Over on a secret forum where the illuminati of indie game development hang out, someone asked this question (I say someone because technically we’re not allowed to talk about Fight Club, but this is a benign and often-asked question, and I think that this won’t upset anyone):
What REALLY makes someone buy a game? I think we should brainstorm this. I get the impression that people are too quick to rush to very simplistic judgements about this. We are clever people, what do we think?
I’ve read a ton of psychology / microeconomics / neurosciencey stuff that leads me to believe that game buying decisions are almost entirely irrational and entirely emotional.
So I had a little think about it, and fortunately I have a fresh, current experience to relate to.
I’ve just played the demo of Defense Grid, and I’m about to buy it.
I’m even writing my own tower defence game right now and I’m utterly sick of playing it already!
I want to think a bit more about what made the decision for me.
Firstly, I’m going to be flush again in a few weeks. I just landed a contract in Folkestone, 220 miles from home, but I’ll be earning £275 a day (a crap rate, far worse money than I earned over a decade ago, but still way more money than most people earn). A $20 or even $30 or even $50 purchase is now pure whimsy. I won’t even notice it – whereas before, as an unemployed bum, I’d have reluctantly said no, I can’t afford it. Even though at £13.99, which I could easily spend on a takeaway and a couple of bottles of beer last weekend when I didn’t have any money.
The takeaway and beer is an important comparison – people often get to thinking that the takeaway and beer lasts only a couple of hours, and is therefore maybe a tenth the value of a 20-hour game experience. That’s wrong. I need to eat, so does the missus. The beer is immensely enjoyable. I’d take beer over games any day. Really.
A comparison with cinema tickets is usually what follows next. And actually I think it’s almost valid, for certain kinds of game. But the fact is, a cinema outing is for the two of us, we’re paying to have the experience together. It’s (sadly) a Big Thing (especially now we’ve got a 6 month old baby). £14 of cinema tickets buys us a whole evening of different. It could buy me a game, but we won’t be playing it together. Even a multiplayer game. Even a multiplayer game that we play on one screen together. It’s not the same. There’s no occasion. So we value the cinema tickets considerably higher than the game experience. This is the emotional draw from this form of entertainment.
Games, then, probably fundamentally have to compete with this extremely powerful emotional hold that “activities” such as “going out” have. The situation of being an unemployed bum counts towards the ultimate decision but I suspect we can totally ignore the financial status of prospective customers. Customers are either rich, or they’re not going to buy a game. Or a cinema ticket. They might buy beer and a takeaway instead with what frugal funds they have. So just forget them, and forget the money equation. I don’t want poor customers who reluctantly part with $3.99 for something I spent 6 months toiling away at. I want rich customers with an appreciation of the value of the really hard work we do (ie. other people who work really hard). That’s why I’ve put all my games up at $19.95 finally and that’s where they will stay from now on.
So what made me buy Defense Grid?
Well, first and foremost, it’s good. It’s a really good tower defence game, even though they spelled defence wrongly. It’s not innovative in any particular way (unlike, say, the one I’m working on, which is quite different to most TD games), but the basic gameplay has been executed perfectly, and when I played it, I enjoyed myself so much that I’m going to buy it because I know I’m going to keep playing it for at least a couple more weeks. I’ve not got any other games to play right now apart from Zatikon from Chronic Logic, which I limit myself to 1 game a day of because of its hellishly addictive qualities, and I need a break from my own game.
Secondly, it’s a piece of piss to buy stuff on Steam. I’d go direct to the developers except the Steam version is integrated with the Steam achievements stuff and also Steam takes care of auto updating and I’ll even be able to just download and install it again anywhere I choose to be without having to think about it. I like that. Steam got that stuff dead right. It’s value that I’ll gladly pay for. It’s the digital equivalent of owning a shiny box with a CD in it – it feels like I’ve paid some middleman some money for something I actually feel is worth something – totally unlike my feelings about buying stuff from BFG (oh look – no hyperlink), where I feel that I’m giving BFG all the money solely because they bullied their way to the top of the search engine charts and do their damndest to make sure the developers remain unknown. They’re pure middlemen. They add nothing I care to have. I’ll even pay an extra £10 for a game to get it direct instead of through BFG.
It may come as a surprise also but I’ve never actually played a tower defence game. Apart from my own game, this is the first one I’ve played, and it’s been done so absolutely perfectly and TD is such a great concept for a game, with all sorts of decision trees one has to go through and enjoyable trial and error, it couldn’t fail to sell to me. So it was the first game of its nature I’ve actually come across, and it’s a great implementation.
(Similarly: Faerie Solitaire was the first solitaire game I’ve played since the one that came with Windows 3.11 – I would have bought it if Brian hadn’t thrown a free copy at me).
So there’s my thoughts on the matter. What makes you buy a game?