IGC'04 Impressions, Big Business, Big Money

Discussion in 'Indie Business' started by Dan MacDonald, Oct 12, 2004.

  1. Tom Cain

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    As a niche platform developer, I'd like to add that non-Windows developers don't really have to contend with the portal question at all. (In fact, retail is pretty much out of the equation, too.) So switching to platforms where the portals aren't is another potential way to overcome.
     
  2. Anthony Flack

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    That's based on the assumption that the portals are taking everyone's customers off them. Are they, though?
     
  3. svero

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    Easy for you or me to say. We both built up our companies in an atmosphere where it was possible to get direct customers without spending a lot of money by promoting through community channels like download sites that people actually visited for games. We've seen the number of important sites dwindle and consolidate, we've seen their traffic whiddle away to nothing, we've seen the traffic moved over to sites that we can no longer use for exposure without giving away the majority of the sale. I wouldn't want to be coming into this today with no customers. There's zero doubt in my mind that it was easier to build a customer base without cash flow a few years back than it is today.

    Selling direct is always the best thing if you can do it. You have the eternal optimists who will say that there are new opportunities that didn't exist and so on, but the fact of the matter is... the online game industry is becoming more like the record industry. Would any of those same optimists tell me that a garage band can make serious records sales outside the structure of a major record company label and without radio airplay?

    The problem is primarily exposure and perhaps partly competition. But mostly it's exposure. A new developer entering the online games sales market today has less opportunity to promote their software to the kinds of numbers of people needed to make a living wage profit than they use to.

    I'll say again that I have nothing against portals and I hope to continue to work with them. But in you article you say...

    "Online portals, on the other hand, only control space on their own web sites. This space is not limited and it is not expensive to create your own web site and compete with them. "

    I strongly disagree. Portals have made a *conscious* business decision to control the disitribution of online games on the Internet. Ie... they want to be the only place people buy games on the net. And they've largely succeeded. (Part of the blame lies with dl sites - Download.com dropped the ball and sold all their game traffic to real. It's as simple as that. Nobody goes there anymore for games. You'll notice they changed their site recently to try and correct that. All the same, from a browser/potential customers point of view dl.com provides terrible service.) ONLY through that control can portals force low royalty rates to developers. The only thing they offer us is distribution. They don't have anything else to offer. If they don't control the distribution they don't have any value. The business *is* control. The business is making certain that we don't have those direct routes open to us any more. Control the distribution of games online. Leave developers nowhere else to market and they must come to you and take what you offer. You can't force a royalty rate down if there are 30 other places to make a good living without them. Again it will sound like I'm demonizing them, but I'm not. That's just good business. It's the same thing record labels do to maintain their wealth. They control distribution of all music. That's why they're so threatened by file sharing. Its not because music piracy hurts sales. It's because a change in the way that music is distributed hurts their distribution system. Ie.. the only thing record labels have of any value.
     
  4. Reactor

    Moderator Original Member Indie Author

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    Interesting thread, but I personally couldn't care less about the issue. Dan MacDonald said it right- good games sell. Making better games should be the focus of a huge thread, not portals. Someone around here should make a really awesome game, and I guarantee there will be thousands of people hitting google like possessed people to find it, even if the web is filled with a million super-sized portals. But you know, I'm always amazed at how amazingly average most indie games are, and am not surprised they don't sell against the portals. The vision for the average indie game is so small... so limited, they offer nothing average Joe can't pick up from his local portal. There just isn't anything worth leaving the local corner store for.

    You guys don't need to form a portal. You just need to offer something better for people to eat, so they'll actually consider leaving the local fast-food joint. Sorry if that sounds harsh, but... being a consumer myself, that's honestly what I think.
     
  5. Jim Buck

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    I think the point being made, though, is *how* do these people know to look for you on Google like "possessed people"? How did they hear about you in the first place to *know* to look for you?
     
  6. Jack Norton

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    To Retro64 and Goodsol:
    I agree with svero... is easy for you to say that... ;) you have already a huge customer base and when you started, Realarcade didn't even exist (if I am correct).
    I don't say that you were lucky at all, you were clever to start a business in the right moment. Now is 10x times more harder...

    Unless you're talking about a game of commercial quality (but then isn't anymore a shareware...?) I think that this isn't possible.
    Take Zuma Deluxe for example... I don't like casual games but I must admit that this one is awesome. Did they sold it only from their website? No.
    If I had a game that sell 100 month from my website I wouldn't really have the need to use big portals...!

    So unless you make a game better than that (really hard I believe) don't think the google strategy will work :mad:
     
  7. Andy

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    That's really a good example for every starter complaining in this thread how good and wide would be their audience. Take Zuma onto your site as affiliate guys - and try to sell it from there. You will see what you get and share with us. It would be good training for you anyway...
     
  8. cliffski

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    This is an interesting (albeit slightly depressing) read. I've seen at least 1 portal (real) change over the years from being really pro-developer to really being just like a retail store. I don't think I will ever pitch a game of mine to one of the portals again. To be honest, there are so many portals with the same 10-20 games, that its really refreshing when you find a game (like lux) that isn't on those portals.
    I agree its better to sell direct, which is what I try to do (with limited success) but to be honest, the big problem is exposure, getting enough traffic to your site. I think the way to do this is (unfortunately) paid advertising, which gets a bad press, but I can't help thinking if it didn't work the big megacorps wouldnt use it. It works for me anyway.
    The point about most indie games being rubbish is valid too. To be honest, the last shareware game I bought as I recall was Star Monkey, which was done by Fiendish Games. Most of them are overpriced. I have to admit that some of my earlier games (Rocky Racers,Space Battle 3001) are pretty lame in relation to the competition, and not suprisngly dont sell anything like as well as Starship Tycoon (that only sells maybe 20-30 a month).
    So I guess what I'm saying is, if you want exposure, you gotta pay for it. If you've had 10 sales, take that $100 and spend all of it on ads. You gotta speculate to accumulate etc.
     
  9. Reactor

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    Jim, a good game will be known without advertising... plain old word of mouth. It still works wonders. But, by saying that I'm also not saying it isn't worth taking cliffski's advice and putting some hard earned cash to announce that it's out there. The point I was making was- if the games were better, people would eventually follow the world of mouth trail right to your door, instead of accidentally downloading it from a portal. The impression I've gotten recently is that most indies would much rather do what they've been doing for years- making okay games and then hoping someone bumps into it in the dark. I'm saying, someone turn a darn light on, release a better than average game and show gamers everywhere that portals can buy quantity, but individuals can still produce quality.

    Most people I know buy games like Quake 3 and Jedi Knight Academy in the bargain bin for as little as $6US. The days of flooding the market with $29.95 puzzle games, and expecting to do well is over. No one can blame the portals. Even without them the sales are going to dwindle.
     
  10. EpicBoy

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    But it's not magic. They won't find you if you aren't advertising. Word of mouth is great, but in this day and age people don't need word of mouth to find games. They already know where the portals are and odds are they already know a handfull of web sites they can go to for games (PopCap, etc) so I think the process of asking your friends, "Anyone hear of any good games that came out lately?" is dying off slowly.

    The mentality becoming, "If it was good, it would be on RealArcade".

    Not that this is a 100% truth or anything - of course people still talk about games and word of mouth is important. But relying on it to lead people to your games is like dropping the rent money on a single roll on Vegas.
     
  11. tentons

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    I'm not sure them being a majority is even the case. Maybe that type of game has sold a majority comparatively, but that ignores the fact that there just aren't many "hardcore" or "middlecore" games being released by indies that are sold online exclusively. Don't confuse historic sales with potential sales! I personally feel that middle/hardcore gamers are going to become the big buyers in the near future.

    Apart from that, it's inevitable that big publishers will move in--for all categories of games. As the internet improves and grows, more and more people will shop online, and distribution will take place online. There's money, so it will attract big companies.

    There is hope, though. The main reason big publishers can bend over a new developer (of any type) is that the new guy lacks leverage. Well, before you approach a publisher with a project, get some leverage first! Fight back. Release some games and build an audience, get some buzz to show that you make games that sell. Don't go in there hoping for a deal with no track record. (And damn sure don't base your business plan on the assumption that you'll live on funding from a publisher. I already tried that, back in the day.)

    Lastly, if you have a great product and you can make noise about it, it will sell. People will notice, and you'll be successful. Publishers will come to you, and you'll have the leverage to get the 50% you deserve. There's no manufacturing overhead, no MDF (market development funds) for the publishers to claim, so online royalties should be higher than retail. If you can't get it, sell it yourself. You'll be better off in every way.

    The key to buzz marketing (ie, low/no-budget) is sparkle. Make your game look stunning, and you'll get attention. It really is that simple. For success, though, you also have to have a great game to back up the hype. But if you can impress people with screenshots, you've got a lot of marketing power.

    Business is war. Prepare for the attack, and preempt.
     
    #71 tentons, Oct 14, 2004
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2004
  12. Sirrus

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    As a side note...

    Zuma is actually a rip off of an older Japanese game - completely indentical, only difference is the graphic theme.
    Just know that almost all of their games are actually clones of older, less known games.

    "Most addictive game ever offered" is a tag from Zuma...

    Everyone thinks PopCap are geniuses, but in reality, they are really just another Microsoft - knows how to find and re-market older property.
     
  13. EpicBoy

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    And why is that a knock against them? If they're smart enough to do it, they deserve their success.

    They also did a number of things properly that other people seem to miss ... they have great marketing, cross promotions, you can play their games right on their site and then download them if you want the "deluxe" version, all of their games have cute/fun themes that people can get into, etc.

    Ever install a PopCap game? Their games are the best experiences possible for the casual gamer market. Easy installation, easy instructions, you're playing within 1 or 2 clicks, you can leave at any time and resume the game later, etc.

    They do everything right that the majority of indies do wrong.
     
    #73 EpicBoy, Oct 14, 2004
    Last edited: Oct 14, 2004
  14. tolik

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  15. tentons

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    I think that's a very important point to be reminded of. Success is a multiplication of many factors, and that affects exposure. If people have trouble getting your demo, installing your demo, or are otherwise confused by it, then it won't matter if you're on a portal or not.

    Ease of use dovetails with presentation, which initiates exposure. It's all connected.
     
  16. tolik

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    Accessibility, usability and ease of play is a must for success, this is correct.
     
  17. Reactor

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    I disagree. I never hear the end of gamers on the 'net asking that very question, or telling me that they've just played a great new game. When they do, everyone who hears about it goes and has a look. You might think that gamers don't need word of mouth anymore, but there are thousands of guys out there looking for indie-like games who don't like what the portals are offering. Gamer to gamer advice means more to a lot of guys than reviews, or what rates five stars on a big portal site. Really casual gamers are different, that's for sure, but no one here is limiting themselves to ultra-casual, are they? Anyway, I did also mention that there needs to be advertising to back up basic word of mouth.
     
  18. EpicBoy

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    I'm talking more about casual gamers. Hardcore guys on the messageboards and such talk, sure, but I don't know about puzzle gamers...
     
  19. Jim Buck

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    I agree. I think the concern about all these big portals is that there will be so much noise on the internet, that people looking for these types of games will go to the portals where the "noise" is consolidated in an easy-to-find place. The "word of mouth" method will have a much harder time as a result.

    Re: doing older concepts well:
    I think the best way to have a game that catches on is to take an already-used concept and execute it exceptionally well.. or to come up with a completely new and off-the-wall idea (and, even then, you still have to execute pretty well).
     
  20. goodsol

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    I haven't seen this at all. While a few important sites have disappeared or been swallowed up by others (I'm thinking mainly of Altavista, Excite, Infoseek, etc) that has been more than made up for by an increase in traffic from the remaining.

    Looking back at where my traffic came from in 2000 and comparing it with today, the top 3 sources of traffic are the same now as they were then - Yahoo, MSN, and Google. Only the order has changed.

    You can pay to get a sponsored listing now but the main listings are still free.

    Download.com has never, ever been more than a token source of downloads for me, so what they did or didn't do has had zero effect on me.

    What, exactly, do the portals control? I sure don't see it. They are just sites like any other, some of them have some good traffic, but they control absolutely nothing about the distribution of online games on the internet. When I go searching for games you can see some of the portals in sponsored listings, but I don't see much evidence of them in the regular listings so they sure don't have anything approaching a monopoly on traffic.

    Sure, Yahoo has a prominant link to their game portal on their site and MSN has the same for their MSNGameZone, but those have been there for years and haven't seemed to stop anyone from going elsewhere.

    These portal sites only have traffic as long as they have good product and customer service. The traffic will go elsewhere if they don't. Real only gets traffic because their RealPlayer is on a lot of machines - RealArcade doesn't seem to have much of a search engine presence. BigFishGames must get most of its traffic from its affiliate system and from pay per click. Neither of these constitutes any kind of control on the traffic.


    But how in the world are they controlling anything? The direct route is as open as it ever was, they can't stop you from putting up a site and getting into the search engines yourself. Unless one of the search engines themselves makes some kind of exclusive deal where they will only show links to a portal, the control you talk about can never happen. And if a search engine did that, some other engine would grab at the opportunity to take over the searches for people who want to see all choices.

    The only reason the record labels control distribution of music is because most music is sold in stores and the primary way of learning about new music is over the radio, which is also controlled by only a few companies. That will change when the internet becomes the primary way of hearing new music. There are already lots of musicians who bypass the labels and distribute direct on the internet, and that trend will grow. The music companies will do all they can to stop it, of course, but they will fail.
     

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