Game Development Reference
any given period and you'll be struck by how numerous they are. And even
this sample suffers from a survivorship bias, because it ignores games that
were never released. The games tournament is harsh, and most games
tHe mattHew effeCt
The game design tournament is made even more lopsided by the Matthew
effect , so named by sociologist of science Robert K. Merton after the bibli-
cal verse Matthew 25:29: “For everyone who has will be given more, and
he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will
be taken from him.” A game or franchise that is popular has an advantage
in becoming more popular. The rich get richer.
In games, the Matthew effect appears for many reasons. First, games
aren't just nonrival goods. They go even further than this. They are anti-
rival , because they become better the more other people are playing them.
More players mean a stronger community, more potential play partners,
more user-made content and culture, and more word of mouth. Second,
the developers of the successful game have advantages in money, cred-
ibility, and status, which helps them create their next game. They can pay
to get the talent they want. They can get creative control from publishers.
They have leverage over platform holders. Third, consumers have a strong
bias in favor of the familiar, which means that the already-popular title
beats the unknown in an otherwise even competition.
The Matthew effect implies a world where the haves and have-nots are
permanently locked in place, like something from Orwell's 1984 . But in
reality, dominant franchises are regularly overturned by upstarts. Because
though it seems like the deck is stacked against them, newcomers have
advantages that the big boys can't match.
tHe innovatoR's Dilemma
Imagine a designer at an upstart studio. He has few shareholders, bosses,
or hangers-on to tell him that a risky idea won't work. His name is not tied
to any established design, and nobody expects anything from him. With
nothing to lose, his ability to invent and innovate is completely unfettered.
He has nothing propelling him except his own creative fire, but he also has
nothing holding him back.
So he tries something wild. He takes a risk, puts his heart and soul
into it. And it's a hit. He makes a huge amount of money, his studio grows,
and he becomes famous. Now the dark side of success takes hold.
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