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Acknowledgments

Introduction

  So, the underlying theory in these books on programming and game development seems to be if you make the best gameon the planet, it is going to sell. Although Sid Meier is an excellent game designer, perhaps the best in our industry, he doesn’t see and analyze the breadth ofgames that Jeff Green, the executive editor at Computer Gaming World, does or even that a voracious gamer or journal- ist does.

About This Book

  I take a look at quality game play and the air of qualitygiven to a game by first-rate documentation and strategy guides. This part takes some of the best-selling games from the past two years and with the help ofindustry insiders analyzes why the game sold well.

The End of the Beginning

  He designs board and computer games, and his latest game (Mark H. Walker’s Lock ’n Load) has been called “a landmark in tactical boardgaming” by The Wargamer(www.wargamer.com), a top 100 Internet site. Mark lives in the foothills of the Great Smokey Mountains with his wife andthree daughters.

Chapter 1 What Makes Games Sell A

  “But without a large marketing budget or retail support, the games did not sell as well as they couldhave.” What I hope to do in this book is show you how to design a game that sells, a game that lives up to your expectations. It is, afterall, the press announcements, screen shots, developer diaries, interviews,advertising, POS materials, and packaging that allow the public tolearn about the game and then hope- fully encourages them to go to thestore and purchase it.” Make no mistake, public relations and marketing is the key to selling aquality game.

Range of Appeal

  So range of appeal is notonly about the topic but about mak- ing a game that appeals to a broadaudience and, once that game is made, ensuring that it is accessibleto that audience—by being easy to learn and entertaining. That cool factor can be that “Bullet Time” of Max Payne orthe engrossing story of StarCraft, but whatever it is, games that are to sellwell must have the cool factor.

Part OneTopic—Setting the Stage

  The topic can make or break a game. Choosing a hot topic or one that will soon become hot andcashing in on a popular genre, license, or franchise can mean the difference between success andfailure.

C marketing efforts will sell a game. Games will

  Of course, this is problematic—particularly for games that straddle genres….” “Many consumers know beforehand that they want a strat- egy game or a first-person shooter,” adds Randy Sluganski,founder of Just Adventure (www.justadventure.com). “Few games make it big no matter what genre, so there are plenty of opportunities in the less developed areas.” C h a p t e r 2· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · Figure 2-1: Warcraft III attracts legions of fans.

Genres Action

  Gamersmay take their time as they contem- plate strategy and move theirmarkers about the board. When they are done with their turn, they click abutton and it’s the computer’s turn.

Strategy

  In Zoo Tycoongamers must grow the zoo and take care of the animals and people thatcome to see them while making sound business decisions that willgrow the beastly endeavor. Myst is the mostfamous adventure game of all time and the reason this genre led salesthrough the ’90s.

Adventure

  Figure 2-4: Myst, a huge seller Sports games are just what they would seem to be—games aboutsports (whether it’s FIFA Soccer2002, John Madden Football 2003, orHigh Heat Baseball 2003). Normally, sports games put the gamer in theshoes of the athlete—the running back carrying the ball, the quarter-back throwing the pass, the batter smashing a home run—but there is asmall sub-category that has more in common with strategy than sportsgames.

Role-Playing Games

Sports

  On the other hand, simulations can also simulate the act of building a city(as in SimCity) or managing a per- son’s life (as in The Sims). These are games thatpresent the gamer with a puzzle, such as Tetris, or bring a classicgame, such as Monopoly or chess, to the computer screen.

Simulations

Puzzle or Classic Games

Console Games

  No, it shouldn’t, not unless that is your designers’ area ofexpertise and you have the business model that will allow you to turn aprofit on a game that will sell (even if successful) much less than 100,000units. By the same token, if a player has enjoyed the first iterations of theLara Croft or Resident Evil series, he can assume there is a goodchance he will enjoy the current iter- ation on the shelf.

So, What’s the Point?

  “Publishers should choose games that make money and are fun…,”says Simon & Schuster’s Mooney.“Thus, if a small-genre game is cheap enough and fun, it may beworth the risk…most of the really successful games redefined genresanyway, á là The Sims, which is hardly a normal ‘simulation.’” In addition to real-time strategy games, action games have been con-sistently big since their inception. For sure, the next big-time seller is probably not going to be aturn-based game, but then again, look at Civilization, a turn-basedgame that is one of the best selling games of all time.

And the Winner Is…

G the cool factor, and other facets of game design

  It’s a well-known fact that much of a game’s sales can be attributed to howmuch exposure the game has with media and gamers, and almost everything associated with thegame determines how much exposure it receives. The type of gameshould have as much to do with the license as the license has to do withthe game.” Succinctly put, slapping a StarTrek license on a baseball game probably won’t do any good.

To License or Not To License

  Do you have free license, so to speak, to use the license in subse-quent games, or is this a one-time- only deal? If you can build a franchise, there is no down-side to it.

To Franchise or Not to Franchise

  All genres support franchises;the important thing to recognize when building a franchise is to makeeither a character, a system, or a story (preferably all three) thatcatches gamers’ attention and pulls them into your gaming universe. Cross-medium identification is usu- ally a benefit—unless the license hasbeen slapped on a generic product— but that product probably wouldn’tsucceed anyway.” Jeff Vitous, veteran freelance writer and director of partnershipdevelopment at the Wargamer(www.wargamer.com), says, “Sure, official licenses are a good thing.

What the Industry Says about Franchises and Licenses

  I think that many people buy the franchise game basedon the original game looking to rec- reate some of the magic that broughtthe people to the game in the first place.” Licenses, when appropriate to the game and not too expensive, can be agood thing. Be creative, look around, go to the movies, look at what could be hotin a year or two, and think about how it could help the game you areworking on.

The Final License

  If it’s in theSecond World War, I’m all over it.” If one-half of the gamers out there buy because of topic, that’s a strongincentive to design a game with a popular topic. If medieval war is a designer’s passion,perhaps he could slightly shift that passion to a medieval fantasy settingand not only create a game that he is crazy about but also a game that willsell well enough to finance future projects.

Thinking with Your Heart

  Finally, Ihit on a compromise—Vietnam, a war that holds significant historicalinterest in the United States but one that has many of the features of mod-ern conflict that grab my attention. It was a good compromise, and I wasable to throw myself into the game.

Tradition Says

  He smiled and said, “I’ve found a golden nugget.” He went on to explain that the golden nugget was something, any-thing within the design that he could be passionate about. The appropriatetheme can hugely influence impulse purchases and sales made in theretail environment, where buyers can only judge a game by the packag-ing and the impact that the underlying theme has.

Find the Golden Nugget

Insiders Talk

  Con- versely, games that choose obtuse orother topics that are off the beaten path and seem uninteresting arelikely to have a tough sell and must rely on the solidity of the gamingexperience and subsequent word of mouth to sell more copies. She went on · · · · · · · · · · ·To p i c — Yo u r G a m i n g Wo r l d , C o o l o r N o t Figure 4-4: Max Payne’s Bullet Time, the ultimate cool factor So the trick to a developer finding a cool factor is staying focused on thegame but also experiencing life and pondering how she could put the coolthings she sees into the game.

Part TwoQuality

  Those beautiful screen shots laid out in magazines or posted to the web,the game play shots on the back of the box, the brief glimpse gamers getof a game running on a TV screen above the store—often that is wherea person’s first and last impression of a game originates. In short, graphics have a great deal to do with a title’sinitial sales, although long-term, sus- tained sales (such as with the PCgame The Sims, for example) are usually dependent on the game playunderneath.” Martin Turewicz, designer, writer, business manager, and all-aroundhandyman at Battlefront.com, agrees.“Good graphics make it easier to market and successfully sell a game(at least when you do so through the traditional retail channels).

Graphics

  shelf that there is very little time for people to actually try out a game ordemo and have a game ‘grow’ on them before retailers issue RMAs(return merchandise authorization) to the distributor. Thereare also sound effects, which must closely model the real event thatthey are depicting in addition to blending with the graphics and musicto enhance the feel of the game.

Audio

  Not manygames have the guts to take this approach, but it does wonders forimmersion and flow!” Kosak continues, “Music and sound effects are always underratedwhen compared to graphics, when in fact these two can completely throwa gamer into another world when done correctly. A lotof times you don’t even notice the music in a game, but if it is done wellit can manipulate your emotions and create tension in all the right places.” Last, but certainly not least, in the triangle of ambience is physical stim-uli.

Physical Stimuli

The Last Ambience

E Lucas. It does not matter if the story is in print or

  If your game creates immersion, whether through story, qualitygame play, graphics, or a combination of all of the above, you have created a game that will sell. In this chapter I take a look at the importance of story and how it makes the game better, which in turn makes the gamesell.

Who Needs Story?

  Let’s say that the designer puts a quest in front of a · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · ·S t o r y What makes plotting and scripting for games even more difficult is thata set of rules has yet to be estab- lished for what creates a successfulplot. Ingames with little narrative content, such as some strategy games, thetext or dialogue accompanying mis- sion briefings might fit on a fewpages, particularly if the product is aimed at the console market.” If the folks in the know agree that a story can enhance the sales ofgames, why doesn’t every game have a great story?

Why Not?

  Barrettsays that economic realities (there isn’t enough money for writers),development realities (there isn’t enough work for writers), productionrealities (short-notice changes in a game’s ship date can make workingwith outside writers difficult), and personal vanities (designers don’twant anyone to mess with their vision of the game) are the reasonsthat development firms shy away from hiring professional writers. In order to get to that place, the gam- ing companies will ultimately have tostart hiring ace writers with the same zeal that they now hire ace pro-grammers and ace artists.

Making the Story

Write It Down

  After you have created a believable world and inhabited that world withbreathing characters, you need to set the plot in motion. Every story must have one C h a p t e r 6· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · Figure 6-2: Dungeon Siege included an excellent story with buckets of character detail.

Conflict

  Establish characters the gamer may relate to and then placethem in conflict with each other, and the story will pull the players insidethe game. I get people all the time who come upto me and say, ‘Hey, I’ve got this great idea for a story,’ and then pro-ceed to rattle off whatever claptrap they came up with in the shower thatmorning.” Writing well is difficult work.

The Right Tool for the Job

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U throughout this book, a game must not only

  A frustrating experi-ence, especially a frustrating experience that stems from a lack of understanding of how the game is tofunction or an inability to solve a specific puzzle, can turn off a gamer. Add these things together and you have created a negative buzz about your game that canseriously hinder sales.“A well-written strategy guide can add to the luster and enjoyment of a great game,” claims Bart Farkas, noted strategyguide writer and author of the official Warcraft III strategy guide.

User Manuals

The Writer

  Those are thequestions that need to be answered in the manual because those are thequestions that the typical gamer is going to have as he plays the game. “In the last decade it has become clear that manygames can benefit from having a separate strategy guide that canenable the gamer to get past particu- larly difficult portions of the gamewith ease.

The Strategy Guide

  Strategy guides are also a means to advertise your game; not only isyour game promoted through the typical public relations channelsassociated with the game, but the strategy guide company also, inadvertising their strategy guide, advertises your game. So, you understand the impor- tance of the strategy guide, but howdo you ensure that your game gets the best strategy guide?

Note:

  In other words, theymust have the strategy guide on the shelves the day that the game is onthe shelves. Doing so increases theuser’s enjoyment of your game; when users enjoy a game, they tellother users who in turn buy the game, creating the buzz that is soimportant for games that sale.

The Last Manual

  Whatever the reason people say they play games, you can be sure that a significant reason is fun. Although things like well-written user manuals and drop-jaw graphics contribute to gamers’ enjoyment,what makes or breaks the fun is the play within the game.

When Is Fun, Fun?

  But a game that hits the sweet spot between easy and hard is going to Games that are too hard have often fallen victim to their own playtesters—men and women who spend months with the game and masterevery nuance. At the same time, there has to be a level of consistency in the way itplays so that it doesn’t appear that the programmers put in random gim-micks just to break the pattern.

Fun Is as Fun Does

Part ThreeMarketing and Public Relations

  Some of the greatest games of all time sold piti- fully. This part describes how to avoid those mistakes and generate the type of buzz that sells games.

Chapter 9 Public Relations—A Primer A

Building a Theme

  To sell a game well, you must get news of the game out to gamers, create a buzz about the game, and tryto generate favorable press. If you hope to sell a computer game, you need to get the idea behind the game across to the public.

Creating a Buzz

  Make the tools to create fan sites available on the official web site,make it easy for gamers to create professional-looking sites, supportthe sites, release news clips to the sites before you release them toother media, and make the people running the sites feel important. If youhave a game whose strongest selling point is quality, and if you have agame that is so much fun to play you are sure that whoever plays it willbuy it, get that demo out there.

Involve the Press

  When a freelance writer queries for a prod-uct, take a moment to do a search on the web. At theElectronic Entertainment Expo, a show that rivals the glitz and glamorof Hollywood, the displays have often been a source of much contro-versy.

The Last Review

I must a game be outstanding, but it also must have

  As Blizzard’s Bill Roper says, “…you abso-lutely must have the best possible PR and marketing you can get on your game because they are the onesthat present your game to the world.” Furthermore, developers—even when they aren’t doingPR for their game—must know how to not only handle the press but their own public relations and marketing people aswell. I hope that the following information lays the ground-work for that understanding.

Public Relations

  Themost efficient way to include PR rep time in the development process isto schedule it at the beginning of the cycle. Inviting the press to your studios is a great way to show off a game—especially before the code is export- able to unfriendly computers.

Know the Game

Know Your Public Relations Representative

  Themost efficient way to include PR rep time in the development process isto schedule it at the beginning of the cycle. Inviting the press to your studios is a great way to show off a game—especially before the code is export- able to unfriendly computers.

Know Your Editor

Screen Shots

Demonstrate the Game

  These are the people who know the average age of some-one willing to buy a Spider-Man game and if that person is a man or awoman. Part of mak- ing a game that sells is fitting yourvision of the game within a set of parameters that marketing claimswill sell the game.

Marketing

  There is no better way to get the seller to push the game with a chainstore buyer than to get the seller personally interested in the game. Take the time to meet the seller, and take the time to demo the gamefor him (or her).

Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM)

  Although public relations representa- tives, marketers, and sellers can helpput a game into a gamer’s hands, it is up to the development team and pub-lisher to keep it there. If the develop- ment team wants to breed the salesthat come from an extended life game, they must make a great gamethat gamers want to play.

The Final Advertisement

Part FourRange of Appeal and Cool Factor

Chapter 11 Range of Appeal T

  At the heart of a good game is adevelopment team that is driven to make the game, not a devel- opment team that is assigned to the game. If the computer can’t handle enough of the game tolet a newbie play right away, the game may frustrate the beginningplayer enough for him to turn off the computer or move on to anothergame.

Scalability

Technology

  The challenge for a designer, development team, andpublisher is to make such complex C h a p t e r 1 1· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · Figure 11-2: IL-2 Sturmovik A batter who can hit well from both sides of the plate has a better chanceof getting a hit than one who only bats from one side. Bill Roper, the executive producer for Diablo II,states, “Identifying the key elements to what is entertaining and captivat-ing about your game design and then embellishing those areas is a goodway to keep the game fun for the people who are looking for that playexperience.

Switch Hitting and Cross Breeding

  It’s important for developers to follow their initial vision, make anearly working model of their game, decide what is fun, and stick with it. Do that and go the extra mile to make both the game’s technologyand complexity scalable, and the game will have a much better chanceof having a broad range of appeal than its non-scalable, single-genrecompetitors.

Part Five

Some That Haven’t

  Been There and Back—A FewGames That Have Sold and Part Five takes several of the best-selling games from the past two years and analyzes why theyhave sold well. Also included in this section is a chapter on a handful of great games that haven’tsold well and why they haven’t.

E this book closely. I’m discussing what makes

  The first thing to enter my mind, and most other people’sminds, when playing a surprisingly cheap game is, “Hey, these guys areasking for top dollar but weren’t will- ing to put top effort into theirproject.” I recently wrote a strategy guide for a mediocre real-time strategygame. So, quality is often as simple as the design and production teamdoing everything within their power to deliver the best product possible.

Quality Empire Earth is a high-quality game

  While that istrue, make no mistake that a good manual is a strong indicator to thegaming public that the production and development team cares not onlyabout the game but also about the public’s enjoyment of the game. It isamazing that a game engine that can C h a p t e r 1 2· · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · · So, although the game was fun to play, its play wasn’t the earth-shat-tering experience of Max Payne or Diablo II.

Chapter 13 Max Payne: Cool Cash M

  I met the design team at E3, and it wasimmediately obvious that the devel- opers were in love with their projectand would do everything in their power to make this the best gamepossible. In 11 yearsof writing about games, the men and women who make them, and thegaming industry, the common thread that I have found in developmentteams that produce high-quality games is a love of gaming and a loveof the game that they are making.

Genre As always, genre is a subset of topic

  Naturally, the plot and strong film noir themes spring tomind, but Max Payne is first and foremost a cinematic action game.” Jarvilehto continues, “When read- ing through the reviews, 90 percentof them mention the key elements of the game (John Woo, The Matrix,Bullet Time, and strong character) in the first chapters of the review. In the end of the day, the game has to deliver, but an essentialpart of any success is communicating what the game does to the gamingpublic.” In other words, publishers must stress the game’s focus in the reviewpackage sent to the industry’s jour- nalists and then hope that journalistscan get that focus across to the gamers who buy the game.

O with movies: Star Wars becoming a veritable

  · · · · · · · · · ·H a r r y Po t t e r : T h e M o v i e S e l l s t h e G a m e Investing heavily into better graphics and production valueswould have reduced the game’s return, a return that was guaranteedby the popularity of the subject. And organizations are willing to spend a small fortune to bepart of the Potter phenomenon.” Coca Cola is estimated to have spent $150 million for exclusivemarketing rights in the beverage industry, while Warner Brothersinvested $140 million just for the rights to make the first two movies.

Chapter 16 Sim Theme Park: An Amusement Park in Your Home T

  Some of my most vivid childhood memories are of such trips, but I have to admit, thesedays, I find the shorter lines and the absence of ver- tigo on the PC almost as appealing as a day at SixFlags. In Populous, designer Peter Molyneaux granted players the power of cre-ation; land could be moved, buildings created or destroyed on a whim, and other environmental settings tweaked to the discom-fort (or not) of the digital congregation.

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