Was it the promise of new game play ideas? Perhaps it was the allure of playing out a character fantasy? Were you swayed by a marketing campaign that convinced you that it was the next big thing? Were you attracted by its characters? Was it a positive review? Or maybe it’s a genre you enjoy?
So what made you buy game you are playing now?
There is no single answer to that question. It will be a mixture of the above and a million other factors. Each combining to whet your appetite, pique your interest and lay claim to your hard-earned cash.
The obvious place to start is marketing. Marketing, PR and ‘community’ engagement is a huge component in the production of video games, particularly big-budget titles. Every video, press release, preview and tweet is careful planned and targeted. Each campaign focused on capturing the attention of a specific demographic. Whether you like it or not, you are profiled, tagged and boxed. The games themselves are carefully designed to reach the widest audience. And long before release the process of gaining your interest and stimulating anticipation begins. Promises are made. And expectations raised.
But we can’t all be suckers for these campaigns, can we?
We tend to buy things for one of two reasons. We either need them or we want them. If we want them it’s because someone; either a marketing campaign, a friend, or a trusted source recommended them. We take our friends’ recommendations as a given and the games media, for good or ill, takes on the role of trusted source. We trust (or at least hope) that they represent us and will guide us to make an informed decision about a product. Reviews used to be all important, but today it appears that players have made up their mind about the qualities of a game long before release. A review is now a starting point for discussion. A place for advocates and detractors to duke it out. If anything, reviews only really matter to Metacritic obsessed publishers.
The same apply to You Tubers. We notionally group video makers as one of ‘us’. But the lines are not as clearly defined as they once were.
Word of mouth and social recommendation remain just as important. When people we respect recommend a game it goes up in our estimation and we move step closer to buying it.
Word of mouth is so important in the mobile and social gaming that sharing is often built into the fabric of the game itself. You can call it FarmVillification, audience manipulation or plain old advocacy. There’s no doubt it works.
Ask yourself. What made you buy Candy Crush Saga?
Word of mouth is also important in traditional console gaming. Recommendation can provide a title with a long-tail sales life-cycle that exceeds the usual in/out pattern of chart performance. A good example is Dark Souls. The game became a generation defining title, not because of a huge promotional push, but because of a slow burn word of mouth. It was an appreciation that gradually spread, creating new advocates and fans as it grew.
What made you buy Dark Souls?
New developments in game technology can also create a buzz. Early in the last generation, the original Assassin’s Creed promised NPC crowds and free-roaming, parkour-based open world exploration. It’s easy to forget how revolutionary it felt at the time and although that particular game left many disappointed (in a way eerily reminiscent to the recent Watch Dogs) its second iteration nailed the formula and turned the franchise into a massive success. Conversely, Mirror’s Edge, which had a similarly cautious reception, and just as much potential, didn’t.
What made you buy Assassins Creed 2? (And why the hell didn’t you buy Mirror’s Edge?)
Some long standing developers can look to their past to create buzz and anticipation. Nintendo can play on nostalgia; re-purposing and re-using their much-loved IP. They use their accumulated history, much like Disney, to carry the weight of new games and ideas. Nintendo are masters in using their characters across multiple genres, such as sports games, puzzle games, platformers, brawlers, racers. They are even happy to use them to improve much-maligned third-party action franchises.
What made you buy Hyrule Warriors?
Other studios specialise in genre. Bungie’s track record with Halo told us that, at the very least, Destiny would be a decent shooter. Their expertise and success with the FPS genre was a given and therefore a new franchise could be marketed upon that basis. And not the hokey sci-fi-foo wrapped around the game.
What made you buy Destiny?
On the subject of new franchises. Shadow of Mordor is an interesting recent case. The game is a Lord of the Rings spin off, but Tolkien licensed games have never had widespread acclaim. However, the game is selling extremely well, buoyed by reviews that were almost unanimous in both their surprise and praise. This has been complemented by an enthusiastic and positive word of mouth from players, excited by the Nemesis mechanic. It’s a successful game that has come in under the radar in the same way that Borderlands did back in 2009.
What made you buy Shadow of Mordor?
Many of us think that we are immune to the cunning techniques of marketers. Watch Dogs was released to middling reviews, evoking the response received by the first Assassin’s Creed. There was certainly a sense of disappointment after its delayed launch and steady accumulation of hype. However, despite the lukewarm critical reception Watch Dogs has sold extremely well. And good for it. If the Assassin’s Creed franchise had been cancelled after a similarly tepid response, we wouldn’t have had the (mostly) excellent series we have.
What made you buy Watch Dogs?
And then there are games that just explode and become hits without marketing or fanfare. They capture the zeitgeist by being the right game, on the right platform, at the right time. They are Minecraft. Or, to pick a more moderate success, they are State of Decay. A game that has succeeded without a penny of marketing spend. It became a hit by tapping into current cultural trends and developing a game that created experiences players wanted to share. A bona fide word of mouth hit that has so far sold over 2 million copies.
What made you buy State of Decay?
And then, there’s price. We live in an age where in there’s a race to bottom, particularly on mobile. However, on console, we continue to live in a $60 market (Although we actually pay a lot more once you add in season passes and DLC. A price increase by stealth). Success can exist for games that play the price market well. Case in point: Aliens: Colonial Marines. The game was universally derided. Not just because of its shady promotional practices but because it was also a shitty game. And yet, despite this, it clung to top 20 of the UK games chart for months after release. Its secret? A well known brand coupled with aggressive pricing. A critical flop that became a chart hit. Let’s pity the players and ask…
What the hell made you buy Aliens: Colonial Marines?
Marketing. Brand. Gameplay innovation. Reviews. Genre. Price. Platform. Peer pressure. Community. Let’s play videos. All of these factors have an influence. Think of the next game you are looking forward to and ask yourself why?
The answer might surprise you.