5 Major Cultural Differences Between Games People and Web People

This is a guest post by Andrew Chen, reprinted from his blog. For more great articles by Andrew on games, product analytics, and viral marketing, check out his blog here.

Found on YouTube: Mario and Luigi’s insightful commentary on MySpace top friends

Cultural differences are always interesting!
I got interested in the games world first as a consumer of video games, but after I worked on an unsuccessful project to monetize MySpace using ads, I got interested in the monetization potential of virtual items in social products. For the last 2 years, I’ve been wandering around on the edges of the games industry to try to cross-pollinate some of the best ideas with what I knew from the web world.

Early on, after attending the Game Developer Conference and speaking with folks from many of the top publishers and studios, it became clear that there were lots of interesting cultural differences between web folks and games folks. I wrote some of these points down a while back and I thought I’d share them.

I want to caveat that these are purely anecdotal and my own experiences, and I’m sure that I’m overgeneralizing I also think that people that come from the casual games world (and in particular flash games) are much more similar to web entrepreneurs – the aliens I talk about are mostly big packaged games people. So please share your opinions in the comments if you disagree or have another perspective.

But here are the major ones:

  1. Eyeball worship vs. Game genre worship
  2. Distribution vs. Content
  3. Utility vs. Experience
  4. Open vs. Content gating

Let’s drill into each of these…

Eyeball worship vs. Game genre worship
First off, one of the big surprises for me was that many of the folks working at big games companies like EA have a very specific type of game they want to work on. Many of the folks I talked to wanted to make so-called “hardcore games” – very rich, deep, FPS/RTS/RPG/etc packaged games that sell at Walmart, and were completely uninterested in anything else.

While I excited about building simple Web-distributed games that could be played by millions of people, for many of these folks, if it didn’t look like a game, didn’t have monsters and guns, it was uninteresting. In fact, there was a pretty derisive view of folks who make so-called casual games as lower in the food chain.

This reminds me of a project I worked on a long time ago in the video space, pre-YouTube. I had interviewed a bunch of art students at Unviersity of Washington to talk to them about publishing their videos online, and they were very uninterested. For these art students, they had such a romantic sense of what it would be like to show your work in a theater, at Cannes, that the idea of millions of people watching a 400×415 pixel player seemed completely uninteresting. Perhaps the hardcore games folks I talked to felt the same way about their work.

The analogous concept in the web world is probably that a lot of entrepreneurs only want to work on “cool” startups involving fancy technology. They are less likely to think along the edges for products targeted at different (possibly more mainstream demographics). I also think that web folks get more excited about the eyeballs factor than anything else. The more simple, stupid, and widely used something is, the better!

Distribution vs. Content
Another interesting difference was the perspectives around content. For many of the games people I met, the content is everything. How good your game is perceived to dictate its ultimate success. I think this makes sense in an industry where distribution is essentially commoditized! The big publishers have many of the same relationships, and games developers in general have been outsourcing their distribution expertise out to the publishers for the past couple decades. As a result, it seems clear that the only place to compete is in the content of the game, rather than in the distribution.