What the Hell is It That You Actually Do Anyway, Mr. Marketing Guy?

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Ahhhh, marketing. Few professions are as maligned as marketing. When I say the word “marketing”, no doubt your mind is flooded with images of sleezy skags in suits talking about how transmedia synergies are really hot with the teen male demo. Nobody could say it better than Bill Hicks:

But here’s the question: what IS marketing? Do you know? Do you really know? I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that if you absolutely, fundamentally hate marketing folks without reservation, you probably don’t actually know what marketing is. Or, rather, what it’s supposed to be. I’m a student at a graduate school that made it’s reputation on marketing, and I didn’t actually know what marketing was supposed to be until I took a marketing class. Marketing isn’t just advertising. It isn’t just focus groups and lowest common denominator bullshit. Continue reading

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Competitive Advantage and the Productivity Frontier, Or Why Dark Souls is the Ikea of Game Development

DarkSouls

One of the major figures of business academia is a man named Michael Porter. Porter, a professor at the Harvard Business School, is possibly most famous for his trademark “Five Forces Analysis”, but he is also the author of one of the definitive books on competition, Competitive Strategy.

Porter argues that efficiency, while important, is not enough to create a true competitive advantage. Even if a firm is using the most cutting-edge technology and best practices of an industry, to the utmost level of efficiency (what Porter refers to as “the productivity frontier”), all a competitor needs to steal the lead is to find a new best practice, technique, or technology and become just that much more efficient. In simpler terms, being the most cost-effective company only puts you in the lead until someone else figures out how to be more cost-effective (Porter calls this “expanding the productivity frontier”). Further, Porter argues that a firm can either iterate (do things better) or it can innovate (do better things), but it can’t do both at once: a new technology or product will, by definition not have an established best practice, so iterations must occur before that relevant productivity frontier can be found. Continue reading

Corporations Exist to Make Money…But That Isn’t Really the Point

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Corporations exist to make money. It’s becoming a well worn phrase. Cliff Bleszinski employs it defensively. Jim Sterling rages when the concept is used to excuse consumer-unfriendly practices. But it’s really a meaningless notion. Of course corporations exist to make money. EVERYBODY working in a capitalist society exists to make money. It’s much like when the anti-vaccination movement attempts to offset accusations of scientific ignorance by saying that they do support vaccines that aren’t dangerous. No shit, huh? Thanks for clearing that up. What separates corporations is not that they exist to make money, but how much money they require to exist, or more specifically, how much more money they require to exist than an independent developer.

Let’s take an, admittedly, simplistic example. Three developers start an indie studio called Fun Pants Games, and spend 6 months eating ramen, living rent free with their significant others, and making a game, Zombie Cocoa Pants Party, which they then release on the App Store. This game goes on to make $600,000 dollars in revenue and, after Apple’s cut, $400,000 in gross profit. At that rate, they could each take a $75,000 cut and Fun Pants Games would have a net income of $175,000. That’s a pretty good take for a start-up indie studio.

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The Backwards Way The Industry Looks at Used/Rented/Borrowed/Pirated Games

This fox isn't evil. It's just doing what it needs to do.

This fox isn’t evil. It’s just doing what it’ supposed to do.

Look at this fox for a moment. Imagine that the rabbit in its mouth is the very last member of a specific rabbit species. The fox has just hunted this particular family of rabbits to extinction, without any help from humans. But does that make the fox evil? Of course not. The fox is doing what it’s supposed to do: find creatures smaller than itself and eat them. The rabbit, for its part, failed to evolve to outrun or outbreed this predation, and therefore was not fit to survive. There is nothing moral or amoral about it. It simply is.

The biggest mistake the industry has, collectively, made with regards to used games is to treat it as a moral dilemma. Gamers are failing to support us. Retailers are stabbing us in the back. Pirates and Gamefly are destroying our profits. We rant and rave in interviews and on Twitter. We decry the wickedness of anyone who does not purchase a new copy on day one, and rail against a vast conspiracy eroding our bottom line. How dare they, these people who call themselves our fans, not support us with their money. The unbelievable gaul of these corporate leaches that have spawned whole new industries, like malignant tumors, on the back of our hard work and have cut us out of the profits. Don’t they understand what they are doing to us? Continue reading

It Doesn’t Matter If There Will “Always Be A Market” For Consoles

The Sigmoid Curve is a great representation for the flow of change, critical mass, and tipping points. Taken from Wikipedia.

The Sigmoid Curve is a great representation for the flow of change, critical mass, and tipping points. Taken from Wikipedia.

A frequent argument that this next generation of consoles will not, in fact, be the last is that there will always be a market for consoles. That is, there will always be gamers willing to pay for consoles and console games, that this market will never go away, and, thus, consoles will keep coming out. Let’s assume for a minute that this is true. The fact that there are people who are willing to pay for a next generation Xbox or PlayStation does not guarantee that a new console will be developed. It doesn’t matter that a market exists. There is probably still a market for Betamax. It doesn’t meant Sony’s going to start building and distributing the things again.

A console essentially boils down to a movement, and movements equate to change. One of the hardest things to achieve in life is systemic change, and most attempts fail. A change initiative is typically represented as an s-curve like the one above. It’s hard to change social norms. It’s hard for fashion novelties to become trends. It’s hard for viruses to become epidemics. It’s a question of inertia and at the start of a movement it always works against you.

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