the history of gaming in general. Now imagine if, back then, everyone went “sod it, mediocracy is awesome” and just didn’t bother adding new and unique things in games. Where would we be now? Would DooM or any of its incarnations ever get done? Would we ever progress from the simple mechanics of Space Invaders?

    Hell, look at the sports titles, they always pander to the generic player with VERY little change and when you look at the retro titles in years to come, guess what fills it? Those very same binned “out of date” titles.

    Don’t get me wrong, doing generic every now and again, mainly because it isn’t done anymore is a good thing. That way you could take a step back before going forward in the genre with a new gimmick that may or may not stick.

    But to say that making a generic title is special is doing to do more harm than good, mainly because you are up against similar generic titles that have more branding power than your titles – so again you’re lost in another sea of titles. I’d also go so far as to say that to start those franchises mentioned (Assassin’s Creed and CoD) unique gimmicks/features were probably used or improved upon before hooking joe public into buying it.

  • Cuthalion said,

    I think Aryik’s point was that sometimes generic actually becomes rare, making it more old-school than literally generic. Hypothetical: when enough people complain about generic medieval fantasy and make sure all their stuff distances itself from it in some way, things will have spread out enough that once-generic medieval fantasy is unique again.