What does a “gamer” look like? That used to be a fairly easy one to answer, and yes, the stereotypes you just pictured were probably accurate – but now? Who can say?
Are we talking casual gamer? Our work-skiving Farm Town playing office drone – is that it? Maybe the scary as hell online gambler couple from the TV ads? It could be the app downloading Word Scramble evening Corrie ignoring post retired and touch pad cash rich ex-teacher and her sister.
Here lies the opportunity and also the horror. We love our mobile devices, our phones, our pads, our handheld electronic books. We are anybody who can afford it. Sit down and try to create a series of personas for the app gamer and fall quickly down that rabbit warren.
For “gamer” substitute “developer.” For every hit or miss branded product you can download to your device there are a dozen others put together by indie programmers simply wanting to prove a point on their own voyage of discovery.
PESTER from Flump Studios is a game in point, a dead simple looking and yet tricky little shoot em ‘up that instantly reminded me of standing in the arcade with a cheeky B&H, skiving A-level French. It’s not cutting edge and doesn’t claim to be and yet everyone I saw playing it at its public debut, Game City Nights MAC event, had ear to ear smiles. It was sold to the crowd in one of the most honest and enthusiastic pitches I have seen for a while.
“I built this because I wanted to play this game. I’m never going to make money out of it and it’s probably not even going to cover the £40 cost of getting here but I want you to like it.”
-Designer and impending father to be Paul Marrable.
“It’s a big market-place and it is constantly growing.”
“There is no real tried and tested strategy for marketing the Indie game product. It is not often that the big companies pick up on the fantastic wealth of new talent out there. It is not unheard of but it’s rare.”
“We run the National Games Archive and we know that there are some amazing games out there and yet they never get beyond a 50 likes Facebook page or a walk-through video on YouTube. We run these nights round the country to give new developers a chance to pitch their games and concepts. For us it is really exciting to see the enthusiasm and love that goes into the products that are coming out of bedroom studios.”
No development budget, no marketing budget and possibly nothing more than a desire to make something pretty much seems like a recipe for a credit card bill and heartache and yet it is clear from the crowd on this damp Tuesday night that there is a passion to be more than consumers of mainstream product.
Gamer Camp, the Birmingham City University Master’s program, is a course designed to create industry ready employees for the major players in the Gaming Industry. It had 3 offerings on show. The students on this course are preparing to enter a notoriously difficult job market. They are also prepared to invest a substantial financial gamble on their ability to demonstrate skills.
“We set them a technical challenge to design a 2D platform game which made use of the swipe control of the iPad”
Oliver Williams, Gamer Camp Operations Director and fan of FIFA.
“We showed them Manic Miner and then let them work from there. All 3 products were approved for the app store on first submission and the teams have produced three great playable fun games.”
“We don’t focus on the marketability element of the process at this stage of the course and it’s something we should consider integrating as these guys should be proud of the product and pitching at events like this are a key part of the professional development process.”
This is all well and good but how far can you take a career in this industry with a Field of Dreams approach? Tubby Toucan, Totem Dash and Baggage Reclaim for Gamer Camp are free for the iPad – how do you make them stand out?
“The previous Gamer Camp course got 20,000 downloads for their game.”
Brad Hinkle from Team Stache – the guys behind 70s inspired Baggage Reclaim.
“We would ideally look to match and improve on that figure. We have a really cool game that hits that nostalgia cartoon market.”
“We didn’t really do any audience research other than decide as a group what we thought was fun and if we like it…”
So with no budget and no audience in mind – where next? Ben Dobschin from the team behind Tubby Toucan:
“If we had time we would look beyond the game. We have a character that would be ideal for a plushy doll. This game is a technical assignment but we understand the market. We have ideas for a second game and BCU don’t maintain the IP of the product”
If any of the Gamer Camp products illustrates the difficulties presented by the current approach of “Indie” game design it is Totem Dash. It is artistically lush and highly addictive and yet monochrome. Everyone who plays it seems to love it – and I have lost my iPad most evenings to it and yet would a non-colour game ever make it past product research in the mainstream? It is a shining example of creative versus strategic implementation. It works but shouldn’t and anyway, who the hell is the target audience?
BCU has over 20,000 students. Is that a captive audience? BCU sponsored the Rethinking Regional Media event in 2012. Very little was made of the Games Industry contribution to the media and yet on a national level Second Screen seems to be the holy grail of broadcasters and advertising monetization.
This is a now situation. According to Apple there were 20 billion downloads from the app store in 2012. 300,000 apps were for the iPad. How times were these apps downloaded and more so how long did they last? I have screens full of downloaded and unopened apps filling space on my phone. I am not unique.
“Games die. They generate unbelievable excitement and then they fade out. What is the value of your game?”
“When 2 second hand games are on the shelf and one has the instructions and one doesn’t, one sells for 25p the other for 19p – it would seem that the write of the manual is worth more than the game designer…”
Somewhere there is an answer of how to make the jump from games for games sake and games for the ubiquitous commuter/work shy/average latte drinker. How do you make that jump? How can you prove a guaranteed ROI? I can’t tell you because I have to go and save the rainforest by swiping a little Toucan around a 7inch screen…
If you are interested in digital marketing you can find out more about our Future Media course here.