There is no way to keep up with all of the new games coming out. It has become impossible. I have been attempting to follow the games industry for somewhere around twenty years. Okay, first thing. twenty is a thoroughly alarming number of years to do anything. Second, I can flat out guarantee that there will be a massive indie hit sometime next year. Third, I currently have no idea that this massive hit game exists, and I probably won’t until it is available for download. I can’t even fathom how a customer would find this game, or any other game that doesn’t have a massive marketing budget. If it doesn’t appear on the side of a bus, or on the front page of a digital store, the odds of most people, we’ll call them customers, knowing about the game are microscopic.
There have been a lot of people offering up half baked solutions to improve discoverability on Steam, XBLA, PSN, and the mobile app stores. Someone comes up with some notion that if we could only limit the selection, slow the incoming tide of content, or filter appropriate results, the digital stores could be “fixed”. Its like punching the wind. New games will not stop. New content will not stop. There are too many people creating new games, too many outlets for people to present their work and too many methods for other people to access and experience it. The profitability “bubble” may burst, but the flood will not stop.
The mp3 was unleashed on the world in the middle of the 1990s. Never before, in the entirety of human history, did a sellable product have infinite supply and limited demand. Not only that, but the product would not degrade with age, was improbably portable, could be duplicated in unlimited quantities by laymen with cheap equipment, and while the industry could come out with a superior product, the one that people had usually suited their needs. It took many years of comically deep denial before the music industry realized even half of these facts. Most of them still haven’t really figured out how to deal with it. People are still creating new music, because creating is what people do.
Maybe I have your hopes up at this point. Maybe you think I have come up with a solution. A way to market and promote new games successfully despite the onslaught of competition. I’m nowhere near that smart. It seems like no one else is either.
There are some things that we do know. Digital shelf space is effectively infinite. One item does not have to be removed to make room for another. Ever. As long as a game is capable of running on a customers hardware, it can be sold. With hardware emulation, the length of time that a game could potentially be sold to someone stretches out to forever. There are limits of course. Specialized hardware and obsolete networks can make a game unplayable even if the old processors and whatnot are fully emulated on a more powerful computer.
Movies have big marketing campaigns and really focus on the opening weekend. There is a good reason for that. A theatre can show only one movie on a screen at a time. If that movie is not making money, they have to get it out of there real quick so they can start showing one that does. A brick and mortar game store has a similar problem with shelf space. If a game isn't selling at the front of the store, it needs to move back and away to make room for more profitable games. That is not how digital stores work, but it is all we really know, so there seems to be an effort to frame them that way.
Imagine this. There is a book store with neverending shelves. Every book ever written will be made available in this store. Even the newest stuff. They are cataloged in any fashion that suits you. Want to see the newest stuff? Want to only see only westerns? Want to take that list of westerns, and find the the oldest one with a main character named Dylan? The store changes to suit you. Customers in the store can claim independently if they like a book and assign it different rankings and classifications. Maybe a book set in space, about wagon train pioneers defending a settlement from bandits, shows up in sci-fi, western and Kurasawa.
These stores exist already. They are steam, they are amazon, they are itunes. They should be reddit or metafilter. They should be better. The more user customizable the content search gets on any of these stores, the more useful they become. It isn’t a matter of limiting selection, or promoting items to the front page. My frontpage should, if everything is working properly, look nothing like yours. Sure, maybe the newest stuff shows up on most folks front page, because people typically crave novelty. But I should be able to set how many items show up, and how long they linger on the front page. If I tell steam not to show me any new turn based war games, I should never have them cluttering my page. Maybe I’m the type of person that would never buy one of those games. Advertising them to me is a waste of everyones time. As soon as customers are allowed to determine what they see on a storefront, the more likely they will create a store filled with content that they would want to purchase. Content they may not have seen otherwise, since those games, movies, songs, books, etc. would have been pushed to the back of the store.
You might be able to see where this is going next. Those huge, multi million dollar ad campaigns that last for two weeks aren’t really going to be effective for a game that a good chunk of your audience may not see because it doesn’t show up on their version of the store. Add to that, the games sellable lifespan could, and should, be years instead of weeks or months. How many copies of Catch-22 sold last month? how many will sell next month? That book is over 50 years old, and with the help of amazon, and the infinite supply nature of ebooks, I’ll bet it still sells. There are verified purchase reviews of it on amazon from this year. That means that a person cared enough about a 50 year old book, to not only buy it, but comment on it giving it a rating so that it can be more easily found by other customers. I’m not saying that video games have the longevity that books enjoy. At least not yet. How much money was ever spent on advertising that book.
It’s not the stores that are broken. It might be the way games are being marketed, and market expectations, that need fixing.