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19 Dec 2013

Strategies for Commercially Successful Games

What does it mean to have a successful game? Sure, success in terms or game can be measured in a variety of different ways, from how successfully you implement a unique feature into the game to how successfully the graphics of the game appears. Yet what does it mean to be ‘commercially successful?’ In short, commercially successful games are games that are so enticing that people have to buy them. I don’t have to tell you that for your indie game, you want your game to be commercially successful without a doubt. But what are some of the strategies for ensuring (and I use the word ‘ensuring’ loosely – you can never completely assure a game will be commercially successful) the commercial success of your indie game? Here are a few.


The pricing strategy

Just a few years ago, one of the best tactics for having a commercially successful game was to have your game lower than other games in your niche. Nowadays, this strategy really does not work as there are a ton of cheap and even free games in every genre imaginable. Additionally, many of these games are actually very good. So again, this isn’t a tactic that works very well anymore.

But you can still use the pricing strategy to your advantage – just in a different way. Price your game normally, yet occasionally discount the price and publicize it each time. This will make people flock to your game when they wouldn’t have before. However, do not discount your game so much that people will find themselves waiting to buy your game when it goes on sale again. For example, the AAA title Just Cause 2 is priced about 75% off every few months in the Steam store. I love the game, but when I tell people about the game I tell them to wait because this game always goes on sale at a ridiculous price. And guess what? Every few months, Just Cause 2 goes on sale at a steal – about $2.50.

I’m not alone when I tell people about this deal either. Simply put, the developers of the game are losing a ton of money by putting the game on sale regularly. Granted, the game has been out for quite a few years now, so maybe they don’t mind any longer. Even so, they could be making a lot more money on this game with a better pricing strategy.


The quality strategy

True, games do not sell themselves. No matter how good your game is, if nobody knows about it nobody is going to buy it. Yet, by developing a truly amazing game, you do in fact raise the chances of your game ‘catching fire’ and becoming wildly popular. This happened with Hotline Miami, Bastion, Super Meat Boy, and other incredible indie games in the past. Yet, these developers didn’t simply develop an indie game, sit back, and watch the money roll in this because these games are amazing.

Even these incredible indie games had to market themselves. I remember getting a ton of press releases regarding Hotline Miami a few months before it released. These press releases built-up the style, the look, and the compelling gameplay of the game – so much so that when offered a review copy, reviewers couldn’t help but say yes to it. As result, the game got glowing reviews from nearly every major publication.

So what did they do? They used the fact that their game was incredible. They knew it. They knew how to develop a game that would hook the press, and likewise, the individuals writing and distributing the press releases knew they could make the game compelling enough that reporters would want to cover it, resulting in people wanting to buy it. In short, the developers made an incredible game, used this to their advantage to stand out from the rest, and the result? They had a commercially successful game.


Be creative and unique

Sometimes, there are games that cannot be put into any one genre. These games are so creative and unique, that they are unlike anything anyone has ever seen before. If you want your game to be commercially successful, this is one of the best strategies you can use albeit being one of the biggest gambles you can take. Some games are so unique that nobody understands them, thus they do not sell well. Even so, consider developing a game that is so unique, people can’t help but learn more about it (of course, like all the other strategies in this list, you need to couple this strategy with a marketing strategy).

Case in point: there was a game released earlier this year called Papers, Please. It is one of my favorite games of the year and perhaps one of my favorite indie games of all time. The game cannot fit into a genre – I don’t even know which genre I would begin placing it in. It is essentially a bureaucracy simulator that puts you in the role of a border patrol officer. Every day, you have to adhere to new rules and regulations for letting certain people into the country and keeping certain people out, all the while making your own judgment regarding if you should take bribes, screw people over for your own monetary gain, and so on. You also have to ensure that you do not mess up on your job, because if you do? You will be deducted money for the day. Because you are trying to keep your family alive and healthy, you can afford to mess up too much.

It does not seem like an awesome game doesn’t? Yet it is compelling and I have lost dozens of hours in this game. I’m not alone either. Consider developing a game that defies one genre, and maybe (just maybe), your game will be commercially successful like Papers, Please.

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