Note: This is the fifth post in a series. If you’re new, start with the intro post.
“Solving the problem for your target audience” is the mantra proposed in all Product Management schools. But is it the correct approach?
You don’t need to solve a problem, you need to find an enemy
A couple of years ago I attended a Product Management event in London where the speaker was the Product Manager of a well-known videogame company. During the Q&A session, I asked him if he had identified the problem of their players. He wasn’t able to answer me. He said the videogame industry was different from all other industries.
I do not agree.
The point is that most people (and therefore players) don’t think in terms of problems. They think in terms of categories.
What problem do videogames solve? People were quite happy before videogames. There were sports, theatres, movies and books.
If you want to create a new category then the right thing isn’t to try to solve a problem. It’s to decide who your enemy is.
The industry is full of videogames that don’t sell and won’t go anywhere because they don’t have an enemy. They are only ideas from their creators that won’t find any place in the player’s mind.
Why have real-time strategy games been successful? Because turn-based strategy games were their enemy.
Real-time strategy games turned the main feature of turn-based games into a weak point (you have to wait if it’s not your turn) and they attacked it.
Find an enemy to create a new category
Usually, a new category arises from the ashes of an existing category. What allows this divergence is the identity of the enemy.
Identify your enemy with a precise definition and try to create a category that differs as much as possible from it.
The first car was defined as “horseless carriage”. The enemy of the car was the horse.
The enemies of sandbox games are all those videogames that cannot be modified by the player. Sandbox games allow the player to unleash his creativity.
Why do you need to identify an enemy? To answer this question, you need to answer another one:
Why should the player make room for your game in his mind?
With an infinite amount available, the player doesn’t need more games. Videogame companies may stop making new games today and a player would still have enough to play for several lives.
You need an enemy because the best way to insert a new category into the player’s mind is to push out another one. In a previous article, you learnt that a person’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. 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. The information to be deleted is the old category. That old category is your enemy.
Historically, to find an enemy is the strategy that worked best
The best way to do strategic marketing is not to be creative, but to study history. And history shows us that identifying an enemy is the strategy that works best.
Sonic’s enemy was Mario. Mario was slow, Sonic was fast.
Nintendo was in love with children and Sega decided to target teenagers and adults. With these two combined strategies, in 1990 Sega managed to outperform Nintendo in North America and reach a market share of 55%.
The second thing to think about when you want to create a new category is the name. Category name can’t be the same name of your videogame because they have two different purposes.
The category name is a generic name that represents all the videogames of that genre. Instead, the name of the game identifies it uniquely.
There isn’t any Super Mario category. There is a platform category.
I tell you this explicitly because some people think the best name for their name is the category’s one. Like a Maze game called Mazes (and they exist, check on Google Play).
As if FIFA could be called Soccer Simulation.
There must be two names: the name of the videogame (brand) and the name of the category.
When creating a new category, it’s also important to differentiate yourself enough from the existing ones. For example, take first-person shooters.
You could create a sub-category of FPS for groups of only 4 players (like the first version of Fortnite). Does it make sense? The game mechanic remains unchanged and only a new variable is added: the number of players. This category doesn’t differ enough from the main one and therefore will hardly be successful.
Instead, the new mechanic of Battle Royale games got the chance to create a new successful genre.
I’ve already told you about Real-time strategy games. Before there were only turn-based strategy games and it would not have made sense to create a kind of turn-based strategy where the player only has, for example, two minutes to make his move. It would have just put pressure on the player and it wouldn’t have been a major change enough to allow you to create a new genre. Real-time strategy games have completely changed the game mechanic (and among other things they put even more pressure on the player).
Opportunities don’t lie in creating a new videogame, but in creating a new genre
Before thinking about your next videogame, think about how you can create a new genre in which to be the leader.
If you don’t, your game will be just another clone of the leader. At best you will be able to survive. In the worst-case scenario, you will spend a huge amount of money on advertising. When your videogame doesn’t differ from the competition, you need a big advertising campaign or to spend a lot of money on users acquisition. If you have a publisher, you can also be forced to concede an increase in its percentage because it must make greater efforts to sell your game.
But even if you increase your advertising costs or give a higher percentage to your publisher, your situation will not improve anyway. If your videogame doesn’t differ from the competition then your advertising campaign won’t have a big impact.
During the process of creating a new category, you must also keep in mind that every genre of videogames will die, sooner or later. Categories born and die. For example, think about text adventures and point and click ones. Today they are practically extinct. If a category doesn’t die then it changes. When a category begins to disappear, there isn’t much you can do. Changes, especially in the technology sector, are on the agenda. You cannot fight evolution but you can try to be prepared when it happens.
If you can create a new category then you must be sure that other competitors will start to copy you. Don’t start a war on everyone trying to get into the category you have just created. In the beginning, the category must grow. Without other videogames, there is no particular advantage in being first. Keep an eye on your competitors, but don’t break their legs. At least not immediately. The category must enter the life of players and be publicized in the news, so you can be declared as the pioneer and undisputed leader.
When you create a new category focus all your resources on it. You may ask yourself: “What if the category doesn’t become a big market as the Battle Royal genre did?” Forget about it. Don’t be afraid of what could happen. A conservative strategy may be fine if the category remains small. But what if the category explodes and becomes a billion-dollar market?
The last thing you need to keep in mind when you want to create a new category is…to be patient. Even if the videogame industry is evolving at a fast pace, you don’t have to be in a hurry. You create a successful game by defining a new category, but this process takes time.
This process takes time because the launch of a new genre faces a problem: the concept of novelty. The more revolutionary a concept is, the more time it takes to be accepted by people. When you create a new genre of videogames you are creating something that doesn’t exist. Something people are not used to. In general, players play what their friends or other people play. They do it because most of them want to be part of a group. Fortunately, several players are open to new experiences and they want to try new games. They are the “early adopters”. The trick to launching a new game is to get in touch with these players, who are undoubtedly a valuable source when creating the prototype of your game.
In summary: find an enemy, a unique name, extreme differentiation, don’t be afraid of change, allow them to copy you, trust and patience.
Always remember. Opportunities don’t lie in creating a new videogame, but in creating a new genre.
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To the success of your videogame.