James Binns is CEO at games media business Network N, which he co-founded back in January 2012 and now has 40+ staff while remaining independent.
Network N is in the discovery business. We help players choose the right games and gear… And we help businesses reach our audiences. The discovery business has never been more challenging than it is today. Business is booming.
Lots of problems for the modern games publisher have been solved. Middleware is too humble a phrase for the suite of tools, which powerhouses like Epic supply, that help you prototype, develop and publish your games. Technology, speed to market and access to enormous audiences are all very old-fashioned challenges.
And yet. And yet. Everyone looks pretty miserable, because of how grim discovery is. Things have actually gotten much worse.
For a short time we had solved discovery. If you looked at Steam a decade ago you’d see a handsome store, with a few games, well presented. A single dominant place to buy PC games. That problem has since been unsolved.
There’s the proliferation of digital stores – good for customer choice, but harder to manage and to make an impact on and with the risk of leaving some customers behind.
Subscriptions like Twitch Prime and Discord Nitro are jostling alongside products like Xbox Game Pass and PlayStation Plus to fill gamers time. Games take longer to play than ever before. They’re more sophisticated and online elements mean players keep coming back.
Huge IPs like Fortnite and PUBG suck up players. Market entrants into crowded genres like Apex Legends can win a burst of fame – but maintaining it is far harder.
The fire hose of games that PC publishers had to contend with is now being felt on Switch, Xbox and PlayStation as costs and timelines for porting titles have dropped. Meaning more games than ever.
And there’s a bigger focus on paid discovery on digital stores. PlayStation and Xbox have long charged. Steam stubbornly clings on to patronage and community curation.
It’s not an easy riddle to solve. But what you can’t do is ignore the problem, create beautiful art and hope that it will be discovered!
Psychologists have a phrase: ‘survivor bias’. It is a logical error where you concentrate on successful stuff rather than failure. Your attention focuses on what has worked rather than what hasn’t and you think that is an exact recipe for success.
Conferences are full of folk standing on stage talking about how their glorious game found an audience. They’ll say how they did it all thanks to great art and finding an authentic voice on Twitter. After all, nobody would turn up to 200 speeches in a week from developers whose games failed to find an audience. So hidden gems remain hidden.
Developers are generally the smartest people in the room, but there’s a bunch of stuff they may not know. How to create product and market fit. How to build a community. How to engage at scale. How to curate audiences for marketing. How to design advertising that works. How to traffic it to the right people. How to track results. Developers: if you do one thing after reading this, go ask somebody about marketing. Network N is in the discovery business – come find us.