The Cold Hotspot: Part 3
Written by Beiddie Rafól
The Cold Hotspot: A critique of the state of adventure games : part 3
Selling ice to Eskimos
"Why not go out on a limb? That's where all the fruit is!" - Mark Twain
What can adventure game designers and publishers learn from commercially and critically
successful games like The Sims and Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas in terms of design and marketing?
Walk into any store that features computer software and games, and chances are the first promotions you'll see in your face are for Halo 2 and Half-Life 2. Take a drive along the streets of Los Angeles or stroll up Michigan Avenue in downtown Chicago and you'll notice that billboards and buses will feature ads for Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas. Go to the cinema and while you munch on your popcorn waiting for the feature film you'll be shown commercials for World Of Warcraft or Lord Of The Rings: The Battle For Middle Earth. None of these titles are adventure games. If you're lucky you'll have spotted the bus ads for Myst IV: Revelation in San Francisco. If you're lucky.
When I asked her about how adventure games are being marketed, Laura MacDonald, Developer Liaison for AdventureGamers.com, had this to say:
"Do you have a few weeks? [Adventure game developers and publishers not only do not] know who is buying their games[, but worse they] do not know why. Which leads to the constant 'fixing' of what may not be broken. Really to me there is little actual 'marketing' done with games....Moving into the niche market of adventure games – well there is no marketing and more importantly in a genre which is story driven – no effort to shape strategy to the game itself. What efforts in this direction have been used....have been successful in increasing sales.
And drawing on her own professional background in Marketing and Public Relations, she said:
"Learn what the market actually is. Is it really [that] 70% or even higher [are] women? Anecdotally it appears so – but [that doesn't constitute] research. Do book fans drive it? Maybe, but again who knows for sure. Why did they buy game X over game Z? Some overly vocal [adventure gamers] (generally the same ones over and over) tout puzzle...but they are just a speck. What if it turns out story is god and many gamers view complex puzzles as [an evil] they have come to expect to have to wade through to get to the story and character immersion they crave? Maybe it's the reverse. Who knows, but it would be nice to find out."
Agreeing that research has presently taken into account only in-store purchases while ignoring other distribution forms, namely online orders, and that many potential gamers rarely, if ever, read gaming magazines where the majority of games are advertised, Laura boldly declares to the publishers to "...innovate it all! Design, development, production schemes, marketing, and means of distribution!"
Marketing is the worst problem of the adventure genre, above outdated design and technology. What scant efforts have been made in this area is more the exception than the rule. It seems that, because adventure developers and publishers neglected the 'zeitgeist' of game design, culture, and commerce in the past several years, the genre stagnated and has steadily slipped below the popular radar, and is today suffering the consequences.