Game Development Reference
This is why a good game isn't necessarily a successful game. Success
depends on more than applying design principles like elegance, depth, and
balance. It also depends on understanding the game's purpose, where it
its into the market, and how its market positioning must affect its design.
The Tournament Market
To understand how to position a game in the market, we must first under-
stand the structure of the market itself.
In economics, the term rival good refers to a product which, when it is
consumed by one person, cannot be consumed by another. For example,
food is a perfectly rival good because an apple eaten by one person cannot
be eaten by another. Game designs, on the other hand, are nonrival goods ,
just like novels, actors' performances on film, and recorded music. Once
these products are created, the cost of transferring them to additional con-
sumers is nearly zero.
For example, plumbing is a rival good because a plumber can only
work for one customer at a time. This means that a mediocre plumber
has little to fear if one masterful plumber moves into town. The masterful
plumber can only serve so many customers, so there will always be some
left over for the mediocre plumber.
But producers of nonrival goods face no such limitations. A good game
can be copied endlessly for almost no cost and distributed to any number
of customers. This means that a middling narrative designer really does
have to worry about one new narrative design prodigy creating one much
better game, because the prodigy can steal every customer on the planet.
This nonrivalry means that the games market resembles a winner-
take-all tournament. The one best game gets all the customers. The
others—even if they're also very good—get none because everyone is still
playing the best game.
For the tournament winner, this is fantastic. It makes it possible to
have an entire market to yourself. Pull this off, and you can make an em-
barrassing amount of money. For example, Call of Duty: Black Ops took
in more money than the annual GDP of Liberia (a country of 3.7 million
people) because it owned the first-person shooter market.
But tournaments also have losers. In fact, they have mostly losers. It's
easy to forget this because the losers are hidden. We hear about the rich
winners in reviews and awards shows, while the losers die in the dark.
It's only when we actively seek a more balanced view that the number of
failures becomes apparent. Look at an unfiltered list of games released in
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