The most difficult job in marketing, but also the most rewarding, is creating a new category.
The dictionary defines the term “category” as: “the division that is obtained by ordering or classifying according to various criteria”.
If you classify a videogame according to its gameplay mechanic, the term category is called “genre”.
For example, point-and-click adventure games like Monkey Island are a genre. Battle Royale games like Fortnite are another one.
This is usually the main criterion. You could categorize games according to the playing device, for example, mobile or console.
Once the criterion is established, categories can be graphically represented through a tree. In the beginning, there is always a parent category from which all the others descend. Videogames descend from the main category of “games”. With the growth of the videogame industry, new sub-categories have emerged over time.
If we take game mechanics as a criterion then we have platformers, graphic adventures, simulators, puzzle games, shoot’em up, FPS, etc…
If we take the device’s type as a criterion then we have computer games, console games, arcade games, mobile games, etc…
If we take the target audience as a criterion then we have casual games, hardcore games, etc…
Since the reference criteria are different, the same videogame can belong to different categories. For example, Angry Birds is a Casual Puzzle Game for mobile devices.
Why are categories important?
People’s mind works like the computer’s memory. You can imagine it is divided into small memory slots that have room for only one bit of information. As I have already discussed in a previous article, the player’s mind behaves like a computer’s memory. It is divided into small memory slots which have room for only a certain amount of information.
To cope with the explosion of videogames, players have learned how to classify them in their mind. This classification works by category.
For example, if I ask you to tell me the best two games ever, you can give me an answer that requires a certain amount of time. If I ask you to tell me which are the best soccer simulation games or the best Battle Royale games instead, your answer will surely be faster. This is because our brain thinks precisely by categories and asking a question in the correct form simplifies its task.
Categories are therefore extremely important because you can:
- Identify precisely the leaders of a category,
- Know which are your direct competitors,
- Understand if there is a hole in the player’s mind for a particular category.
Videogame’s market is oversaturated, and you will probably not succeed if you try to create the clone of a successful game. In the existing categories, the die is cast and your hopes of making the new Candy Crash or the new FIFA are dashed.
Before figuring out what the correct move to do is, let’s try to understand what happened to the videogame industry in the last years.
Explosion of categories
With the growth of the videogame industry, new sub-categories have emerged over time.
Take for example the category of mobile casual games.
Five major categories divide it: Puzzle Games, Arcade Games, Simulation Games, Lifestyle games and Location Base Games.
- Puzzle Games can be divided into Match & Blast, Action, Word, Trivia, Board and other subgenres that are not yet well defined.
- Customization, Music and Band and Interactive Stories are subcategories of Lifestyle Games,
- Simulation Games can be Adventure, Time Management, Breeding, SandBox, Tycoon and Crafting.
- Arcade Games are divided into Hyper Casual, Shoot ’em Up, Platform, Idler and other subgenres not yet well defined.
- Finally, the Location Base category is recent and therefore has not yet branched out.
The same happens in all other categories, for example, Hard Core games on console or PC.
Where does this explosion of categories come from? To find out, we need to take a step back in time and analyse what Al Ries has defined “the least understood a most powerful force in the world”: Divergence.
The Power of Divergence
Divergence was discovered by the English naturalist Charles Darwin, who described it in his famous book The Origin of Species.
According to Darwin’s theory, individuals in a population compete for natural resources. In this struggle for survival, the environment makes a “natural” selection. The individuals who are less suitable to survive certain environmental conditions due to their characteristics are eliminated. Only the fittest survive and pass their genes to children.
What is interesting to us is that Darwin stated that natural selection produces changes in a population, eventually leading to the formation of new species and to the concept of speciation (or divergence).
What Darwin has perfectly explained for the natural world also happens in the world of videogames. Sooner or later each category will diverge into two or more sub-categories, laying the foundations for the birth of new games.
There is a close correlation between Darwin’s evolutionary theory and the world of videogames.
In nature, changes in the environment create the condition that causes species to diverge. In the videogame industry, changes in technology and in the cultural environment create the conditions that cause categories to diverge.
Just as natural selection rewards the stronger individuals and eliminates the weaker ones, stronger games survive. Divergence allows the birth of new categories that create new holes in the player’s mind for the birth of new games.
For example, the Battle Royal genre has created new holes that have been taken by Fortnite and PUBG (in first and second position respectively).
Charles Darwin uses the metaphor of the “Great Tree of Life” to describe the origin of the species:
“The affinities of all the beings of the same class have sometimes been represented by a great tree. I believe this simile largely speaks the truth. The green and budding twigs may represent existing species; and those produced during each former year may represent the long succession of extinct species. At each period of growth all the growing twigs have tried to branch out on all sides, and to overtop and kill the surrounding twigs and branches, in the same manner as species and groups of species have tried to overmaster other species in the great battle for life. The limbs divided into great branches, and these into lesser and lesser branches, were themselves once, when the tree was small, budding twigs; and this connexion of the former and present buds by ramifying branches may well represent the classification of all extinct and living species in groups subordinate to groups.
Of the many twigs which flourished when the tree was a mere bush, only two or three, now grown into great branches, yet survive and bear all the other branches; so with the species which lived during long-past geological periods, very few now have living and modified descendants. From the first growth of the tree, many a limb and branch has decayed and dropped off; and these lost branches of various sizes may represent those whole orders, families, and genera which have now no living representatives, and which are known to us only from having been found in a fossil state.”Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
This previous paragraph contains the fundamental concept of this post. If you understand it, you already have everything you need to develop a successful videogame.
The Great tree of videogames
In the beginning, there was only one branch called “videogame”. Today that category has branched out and now we have platform, arcade, first-person shooters, simulators, sports, turn-based strategy games, pinball games, driving games, real-time strategy games, Multiuser Dungeons (MUD), Stealth, fighting games, adventures graphics, role-playing games, Massive Multiplayer Online (MMO), puzzles, Horror, Music games, Simulations, tower defence, battle royal, sandbox, Souls-like, Dating games, etc…
In the Great Tree of videogames, new categories born from the divergence of the existing ones.
When a category branches out, there is no going back. In nature, it’s very rare to see two tree branches coming together to form a single branch again. The same happens in videogames.
Like in nature, not all categories manage to survive. For example, thanks to the progress made by computer graphics, laser disk games (like Astron Belt and Dragon’s Lair) don’t exist anymore. Point-and-click graphic adventures are practically extinct too. There is a revival of old graphic adventures due mostly to the nostalgia of mature players, but apart from Thimbleweed Park there isn’t any new successful point and click adventure.
This web site has been created to improve your foresight. To show you that you don’t need to be creative to create a successful videogame. You just need to understand the concept of Divergence. The opportunities to create new categories of videogames and become the first choice in the player’s mind lie in the divergence of existing categories.
Marketing is a battle of categories
Unfortunately, traditional marketing is not focused on creating new categories. Traditional marketing is focused on creating new customers. It involves finding out what players want and then giving them what they want, better and cheaper than the competition. But successful marketing is not like that. Would the Casual Games category exist if someone hadn’t given up on the players and focused on who wasn’t playing yet? Housewives, for instance.
Today the category of Casual Games is the most profitable one of the entire gaming industry. According to a Liftoff report, Casual Games dominated the mobile gaming industry bringing in over USD 3 billion in sales in in-app purchases revenue – suggesting that these are likely to retain customers in the long term.
For this reason, marketing researches focusing on asking players what they will do don’t make sense. Marketing researches must analyse the competition and find an angle of attack to create a new category. And if you really want to audit players then your goal should be to understand what they have done or what they are doing. Not what they will do.
For this reason, analytics inside your game are the best weapon to analyse player behaviour and understand what strategy to adopt in the future.
Players don’t know what they want until someone put it in front of them. Players didn’t ask for a Battle Royale genre. They didn’t ask for a Match-3 game.
“Do you think a focus group would have approved the idea of an Italian plumber saving a princess?”
Another way of expressing this concept is to say categories do not diverge until there is a new game genre available on the market. The Battle Royale category was born when PUBG was released, not before.
Soft launch is another typical traditional marketing approach that is now practised by videogame development companies.
Does it make sense to test a new videogame in some countries before a world launch?
There are undoubtedly some benefits, for example, getting real feedback about the game’s mechanics or discover and fix critical bugs.
But disadvantages far outweigh the benefits:
- Wasted time. You cannot afford to waste the time that marketing’s tests take, especially since the essence of positioning is getting into the player’s mind first.
- Alert the competition. Thanks to services such as AppAnnie, soft launches will alert competitors and perhaps stimulate one or more of them to introduce a similar game before you. The battle between Indie Devs and Big Companies is like the one between David and Goliath. We are facing a stronger enemy, who has more money and more resources than us. If a Big Company thinks a game can be successful, it only takes a moment to copy it and put it on the market. You don’t want to end up like Donut County against Hole.io, do you?
The first question that traditional marketing agencies ask before starting a branding program is usually this: “What is the size of the market?”.
The opportunities to create a successful videogame do not lie in the pursuit of existing markets. This may be fine in the short term. But in the long run, it’s a massacre. Furthermore, I think that those who apply this type of strategy are not real entrepreneurs. They are only followers who only aim to have a warm meal at the end of the day. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, but for me, entrepreneurship is about innovation.
The best answer to the previous question, from a Positioning point of view, is zero.
The opportunities to create successful videogames lie in the creation of new categories. It’s easy? No, it’s not. It’s risky? Pretty much. But you know the old saying “No pain, no gain”.
My objective is to help you to create a valuable videogame. A videogame like Minecraft or Cuphead or Fortnite. And a videogame is valuable only when it dominates a category.
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To the success of your videogame.