Former Nintendo head of digital content Dan Adelman gave a presentation this morning advising indies on the keys to to success around key elements like price, product, promotion and place.
"In terms of the economics of the industry it's a little bit of a doom and gloom situation where you have the worst of both worlds. There's very low barriers to entry because the development tools are becoming easier and easier to use, they're becoming cheaper, anyone can make a game," he said in the IGDA Webinar, which can now be viewed in full below.
"In terms of the economics of the industry it's a little bit of a doom and gloom situation"
"And on the other hand we've got the fact that marginal cost is zero means that everyone is going to keep reducing their prices down to zero so we're seeing this race down to 99c on the App Store. And now people are trying to get even lower so you've got bundles and free-to-play and everyone is trying to figure how to get closer and closer to zero, which is not a healthy way to be."
He counseled indies to be price makers, to stand out and make games that stand out and to use the marketing elements of price, product, promotion, place (the four Ps) to do so.
In terms of product his advice was simple: "You really have to make good game." He highlighted the importance of production values. He suggested developers do their homework to be aware of where their game stands in the current marketplace.
"As you're finishing up your game you're going to want to know who might want to play your game. One good way to find that out is play testing - just put it in front of a lot of people and you might be surprised at who likes the game."
He suggested trade shows were a great place to watch players interact with your game and that game keys allowed you to see how long people played your game for.
"Don't necessarily design for an audience," he warned.
"Instead find out who likes your game, and then in the rest of those four Ps that you're addressing that audience later."
When it came to price he told indies it depended on the type of game, but generally to aim high. Time is a bigger constraint than money for many gamers.
"If you think 'I see all these other games at $15 or $20, I think I'm going to try and be good value by pricing it at $12,' then really what you've done is you've communicated that you don't have a lot of confidence in the quality of your game and people won't necessarily see it as a bargain. They'll see it as a waste of their time."
A higher starting price also allowed for discounts later on, and bundles helped to squeeze as much revenue as possible out of games, he said. He did note, however, that bundles had a negative effect on the health of the industry's economics overall and it was something that would need to be addressed on an industry basis.
Place or platform, argued Adelman, was a case of thinking not just about installed bases but where the audience you identified through play testing actually is. Developers should also look at the ratio of installed base to content on a platform; iOS has a huge installed base but so much content that you may struggle with discoverability.
"Platform holders can be your biggest ally in supporting your game"
"What platform is excited about your game? It's very surprising to me that more people don't reach out to the different platforms and try to establish a relationship there and get them excited because the platform holders can be your biggest ally in supporting your game," explained Adelman.
When it came to promotion, he said the biggest impact would come from where your game was positioned on the digital platform. Most gamers are only interested in what's front and centre, again highlighting the importance of a relationship with platform holders.
This tied in to Adelman's advice on networking as whole, where he used the analogy of a pot roast when it came to dealing with the games press. It can't be rushed at the last minute when you're trying to sell your game; those relationships need to be developed slowly over time so when your game is ready you already have a network of game journalists to help support it.
"Contacting people when you need them? It's too late," he said, adding that being helpful to the press would reap rewards later on when you needed press coverage.
"The announcement of my new company on Monday was a great example of that," he added, in reference to his recent departure from Nintendo.
He also warned developers to remember that the industry is a fishbowl, that a tweet can become a headline. If you help someone in the industry, press or developer, word will get around, but the same is true of unhelpful behavior.
With the tricky business of negotiations his advice centered around doing your homework and not approaching them in an aggressive way.
"I would encourage you to look for opportunities to do what they call log rolling. Finding other areas of the negotiation where they care about something more than you care about it," he suggested, citing exclusivity and store front promotions.
"The better you understand where the other party is coming from you can find ways to make them really happy and make yourself really happy without pissing the other guy off."
"The better you understand where the other party is coming from you can find ways to make them really happy"
Crucially, developers should remember that after negotiations they will have to work with the other party, so damaging the relationship by being too aggressive will only lead to challenges later on.
As he was wrapping up the Q&A section of the webinar Adelman spoke a little about the Nintendo departure.
"There's actually a bunch of people [at Nintendo] still answering emails from developers and I try to mention in any interviews that I give that it's not just me. Everything is going to be fine."