Game Devs Speak Out on Gaming's Discoverability Problem

Game Devs Speak Out on Gaming's Discoverability Problem

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Developers and publishers dance around the question of how to get games noticed in an increasingly crowded marketplace.

If you've spent any time reading gaming trade sites or listening to developers talk in recent years, you've probably come across some hand-wringing about discoverability. It's not necessarily a new concern in the industry, but it has become an increasingly critical one as the barriers to entry in the industry have come down. Between cheaper and more user-friendly development tools, digital distribution storefronts that allow virtually anyone to make their project a commercial endeavor, a growing industry with a plethora of platforms, and legions of aspiring game developers spurred on by an industry that sporadically produces success stories from studios of all budgets and team sizes, it has arguably never been easier for good games to fall through the cracks and escape notice entirely.

But unlike many of the problems in games where there's no shortage of people to shout that they have the one true answer, discoverability is a nut very few people claim to be able to crack. Developers, publishers, platform holders, press, and storefronts alike all acknowledge the problem. Some even say they're actively working on it. But nobody really knows what a proper solution would look like.

Personally, I've long since given up on a solution. Clever algorithms and store layouts may do a better job of matching titles to the gamers who would best appreciate them, but those will be incremental improvements that don't address the root of the problem. As for that root, the only things I think could stem the flood of new talent and games coming out would be a total collapse of the games industry (which I'll call an undesirable outcome) or building those barriers to entry back up (which would almost certainly impact poor and marginalized people disproportionately, driving them away from a field that desperately needs their participation). In either case, the industry winds up worse as a result.

Others in the industry aren't quite so pessimistic as you'll see below, but there's still little of what I would call optimism.

QUOTE | "Discoverability is the number one driver of adding a game to a wishlist—without that, nothing else matters. If you have a great trailer, a good price, and a great game, it simply doesn't matter if people aren't landing on your store page." - Seth Coster of Butterscotch Shenanigans says getting Steam users to put a game on their wishlist is key, but developers need to get them on the game's store page first to do that.

QUOTE | "We're seeing the first new business models in a generation come online. Cloud gaming from Stadia, robust subscription services, new storefronts, and a lot more. So how do you as a developer navigate this space? I have no idea." - ID@Xbox head Chris Charla offers valuable insight at the GamesIndustry.biz Investment Summit during PAX Dev. (OK, that was unfair. He then explained that he does have ideas, but ultimately the answer will be different for each developer.)

QUOTE | "I admire Steam greatly for what they're trying to do. I don't know if they will ever succeed, but it's a mountain that's worth trying to climb because it's really great to me to see a mega-corporation like Steam would invest in trying to help people find more different kinds of games." - Kitfox CEO Tanya Short gives Valve credit for its efforts to address the discoverability problem.

QUOTE | "There's an extent to which we spent years saying 'But this game's cool, and this game's cool, and this game's cool.' Eventually we took the hint. They didn't really want to know about it. We'll still do something when there's a game we really want to highlight, but it's hard to do." - On his site's 20th anniversary, Eurogamer editor-in-chief Oli Welsh talks about the challenges the site ran into trying to introduce its audience to worthwhile mobile games. (As a member of the gaming press who has seen the traffic reports when I've covered relatively high-profile indie games at GameSpot and GamesIndustry.biz, I will co-sign the suggestion that the press' ability to draw attention to worthy projects is discouragingly limited.)

QUOTE | "I started out my gamedev career working on Starbound for almost two years. I was sixteen. I worked hundreds of hours and wasn't paid a single cent for it while the company made unbelievable amounts of money off of my labour, and that of around a dozen other unpaid workers." - Narrative designer Damon Reece was one of several former contributors to the game who accused developer Chucklefish of exploiting them by not reimbursing them for their work on the 2.5 million-selling hit.

Developers on Starbound accuse studio Chucklefish of exploitation. | Chucklefish

QUOTE | "Sexual harassment is a union issue, we have made stamping it out one of our core missions. We know that when workers join together in a union they can overcome power imbalances and help create workplaces where they can unleash their creativity and fulfill their potential free from abuse, harassment and bullying." - Philippa Childs, head of media and entertainment trade union BECTU, says the benefits of labor organization go beyond better pay and job stability.

QUOTE | "The interesting thing about our franchises is that each release doesn't replace the previous one. Right now I'm playing the remastered Assassin's Creed 3, and it's an interesting story to go back to, even though there have been so many subsequent versions." - Ubisoft VP of platform and product management Brenda Panagrossi explains how the company is well-situated to run a single-publisher subscription service like Uplay+.

QUOTE | "Our audience is very vocal. They like to speak about different topics—we have Reddit, which is a place where people speak about many things. It's a lively community and they speak about everything, that's why you have all sorts of topics that are discussed. It's actually good, I think." - Ubisoft CEO Yves Guillemot talks about the portion of the online gaming audience that advocates for keeping politics out of games.

QUOTE | "Even with new platforms coming out, we believe high-end console games are the most important. We challenge for innovative ideas and technology within our console games and apply them to other devices, so we will continue to put effort into our console games." - Konami Europe president Masami Saso insists the company hasn't turned its back on console and PC gaming, pointing to Contra: Rogue Corps, Yu-Gi-Oh, and Japanese baseball games as evidence.

QUOTE | "We're partnering with Fig to give back to longtime fans who have sustained Homeworld for 20 years by giving them a chance to invest in Homeworld 3's success and help us understand the game they've been dreaming about." - Gearbox explains how it's doing the fans a solid by letting them give it money in a crowdfunding/investment campaign with a goal of raising $1.

QUOTE | "As enjoyable as the games we can play are, no experience we yet have even compares to the sprawling adventures that have become commonplace for the sighted." - Blind gamer and accessibility consultant Brandon Cole writes about the potential to make triple-A open-world games playable for visually impaired players.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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