OK. Stop! I understand very well that the gaming business is booming and the quality of games has gone up considerably these past few years… But it’s become simply impossible to keep up with new releases! What’s more is that a lot of them release with some sort of discount making it impossible not to be tempted into a new purchase.
It’s not only a sentiment experienced by all gamers out there drowning in their backlog, but some developers out there are suffering from this as well. How are you supposed to release a new game these days and hope that you’ll be discovered among the countless others that released the VERY same day?
Paul, from Mad Fellows (Developer of Aaero), had the same worries as he posted on twitter:
Okay, we need to talk. With so many free and nearly free games, we've all got a massive backlog to play. This means people, myself included, have become used to waiting for games to be 80% off before adding them to our 'will play eventually' stack. 1/2
— 𝐌𝐀𝐃 𝐅𝐄𝐋𝐋𝐎𝐖𝐒 (@MadFellowsGames) February 7, 2018
And it’s true! How many games get bought at full price anymore? I myself noticed this trend the past few years as well: I keep adding games to my backlog because I see them on sale and those are about the only games I noticed outside of the ones I came into contact with as a Game Journalist.
This also came up during our interview where a point was made how being part of the Games With Gold or Playstation Plus program is actually a very smart business decision for many developers to make. It’s one of the few ways for your game to stand out amongst others as these are deals everyone has their eyes on. (The same can be said for sites which host special offers such as Humble Bundle)
But where is all of this leading us?
1. Gamers don’t want to pay full price for games anymore
We all eagerly await Black Friday sales, Steam Summer Sales, free Games With Gold or Humble Bundles that give us 3-4 games for the low cost of $1. If you release at full price, you better be an AAA game that has received loads of marketing.
For small games this means that you either have to release with a deal active on day one or expect to have lower sale numbers in those first weeks/months until you eventually do drop your price.
The solution? None that I can think of. It’s a well-known phenomenon that people think with their pockets first: If the deal is good enough, you’ll go for the cheaper product.
On Xbox alone, we went from an indie or two a week to sometimes 5-10 a day. I can imagine people can’t be bothered to make the effort into seeing which is worth their time and money. But when something’s on sale for 5$, they’ll snatch it up even if it’s shit.
— Shizblacka (@Shizblacka) February 7, 2018
2. We buy games that we’ll likely never play
See an amazing, but temporary deal for a game you have even a small amount of interest in? You’ll probably buy it and it’s even more probable that you’ll never get around to playing it. Having a backlog of games to play would not be so bad (and not such an amount of stress, as it can be for myself) if it wasn’t for the fact that new releases (or discounts) come out every day.
On the flipside, the action of buying games at a great price and adding them to your collection can become as much of an addiction as playing the games themselves. I know that I get a shot of dopamine every time I do.
The solution? Only buy a new game for every three you finish. Read reviews and be critical about which ones you decide to purchase.
My personal solution: I started buying games to give away to others: They get their free games and I get the enjoyment out of buying games at a discount while I can chip away at my own backlog!
3. We don’t replay games as often anymore
About 15 years ago when I was still living with my parent and had an allowance, I was very limited in which games I could buy. I spent hours reading or watching reviews so I was sure to spend my money only on those games that were worth it. And I’d play them over and over again.
I dearly miss this period in my childhood as I could really find enjoyment in mastering that one special game (in my case, usually a JRPG like Final Fantasy).
The solution? Knuckle down and still play some old favourites again. Leave the Backlog for what it is. If you have kids; consider using this as an opportunity to introduce them to your hobby and replay games from your childhood with them.
4. We see a lot more remakes and remasters
How do you get people to know about your game? Simple: Re-release a game they’re already familiar with. People want to replay older games as it’s one of the greatest drugs of all: nostalgia. At the same time they also feel great and get a shot of dopamine when buying new games. (it’s a thing, look it up!)
This isn’t a problem in my opinion so it doesn’t need a solution either: Playing old games again but in a new skin can be a great experience. It’s no wonder games like Shadow of the Colossus or Crash Bandicoot do so well. They scratch both those itches I mentioned above.
5. More Sequels, prequels and games that build on existing brands
Same as above: a surefire way to get people to know about your game is to build upon something they’re already familiar with. This includes the obvious sequels or prequels or just games with numbers added after them (15 main-line Final Fantasies so far) but also spin-offs. Final Fantasy, to continue on that example has many different versions of them: handheld games like FF12: Revenant Wings, Final Fantasy Tactics, Crystal Chronicles, Chocobo dungeon & chocobo racin. Not to mention the countless mobile games…
We can also see how games referencing other media can do well: the Shadow of Mordor gameq built on the popularity of Lord of the Rings, Telltale Games is well known for telling side stories of popular movies and television shows and everyone’s dying to play the new Spiderman game on PS4…
I don’t see a problem here either, but it makes it very hard for an indie game to stand out from the pack as they usually don’t have the money to acquire the necessary licenses or they haven’t made a name for themselves yet to earn the trust of those that own them.
6. Long games can become stressful
For the same reasons as the above combined, games that require 80 hours of gametime can take up many months for people who have fulltime jobs and a family. Students also don’t have all the time in the world and have only a few hours (if even that much) a day to invest.
Even as a journalist this can be quite the stress: You could either review one Final Fantasy or Assassins Creed in its entirety or you could review about 5-8 other shorter titles in the same amount of time.
The Solution? Don’t ignore a game just because it’s long. Promise yourself to first clear a few short games, but then go for the one you’ve been scared of starting all this time (I’m looking at you the Witcher 3)
7. Games as a Service
We also see more and more offers that don’t let you own the games but rather let you play them through streaming or subscription based services. Games With Gold show up in your ‘owned’ games, but you’re only allowed to play the Xbox One titles when you have an active Gold membership. There are also the services like Playstation Network (streaming) and Xbox Game Pass or EA Access (download but tied to subscription)
But this doesn’t really solve the problem as you’re basically just adding more than hundreds of games to your backlog at once. What’s more is that in xbox’s case they can rotate out so you’re stressed to play those titles before they do. I’ve also never liked MMORPGs for this very reason: if I’m paying a monthly amount to play a game, I feel pressured into spending as much time as possible on it. Otherwise I’d feel like I’m not getting the most out of the deal.
Is it a solution? For Indie games it could be! It’s not as if a lot of new games get added to these services every month, so the ones that are new earn their time in the spotlight for a short while. It’s a great opportunity for Indie games to earn back their investments (Sony or Microsoft pay them a certain amount to be added) and they also get to launch their game while reaching a decent number of players (very important for Multiplayer games like Hoverloop, a soon to be ID@Xbox title)
*Read my opinions on Games as a Service: HERE
8. Indie Games don’t get noticed
If you don’t have a great marketing campaign, a publisher to help you out or a huge community before your game even releases, it’s likely that you’ll sink to the bottom of new releases and your game fades into obscurity.
The various E-Stores are flooded and about the only games that stand out are the ones that have major discounts on them.
It also doesn’t help that rating systems like Steam’s reward those games that get a lot of positive reviews. It’s not just the percentage that counts, but the amount of votes. But just how are you supposed to get a lot of good reviews when no one has even noticed your title?
Plus with AAA, you know what you’re getting. You know what COD is. But you probably don’t know what Owlboy is. So why is that the one indie you should get?
This is all what I think btw. I always prefer indies as they tend to be more original and less padded.
— Shizblacka (@Shizblacka) February 7, 2018
The Solution? Social Media. Get people invested in your game before it’s even near finished. Give them updates, let them playtest, build a community, reward early adopters.
Oh. And you should probably make sure your game is any good.
There are just so many games releasing that it becomes difficult for gamers to find the ones they should actually care about. Don’t focus so much on the price but instead try to go for the games that give YOU the best possible experience and that are worthy of your time.
It’s up to you, the gamers, to support the best of the best. Read reviews, interact on social media both with other gamers and developers and help each other find those rare gems.
…Oh. And we should all get a few days off each year just for playing videogames. That would help too!