Guest Post: Learning from the past: Patterns in the recent history of game platforms part 2

Editor’s note: Today’s guest post comes to us from Jan Beckers, co-founder and CEO of HitFox, an incubator focused on investing in and acquiring game distribution and user acquisition startups. This article is the second in a five-part series of articles analyzing game platforms and the patterns that historically repeat itself.

Part 2: From marketing to product focus

In the first party of this article series, we discovered how gaming platforms are very similar to countries in many ways. Both types of entities have specific rules and regulations, growth and decline cycles, competition and taxes. We saw that just like countries and societies, game platforms show patterns in the development of these features. We then took a closer look at the first of these crucial patterns, the acceleration of platform cycles.

A question that is equally elemental as it is crucial, regardless of platform is: “How do I distribute my budgets?” This question is dynamic as the crucial success factors change with the platform cycle. And there is one pattern here in that stands out strong.

Pattern 2: Marketing wins on early platforms, product wins on mature platforms

In the early days of a platform, specific knowledge was rare.  Consumers and users are largely uninformed and don’t truly understand or relate to the platform. With a new technology entering the market there is an instantaneous shortage of information. The customer has to get used to a platform. At the beginning there won’t be many media resources. Word of mouth recommendations by friends also need time to build up. In consequence, discovery mechanisms and filtering functions are weak at the outset of a platform.

The shortage of information extends to the products offered for a platform and in our context the games. A user that wanted to pick a game on Facebook in the early days of the social network was like a tourist that just arrived in a new country, trying to decide on which restaurant to pick — without a travel guide.

The potential customer has to rely on marketing in order to make his decisions. Zynga was masterful in using this situation for their advantage. The company successfully focused on marketing with numerous “Ville” titles, which are only marginally different. Their early emphasis on marketing helped to establish them as a crucial player in the social games market.

Marketing wins on a new platform. It’s a land grab.

This foundation for decision making changes significantly over time though. With the development of a new ecosystem, the number of available information sources increases. And over time, the consumers have repeated interactions with businesses. Not only can the customer access information at his or her will, accumulated lessons and experiences are now part of the decision making process.

Mature platforms have educated users.

Mature platforms have experienced users that have played many games. They know the owners reputation and they can more easily differentiate between good and bad games. Brands and franchises become more important. Even if the user lacks experience, the media, e.g. game magazines, websites, blogs and forums deliver plenty of information, providing tools for both filtering and discovery. And friends discuss the games on Facebook or over drinks at the bar. The user can now make educated decisions based on product quality. The first consequences can be seen in the mobile market now with players like Supercell and Both are hugely successful with a focus on top-quality. “Now it’s a lot more about the product quality and the product itself,” as Supercell CEO Ilkka Paananen stated in a recent interview.

The best product wins on mature platforms.

To sum up: In order to be as successful as possible, developers and publishers have to go with the natural platform flow. They need to concentrate on marketing when a platform is young and then use the early success and the user base to build the best product over time.