A simple exercise to put into practice what you have learned in these months. Each Positioning Question will help you to figure out if the videogame you are developing has a bright future or you are just wasting money and time on a game that no one will play.
The following questions are simple but finding the correct answer can be complicated. So don’t worry if you can’t answer right away. It requires some time.
The goal is to understand if what you are doing makes sense and, above all, to test your courage and your desire to go ahead despite the difficulties.
Positioning Question N.1:
Who are your competitors?
Instead of jumping straight into the development of your videogame, the first step is to analyze the competition.
In which genre is your video game positioned?
If your game is already published, do you know what position it occupies in the mind of the players?
If it’s not yet published, do you know who are the leader and co-leader of your genre?
Entering the player’s mind with a new concept is extremely difficult in our overcommunicated society. It is much easier to change what is already there.
If you want to know who occupies the first and second positions, you don’t have to ask the person who takes care of your marketing (if you have one).
You have to ask directly to the market.
You’ll probably have to spend some money to do market research.
It’s always better to know now who you’re dealing with than finding out when it’s too late. You have to study your enemy and create a strategy that will be put into practice through tactics.
Which position do you want to occupy in the player’s mind?
Once you know who you’re fighting against, you need to decide your goal.
What position do you want to occupy in the minds of the players?
Do you want to become the leading game in the Battle Royal genre? (now it’s too late, forget it).
Do you want to create a new genre? (as Wolfenstein 3D, Minecraft or Demon’s Souls did, for example).
This question helps you to understand what is the position you want to have in the player’s mind in the medium-long term. You must focus on the verb “to own”. In the past, many companies have made the mistake of trying to own a position that was already occupied by another company or another videogame.
For example Rayman or Crash Bandicoot for platform games, when the leadership position was already in Mario’s hands.
Or Apex Legends, when the battle for Battle Royale games was between Fortnite and PUBG.
It’s very difficult today to hold a position that is too general. You could do it only if you are creating a new category from scratch. As Wolfenstein 3D did with first-person shooters. But in most cases today it’s easier to create a subcategory. As PUBG did. Battle Royal games are a subcategory of first-person shooters.
Furthermore, even if you could create a new generic category, soon you would be the victim of those focusing on a particular niche of that new category.
If you think about fighting against the category leader…forget it. It’s extremely difficult and you need a huge amount of money. There is no point in fighting against someone you cannot defeat. It is always better to step back and try to win by circumventing the problem. Your main goal should be to find a position in the players’ mind that has not yet been occupied by anyone. Most of the time it’s about creating a new category. Check this series of articles if you don’t remember how.
Do you have enough money?
I often see clients and ex-colleagues who try to achieve the impossible. Occupying a position in the mind of the players takes time, but above all…money.
You have to get the idea that you are fighting against giants who have almost an infinite cash at their disposal. They have billions and, because game mechanics cannot be patented, it would take them a Tanos’ snap to steal your idea and dissolve you. As what happened with Donut County and Hole.io, for example.
You have to move quickly and you need money to do it. It takes money to occupy a position in the players’ mind in the shortest possible time.
And it takes money to maintain it.
Ginno Games developed PlayerUnknown’s Battleground and created the Battle Royal category, but it was a small software house. When Epic sensed the opportunity, they bet millions of dollars on the plate. The rest is history. Everyone talks about Fornite, while PUBG is known only among hardcore players.
Today the noise in the media has reached very high levels. Because there are a lot of games on the market. Too many videogames and especially too many clones. Trying to be noticed is not easy. If you don’t spend enough to go beyond this noise level, you allow big companies like Epic to take the ownership of your idea in the players’ mind.
Are you focused?
Being focused is one way to resolve the noise problem. For example, you could publish your game only on one particular platform. This choice also allows you to reduce the costs due to the development of a cross-platform videogame (production, assistance, live-op, etc…).
Or you can specialize yourself in a particular genre. For example, you could become an expert in RTS games. Something that the software house Ensemble didn’t get.
In the summer of 2004, Ensemble Studios’ management team was having what some would call an identity crisis.
Ensemble, based in Dallas, Texas, had been making the same type of video game for nearly ten years. They’d built their reputation on Age of Empires, a cerebral game series in which you’d start off with a handful of villagers and gradually build an entire civilization.
When Age of Empires came out in 1997, it was an immediate hit, selling millions for Ensemble and its publisher, Microsoft. This was followed by a glut of profitable Age sequels, expansions, and spin-offs, eventually leading Microsoft to buy Ensemble.
By 2004, the studio was working on yet another game in the series, Age of Empires III, which was due to come out at the end of 2005. During that summer of 2004, with Age of Empires III in the works, many of Ensemble’s veterans grumbled that they were sick of making Age games. Some were tired of RTS games in general. Ensemble’s staff wanted to show the world that they could expand beyond Age of Empires.
That summer, Ensemble’s management had green-lit three new projects from Microsoft. First was a console RTS, which they gave the code name Phoenix. The second was a MMO, code-named Titan. The third game, codenamed Nova, was a sci-fi action-RPG and Diablo clone.
If Blizzard could juggle StarCraft, World of Warcraft, and Diablo, the managers thought, why couldn’t Ensemble do something comparable?
Unfortunately, Ensemble wasn’t Blizzard.
Firstly, Blizzard is independent, while Microsoft owned Ensemble.
Secondly, Ensemble didn’t have millions of dollars to burn on tests. Blizzard can afford to make mistakes, Ensemble can’t.
Microsoft representatives really liked Phoenix. “This was an interesting period for Ensemble because it was the first ‘second game’ that Microsoft got excited about,” said Dave Pottinger, who was the lead programmer on Age of Empires III. “And unfortunately for us, it was an RTS. Because we had tried for so long not to make an RTS. We didn’t want to get pigeonholed into just the RTS company. But of course, that’s exactly what Microsoft wanted. That’s what we were good at, that’s why they had bought us, and that’s what they wanted us to do.”
For Ensemble, getting a game green-lit meant progressing through a series of meetings with Xbox executives. During the second green light meeting, Microsoft gave Ensemble a new mandate: Make it a Halo game.
Halo was incredibly hot at the time. The first two games had sold millions of copies, and Halo 3 was one of the most anticipated games ever.
This sort of move isn’t uncommon in the video game industry, where publishers tend to be conservative and risk-averse, leaning toward established franchises and sequels whenever possible.
Over lengthy, heated discussions, Microsoft’s executives explained that if Ensemble wanted to make its console RTS, it would have to be based on Halo. End of story.
What Ensemble’s management team didn’t understand was that becoming the leader of RTS games would be the strategy that would allow the company to thrive for a long time.
Phoenix project was later renamed Halo World. Theoretically, most of Ensemble’s resources should have been moved into this project, because Microsoft had not approved any other prototypes. Instead, the firm decided to go ahead with all their three projects.
A choice of pure madness.
Less than a hundred people worked in Ensemble, yet the studio was simultaneously trying to develop three different games including an MMO, which alone would have required a staff of dozens of people. And the company could not expand because Microsoft had not approved the other two projects.
As the work on the official project continued, it remained clear that Halo Wars was in trouble. In the months following E3 in 2007, a large number of the studio’s resources continued to work on the prototype of the MMO game, which had not yet obtained the go-ahead from Microsoft.
One day Microsoft executives found that Ensemble had dedicated so much staff to the MMO prototype when the studio was supposed to focus only on Halo Wars. As a result, Microsoft made it clear to Ensemble management that he had no interest in spending tens of millions on an MMO. So, they cancelled the project.
A year later, Microsoft decided to close Ensemble after the end of the development of Halo Wars. After fourteen years and a dozen games, Ensemble’s story came to an end.
Positioning Question N.5:
Can you hold on?
In addition to being saturated with communication messages, the videogame industry is evolving very quickly.
To cope with change, it is important to have a long-term goal. You have to understand what position you want to hold and hold on it. You don’t have to give it up at the first change of wind but to hold on year after year.
Positioning is a concept that needs time. You can’t change people’s minds quickly.
Remember that the most successful companies rarely change. Did Nintendo throw away Mario and Zelda brands when 3D graphics were introduced? Not at all. Mario’s goal has been and always will be to be the best platform videogame. It doesn’t matter whether 2D, 3D or on mobile devices.
With few exceptions, the position you want to possess must not change. It’s the strategy that must change and adapt.
As Al Ries says, think of positioning as the idea of owning a prestigious property. Once you have sold it, it is not so easy to get it back.
How long is it necessary to hold on?
It depends a lot on the competition. The longer the competition has held a certain position in the mind of the players, the more time it takes to establish itself. Fortnite reacted quickly and overthrew PUBG.
On the other side, Sega had to imagine that taking Nintendo out of the top position in the console category would take time. Their strategy was good but they didn’t believe it completely.
And you? Do you have the courage, the patience and the determination to be a maverick and create a new genre of videogames?
To the success of your videogame.
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