Setting expectations

If you’ve never played a video game in your life, please stick with this post to the end. It’s not really about video games.

I point you to this story. In the piece Craig Allen, CEO of video game developer Spark Unlimited, complains that their latest game is being reviewed unfairly. The game, Turning Point: Fall of Liberty, is a “what-if?” type game where the Nazis manage to steamroll Europe and show up on America’s doorstep wanting to borrow a cup of sugar and the White House too. So far its review haven’t risen much above the 50% mark according to Metacritic.com.

While the article kind of starts off like sour grapes over the bad reviews, he goes on the some surprising honesty. He says that the game’s real charm is in the high concept and that the goal wasn’t to break any new ground. Basically the goal was to present an interesting story with serviceable gameplay. Something people could just pick up and enjoy for the story. The real honesty comes in when he says:

“You know, I think that when you try to do games that are about a mass market, and Turning Point is definitely a high concept idea, that with the time and money we had we did the best to execute on, our target was not really the core gamer.”

Essentially he’s saying we had X number of dollars and X amount of time and this game is what that gets you.

If that’s the case and you know it going in, why not market it that way? Why not set expectations ahead of time that this isn’t going to be a revolution in gaming. It’s the same thing with any marketing. Don’t say you have the lowest prices in town if you have the highest. You’ll just disappoint people. If like in this case, “our target was not really the core gamer,” then why do you market it to the core gamer? That will just lead to disappointing review and probably sales.

It’s so hard to businesses to be honest about who they are and what they are making. They like to think their product is perfect for everyone and look at all the dollars a broader market would bring.

What if instead, they had marketing to the people that would enjoy the concept (no I’m not referring to Nazis)? Maybe you don’t place ads in all the video game magazines and places that will normally reach core gamers. Maybe you figure out who the real audience it and market hard at them. Then your game launches with good word of mouth instead of middling reviews.

And it’s the same with any product, really.

This post pairs well with “You do too much” and a side order of honesty.

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