The interesting thing about being around internet groups of people is that many of them tend to attract either two distinct crowds. On one hand, you can see someone’s username (that they’ve built years of clout and reputation with) and you’ll know exactly that this guy isn’t messing around. He’s got connections and anything he says is going to have more value. On the other hand you can find plenty of LARPers and talentless hacks in these groups, who feel their garbage is worth something.
The other day I was in a game developer group on a popular chat service. Somebody asks how they can promote their game better, so I ask them what kind of game it is. They tell me it’s a visual novel (this was the first red flag), and show me their Steam page for it. It has almost no reviews, the art style is pretty generic, but it also had a very distinct style to it. It looked like it was made in RPG Maker, probably one of the most clichéd game engines or game making tools one can use.
RPG maker has a reputation for being used by every talentless asset flipping game developer out there. It’s used by hacks making overly pretentious puzzle games and most likely kids at throwaway “computer camps” (which is where kids get sent by mommy when their kid spends too much time on the computer, I learned nothing from them).
So I’m looking at their game and I’m asking myself, how does this game stand out? Even in the mindset of a nerd addicted to geek culture, I saw nothing. It was a generic SFW visual novel without an interesting story or art style, made by a generic pretentious indie developer who was convinced that the world gave a shit about his deep personal story.
But lemmie guess, you don’t want to fall into that trap of making a game literally nobody cares about. I could be obvious and say things like “Don’t make an RPG Maker visual novel” because the only visual novels that do well outside of Japan are either sexual or shitposty (like that bird dating simulator).
Lemmie tell ya a strategy on how to avoid falling into this trap. First play some games you liked. Take notes on what you liked about these games and why they were good and “my friends liked it” isn’t a good reason.
Then, take a look at the games people buy and what draws people into them. You could take a look at what’s selling on Steam but I can also give you more generalized info on what draws specific crowds in.
“Normies” tend to be drawn into whatever their friends or what some guy on the internet is playing. They’ll buy whatever is popular this month and play it with their friends. They’ll play niche games if that’s what the trend is this month and if it’s too niche they’ll just view it as a “spectator game”, as a game that’s better off watched than played. Their favorite games are games that can be “picked up and played”, don’t have many bugs, and have a good art direction.
But to even have a chance at getting to the normies you have to make something that some niche group out there is going to want to play. Unless you’re a big studio who can afford their own personal 50 cent army to help shill their games (or in Nintendo’s case, a fanbase of drones willing to “do it for free”), you have to sell your game to someone first.
Plus, said group of fans or niche group has to accept your game first because even if normies would like it otherwise, if the niche groups hate it normies will avoid it based on word of mouth. I’ve seen this happen to games in franchises that were solid titles, except for the fact that the core audience didn’t like it and this trickled down to the normies. The trick is you have to make a game that appeals to a demographic with money in some way while also being a good game at the core, instead of just making a game that’s nothing more than pandering with no substance.
But you also have to find out the answer to a core question, what are people actually spending money on? It’s why I said just now to look at what is selling on Steam, hell just take a look at what sells in a genre and see what people want in it. There are plenty of people who will say one thing or do another, just look at how the Modern Warfare 2 PC boycott was a total dud mocked by the internet or why the whole “SJWs don’t buy games” phrase exists.
Or look at some market segments. People online say they want handheld gaming consoles, but even when the Vita was marketed Nintendo fanboys made excuses for not buying ones such as “console games should stay on consoles”, before walking that back when the Switch came out as a hybrid handheld and home console. People online say they want station wagons in the USA but when a company releases that nobody buys it and it sits on dealer lots.
And of course perhaps the biggest question to ask is does your game hook people in? In this day and age when game prices have gone up despite being pressed discs or digital (meaning distribution costs are even less) you’re going to want the most bang for your buck and unless you’re fooling yourself to justify that $60 chunk out of your Wal-Mart paycheck, you’re going to feel ripped off if you can’t get into a game. Furthermore with the sad decline of demos (Remember when PC games had them all the time and when XBLA games were required to have demos? Not anymore) you have to spend money on a game to even test it out. This is especially critical on the PC where “this game won’t run on my PC” is a common complaint.
If people want to be interested in buying games, the game has to hook them in. You have to tell the world, what makes your game different from any other generic game on Steam? With the age of oversaturation in digital marketplaces, this effect has gotten worse. You’re competing with tons of games, old and new. In an era where everyone is broke and you have to stand out somehow, you have to convince the entire world that yes, your game is worth spending money on over some other game.
So you gotta know what the market wants, and what sets your game apart from the crowd. You need to tell your audience why your game isn’t just another generic walking simulator, or visual novel, or platformer. If you can’t show the world why you should buy your game, needless to say your game or game idea is garbage. That’s when you go back to the drawing board and try to figure out what people want. If you can’t even get that down then why should you expect the people who will naturally spread your game to care?