Remember all the bad press Star Wars Battlefront II generated? Their parade got rained on for one simple reason: the studio lacked the respect to take on such a big name project.
Here’s what I mean. Cleary their objective was to change things from the first game. In the last game, the main protest was season passes. Players felt like the community was divided, and they didn’t appreciate the handling of maps. Understandably, EA removed this from the second game but replaced it with another form of monetization: essentially gambling. So, while they were focused on not repeating mistakes of the past, they failed to note the new mistakes that could arise.
This isn’t exactly something that would have occurred had they paid their respects to what Star Wars really means to so many people out there. They would have understood that it’s probably the most famous and beloved franchise/series in America, well-known around the world, and it’s touched the lives of so many. People name their kids after these characters, freak out at the thought of George Lucas, and line up like crazed, giddy children each time a new movie is released.
So, to taint that with blatant money-grabbing, gambling and what many consider to be malpractice was pretty much the crime of the decade. It blew up, it’s all over the news, and now it will affect the industry moving forward.
But what are the things one should do, and avoid doing, when handling a big name project anyway?
What to Avoid
First and foremost, don’t tackle a big name project with money in mind. Sure, it’s important to pay rent and put food on the table, but anytime you go into game development for money, you’re in for a rude awakening. It’s the exception, not the rule.
More than that, players are similar to the Reddit community: anytime they sense a potential scam or money grabbing self-promotion, they tend to reject it. So when you have money making as an objective, you can’t help but lead with it, hence pushing the players away. It’s counterproductive.
Another thing to avoid doing is rushing to get started. In game development, you only have so much time to get projects completed, or else risk pushing it back, which tends to have a negative stigma. Anytime a game is pushed back, it concerns players who wonder why you feel you need more time. Are you messing up? Are there too many bugs, or is there a bigger issue? Will it keep being pushed back until it’s not really relevant anymore?
It brings up The Last Guardian. The game plays like everyone wanted it to in 2009, and that was enough for many players. It got high enough reviews. But it quickly became overshadowed by other games, suddenly rarely appearing in news pieces by game journalists. Overall, despite being good, it wasn’t a 2016 PS4 game, it was a 2009 dinosaur, something that wouldn’t have happened had they released their game on time.
Logically, when we say “don’t rush to get started,” your instinct is to reject that notion and get to work! The problem with that is that with a big name project, the beginning stages of planning are crucial. If you focus on the planning first, and take the time to understand the audience’s expectations, then you quickly figure out what to do and avoid. You hear it directly from the players, the people who matter. Skipping this part and rushing to create what you think they want is to act upon assumption.
What to Do
But every coin has two sides. Sure, there are things to avoid, but there are also things to focus on that can lead you down the right path. For instance, when tackling a big name project, it’s important to see what has already been done. Going back to Star Wars as an illustration, that is a franchise with animated shows, movies, comic books, merchandise, branching storylines and character arcs, etc. Someone working on a Star Wars games would benefit from examining what’s been done and what’s stood out for people.
In doing so, a game developer could examine successful projects previously done, to better understand what it is the audience appreciates. What they want more of, and what they could do without. This can lead to a map, drawn up by the player base, straight from the horse, helping to instill confidence in the project moving forward.
Most importantly, game developers would be wise to consider all sorts of monetization methods. The most praised option has been and still is the act of ethically doing business, which involves putting out a completed game at base price, and then selling merchandise and aesthetically pleasing items on the side. Nothing that will affect the gameplay.
Terraria, the breakout indie game of 2011 has sold well over 20 million copies. For $9.99, players get a complete game that there is no additionally paid DLC for. No season passes of any kind. Play with a friend or two, modify the world as you see fit, and get rewarded for pretty much everything you do in the game.
What did Re-Logic do to further monetize the game? Merchandising. And lots of it. Think about it: players who love the game want to display that love in their homes, they want to collect things from the game in real life, and in doing so, they want to support the game. It’s a win-win. Just like Pokemon fans want to purchase Pikachu plushies, Terraria fans want to purchase wall decals to recreate their favorite biomes in their rooms.
Here are some additional tips to take into consideration:
- Don’t ignore the player requests and demands. If there is a giant group that consistently ask for something, at least listen to it all. They might be onto something.
- Don’t assume you know everything there is to know about the big name. No matter how much of an expert you are on pop culture, there is always someone else who has extra knowledge. Use your resources, and admit when someone else might be better at a task than you.
- Focus on community building. Again, the players are your audience. Without them on your side, your game fails, especially if they feel you’ve ruined their favorite stories and characters. So, while working on your game, focus on connecting with the fans, answering questions, and doing AMA’s. The more connected you are, the more they can sense your good intentions.
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