Surviving in the Wild West of PC gaming

Alex Calvin
Surviving in the Wild West of PC gaming

There are undeniable advantages to releasing games on PC.

Unlike launching a brand new title on console, there is no cumbersome certification process to get your new PC game out there. Much like the App Store and Google Play, there is a very low barrier to entry. And digital PC retailer Steam alone has 125 million active users, representing a sizeable potential audience.

Not having to get ‘approval' from a platform holder is by far the biggest appeal of PC,” says Cliff Harris, the boss of Big Pharma publisher Positech.

There is no certification needed. Plus I'm a PC gamer myself, so I know that market, and that crowd. Never publish games that you wouldn't play yourself.”

505 Games' global marketing boss Tim Woodley adds: Aside from not having to go through first party submissions with a PC release, releasing a game on PC vs. connected console are quite similar. It is fundamentally a question of discoverability and share of voice regardless of platform.”

PC as a platform is hugely popular with developers. Data site Steam Spy claims that 3,000 titles were released on Steam during 2015 – roughly 57 a week.

This has made discoverability the biggest challenge in the PC market.

Discoverability has always been an issue for developers and publishers who do not have millions of dollars in marketing budgets,” says Susana Meza, COO of Cities: Skylines firm Paradox Interactive.

You should identify early on who you are developing for and focus your main effort/resources on being visible to them. ‘Everyone' is a hard target to meet for most companies. It's better to have high visibility on a smaller channel that consists of your primary target, than next to no visibility on a large channel consisting of ‘all gamers'.

In addition, a great release does not sell itself – though there are always exceptions. You will need to budget something for PR and marketing. Have a limited budget? See it as an opportunity - you have no choice but to cut out everything that is not essential and you will be forced to be creative. What will give you the biggest bang for your buck while reaching the maximum number of potential players?

And you need to think globally, not locally. These days, in particular with digital distribution, it's completely irrelevant where you are based, even if you only release your game in English.”

Woodley adds: On each platform there are different levers and pullies you can use to increase your chances of being discovered, and you really have to get under the skin of how people browse on these platforms. We tend to think about the digital stores in the same way we view physical stores and imagine how the customers make their purchase choices.

"Have them come to the store knowing what they want to buy, in which case search optimisation of our metadata is critical. Are they just browsing, in which case how do they browse? Do they go straight for best-sellers, do they browse by genre, by top-rated? Are our digital store assets good enough to catch their attention – in the same way that our packshots and in-store merchandising do in the physical space?”

And Bandai Namco PR and marketing director Lee Kirton adds that continued support for a title beyond launch is a sure-fire route to success.

Working closely with our digital distribution partners, evaluating our data, consumer purchasing habits, working on our pricing and discount deals and generally being solid when it comes to our customer service and community is incredibly important,” he explains. For some titles we release boxed versions such as Collector Editions for added value.”

NCSoft's head of Europe John Davis adds: Don't rush, listen to your community, don't be afraid of criticism and make sure you think beyond launch, not just have a plan up until launch. Think about the story you want to tell and the time you have to tell it. Talk to press and players and partners and do whatever you can to get them excited about your project.”


One trick is to find your specific niche and stick to it. Excalibur has made a name for itself in the simulation space on PC.

All publishers are part of the ‘entertainment' market and therefore we all have to compete against other entertainment media,” says Contact Sales' Robert Stallibrass.

In the PC market Excalibur needs to continue to publish quality products, in specific niches that will appeal to as wide a market as possible.

It would be foolhardy for us to compete against the likes of EA, Activision, Bethesda and Warner, with ‘me too' style products.”

Or, you could just make and release an entirely unique game.

Developers could make something new and interesting that you are passionate about,” Positech's Harris says.

Or have a spare quarter of a million dollars to bombard everyone with advertising, but in most cases coming up with an original idea is a lot more practical. The vast majority of games do not deserve to be noticed, because they are so unremarkable.

Unless there is something that makes people sit up and say ‘oh really'?”

YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN

One of the big advantages of releasing games on PC is creative freedom.

But that also means you will have no support from a first-party format holder. As 505 Games' head of global marketing Tim Woodley says: When releasing a game on PC, publishers/developers are 100 per cent responsible for the game being ready to launch.”

And PC – unlike console – is a complex platform, with a multitude of different specs.

If a game crashes, you assume the dev is rubbish, but its likely just some arcane combination of factors that we were unable to test,” Positech boss Cliff Harris explains.

PC gamers can be a tough crowd. They want a bug-free game on randomly assembled hardware that runs at 60 frames per second, yet which they will only pay $9.99 max. That's a tough set of criteria.”



RACE TO THE BOTTOM

One of the knock-on effects of the sheer congestion on Steam is developers competing heavily on price.

An attractive price point might set you apart from the crowd and may also persuade many gamers – who may otherwise wait until Steam's infamous sales – to pick up your title.

But PC price wars can be a dangerous game to play.

When you're struggling to get visibility for your new release, sometimes it can be tempting to aggressively drop the price to drive your volumes, which drives your chart position, which earns you more organic eyeballs,” 505 Games' head of marketing and global brand Tim Woodley e

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