The UK games market is impelled by two extremely important factors – word of mouth, and the British games press. Obviously there’s no denying the importance of marketing but, with many releases downfall still being a consistent lack of exposure, it’s much cheaper to get the press to like you and titles you release than to run a constant stream of publicity before, during and after release.
It’s because of this that I’m puzzled by the current state of developer relationships with British publications within and on the edge of the games industry. Now, it does seem like many of the software publishers are getting there – being present with working code at plenty of European Trade Shows (even if it’s often the same code that was on display at the Electronic Entertainment Expo earlier that year), offering review code freely and generously and backing publications they see as viable and of value to the industry. However it’s the hardware manufacturers that seem to have lost the plot a little.
I don’t feel that insisting your products are in separate markets in anyway convinces anyone else within the industry – and with software publishers commonly being quoted comparing rival systems there’s some obvious holes in the effort for the industry to expand. When, months before even the first image of a console is released, publications both private and commercial, print and online, start announcing “PSP Vs. DS!” as their feature headline, it’s clear your fighting a pointless war. With such an emphasis on exclusive presentations and executives trying to “get one over” on each other (an exercise which Mr. Miyamoto and Mr. Kojima seem reluctant to take part in) it seems ridiculous that they don’t start behaving like the celebrities they feel the industry so desperately needs – and start reading their own press.
When a consumer walks into a games specialist store, to me, it seems clear that they want to buy a game. Surely then, with a games specialist store no doubt carrying all three of the current home generations, and will be carrying all three of the next-gen systems also, the sale should go to the developer who produces the titles closet to what the consumers wants – regardless of whether or not the console is aimed towards different types of people, they all come to the same place. Even with Nintendo’s new insistence on the gamer who never previously thought of playing games (often translated as “girls” – again, a fault with the press-line), there’s now enough presence in every city and town in the country for these people to go to the specialist – what would you do when you buy your first mobile phone, washing machine or car stereo, or a TV? Go where they can tell you a little about what you’re buying. I think the plan has been undermined before it even began, pink NintendoDS’s are all nice and well, but not when all the sales staff are sitting on their backsides playing their sexy little PSP.
The British games specialist press are a fickle bunch. It seems that many publications are willing to have a new saviour of our industry practically every month and while dramatising the release of a product is of course a brilliant tactic with the mainstream, I don’t think the constant reminder that Nintendo are dropping like a brick and that approximately only four out of every ten games made makes a profit is healthy. It’s a turbulent time in our industry, with many of the publishers stuck-in-their-ways ducking out to the newbies spinning a quick buck, how long is it going to be before an article on the failure of a product is the start of a developer’s demise? -END-