Commentary

Innovation Happens Outside The Box

Some of the most innovative games over the past two years have been concepts so powerful there is no way they could have made it into a box.  Innovation is a difficult thing to commit to when the life or death of a company hangs in the balance.  With the rising costs in game production, the market is becoming less amenable to taking risks.  Because of this, more and more of the innovation in the industry seems to be leaving the retail box.

In the top 30 critically acclaimed Xbox 360 games, seven weren't shipped on disk.  In other cases, such as "Portal," the game was included as a small offering in a larger package.  "Braid" presented a Celtic take on Mario and a world in which death did not exist.  "Shadow Complex" is a graphically stunning revival of classic Metroid games.  "Flower" presented a beautiful and soothing gameplay about a flower dreaming of a life as the wind.  Each of these games would be a hard sell to a publisher, to retail chains, and to a gaming audience.  But by existing only thorough digital delivery, they can succeed without a large marketing budget or upfront costs, purely by word of mouth.

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In the case of these games, a small studio with a handful of employees can create a game that receives press and reviews on par with games that had a thousand bodies working on them.  Sales won't always match up due to the nature of the audiences and distribution pathways, but the ROI can be in the favor of independent games.

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Looking at the rise of Xbox LIVE and PSN games, I think it's time marketers reevaluate the proposal of advergaming.  Doritos is still doing some work in this space, but I think a more organized and produced approach could see success as well.  UGC is a great tactic when the market is still maturing, but based on the titles I've seen recently from digitally based game markets, this space is ripe.

By this time next year, I'd love to have seen a CPG brand launch an advergame in Xbox LIVE or the PSN which gets a metacritic score of 80 or above and uses retail distributed codes for DLC.  This could just be a pipe dream, but if a brand was willing to step up to the plate, I believe it'd be a home run.

3 comments about "Innovation Happens Outside The Box ".
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  1. Mike Wood from http://www.gamesthatgive.net, September 4, 2009 at 1:34 p.m.

    Great commentary Josh. At GamesThatGive, we've found a balence between game and advertiser that helps create social change. 70% of the ad revenue generated by gamers on our site is donated to charity. And these ads aren't intrusive either. Instead of having 5 pop ups ruin your bubble burst game, the game background simply has an advertiser logo. Check it out at http://www.gamesthatgive.net.

  2. Steven james Burks from AML Media, September 7, 2009 at 8:50 p.m.

    Speaking of stepping up to the plate, and hitting a home run, I strongly recommend you take a look at the in-game advertising currently running in what appears to be a monthly rotation in the PlayStation 3's MLB 09 The Show. There are serious brands in here, like Jack In The Box, and the experience is quite natural, effective, and smart.

    The game itself is one of my personal favorites, and I play it almost exclusively online.

    There are several things to be learned from the way Sony approached this, both for those with questions at a nascent stage of advergaming, and seasoned professionals looking to improve on existing concepts.

  3. David Chu from Eton Corporation, September 7, 2009 at 11:17 p.m.

    Could this be the beginnings of a disruptive technology? Considering how you don't even need a manual today with the tutorials that many games start with, the most important thing you need is the actual software.

    Here's a crazy out of the box thought. Why not release a game while you only have three levels developed? If the game catches on, you continue to develop the game. If not, you can stop production. I don't know everything about game production, but I'm sure there's a way to do it.

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