In a recent posting, I expressed curiosity about what makes a game a sure fire winner.Statistically, only two percent of games actually return a profit to their developers, so I asked the question, “Why do some games, like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Max Payne and others become such winners in the marketplace?” One of you supplied an answer that intrigued and pleased me.The response agreed with the theories I had proposed in my article while opening yet a third theory, pointing out that Halo was published by a platform owner on a highly-advertised (not to mention convenient and easy to use) platform.
That comment came from our own Meho:
I am not sure I can give you comments that will move the Earth or something. But, if you try to ask why Halo was successful and Max Payne was less so, there are simple factor to observe:
One was published by a platform owner, on a highly-advertised (not to mention convenient and easy to use) platform and had a very strong marketing push from way before day one. The other was published by a small, indie publisher that went bust shortly after.
What Meho did not mention was exactly why Microsoft pushed Halo so hard.And thus, the third theory about the “The Two-Percenters:” why some games make it big while others never even come close.The answer: simple, the publisher had an ulterior motive.We will discuss that in a moment.
In discussing the two games in question (Max Payne and Halo) Meho said, “Perhaps most crucially, one [game] was a solitary, philosophical romp through one man’s living nightmare, the other was a full-blooded online social experience,”then he added “but Max Payne’s brand of fun is inevitably more cerebral but also more restrictive than Halo’s cooperative online game play.”In so doing, Meho told us his preference in games, and perhaps the preference of most serious gamers…it is the magic in the word “cerebral.”But what he didn’t deal with was the “chicken or the egg” concept.
The fact of the matter is that Halo was on the boards at Bungie as far back as the late nineties.When Microsoft decided to make the Xbox, the company realized it legitimacy in the marketplace – so it purchased a selection of developers, Bungie included, to accomplish this. Also recognizing that ir needed a killer app to launch the console, it assessed its new portfolio and handed the keys to the kingdom to Halo – a game that was, at the time, quite a different animal than what Bungie finally shipped. What is important to remember here, though, is that Halo is really a first-person shooter and first person shooters had been around a long time.In spite of that, Meho had an explanation for Halo’s success.He stated:
[Halo] was published by a platform owner, on a highly-advertised (not to mention convenient and easy to use) platform and had a very strong marketing push from way before day one. The other [Max Payne] was published by a small, indie publisher that went bust shortly after.
(note: Gathering of Developers published the original Max Payne, with this and all of GoD’s IPs transferring to Rockstar/2K after the beleaguered publisher’s collapse —S)
I agree with his perspective, but only to a point.Halo’s existence and history are very complex. It did have a huge advertising blitz, but – and this is important – only in the context of the fact that it was an Xbox launch title. The truth is that while Halo was amusing, it was never that impressive to PC gamers.The game offered nothing – nothing – that hadn’t already been done on the PC by games as much as five years its senior. But to console gamers, Halo was the equivalent of their DOOM.So did the gamers stand in line to buy Halo, or did they stand in line to buy the Xbox?The answer is nebulous; they stood in line to buy both. Halo’s attachment rate at the time of the Xbox’s release was something like 90%. Gamers were led to believe that Halo was the “killer app” for that console, as in fact it turned out to be, and they dutifully bought it along with their new console.
The success of Halo, certainly explains why Halo 2 had gamers standing in line the night before its release.But all gamers who weren’t brain-dead frat boys saw the flaws in Halo 2 quickly. Many were disappointed with the way the game handled playable Covenant characters, by the inept storyline, and by the lack of any real conclusion. When Halo 3 came out it sold millions, but was eventually ridiculed for its shaky level design, incoherent story, and careless mechanics, and forgotten by online players who happily went back to Gears of War once the novelty of a new Halo wore off.But that said, Halo 1 was indeed the game that made the Xbox a fixture in our lives – or, rather, in the lives of Westerners, as neither the game nor its mother system ever made much splash in Japan. Halo lacked cerebral depth, and the depth of social experience it offered was questionable, but the game was so packed with new and different types of adventures, equipment, and challenges (for console gamers unaware of the PC’s depth of offerings), that players couldn’t wait for the second.
So while critically, the result was thumbs down on the second and the third, the sales figures were in the stratosphere.Do you think the publisher cared?Typically, if games have those intrinsic qualities that tend to move us emotionally as well as cerebrally, we yearn for a follow-up. One sad aspect of this business is that mediocre or even poor games can, when heavily advertised, sell millions of copies and earn a place in Sequelia (think Assassin’s Creed) while outstanding titles with low market awareness are doomed to last only one installment. Microsoft took advantage of its success with Halo, producing a mighty franchise now valued at well over a billion dollars; but a franchise of creative bombs that we fell for… and shame on us.
It seems to me that gives more credibility to word of mouth ascause for a game’s success…and that is the way it should be.Customers who talk up a product can be trusted.But we too often fall for the advertising.Yet, the fact is, a full court press of a publisher is of little consequence if the work of mouth is not there.Word of mouth made Max Payne a two-percenter, an advertising blitz made Halo a two-percenter, but the real question is which made us feel better – Halo 2 or Max Payne 2? Since Meho started this discussion, it seems appropriate to close it with a quote by Meho.
“Make no mistake, I personally prefer Max Payne to Halo by a considerable margin”
So do I, Meho, so do I.That pretty much says it all.