Jan-Michel Saaksmeier is Head of Licensing for Mobile Publishing at Spil Games. He is an expert in finding and developing successful games and building relationships with developers to maximise revenues.
Prior to joining Spil Games this summer, for the last six years he has worked at Bigpoint, producing and developing new game concepts, rising to become its Head of Publishing. He was the mastermind behind Farmerama, Bigpoint’s biggest game franchise.
Here, Jan-Michel talks about how focusing jsut on the "Unique" in USP means sometimes developers forget the "Selling Point" using the Goat Simulator as an example of the "unique" developers are trying to copy.
Goat Simulator was originally created for a joke at an internal game jam. But people loved it so much, Coffee Stain Studios ended up making it.
Here’s why we love it: it has a sticky-tongued goat and a lot of glitches. The idea was so insane it worked. It caught people at exactly the right time: we were getting a little bored of these ultra-sophisticated glitch-free games with no goats. Goat Simulator triggered our imaginations and it made us laugh.
But it also created a problem for game developers. The glitchy sticky-tongued goat problem. Now we have studio managers holding meetings where they’re saying: “We need a glitchy sticky-tongued goat. Find me a glitchy sticky-tongued goat.” And we all end up running around looking for a new angle.
A successful game needs an edge and often that means finding something new and surprising. Weird. Insane. Completely unexpected and accidental, in the case of Goat Simulator.
But the problem is we become fixated on the concept and spend too much time worrying about it. The idea is important but, generally, it only represents about 30% of what brings success. The rest is about the way we execute the game. With Goat Simulator, developers happened across something viral but they built on it.
Because it was a joke, the original coding was done quickly and there were lots of glitches. The glitches were part of the charm and so Coffee Stain Studios left them in. They even play them up. Their marketing implies you should have low expectations of the game. You’d be better spending your $9.99 on an actual goat, the company suggests.
These goat-based glitches make the game stand out. Other than that, it’s a pretty conventional game based on a physics engine. Actually, this helps it sell. People are intrigued by the idea but they instantly get the game play because it is familiar.
Successful games all mix the radical with the familiar; the unique with the ability to sell themselves.
Candy Crush is a good example. It was stuffed full of new ideas so it really captured the imagination. Notably, it added a social map to motivate your progression through the levels. But people picked it up and played it because the ideas were centred on a puzzle concept that they already understood. Play was exciting but not so radical so as to be confusing.
The glitchy sticky-tongued goat problem only gets worse in today’s crowded copycat market. If you want to recreate Candy Crush’s success you need to do more than recreate Candy Crush. There are hundreds of Candy Crush clones that simply don’t have anything sufficiently new to stand out.
As you introduce new ideas, you have to make sure they add something to the game. Clash of Clans is immensely successful and part of its secret is the asynchronous battle mode. You get to decide the strategy but once battle is engaged you have no direct control over your troops. The ensuing chaos is good for gameplay — it’s what makes it fun.
I’ve lost count of the Clash of Clans clones whose USP is to add direct control. It doesn’t enrich the gameplay. In fact, it spoils the fun.
A new game needs an edge. The solution to the glitchy sticky-tongued goat problem is to ensure that the concept will work in practice. Here’s how to check that it will:
- Will people get your idea immediately? Is there enough about it that is familiar? You only have seconds to convince people to play your game.
- Is it easy to communicate to people what your concept adds? The app stores give you only limited text, icons and screenshots to put your idea across. If you’re struggling to explain it, players may struggle to play it.
- Does your idea work for your intended audience? For example, does the complexity of the game suit a casual player?
- Does your idea enrich game play? Is it going to make the game more fun, or just weirder?
- Does it work for players at different stages? It may grab their attention and get them playing for the first 30 seconds, but will it keep them coming back?
Goat Simluator available on GooglePlay.