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Product vs. Service Games

By on May 7, 2019

The Pyramid and the other tools that I introduce in this book improve both product and service games. They are much more important for service games.

Imagine two different scenarios:

Maria has heard good things about Generic Shooter 3: This Time It’s Personal. Everyone she knows is excited for it, and the pre-order offer looks sweet. She goes to collect it from her local GameStop on launch day and plays it over the weekend. The graphics are amazing, but the gameplay, well, let’s just say that she’s seen it before. By Monday, she’s less enamoured, and over time, the shooter stays un-launched, as Maria returns to Destiny or replays Uncharted for the third time.

Kyle clicked on an ad and downloaded Generic Farming Simulator 3. It’s a litany of “press here, click there” instructions, littered with large green arrows to indicate each interaction he must complete to level up, to harvest his crops and to buy new agricultural machinery. The game is well crafted and keeps him playing for a few sessions of half an hour each, but his interest wanes and, before long, he is no longer playing it. It lasts another week before he deletes it from his phone.

The scenarios seem similar, but there is a fundamental difference. Maria paid $60 for her pre-ordered copy of Generic Shooter 3. The retailer, the publisher and the developer all received revenue from her, even though she didn’t enjoy the game much and stopped playing after a few hours. Kyle also didn’t enjoy the game much and quit after a few hours as well. No-one made any money from Kyle. He was able to try out—and, in this case, reject—the game without any money changing hands.

Service game makers have no choice but to keep their players engaged in the game if they want to become a commercial success. They can’t rely on pre-order campaigns, on vast marketing budgets or on popular licences to drive revenue. For a service game, those techniques can only drive downloads. The game itself must be good enough to keep users playing for a long time and for some of those users to turn into payers.

The techniques these games use vary, from being awesomely fun like Crossy Road to being shamelessly manipulative like Pirate Kings. Service games put “keep players playing” at the top of their to-do list, whereas product games put “make players want to buy it” at the top of theirs. Product games have lengthy marketing-driven feature lists (multiplayer Tomb Raider or that level where you jump from jeep to truck to jeep again in Uncharted 2) that bloat the budget, but fulfil some need—real or imaginary—to make the gaming public and the gaming press pay attention to the game.

In contrast, service games live and die by their retention. They succeed by keeping people playing them, and spending money on them. That is why World of Warcraft has had so many expansions and updates, despite being 15 years old. It’s why mobile and browser games have regular, large updates, which can add whole new mechanics or game features to a title which has been out for years. It is also why the top charts of mobile games are so stagnant, with titles like Candy Crush Saga, Clash of Clans and Game of War remaining in the Top 10 year after year.

This is an extract from Nicholas’s new book, The Pyramid of Game Design – get your copy here!

About Nicholas Lovell

Nicholas is the founder of Gamesbrief, a blog dedicated to the business of games. It aims to be informative, authoritative and above all helpful to developers grappling with business strategy. He is the author of a growing list of books about making money in the games industry and other digital media, including How to Publish a Game and Design Rules for Free-to-Play Games, and Penguin-published title The Curve: