Worth Reading is a weekly rundown of interesting stuff I've found. Sharing is caring! <3
Your target audience doesn't exist
Sergey Galyonkin (A.K.A. the SteamSpy guy) posted a doozy of an article a couple weeks ago. In it he argues – with convincing data – that our whole thinking about the concept of a "target audience" is skewed.
For example: we might think about a target audience of "MOBA players". And then we look at, say, how many people are playing DOTA 2 (which is a ton) and we think, "Hey that's a big healthy target audience, our MOBA is sure to be a hit!" But of course it isn't, because the DOTA 2 players are too busy playing DOTA 2 and aren't interested in switching.
The DOTA 2 players weren't part of "the MOBA market". The MOBA market isn't really a thing. The market you were actually looking at was "the DOTA 2 market".
He doesn't use this example in the article, but it's one I think might resonate a little better with all of us here. Remember when the first Xbox came out and Halo took the world by storm, how all of a sudden we started noticing those "jock" gamers who only played Halo? Here we were, all us nerdy kids, with games collections numbering in the hundreds, and down the street was the kid that used to steal our lunch money and make fun of us for playing video games, and now he's obsessed with Halo... and only Halo. For him, "playing video games" literally only ever means "playing Halo". They are one and the same.
That guy's not part of the "core gamer market" or the "Xbox market" or the "FPS market". He's part of the "Halo market", and if you're not selling Halo, you're not going to reach him. If you think he's your target audience, you're going to fail.
Here's maybe the most important numerical takeaway: according to SteamSpy data, just 20% of Steam accounts own a collective 88% of of the games, and moreover, in order to be included in that top 20%, one most own a mere four games. That means 80% of Steam accounts own three or fewer games, and if your target market is meant to include them, well, bad news: it probably actually doesn't, because those are the people for whom "playing video games" only ever means "playing DOTA 2" (or whatever).
Food for thought.
The giants hiding a growing problem
Thomas Bidaux is always good for some fascinating market analytics, and he delivers again in this piece from late July in which he investigates a growing and problematic trend on Kickstarter: projects with very large funding goals have started to take up a huge percentage of the overall pie, and mid-sized projects (in the $10-50k range) are getting very much squeezed out.
He has three theories on why this might be happening:
- Kickstarter fatigue is real and is hitting mid-sized projects the worst, and the very large nostalgia-driven successes (like Shenmue) are just hiding that issue.
- Many mid-sized projects are in a weird budget range where they seem like they're either asking for way too much or way too little, and audiences may be wising up to this.
- There might be more going on outside Kickstarter (e.g. on Indiegogo, Patreon, etc.) than was previously thought, and the mid-sized project revenue might be being siphoned off to those channels.
Take special note of #2, because it leads us to...
"Big indie" Kickstarters are killing actual indies
Here's Katie Chironis, writing for Polygon:
There's a growing mismatch between Kickstarter asks and actual, realistic game dev budgets, and any of us who've ever seen the numbers for a real project have been well aware of it for a while.
There are a few things going on here.
First, some teams are simply inexperienced and don't factor in the many hidden costs that come up on a real project. Consequently, their asks are way too low, they end up running out of money before completing the project, and they either kill themselves to get across the finish line or else they just quietly disappear, leaving behind a community of disappointed, angry backers. This case sucks, but it's an educational issue, not an ethical one.
The ethical issue is with the teams that are using Kickstarter to raise supplemental funds or as a proof-of-demand to a publisher (who will then fund the bulk of the project themselves), but they're not being transparent with their backers about this fact, leading to the impression that their Kickstarter ask is in fact the entire budget for the game.
What you get, then, is a publisher-funded team promising like a $2 million production for just a $50k "proof-of-demand" ask, and then along comes a small, bootstrapped indie studio promising a $100k production for a $100k ask, and their backers are all, "Wait, what? Why is your game twice the cost but waaaay smaller? You guys are just making a money grab."
It's a transparency problem, and it's really on those big teams to fix, because they're the ones causing it. But we all know they're probably not gonna do anything about it, because the status quo is proving really lucrative for them... so how do the rest of us deal?
I think we have to take up the mantle of transparency ourselves and use our own, smaller projects as vehicles to educate our backers about not only the true costs of our projects, but the reasons why those big projects are able to do what they're doing on what seems like so much less money. We're going to have to be the ones explaining the distinction between "we are asking for 100% of our production budget" vs. "those guys are asking for 10% of their production budget as a proof-of-demand to secure the other 90% from a publisher". And since this is wonky, behind-the-scenes business stuff, we'll need to be creative in how we package and message it to our audience so they actually get it and understand where we're coming from, and get past the whole "you're just greedy" knee-jerk reaction.
That, or we're gonna have to get real comfortable eating nothing but ramen while making games for 1/10th the budget they actually need... and nobody wants that.
Robert Fearon makes a really important point:
Survivorship bias is a huge problem in the indie game dev sector, and the reason for that is precisely that we collectively suck at talking about our failures. We all need to consciously work on sucking less at that.
Ok, enough of all this depressing "oh my god we're all doomed and everything sucks" talk. Let's finish off with something so awesome I kind of can't believe it exists at all...
Chrono Trigger – 1994/95 developer interviews
shumplations.com is a site dedicated to English translations of interviews with Japanese game developers. It's brilliant, and this time they've scored quite the coup: a set of interviews from 1994/95 with the developers of seminal SNES RPG (and my favorite game of all time) Chrono Trigger!
(If I have to explain to you why this is amazing then we can't be friends any more.)
I'll pull out some of my favorite highlights:
I'm nerding out so hard right now. <3
(By the way, you can also support shmuplations on Patreon.)