Is it possible to hack the player’s mind and persuade him to buy or download your game?
Players are people like everyone else.
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.
When a computer’s slot is already occupied, the only way to save new information is to delete the previous one. Similarly, to insert a brand in a player’s mind you must reposition or move the previous one.
However, there is one important difference. A computer has to accept what you put into it. The mind doesn’t.
We believe what we want to believe
Unlike a computer, the human mind has a kind of defence mechanism that rejects information that doesn’t compute. It accepts only information which matches its current state of mind and it filters out everything else.
For example, ask two people with opposite political opinions, say, Left and Right, to read a newspaper article on a controversial topic. Then ask each one if the article changed his or her opinion.
You will find that Right people get out of the article facts to support their point of view, while Left ones get out from the same article facts that support the opposite point of view.
In 1985 Coca-Cola announced the decision to change the Coca-Cola formula and introduce a new drink called “New Coke”. It was a marketing disaster of biblical size.
In blind taste tests, consumers preferred New Coke almost 3 to 1 over the original formula. But when in another test they were able to see what they were drinking, they preferred the classic Coca Cola more than 4 to 1. People taste what they expect to taste.
The same occurs in the console world. PlayStation and Xbox fans are in a perpetual state of fighting. They play what they expect to play.
In general, our beliefs act as a filter between us and reality. They are something that makes us distort reality according to what we believe.
For example, I could believe it’s not good to trust people because they usually betray you when they can. Or, conversely, I could believe it is good to trust people because they always give you back more than they get. These two believes make me deal with people in a different way.
If I think it is good not to trust others, I will certainly have more difficulties. For example, when I have to delegate a task at work. Compared to a person who instinctively trusts others, I would probably have more difficulties in finding a new relationship or new friends.
If I think it is wrong to trust others and five people in a row repay my trust positively, when a sixth person betrays me then I immediately say: “Did you see? I was right. It is wrong to trust people because they always screw you”. Contrary, if I think it is right to trust other people and five people betray me but a good one arrives and repays my trust then what will I say? “I knew it. It’s good to trust people.”
Our mental storage is too small
Not only the human mind rejects information which does not match its prior experience, but it doesn’t have much prior knowledge or experience to work with.
In today’s over-communicated society, the human mind is a totally inadequate container.
Harvard psychologist Dr George A. Miller was one of the founders and leading exponents of cognitive psychology. In his famous article “The Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two“, Miller shows that the average human mind cannot deal with more than seven units at a time. This is the reason why seven is a popular number for lists that have to be remembered. The Seven Wonders of the World, the seven musical notes, the seven days of the week and so on.
Similarly, ask a player to name all the video games he remembers in a given game category. For example, first-person shooters or fighting games. Rarely anyone will name more than seven. And that’s for a high-interest game genre. For low-interest categories (tennis, turn-based strategy), the average player cannot name more than one or two brands.
Can you list all the players on your favourite football team, including reserves?
If our mental storage is too small to answer questions like these, how do you think it is possible to remember all those video games that are multiplying like rabbits?
To cope with this type of complexity, players have learned to simplify names. PlayerUnknown’s Battleground has become PUBG.
But what people do best is ranking names in their mind. A woman suffering from brain damage might recognize and refer to her “oldest daughter” even though she might not be able to recall her name.
This ranking of people, names and things is not only convenient but also an absolute necessity to keep from being overwhelmed by the complexity of our life.
How to hack the player’s mind
This concept is true for video games as well.
For each genre of video games, the player tends to have a series of ladders in the mind. On each step, there is a game name: number 1 is on the first step, number 2 is on the second and so on.
The number of steps may vary. Three is the typical number while seven is probably the maximum (according to Miller’s Seven Rule).
Try it yourself.
Name five Soccer Simulation video games.
Or name five Battle Royale games.
Is not that easy, is it?
An Indie developer who wants to be successful with his game in a particular category has two choices:
- Dislodge the brand above (a task that is usually impossible)
- Somehow relate its game to the other competitor’s position
Yet too many Indies develop video games and embark on marketing programs as if the competitor’s position did not exist. They develop a video game without analyzing properly the competition and become upset when it fails to reach the minimum number of sales to breakeven.
Moving up the ladder in the player’s mind can be extremely difficult if the video games above have a strong foothold and no leverage or positioning strategy is applied. A developer who wants to develop a new game must carry in a new ladder. For example, creating a new genre or subgenre. This is difficult, especially if the new genre is not positioned against the old one. For example, PUBG succeeded because it repositioned itself against Call of Duty and Counter-Strike by creating a new sub-genre (Battle Royale).
Human’s mind has no room for what’s new and different unless it’s related to the old. That’s why if you have a truly new game, it’s often better to tell the player what the game is not, rather than what it is.
The first car, for example, was called a “horseless” carriage, a name which allowed the public to position the concept against the existing mode of transportation.
Kinect was the first gaming platform without a controller. “You are the controller” was its battle cry.
And what is Apple Arcade? A subscription service of games without ads and in-app purchases.
Sega’s 1989 famous advertising campaign positioned itself against Nintendo. The memorable attack of the clash came via the battle cry “Genesis does what Nintendon’t”. Sega was pushing the 16-bit Genesis as the future of gaming, while Nintendo was still pumping out games for the huge user base of the NES. Rather than simply making a commercial showing how great their games were, Sega went one further and basically called Nintendo out for being stuck in gaming’s past.
Your goal should be to become First in the player’s mind
Do you understand it is no longer time to focus on aesthetic features like graphics? Do you understand the first thing is not to focus on creating a community of players around your game and try to make them happy?
In today’s marketplace, your game must create a position in the player’s mind.
A position that can’t only take into account the strengths and weaknesses of your game. Competitors position is just as important as your own. It’s no longer enough to invent new gameplay or have better graphics. It may not even be necessary. However, what you have to do is be the first to enter the player’s mind.
The easiest way to do this is to create a new category.
At the 2010 Game Developer Conference, Adam Saltsman, the creator of Canabalt, told that he was inspired by Another World, Flashback and the first Prince of Persia. Canabalt has been described as “a boy dressed in a sports suit who runs from a roof to another one during an alien invasion.” In his communications, there isn’t any reference to the new “endless run” genre. The game created a new category, but Canabalt wasn’t able to communicate properly the “endless” idea in the player’s mind.
Temple Run didn’t make the same mistake. Despite being released two years later, it did properly two things.
First, it positioned itself as a new game genre: Endless Run. Its name also strengthened its position in the player’s mind: “Temple Run” clearly describes a running game, while Canabalt means nothing at all. Temple Run organized its communication and marketing with a simple “Endless Run” concept.
Second, it differentiated itself using a different business model. Temple Run is a freemium game, while Canabalt is not. Temple Run was free while Canabalt was on sale for as much as $2.99 (also, a huge price considering that the average price for a mobile game was $0.99).
The freemium model boosted Temple Run downloads, and the game spread quickly like wildfire.
Temple Run was NOT the first Endless Run game in history. Canabalt was the first one. However, Temple Run was the first Endless Run Game which positioned itself first in the players’ mind.
In conclusion, the best way to hack the player’s mind and sell more copies of your game is to be the leader of a new category.
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To the success of your video game.