What makes PC games grow?
I’ve been thinking about this for a long time, trying to work out what will succeed and fail in the PC’s bizarre world. It’s an obsession. The reason I’m fascinated: success in PC gaming often proves players right, and businesses wrong. The pattern of success rewards vision, brute hard work, community feedback. The most successful games are rarely flashy or heavily marketed, they are deep and deeply uncool. They rarely rely on the latest tech, and don’t chuck millions at advertising.
Success on PC rarely occurs overnight. It can take years for momentum to gather. Developers toil and their community grows until, eventually, a groundswell of gamers take notice. That means that the biggest games of 2013 and 2014 are being probably available to play right now. You don’t have to wait to try the next big thing.
I’ve picked a few games that I think could start steamrolling their way into the hearts and minds of gamers in 2013 and 2014. Note, too, that these are essentially recommendations for games you should try right now. They’re all great.
But before we get to the games, it’s worth talking about what we’re actually looking for. Here’s what I think makes for a successful online game today. These aren’t the only routes to success: but these are all factors that are shared by mega-hits like Minecraft, Dota 2, League of Legends and World of Warcraft.
I can’t overstate this enough - the most successful PC games in the world are complicated and hard and deep. They’re rarely accessible. Players need to invest time and effort to learn them. If they do invest the time, they’ll be rewarded for that effort.
Why is this important? It’s not just that deep games are good games. It’s that if you have a good, deep game, players are more likely to stick around. If players stick around, the community is allowed to grow and new players that come in at the bottom aren’t simply replacing those that leave.
Growth doesn’t just come from selling loads of copies. Growth comes from those players staying.
An early, barebones release receiving good community attention
Early betas are vital. It’s easy to be cynical about betas that are used to try and build hype around games. But in the most successful games, it seems early betas are there so that developers and gamers can understand the game they’re making, and rapidly improve it. The earliest releases are inevitably barebones, with just the framework of a game attached. The smartest developers then use community feedback to iterate and improve.
It’s one thing to pay lip-service to the idea of rapid improvement. It’s quite another to go off and do it. Frankly, few gamers pay any attention to traditional PR campaigns any longer. Few even listen to what developers say they’re going to do. The only thing that matters is the thing you create and improve, what you give gamers that they can see, can hold and can play with.
Back in the old world, publishers used to do an important job, getting games in boxes, talking to retailers, making PR plans and everything in between. They’d also put up the cash to get the game made, but with it, they’d ask for approval, milestones, and regular updates. In today’s world, that kind of process just gets in the way.
A milestone, where you might show a completed demo version for a trade show, is of no use, if what the community really wants you to do is adjust or rework other areas of the game. Today, it’s far better to bootstrap development, raise the cash independently from a non-traditional investor, or crowdsource the lot.
So... which games tick some or all of these boxes? Which are set for growth in 2013 and beyond? And, most importantly, which are worth playing right now?