The year Marketing ruled

Games are designed around a perpetual loop. From grind, through progression and into gratification. These three steps are repeated ad infinitum throughout the content of a game.

At the dawn of indie gaming, creativity stood tall.  Platforms and consumers wanted the best content because it mattered.

Time changes everything.  Platforms no longer need quality.  They need quantity.  Consumer attention has shortened and retention is fickle.

How this change happened and when it happened is folly to discuss.  What we know is that platforms have adapted.  The focus is to keep someone hooked long enough to deliver them more content.

Platforms thrive on simplicity > familiarity > frequency.  Repeat.

When overlayed with a gaming loop, grind + simplicity > progression + familiarity > gratification + frequency, you can see how these loops work in tandem.  Grinds got simpler, progression more familiar and rewards more frequent.

As everything is more or less using the same system, everything becomes about the short term.   How quickly can you make someone gratified?  This is an addiction, and marketing is built around making those loops thrive.

In the era of Mad Men, marketing was cut throat creativity, but like gaming, it has fallen into a perpetual loop that does not need creativity, or even to be the best product to succeed.

No one likes to think they are influenced by marketing but we all live in an ecosystem of influence. Whether it be by email, messaging, word-of-mouth or some other form of communication.

In the past, earned media was where products and marketing came together to earn conversation and coverage amongst consumers.  That is no longer true. Earned media is now about buying influencers, reviews, and likes within social spheres.  This can be done on Reddit, Amazon, Instagram and any platform you can think of.

Earned media was the last bastion of marketing that wasn’t part of the loop but in 2017 buying influence became not just commonplace but a priority.

There is no doubt 2017 gave us a number of interesting, even great games but the question should be asked, how many great games are lost because of marketing?

When was the last time you actually searched for something?

Are you reliant on the same series of feeds, from the same platforms?

Do you go beyond that first page of results on Google?

This is my New Years resolution.  To look and find the quality hidden beneath the paid marketing.

Happy New Year.


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Star Wars The Last EA Game?

Well well well… What’s happening here then?

Since the launch of Star Wars Battlefront II, EA’s stock has lost $6bn in value. This is an extraordinary drop considering it coincided with what was arguably the biggest game release of the year.

The old saying of “you could put the Star Wars brand on a stick and sell it” has been proven wrong by EA. You can’t put the brand on this monetization and progression system and succeed.

The problem for EA isn’t stock value. It’s about stockholders expecting the worst when it comes to the freemium game market. The reactions to Battlefront II reached mainstream news and the idea of “games as gambling” is now synonymous with EA and Star Wars Battlefront II. The level of interest piqued that of politicians and now governments are passing judgments on whether this is gambling. Will this lead to legislations handicapping corporations from their freemium revenue streams? It’s possible if the pressure continues.

EA has forever tarnished themselves now and Star Wars fans are pushing a petition demanding that Disney remove the beloved franchise from EA’s grasp. So not only have EA been backed into a corner with the outrage and media coverage, they have put the freemium market into the hands of governments and risked their connection to the worlds biggest franchise.

Good work EA.

Despite all this, it isn’t the beginning of the end of EA. Their value is actually greater than last year and their sports franchises alone, even if governments add legislation hamstringing Ultimate Team profits will forever keep the corporation in profit. What all this might do however is change the gaming industry for the better as games would need to rely on quality, not addictions to profit.

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EA’s lost the Battlefront but will win the war

If you play games and don’t live under a rock you’ll likely know that EA’s flagship Star Wars property Battlefront 2 launches November 17th. If you know that, you’ll also know that EA has been under fire from the gaming community because of it.

Firstly, EA got community backlash over their decision to put all progression into a loot box mechanic. Meaning, you’ll progress but your rewards are down to luck. EA have made changes to this but in early reviews, the progression system is widely considered the worst part of the game.

Secondly, EA made hero characters Luke Skywalker and Darth Vadar cost 60,000 credits to unlock. Based on the time it takes to earn credits, if you purchased nothing else, it would take 40 hours to unlock just one of the two. The gaming community applied pressure and the heroes now cost 15,000 credits.

So two wins for the community, but is it?

What bamboozles me, as a gamer, is why do EA continue to mask the real reasons for their progression decisions? They don’t need to come out with PR reasons. Gamers KNOW why they are using loot boxes.

Loot boxes aren’t fun per se. They are addicting. EA knows it. Gamers know it. EA also knows by controlling the % chance of rewards and the time needed to earn a loot box they can extend Battlefront 2’s lifetime value. Meaning, the longer you keep someone playing and the more appealing the carrot (on the end of the stick), the more likely they’ll crack and spend real money due to a whole host of psychology traits people have.

In all honesty, EA could come out and say “we know loot boxes, grind times and sexy rewards will earn us $$$”.  It won’t stop people buying the game and it won’t stop people playing it.  You could put the Star Wars brand on a stick you find in the woods and someone would buy it. It’s STAR WARS!

The fact EA (and others) don’t just say the truth is because of player motivation.  Saying the above will make gamers give up in the grind.  Yet EA could come out with a robust and honest reason to build trust otherwise it leads to other questions like…

Launching with heroes at 60,000 credits and then reducing to 15,000 looks like a calculated move. A means to say to the community “look we’re listening”. It’s the same tactic as in stores. When a sale approaches the prices go up and the following sale price then looks more appealing. The fact gamer’s see a 45,000 credit decrease makes it all seem reasonable but it just highlights these giant carrots dangling on the end of very long sticks.  It’s marketing.  Just consider this…

It is estimated via Star Wars Strategies that it will take 4,528 hours to unlock everything via the loot box progression or $2100. If this data is accurate, EA will definitely win the war as winning a battle means nothing in the long run.


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Everything is fuelled by big data

The title may sound extreme but all businesses thrive on knowing their customer. Well, they did. It’s now only about what the data shows.

This puts data scientists at the forefront of customer services as they are the ones extracting via extensive consumer tracking. This scares the living sh*t out of me as the logic-minded number crunchers aren’t really into service with a smile. They like facts and digging deeper.

So as you press yes on that interface, they get a chunk of info, but likely want to know more, so everything is now digging that bit deeper. This started decades ago and now there is so much big data that Amazon knows what you order, when you order it and the price you’re willing to pay, at that moment in time. You are in the matrix, so to speak. Well, your actions are at least.

So while those pretty interfaces that data scientists use look friendly and informative, it’s actually your life in a pie chart. A pie chart that every technology company can buy, utilize and take advantage of to make a profit.

You’d think because big data has taken the burden of knowing your customer that things like quality, innovation, challenge and fun would become the focus, it hasn’t. Mostly because each is too reliant on an individuals personality. This is why addiction, explosions, sex, shock value and other “pushing the boundaries” have become the norm. It grabs attention, holds attention and we engage. There is little choice involved.

Don’t consider the above as sarcasm. It’s fact but is it scary?

The collection of data isn’t scary. Data is good as it could lead to the curing of Cancer. The showing and sharing of non-personal data isn’t scary either. If your names not on it, does it matter if they know 27% of people love walking around their home nude in the day?

There will be big questions for big data and Artificial Intelligence ahead. It’s just whether we end up in an Idiocracy-style world before hand.  You should only worry if you don’t trust big corporations or your government…

Oh sh*t!

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Hyprotransactions and next level profiteering

While some of us struggle to give our games away, some manage to achieve the next level of profiteering. From Player Unknowns Battleground to <insert any major AAA here>, it’s rife and it’s tiring gamers out.

So what is exactly rife?

* Selling a season pass without showing what it includes.
* Adding microtransactions to $60+ Buy-2-Play games.
* Holding content to one side and selling it as microtransactions.

Why are these a problem?

Ten years ago this kind of profiteering wouldn’t have been considered but the spiraling cost of development, the internet and use of data across all facets of a games release has made it all into a science. A science which takes advantage of the psychology of gamers by preying on consumer traits (or frailties).

What this means is that publishers know gamers want to be #1, to be the best or have the fullest, completest experience. So they can sell useless items as part of a deluxe edition as it links into that part of a consumers psychological traits. A publisher knows that it’s easier to sell the season pass before a game launches because they still control the hype, and reality compared to hype is often less enthralling.

It’s not a crime but it’s manipulation. Which is exactly what consumerism is. However, will consumer protection laws revisit these practices, or will the digital, gambling era never be encapsulated?

Only time will tell.

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Wrong about VR

Last week I said Virtual Reality (VR) wasn’t the future.

I was wrong.

VR is an experience. Imagine watching Star Wars: The Last Jedi in VR?

The scenes and story unfolding around you. With 3D sound and crystal clear fidelity. It would be unlike any experience… That could be the future of VR. Epic, but sporadic.

My perspective changed while experiencing Everest VR. My mind flipped. VR isn’t for the day-to-day. It’s not going to overtake gaming, or education, or training. It’s just a branch of our digital future.

VR will forever be held back by price, complexity, and fidelity. For sure, these factors will improve but that curve, to achieve mainstream will forever put VR behind Augmented Reality (AR).

However, where AR is for the day-to-day mundane. VR is for the epic moments.

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Everything is getting political

The NFL is under a political spotlight and it’s fragmenting an audience who wants sport.

This is the crescendo of a scenario bubbling up since Colin Kaepernick kneeled last season for the 49ers. This is a reaction to President Trump’s speech not a melding of minds and opinion.

Most NFL teams thought they could ignore this like they ignored signing Kaepernick in the offseason. Let this sink in, “no one signed him because of the inevitable political media spotlight that would follow…”

Ironically, they are all now in that spotlight due to President Trump’s speech.

This is where media agenda takes control.

While in the spotlight it’s very easy for the media to spin your actions positively or negatively, it’s dealers (media) choice. They have the news feeds, they have the social media reach and work together to share talking points (fact). Get on the wrong side and it’s pretty much game over.

So, how is this relevant to gaming?

The gaming media is biased, driven by revenue and popularity. Remember, during GamerGate, we saw just how broken some of the gaming media was, perhaps (and probably) still is.

This is relevant because, in the next 3-5 years, it will likely be revealed how many gaming companies are using gambling mechanics to addict and manipulate those below the legal age of gambling, without warnings.

When this revelation grips the west, specifically parents of kids who are glued to their iPhones and iPads everything will explode. The entire gaming industry will be put under a spotlight.

The question is, when the gaming media has already proven itself to be biased, all about revenue and popularity, is it wise leaving the spotlight shining to them?

It’s kind of like when the NFL investigated the entire concussion scenario…

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Come on Indies, think it through

Sometimes, success should be kept under your hats indies. In particular, the success you’re having on Switch.

You may not realize this but every blog or article wrote saying “Switch rocks! Our games selling amazing, best of all platforms!” is another bat light being turned on, calling every developer to the party. Generous but ultimately suicidal.

You may take solace in the openness you have shown.  Yet, that solace will turn to burning hate as the publishers arrive.  Publishers whose solitary goal is to milk Switch users like big fat cows until empty, and you’ve just sent out the bat signal calling them… Bravo!

Those words even whispered will cause a thousand publishers ears prick up and singularly think (as there is only one brain) “let’s put our sh*t on Switch!”

So like on the Wii, Steam or XBox 360, where Indies initially thrived before the mass arrival of shovelware, clones and x.1 iteration culture. Oversaturation is now likely.  Meaning consumers get the TL: DR list of releases and ultimately gloss over before going to play whatever their friends are, what YouTubers have pushed or whatever IGN said was cool.

And so another avenue becomes clogged like an artery full of developers, marketers, and hacks.

Well done Indies.

Next up to be completely blocked like a public toilet will be AR.  At least that is what my spidey senses are saying (it’s a tingle more than a say).  Take care and muchos gracias.

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A summary of Mayweather versus McGregor for gamers

If I was to compare the big fight to a game it would be easy.

Just think No Mans Sky.

Lots of hype followed by the realization, it was all bullsh*t.

The only real difference is that Hello Games offered a refund and have been working hard to put right what they completely misrepresented during their runaway hype train.

The big difference is that, Hello Games had their feet held to the fire by consumers, there will be no such reaction by fight fans.

The media are already spinning it into a valiant effort by McGregor but they must have watched a different fight as a UFC champ should not be out of breath by the third round, nor should the fight be an exchange of love taps with a smiling Mayweather.  Especially after all the talk.  Would you gamers be okay with that?

It would be like the gaming media coming out in full support of No Mans Sky after its launch.  Giving it 9/10’s and hailing it as a valiant effort to create the game they had promised via all the hype. The gaming media would be held to the fire.  It’s not happening by fight fans.

Perhaps you gamers have more principles, or are more consumer savvy than fight fans? It’s plausible.

So while you pushed Hello Games into making their product better, these promotion and fighter charlatans have literally lied their way into hundreds of millions of dollars. Anyone would think they were bankers…

The only question that lingers now is whether the fight has done damage to the brands of boxing and UFC?

For Hello Games and No Mans Sky, if they didn’t yield to consumers their brand would have wilted and died.


McGregor will return to the UFC with the same swagger and KO’s. Everyone will forget the Great McMayweather consumer robbery because no one has the balls to stand up.  Fight fans need some tips from gamers it seems.


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Originality RIP 2017

It’s over.

Originality gave up and the gaming audience were the ones to unplug it unceremoniously.

Twenty years ago everything was a 1.0. We had new ideas everywhere and consumers were inquisitive about them.

Ten years ago everything was a 2.0. Not new, but with enough gimmicks to feel different(ish).

Now, we’re in an era of rehashed, pre-cooked, repeats and ready meals. Just look at Hollywood and the music industry. They’re on a hamster wheel going nowhere and gaming has followed.

We see, hear and play the same things with the same gimmicks over and over, ad infinitum. The only difference between each is whether Game X is backed by Influencer Y and what art style is used.

The gaming industry, like the other entertainment industries, have at best, become focused on what makes money. At worst, it’s an industry who learned how to manipulate the consumers to purely focus on what addicts, not entertains.

From the inside looking out, all is well and creating “game 3.0” based on “game 2.0” makes sense because it was successful and people loved it.

These 3.0 creators go on tour in conferences talking about the “magic” they have created and turn developer heads so that they make 4.0, which was the same as 2.0 and 1.0.

We now have 2,000,000 x “Game 37.0” on the market and still, the gaming market grows.

This proves addicts JUST want gratification in a color scheme they like.  If that wasn’t true, the market or revenue within the market would have shrunk.

The same is true for Hollywood and music. If originality was profitable it would be what the corporations chased. It doesn’t.

Familiarity gratifies addictions and it requires little effort from the creators.

Right now successful games exist where NOT PLAYING the game rewards you. So no matter what you do, you’re a winner!

Where can the industry honestly go now that users demand gratification which is easy and constant?

You don’t have time for originality, or even anything interesting or different.  You literally have seconds to hook or the user moves on.

This is why originality has died, and why interesting, intelligent, different and all the other good stuff which made gaming an art will slowly be sacrificed in the name of immediate gratification.

Just look at Hollywood and the music industry for where it’s all heading…

Boy bands, singing the same songs, doing the same dances, at the same time or…

<Add super hero name here>: Revenge of the <villain who was killed off but as we’ve reset the franchise last week we’ll use them again as the audience has ZERO connection to reality and just want to get their rocks off without firing up a single synapse in the brain>.

/Rant over.


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