Game designers like to talk about games as if there are universal truths about what makes one game better than another. For exapmle, I play all the top games on gamerankings and try to find generalities, ask what they have in common.
Yesterday I noticed this on Amazon.com, under Spider-Man for the PS2:
Customers who bought this item also bought these items:
* Scooby-Doo: Night of 100 Frights by THQ
* Finding Nemo by THQ
* Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets by Electronic Arts
* The Hulk by Vivendi Universal
This shouldn't have taken me by surprise but it did. Where's Grand Theft Auto? Where's Metal Gear Solid 2? Where's Jak & Daxter? Ratchet & Clank? How come none of the popular, crictically acclaimed games for the PS2 are on this list?
It's like there's a group of customers out there who only buy games based on licensed IP. (But shouldn't The Two Towers be on this list?)
I haven't played a single one of these games. And suddenly I realize we're developing a game for a market that we are not members of. Which may be a problem, because we're basing our design decisions on what we like, and what gamerankings.com likes.
This shouldn't have surprised me, because there's over twenty-five million PS2's in the United States, and yet we only sold three million or so copies. Even GTA3, the best selling game ever, only sold around five million. If GTA3 was truly the PS2 killer app, it would be more like twenty million. Presumably all these PS2 owners need games to play. They can't all be DDR servers, can they? (According to DDR sales, no.) As Mark Nau puts it, "All games are colossal failures."
A couple things may be going on here.
1) A whole lot of renting. People don't actually buy games anymore.
2) A balkanized market. People who like movie games don't like platformers. People who like platformers don't like RPG's. People who like RPG's don't like Grand Theft Auto. People who like Grand Theft Auto don't like games with E ratings. People who like games that get high scores on Gamerankings.com don't like games that get low scores. People who like DDR...you get the idea.
That has the ring of truth, doesn't it? Look at yourself. There's probably a whole group of game genres that you have no interest in, whether it's platforming or hardcore strategy or racing or what. And you're into games enough that you're reading this blog.
Typically, when a game is wildly succesful, we say, "It must have appealed to the casual market." Implying that this is a game that appeals to everybody. If it were a flavor of ice cream, it would be chocolate. But what is a casual console gamer, exactly? This is somebody who likes playing games enough to shell out $200 to do it. That doesn't seem casual to me. When a game is wildly succesful, there's probably another phenomenon at work. It may have captured a whole island in the Balkans. Maybe it even captured two islands. Maybe it discovered a new island. What it did not do is appeal to everybody.
There are no generalities. There are no universal truths. Mark Nau keeps telling me this but up until now I refused to listen.