Posts by Tag / TOPIC: Marketing (17)

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Black Hole Stunt

So. Like. I’ve never played Fortnite. I’m not really their target market. And if I had any doubt of that, the events of the past few days confirmed it.

Because if I did play Fortnite
If it was how I blew off steam and connected with my friends…
If I’d spent money on in-game currency and gear…
If I were a streamer who relied on the game to make content, and in turn provided free marketing for it…

I would be pissed that they took the game down for multiple days as a marketing stunt.

And it would not exactly instill me with confidence that this was an ecosystem in which I should invest time, money, or effort, and certainly not one I should rely on being around and available.

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Apple Arcade and Gateway Games

As excited as I’ve been for Apple Arcade, leading up to launch I noticed that a lot of the most-talked about games were ones I’d rather play on a big screen with a controller. Decently big names like Rayman, Shantae, and Sonic, or indie stuff with plenty of hype like Sayonara Wild Hearts or Assemble With Care. And a lot of emphasis was placed on the idea that these games were new and exclusive (although in many cases the exclusivity only applied to mobile - Sayonara Wild Hearts is also on PS4 and Switch, for example).

It took me a bit to figure out why I was so looking forward to a game subscription service when every game on the service that I’d actually heard of was something I’d rather play on a different platform. But I think I’ve figured it out.

The sort of person who pays attention to Apple Arcade announcements is already a nonrepresentative sample of the population. But even for most people in that slice - when they think of mobile games, I suspect they think of annoying wallet parasites that are maybe good for killing a few minutes in line or whatever. I think most of these folks associate the problems with these games with the mobile platform itself. They see them as just what mobile games are, rather than seeing them as the result of the combination of low-friction micropayments, persistent online connections for metrics gathering, and a race to the bottom enabled by poorly-designed storefronts.

So when they hear about mobile games unshackled (and indeed, actually blocked off) from those particular market pressures and tied instead to a subscription, that’s not enough for them to see the possibilities. For these folks, you also need the legitimacy associated with the names and designs that have earned respect on PC and console - even if those types of games don’t really work well on mobile.

My excitement came from the fact that I’ve seen plenty of evidence that designers know how to make good mobile games if they can just get away from the freemium/gacha bullshit. My optimistic assumption was that beneath the games that were getting all the marketing, the ones that were there to get you to pay attention to Apple Arcade, there would be excellent mobile experiences proving that mobile can be a great gaming platform with its own particular strengths and demonstrating how to make use of them. And once you’re paying for the subscription, you’ll try out those other games because why not, it’s free, and you’ll find something wonderful, and you’ll realize what mobile games can be.

This is how Apple Arcade could be the start of a mobile gaming revolution. This is why it’s more exciting than Google Play Pass, which is arguably a better value in some ways but only bundles games/apps that were already available on Android. That’ll only work on you if you’re already open to those games - it doesn’t open new doors, bring in new players, which a subscription-based platform will need to have to be successful. This is why Apple invested so heavily in flashy exclusives, and it might pay off. I mean, jeez - if it worked on Penny Arcade, it can work on anybody.

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I’d Buy That for a Dollar

One of the most interesting major challenges in the games industry right now - especially for indies - is discoverability. With a constant deluge of new releases, there’s a serious signal-to-noise problem. How do we connect games people want to play with the people who want to play them? How do we help players who can’t find games that appeal to them, even though those games are in fact out there? How do we stop games from languishing in obscurity when they’d be bought and enjoyed by many, if the many only knew about the game in the first place?

As much as I enjoy the opportunity to pick up games I’m curious about for a buck or less, it’s a clear sign of how broken the discoverability is on the Nintendo Switch eShop that the best way to get people to notice your game is to heavily discount it. I’d rather be able to find games I’ll love and spend more on them, to truly support their creators and cast an economic vote for More Like This.

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Expectation... Dragonment?

I think that Dragon Quest Heroes II hurt its marketing and reception by titling itself in a misleading way (much like Bubsy: Paws on Fire! did).

Dragon Quest Heroes (the first one) is one of several Musou crossover games (see also One Piece: Pirate Warriors, Hyrule Warriors, Fire Emblem Warriors, etc. etc.). These games feature Dynasty Warriors-like (a.k.a. Musou) gameplay flavored with a few mechanics inspired by the particular crossover franchise, set in the world of and starring the characters of that franchise. These games tend to be loaded with fan service for the crossover franchise, but it’s hard to imagine anyone who doesn’t enjoy Musou gameplay could enjoy these games.

The first Dragon Quest Heroes was absolutely one of these games, but Dragon Quest Heroes II is not. As I’ve mentioned briefly, Dragon Quest Heroes II pushes things much farther in the Dragon Heroes direction, and while it still has clear Musou influences the result is really an action RPG. Large-scale battles do happen but they are the exception rather than the rule, and there’s almost no tactical management of multiple simultaneous threats. The emphasis is much more on individual combat encounters between your party and small groups of enemies in an interconnected and semi-open world. I really enjoyed this (though there’s clear room for improvement in a sequel) but it’s definitely not Musou.

So, we have a sequel that’s in a different genre from its predecessor. And as much as I might wish otherwise, Musou is niche. Plenty of people are uninterested in Dynasty Warriors and its crossovers. Those people, even if they were Dragon Quest fans, would likely have ignored Dragon Quest Heroes and paid even less attention to its sequel - they never would have learned it’s not a Musou game, even if they like action RPGs.

Meanwhile, the people drawn to Dragon Quest Heroes specifically because it is Musou have a high chance of feeling disappointed or outright betrayed by the sequel not being Musou. I’m saddened by this Steam review of the game, which starts by acknowledging the game is not really Musou and proceeds to list many of the game’s “mistakes,” the supposed-worst of which are just consequences of the game not being Musou - such as enemy groups being smaller and enemies having more health than you’d expect in a Musou game. (While I’m not going to accuse the reviewer of being biased against the game, I will note that most other listed “mistakes” didn’t match my experience or were misleading/exaggerated/inaccurate. Though I do agree that it’s crap that enemy aggro causes your character to stop running to draw their weapons and walk more slowly.)

The review closes with the question, “When a musou fails to meet the requirements to even be a good musou, what’s the ♥♥♥♥ing point?” Of course the response is that this game isn’t a Musou because it’s an action RPG - but can you blame the reviewer for expecting a numbered sequel to a Musou game to be a Musou game?

By titling itself as the direct numbered sequel to a Musou crossover and then not being a Musou crossover, Dragon Quest Heroes II made itself harder to find for the people who’d like it and set up the people who did play it to be disappointed. It’s a shame, because I actually think the game is quite good at being what it is - but even I came very close to never playing it and was surprised by what it turned out to be.

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Expawtation Meownagement

I think Bubsy: Paws on Fire! hurt its marketing and review scores by not incorporating Bit.Trip Runner into the name.

The upcoming Cadence of Hyrule is an interesting comparison point. Both games are non-traditional installments in established franchises (Bubsy, The Legend of Zelda) in the style of and by the developers of an unrelated rhythm-hybrid game (rhythm platformer Bit.Trip Runner, rhythm roguelike Crypt of the NecroDancer).

The Zelda/NecroDancer game is called Cadence of Hyrule for short - the full title is Cadence of Hyrule: Crypt of the NecroDancer Featuring The Legend of Zelda. The short title reflects that it’s a crossover - it’s the main character of NecroDancer, Cadence, in the setting of Zelda, Hyrule. The subtitle includes the name of both parent franchises, and makes it clear that this is more of a NecroDancer game than a Zelda game.

This is really solid expectation management, and it’s working. Whenever I see the game mentioned in a news item, it’s described as a Zelda spin-off or crossover. Not many people are likely to mistake it for a mainline Zelda title.

The Bubsy/Runner game is called Bubsy: Paws on Fire! - that’s the full title. There is no mention of Bit.Trip Runner at all. It’s just Bubsy.

The result is that people expect a Bubsy game unless they happen to look deeper and notice the different developer. A lot of people wouldn’t look that closely - even game reviewers and journalists are hit-and-miss with this and I certainly don’t see the game referred to as a spin-off or crossover in news items. And if you go in expecting traditional Bubsy, you may well end up surprised, confused, and disappointed by the actual gameplay - especially if you aren’t familiar with Bit.Trip Runner.

I really like the game and want to see it do well, but the mismatched expectations seem to have hurt the review scores. The most frustrating to me is Push Square’s 2/10 review which describes the game as “an auto-runner style platformer” and makes no reference to Bit.Trip Runner or developer Choice Provisions. There’s a lot I think is unfair or misleading about this review, but in particular I notice that a lot of the most valid complaints also apply to the Runner games but give no idea how the reviewer feels about those games.

Someone who dislikes Runner gameplay won’t like Paws on Fire! any more than someone who dislikes NecroDancer gameplay would like Cadence of Hyrule, but it’s much less clear that’s a consideration here - enough so that the reviewer doesn’t even bring it up and multiple commenters express disappointment that the game is bad since they like the Runner games. They took the reviewer’s word that the game was bad despite the reviewer failing to establish that the review even applied to players with their tastes.

I chimed in suggesting they give the game another look. I want Bubsy: Paws on Fire! to have the best possible chance to reach its audience.