Glacially Slow: Selling Games at Retail

Had a wide ranging conversation with a very smart friend this morning about FarmVille, speaking at conferences, and different leadership styles.

During the conversation, he shared how early game developers used to complain that mistakes by retailers ruined the opportunities for their games to become hits.

Because of FarmVille and my experience making hit PC games for Westwood/EA, an instant set of connections flashed through my mind.

“Selling games at retail is like a glacially slow version of selling games on the internet.”

The thought process unrolled:

1. Selling at retail is a glacially slow versus using the internet.

2. The slowness and “physical-ness” of selling at retail creates it’s own set of problems (shelf space, inventory, cost of goods).

3. Debugging the problems with your product at retail are exacerbated by the problems created by selling at retail. (Do players not like the game or did the retailer forget to put it on the shelf?).

Now about selling social games online.

1. “Instant on”: player sees and clicks a link to your game on Facebook and starts playing instantly with no obligations.

2. If the player likes your game, they keep playing. If not, they quit playing. We know how  as game makers how many people are playing the game each day.

3. Without looking at any personal information, we can know when people stop playing the game and can make daily adjustment to add fun, remove boring parts and fix bugs.

4. When a player spends money in your game, it shows up in your bank account that day.

Seems obvious to me. Hope other people see it too:

Don’t waste another minute selling games at retail.

Seriously…stop it. Right now.

Do you see it too or am I off track?

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3 Responses to Glacially Slow: Selling Games at Retail

  1. Costa Flocas October 27, 2009 at 3:16 pm #

    Hey Mark,

    Speed is, indeed, an important differentiating factor when comparing the two. It has tremendous consequences in various levels (development, distribution, adoption, customer feedback…), as you mentioned.

    Yet, speed itself cannot fully explain the reason behind the success (or failure) of social games, or, fully depict the new challenges of selling them. It’s not enough.

    Let’s back up a little: When TV came along, radio didn’t die, much like retail games will never die; their audience may change, buyers’ demands and expectations may shift, market share may be lost. And that’s all fine and expected to some degree. To me, the REAL challenge for (selling) social games, given the warp-drive speeds in which they operate, is how soon will it be before they reach their next paradigm…

    So, what is the social games’ next paradigm?

    Can it be new features (as in new seeds or new buildings in FV, for instance)? Probably not. Too “conventional” or too “retail” thinking. While new features will always be important, there’s got to be something more.

    Can it be new distribution? Perhaps…

    So, to cut a long story short (too late for that Costa!), it seems to me like their next proving ground will be the level of “immersion” or, in other words, the real-life “experience” players LIVE (games should be “lived”, not just “played”) and real-life emotions players share with real life friends, relatives, even strangers.

    For instance, wouldn’t it be great if there was some sort of a …commodities exchange for harvested FV crops? You can immediately sell your crop at a (lower) fixed price, OR, wait and check back often (let me repeat that: check back often!…) in the FV Merc Exchange for getting, PERHAPS, a higher price for your recently harvested crops (stored in your silos—playing along the “buildings with a purpose” theme), as it is constantly adjusted by supply (of global or regional FV farmers) and an artificial (global or regional) demand algorithm!

    Now, THAT’s reality!

    (BTW, that exchange could trade other virtual commodities, too, like goods, coins for cash, coins for XP, you name it. Did you know that there ARE, as we speak, _REAL_ eBay auctions with _REAL_ cash involved for “50 untraceable phones” for Mafia Wars??? Why send those people to eBay when Zynga can keep this trading to itself?)

  2. Sales Leads October 28, 2009 at 11:21 am #

    Great post. Thanks!

  3. Di Meade November 12, 2009 at 10:28 am #

    |It would be great to see in the Market an option to buy Farmville for your console – Mine is a Wii for example – and you could fill out your credit card details and shipping and get it sent direct. This would give the oppourtunity to have several farms as sometimes you just want to wipe the slate clean, a bit like when you do a picture in fuzzy felt and you sweep off the pieces and replay them. just a few thoughts…(although not as impressive as the comment earlier about trading!!!)

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