During a panel held at the MI6 Game Marketing Conference in San Francisco, Greg Short and Geoffrey Zatkin of game research firm EEDAR spoke in depth about two powerful but often underutilized marketing tools for games: downloadable content, and "accomplishment" systems such as Xbox 360's Achievements.
"The video game industry is largely a hit driven industry," said Short, "but a lot of games don't bring home the bacon. [Marketers] need their facts and stats earlier, and they need to be accurate. That's why we made EEDAR."
Short observed that accomplishment systems--which may have the highest profile on Xbox 360 but also exist on PC via Steam and various casual gaming sites, and are planned for PlayStation 3 in the form of Trophies--are "becoming synonymous with online gaming."
But does this mean anything in regards to a game's financial success? EEDAR says yes.
The company tracks over 7000 Achievements over the Xbox 360 library, sorted into category types such as advancement, exploration, score, community, time, and victory.
According to the company's research, the simple number of Achievements included in a particular game has less bearing on its success than the amount of diversity of Achievements the game displays.
This trend has become more pronounced in the years since the Xbox 360 was released. In 2005, games with one to three, four to six, and seven to nine types of Achievements sold roughly equally; in 2007, games with seven to nine types sold about twice as well as each of the other two groups.
In particular, Zatkin pointed to what EEDAR calls "viral accomplishments" as a successful but highly underused feature. Big Huge Games' Catan
includes an Achievement that rewards a player for inviting a friend to a round of the game, even if that friend does not own the game.
Games with similar Achievements are found to sell 28% better than those without, though only 8% of all Xbox 360 games include them. According to Short, accomplishments are "as important as trailers or screenshots" - maybe moreso, because they are more personal to players.
He proposed simple - but long-term - theoretical strategies such as a Call of Duty 4
Achievement that unlocks when players watch the eventual (and inevitable) Call of Duty 5
Most marketing teams rarely think that far ahead. "They're being slapped in at the end," said Short. "They're not part of the overall strategy."
Like accomplishments, downloadable content is available on numerous platforms - but Xbox 360 seems to be ahead of the curve.
According to EEDAR, all DLC on Xbox 360 weighs in at 308GB with a total value of $6139; total PS3 content totals 64GB and $627; and Wii DLC totals .0086GB and $0 (figures exclude full downloadable games).
Despite these considerable libraries of content, there is little consistency in the amount of DLC from game to game, and EEDAR believes developers could be creating better strategies. "A $60 one-time sale can become a $100 ongoing sale," pointed out Short, noting that Microsoft and Bungie could see $25 million more in revenue for Halo 3
by including one additional piece of $5 DLC that achieves a 10% attach rate.
The majority of free content is trailers and demos--but according to EEDAR and NPD research, releasing a demo may actually be detrimental to a game's success.
Zatkin demonstrated that on both Xbox 360 and PS3, games with only a trailer released were on average considerably more successful than those with a trailer and a demo, just a demo, or neither. On PS3, games with just a demo were less successful than games with neither or both.
Based on sales evidence, demos are more likely to help towards the end of a product's shelf life - which also gives developers more time to polished demo for eventual release.
All in all, the Short and Zatkin called for greater consideration of accomplishments and DLC from the earliest days of a game's development.
"You can't be thinking three months out or six months out," said Short. "You have to be thinking when you're planning the game."