I’ll be the first to admit it: I’m a bit of a nerd. I love my games. While I’m far from being a World of Warcraft-addicted gamer, I’ve had a profound love for PC games ever since I played Duke Nukem, Wolfenstein 3d, and Commander Keen on my old 286 for the first time.
The gaming environment is a wide and complicated market, spanning across different platforms that compete for the attention of the sought-after gamer. the PC game market alone is an $11+ Billion dollar industry and growing.
Distribution of PC games has come a long way as of late, which is the direction this blog post is headed. Steam games (owned by Valve) revolutionized the way people buy and play games on their computers. Think of it as iTunes for PC games. With anywhere between 1.7 to 3 million users playing at any given time, Steam has become the de facto method of buying and playing games.
Steam acts as a store, community, and portal for playing games. Users buy the game through the steam client and it downloads directly to their PC. They are able to effectively manage the licensing of games, and have become champions of indie gamers. Recently, they’ve even added Mac support. Long story short, if you like games, you should check them out.
What I really want to talk about is a recent marketing strategy they implemented which I think is genius when executed properly.
You may be familiar with the game known as Portal. Released in 2007, it was met with critical acclaim. The game consists primarily of a series of puzzles that must be solved by teleporting the player’s character and simple objects using a “Portal Gun”, a unit that can create inter-spatialportals between flat planes. The player character, Chell, is challenged by a HAL-like AI named GLaDOS to complete each puzzle in the Aperture Science Computer-Aided Enrichment Center using the portal gun with the promise of receiving cake when all the puzzles are completed. The unusual physics allowed by the portal gun are the emphasis of this game.
In short, its fun to play, and massively entertaining.
The folks at Valve have been working on a long-awaited sequel, Portal 2, which has been slated to be release on April 19th. Here’s where the genius happens:
On April 14th, Valve put up a countdown on portal’s Aperture Science website. Fans quickly assumed that the game would be released ahead of schedule. When the countdown hit zero, however, they were met with a curveball:
The website revealed that Portal 2 will launch early—if enough people get together and play all the indie games in the “Potato Sack” on Steam. The potato sack is a bundle of popular indie games sold on steam at a deep discount, and is a showcase for independent game producers. The page is now showing real-time stats of how many people are playing each of the games within the potato sack as well as the projected time to unlock Portal 2. Ultimately, the more people that play the games simultaneously the faster the clock will count down.
This sort of product release strategy is an incredible concept when applied properly (which it is in this case). In order for the concept to work, you need a few characteristics:
1) The product being release needs to be incredibly popular- you need a huge base of fans eager for the release.
2) The secondary products that need to be played/purchased need to be a great value and critically acclaimed as well.
Steam is essentially asking its gaming community to play great indie game titles in order to release Portal 2 earlier. It allows for the fan base to have control over the release of a product that has been long awaited. That sense of empowerment is very effective.
To make a more mainstream comparison: Lady Gaga’s new album could be released a week early if fans downloaded and played an album by a musician on the same record label. The more people that downloaded it, the earlier the album would be released to the public.
User-enabled early releases are a great way to drive sales of the secondary product (in this case, the potato sack), and drive awareness around lesser-known, quality products. I myself downloaded the potato sack and have been doing my part to make sure portal 2 releases earlier. My favorite potato sack picks are Super Meat Boy, Rush, and The wonderful end of the world.
I apologize in advance for going off the radar once Portal 2 comes out…