In the rush to every game launch, the part of the game that always, always gets shorted is HELP. This is not a new observation, but I never understood how the industry evolved that way until I heard Mark Cerny speak about the history of the Arcade at DICE 2011.
The original gaming business model behind every Arcade was trying to get as many folks to drop as many quarters as fast as they can. So the perfect game for that business model was a short one that generally killed off the player in a matter of minutes. Help was not only an afterthought, but it was bad for business. Doh! What’s more is that those kids that got hooked on arcade games were the super competitive, compulsive ones who could survive the constant onslaught that the game threw at them. Normal kids gave up after a few quarters of frustration and went outside to play. And guess what happened next? The kids that became the first gamers became the game designers of the next generation, and so on and so on.
Help? Who needs that? That’s for folks who aren’t true gamers, who haven’t earned the right to finish the game. So no wonder HELP is still shorted today in almost every game out there. But guess what? That’s bad for business in today’s gaming landscape. The business model of killing off players so they can pump in another quarter is long dead, but the games are still designed that way. That’s why completion rates for games are criminally low. Here, pay $60 for a game, but don’t worry that you’ll only play half of it. Frustrating the gamer isn’t good for repeat business, especially when you think about the downstream impact on add-ons and sequels. Why should I buy more of the same game I still haven’t beat yet? That’s irrelevant for the top 15% of compulsive/competitive types, but huge to the 85% of more “normal” gamers.
Ignoring HELP in the production process is also bad for business in that it forfeits a golden opportunity to strengthen and deepen the 1:1 relationship with the gamer. They bought your game, but when they need help, where do they go? Not to your website, but to a myriad of diverse sites with the hope of finding the nugget they need to keep going in your game. And guess what those sites are doing while they’re hunting? Selling advertising where you get no cut. And funneling those gamers to other games.
So, while it’s nice to know the legacy of how we got to this point, don’t you think it’s time to move on and start supporting today’s business model and today’s gamers? It just might help you out.