What Makes Me Buy A Game?

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?

9 thoughts on 'What Makes Me Buy A Game?'

  1. I have a limited student budget, so I usually purchase two games a year (60$ each). I either purchase games from companies that I want to encourage (I bought Oblivion Collector’s Edition, even though I didn’t care about the collector items), or games that are so good that I’ve finished them, and I feel I owe the developers something (i.e. I’m certainly gonna buy several of the STALKER games, and I bought Heroes of Might and Magic V).

    I also donated 40$-60$ to the guy that programs Dwarf Fortress.

    Of course “when I’m rich” (which will hopefully happen), I’ll be encouraging many more game companies.

  2. FWIW – If your the slightest bit interested in solitare games then Jakes Fairway Solitaire game (ok it’s from BMG) is definately worth a look – it’s a really polished product and quite addictive.

    As for “what makes me buy a game?”

    To be brutally honest – like music I personally don’t give a jot about the publishers (or record label etc) or even usually (dare I say it) the actual artists involved *sorry* – for me it’s all about the game and the experience it leaves me with.

    As you said – these day’s money is limited, although I agree it’s often not about the price if I want something bad enough, I’ll make the sacrifices in other areas. I realise this probably isn’t that useful when other indies are looking for hints on increasing conversion rates, but if I had to give one hint I’d say make the passion show through.

    I don’t have a games budget, I do browse the game’s stores on occasion but more often than not I’ll stick to the preowned section for the Wii or 360 – I’ve heard all the arguments about how second hand games hurt publishers etc, but for me they represent much better value for money, plus I came late to the party with the 360, so there are PLENTY of quality games just waiting to be played, and by the time I make it to the current releases they’ll be heavily discounted or available 2nd hand…

    My last two purchases were purely spure of the moment affairs – The Magic the Gathering game on XBox Live, I’ve been a big magic fan for years, so one look at the demo, and I was hooked. Tom Clancy’s HAWX, this one surprisingly I paid about £28 for (my upper limit is usally around £20) – it was a preowned, but at the top end of what I consider acceptable, normally I check reviews, ask mates etc about games – but again after downloading the demo on XBox live it became a must have.

    You might be able to see a common link here, and that’s demo’s – unfortunately the sheer number of demos available means I’m a lot chooiser where purchases are concerned because if the games nothing less than stellar then I can always pick up another demo to play five minutes later…

    So to sum it up – a playable demo (Wii Ware and Dsi ware – nill points!) and let the passion shine through (at least that way I might remember the developers name and be more aware of their products in the future!).


  3. Interesting bit of philosophy here. Games and entertainment in general do seem to be impulsive buys. Basically the first impression will decide if it’s interesting or not.

    ps. Defense can be spelled both ways.

  4. I don’t know. the one company I almost always buy from indiewise is Hamumu Software. Otherwise, I have trouble buying games. I don’t know why, but for some strange reason, I just don’t buy games that often. Don’t get me wrong, all of your games are AWESOME, It’s just that I have a hard time spending money.

    the thing that makes me buy a game is innovation, uniqueness, not a casual game that is catagorized under “action” at reflexive, and other features. the ammount of content is always an important thing. If it has ALOT of levels/features and stuff, it will probably be great. If it has a medium or small ammount of levels, but has high quality, it will probably be worth it as well.

    Speaking of quality, go check out Zirconia 2: Battle at Z2 games.com. Its free, and it might give you some great ideas!

  5. When I buy games – I’m not paying for the product, I’m paying for your next product – ad infinitum.

    My thoughts on the whole piracy thing have changed substantially over the last few years. My initial premise was thus: how do you get people to pay for something when it can be duplicated for nothing, hence its market value is nothing. This argument has of course been debated to death and going into further detail is akin to whipping a comatose llama. Basically it comes down to DRM or value-add via things like Steam or a combination of both. I dont think these things really influence my decision to pirate or pay for a game though….its something else.

    Recently its struck me that its not the product which has any value, rather its the *author* who has value.

    I like your game, and I’m happy I got it via the humble bundle. I’ll look at your other games, I may well buy them. Yes, I could pirate them – but then you wont make any more games. If I really like your game design skills I’d be crazy to pirate them, I want you to keep making games!

    This is not an indie specific thing for me, I’ve been playing BC2 on the PC and I love it. I am happy to pay the EA mega-corp what they ask for their games because I want them to keep making games like they do now.

    So how can you get other people to think of their purchases in this way? It would seem to me if you show people some visualisation of the $$$ you need to make another game then you can communicate the reality of the situation rather simply. The most basic example of course is the donation thermometer thing: http://www.oxford.net/~jtapley/save/images/tree.gif

    You could do this in a myriad of different ways (perhaps showing some normalised value rather than actual dollars), but the point is to make ppl aware of the whole ‘payment -> i’ll design more games’ truism. Some indie devs/musicians/filmmakers have a little rant about this issue to try and justify themselves. I think a visualisation makes it much simpler and directly to the point.

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