One of the largest misconceptions people seem to have is that a great idea will land them a job in the video game industry. While there are a multitude of reasons wrong with that, one common problem I’ve seen is that people design games for themselves, not everyone else. While every so often you get lucky in having your own personal tastes directly lined up with everyone else’s, that’s not always the case.
In fact, great ideas can be a dime a dozen in the gaming world. It can’t be emphasized enough how not only a great idea is needed, but great market research, and proper implementation. I’ve experienced first hand that in our studio of about 100, there have been several awesome ideas…games I think I’d love to play. What many don’t realize is that there’s a bigger picture than, “Is the game fun?”. Studios, especially independent ones, can be made or broken on their releases. On more than one occasion, the poor sales of a single title have been enough to bring down a studio.
What is more important than simply having a ‘great idea’, is doing some market research into what people are currently playing, who your market is, and can your market sustain your product. Wow, it’s almost as if the sexy world of video games is the same as every other product. You may have come up with a way to make the best hang-gliding simulator game in the world, but how many people are going to pony up the cash to make the effort worthwhile and justify the cost of production and publication?
One of my favourite games of all time has been Trevor Chan’s Capitalism 2. In a world of First Person
Shooters dominating the marketplace, it takes very careful production and marketing to develop a new idea. Would gamers today appreciate the ability to play in a near fully functional economic playground? Would they appreciate the ability to dominate the world by cornering the global markets of strawberries and motorcycles, playing the stock market, or becoming the next Best Buy? Maybe they would. But would they still be interested once they learned that every aspect from the quality of their engines (influenced of course by the training of the staff in their factories or that of the factories they’ve sourced production out to, and the quality of steel being used), the distance of the engine factory to the motorcycle assembly plant, and even the economic impact of the city they’re selling in, affects their success? I think you’ve just cut a significant part of your market out.
With that said, some people absolutely adore that kind of control. The concept and idea of Capitalism is absolutely amazing, but it definitely does not have the mass market appeal. As such, a game such as this would likely only see the light of day if its production were kept extremely tight and a smart budget were developed. While I was unable to find sales figures on the critically acclaimed title, I can’t imagine it had sold the amount that other genres have.
Conversely, looking at the Call of Duty franchise, specifically Call of Duty 4, we have a game that has sold over 10 million units. How many people enjoy shooting? How many enjoy saving the world and killing terrorists? Well, judging by the sales numbers, many many people. A franchise like COD can afford to have more polish put into it.
Being a large fan of COD4, I also take note that the game itself isn’t that ground-breaking a game. The game is definitely scripted gameplay at its finest, but it is indeed just that…scripted gameplay. The story is amazing and engrossing, they do a fine job of immersing you into the game world, and the game mechanics are solid. COD 4 doesn’t challenge the user to solve puzzles using time shifting mechanics, become Liberty City’s most wanted in a near-completely open world, or become an entrepreneur in a fully comprehensive economic climate. It does something simple and ordinary in an absolutely amazing and stunning way.
By no means is this a shot at the COD series, but it is akin to listening to Pop music vs. Classical, an Art Exhibit or a 3D Eye Painting, or Ballet vs. a Striptease. They’re all entertainment, but some have far more mass appeal than the other.
Now more than ever, games aren’t just for gamers. They’re for everyone. I’ve seen some amazing ideas fall by the wayside due to the fact that not nearly enough people would appreciate them to justify the cost of production (I’m looking at you, point and click adventures). It’s a shame that this is the case, but it’s difficult to put developers and publishers at fault for wanting to ensure their own survival. In my opinion, the most important thing for a game to do is create fun. If you can’t create a fun experience for the people who vote with their wallet, no amount of ‘revolutionary design’ can make up for your failure.