Note: This is the second post in a series. If you’re new, start with the intro post.
A new genre of videogames is like a new species. A new species does not evolve from existing species but arises from their divergence.
To explain this concept Al Ries proposes the example of the lion: “New species are created by divergence of an existing species. Somewhere in the distant past, the ancestor of the lion (panthera) diverged and a new species was created called a leopard. In the same way, the panthera diverged a number of times creating the jaguar, the tiger and the lion. That’s the way nature works.“
If you want to create a billion-dollar game then you have to find a way to move your game away from an existing genre. You need to create a new category and become the undisputed leader.
Therefore, the best answer to the typical question “What is the size of the market?” is zero.
Your goal shouldn’t be to serve a genre but to create a new one.
Top Billion-dollar games
For example, consider the ten most valuable videogame brands:
1) Pokémon (95 billion)
Few other brands in the world have a strong influence on pop culture. Since 1996, with the release of Pokémon Red & Blue, the Pokémon series has become one of the most known franchises and has one the most recognizable characters in the world: Pikachu.
Pokémon introduces the concept of trading between players. This concept was new to the video gaming industry because previously connection cables were only being used for competition.
2) Super Mario (37 billion)
Shigeru Miyamoto’s Italian plumber entered the scene for the first time in 1981 and became the icon of Nintendo and the whole gaming industry. Mario wasn’t born in an existing genre but created the category of platform games, where the ability to jump over the platforms is its characteristic feature.
3) Call of Duty (18.1 billion)
The first Call of Duty came out in 2003. Developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision, it has become the undisputed ruler of the First Person Shooters. Game’s focus is the simulation of the battlefield. The gameplay differed from the other FPS because the player moves together with the allied soldiers rather than alone. Artificial intelligence manages the allies and help the player defeat enemy soldiers and advance.
4) Pac-Man (15.1 billion)
Pac-Man is an arcade game developed and released by Namco in 1980. It is considered by many to be one of the most influential videogames of all time and it established the maze chase game genre.
5) Space Invaders (13.9 billion)
Space Invaders is an arcade game released for the first time in Japan in 1978. It’s one of the first shoot ’em up and created the category of Fixed Shooters, which restrict the player’s movements to a single axis. The goal is to defeat waves of alien ships before they reach Earth.
6) Dungeon Fighter Online (13.4 billion)
Dungeon Fighter Online is a side-scrolling MMO game similar to Final Fight. In an interview with Gamasutra, director Yunjong Kim defines the game as “basically a hack and slash action game. We are still working on marketing because the game in a certain way is quite unique.”
Dungeon Fighter Online was the first beat ’em up MMO that adopted the Game as a Service business model. The game is free with the chance of purchasing digital objects. On August 24, 2012, the game reached 3 million active players in China alone.
7) Dragon Quest (12.9 billion)
Dragon Quest is a Japanese role-playing game released by Enix in 1986. It was one of the first Japanese role-playing games to redefine the role-playing game category from the West. A graphic style influenced by Japanese manga, random encounters with enemies, emphasis on narrative and simple game controls laid the foundations for a new genre of role-playing games.
8) Final Fantasy (12.2 billion)
Final Fantasy is a Japanese role-playing game released by Enix in 1987. He created the category of Dark role-playing games, positioning himself in stark contrast to Dragon Quest.
9) Warcraft (11.7 billion)
The Warcraft series is a worldwide franchise that includes several videogames, a movie and a series of short stories. The first game in the series, Warcraft: Orcs & Humans, is not the first real-time strategy game because Dune II introduced first the basic concepts and mechanics of the genre, such as using the mouse to move units and collect resources. However, it was one of the first with this type of mechanic to enter the player’s mind. I am very fond of this game and I still have the original PC box.
10) Street Fighter (11.5 billion)
Street Fighter is a fighting game developed and published by Capcom in 1987. The game introduced for the first time “combo moves”, a timed sequence of moves which produce a cohesive series of hits, each of which leaves the opponent unable or almost unable to block or otherwise avoid the following hits in the sequence. Before Street Fighter 2, players used to press buttons randomly without any strategy. By this innovation, Street Fighter II was the first fighting game based on skills and not luck.
What was the size of the market?
- What was the size of the Platform Games market when Super Mario came out?
- When Call of Duty came out, what was the size of the FPS simulations market?
- What was the size of the chase maze games market when Pac-Man started eating pills?
- When Space Invaders invaded the world, what was the size of the Fixed Shooters market?
- What was the size of the Japanese RPG market when Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy came out?
- What was the size of the combo move fighting games market when Street Fighter 2 came out?
In all these cases the size of the market was zero. 7 of the 10 most valued videogame brands in the world were created by divergence from an existing category.
Traditional marketing is broken
Everything I’m telling you in this article goes against traditional marketing.
Today, developing a new videogame through traditional marketing means making prototypes until you find the gameplay with the right mix that passes focus group tests. It means doing a soft launch and fixing the game for the global one. It means having a lot of money to advertise, acquire new players and overcome the competition.
I object to all these three activities.
If you want to increase your chances to be successful, you have to forget everything you know or have been told about traditional marketing. Today you need a new concept to build a successful videogame.
The power of Divergence
In his book The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin explains how natural selection increases the number of species that exist on Earth. Darwin was certainly a visionary because he was able to understand the effects of divergence and natural selection, although it was not possible to observe them directly in action due to their slow execution. Natural selection is a process that takes millions of years.
In the videogame industry, time is shorter and the effects of divergence are clearly visible in front of us. If you have been lucky enough to be born in the fifties then you have witnessed the entire process of natural selection of videogames. This process is still active and visible: videogame genres continue evolving and diverging.
According to Darwin, changes in the environment create the conditions that cause species to diverge. In the videogame industry, changes in technology and the cultural environment create the conditions that cause categories to diverge.
Big videogame companies see the world as it is, not as it could be. It is easier and more convenient for them to continue supporting the status quo instead of experimenting. It is up to independent developers to see things as they could be.
But you don’t need to be a visionary to predict the future. As Darwin discovered, all species diverge. In the same way, you just have to remember that all categories diverge. Divergence creates opportunities for the birth of new videogames.
Being able to understand what is the best direction to follow when a divergence occurs is another matter. Is it better to jump on the new genre of augmented reality games or to stay on traditional ones? Is it better to jump on the Battle Royale bandwagon or not?
Today there are thousands of videogames. Some are successful brands like Super Mario, Candy Crush or Fortnite. Most are videogames that have no value; clones that haven’t understood or don’t know the concept of divergence.
My ultimate goal is to help you build a brand of extreme value. Like Super Mario, Fortnite or Candy Crush.
Dominate your category
A brand has value only for one reason. Dominate a category.
Super Mario is the undisputed ruler of platform games. Candy Crush is the undisputed ruler of Match-3 games. Fortnite is the undisputed ruler of Battle Royale games.
Thousands of videogames come out every year. This means that there are potentially thousands of possibilities to create the new Candy Crush or the new Super Mario. Unfortunately, most of these videogames have no chance of becoming a successful brand because they were developed to serve a category instead of creating a new one.
So what is the best way to create a successful videogame? It is to predict the future. Unfortunately, it is not possible to predict the future. The only way to increase the chances of success in creating a new videogame is to study the past. Studying the past increases your ability to understand what is likely to happen in the future.
When I studied European history at school I was fascinated about how all the generals who decided to invade Russia had learned nothing from those who had tried before. “General Winter” contributed to the military failures of Napoleon’s invasion, allied intervention during the First World War and Hitler’s invasions of Russia.
I never understood whether these generals did not know the story or felt invincible and more prepared than those who had come before them. Probably the second.
In a way, this behaviour is repeating every day in the videogame industry. How many employees must lose their job before the employers realize that quality is not the most important aspect of a videogame? How many companies must go bankrupt before realizing that developing a clone will not make their business prosper?
It doesn’t make any sense to jump on a genre that is saturated and already has strong leaders.
Didn’t these developers study history or, like those generals who tried to conquer Russia, they just feel invincible?
It’s up to you now.
Do you want to make a billion dollar game or not?
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To the success of your videogame.