(Thanks to Adrian for the image)
It’s common, if you reside in management layers, to lose your connection with the player in the street. Likewise, if you come into games from other industries, it’s typical to feel disconnected from the customer. It’s hard to know whether a Gears of War or a Halo are a good idea if you don’t have that physical connection to games, and this is why execs are often far more comfortable with track records than new ideas.
What management often reaches for, like a comfort blanket, in this scenario is features. The users are there, goes the reasoning. So they can be attracted to a better product with superior features. Games are just products, so the rules of product sales apply. Right?
Feature-led thinking is the sort of logic that led loads of companies up the garden path into creating would-be World of Warcrafts. It's why big publishers decline suddenly and why Sony has dipped from first to third place in the console war. The problem is that the conventional wisdom that guides these decisions often confuses an entertainment customer for a features customer.
Most game marketing tries to be about unique selling points (features). Unique selling points are the bane of game making because all they ultimately translate into is useless cruft. USPs adorn the back of every box on every shelf in every store. They promise X levels, Y enemies and Z innovative game mechanics with online co-operative play modes. USPs are considered a core part of every game pitch from a developer to a publisher (or internally at a publisher), and they list out hundreds of half-baked ideas trying to remix themselves into something exciting so that management will finance a project.
USPs try to describe a game in terms of quantities rather than qualities, and end up making the game sound like a box of wrenches. The weird part about them is that many publishers big and small seem unable to make a game without them. USPs seem to legitimise the decision to go with a project, even though they virtually guarantee that the resulting game will be worse.
Players do not buy games for features.
The generic business mind thinks it understands the features customer better, but to think of games in terms of features is a basic mistake. To sell someone a game on the basis of features is another way of appealing to their sense of cash value.
Selling by features acquires the air of an infomercial. Such tactics only resonate with a customer’s wallet, not their heart. The very last thing that the customer wants is to feel that the game they are buying is merely a thing. It makes them feel bad about themselves.
They are not trying to buy a better toothbrush. What they want instead is to be entertained, enlightened and interested. They want to become fans. They want to be enchanted and told a story. They are looking for engagement and emotions that feel authentic, because such authenticity promises a connection. Rather asking yourself (as a publisher) what the unique selling points are, what you should be asking is this:
Is there an authentic marketing story here?
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