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Google Games and Branding | September 25, 2010

Last month at GDC Europe I attended David Cage’s talk. Without consulting my notes I couldn’t tell you exactly what the talk was about, although I took away many disparate details, all of which were mighty interesting. However, the most important thing for me was his reasons for pushing himself as a brand, rather than the game or even the studio. His reasoning was that it made good sense; if he became the brand then his studio was free to make any game it liked, as long as it had his name attached it would have a good step up in the market.

Google, I think you missed something...

This coincided with much elevated Google talk about its gaming platform. This talk seems to be mostly focused on the technical virtues of what they’re trying to do, but I think they’re missing a trick here. For sure, you have to supply quality systems if you want developers to make games using your wares, and there was a time when I would have argued that this, plus attractive pricing, was all you would have to do in order to have a successful platform – make good platform, people make good games, happy days. Then the Dreamcast was launched and that view was proven false; that was over a decade ago.

Now I don’t claim to have all the answers to that problem but I do have an idea that would allow game developers to leverage a much greater presence on a platform, which would mitigate some of the search quagmiring that has happened with iTunes, and give Google a very clear differentiator in the market.

To have presence you need to work on your brand, but if you’re a small developer, with a low output, then your lone product becomes your brand. Who makes Doodle Jump? Erm… the Doodle Jump guys? This is fine if you make a successful game that sells bazillions and you’re happy just maintaining that game, but what if you have a good game that hasn’t quite made it? Realistically, you roll your sleeves up and make another game, and hope it does well. If it does then you can probably get some traffic for your original game, as players look for other games made by you. It can take a long time to build a brand this way, just as it would take a while to build a house if you were baking each brick one at a time. For independent developers with shallow pockets this can be crushing.

Now imagine a platform that has brand management cleverness build into its distribution channels. If independent game developer were able to group together to share a brand then their block presence would be good for all of them. It’s important that you don’t confuse what I am proposing with anything remotely resembling a publisher. Some publishers have very high quality thresholds, but they are machines with quotas to fill and they are naturally prone to having to let the occasional bad apple through. With co-operative brands the quality would never have to slip because the co-operative simply wouldn’t let a game go out under their brand if it wasn’t up to scratch, because all the members would have too much to lose. It’s also less likely that this would be the case in the first place – developers are competitive with their peers, they will work very hard not to show themselves up in front of them. With a co-op of quality only one game has to hit the big time and all the others in the brand can bathe in knock on sales.

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