Web 2.0 and the games industry ostriches

Let’s start with an executive (ie simplified) summary for those at the back who haven’t kept up. Web 1.0 ended in the dotcom bust because it was difficult to monetise all those big ideas. After a while a new web appeared driven by new applications that embraced user content and monetised in new ways such as Google AdSense. These applications include wikis, the biggest of which is Wikipedia, which now has over 7 million entries, social networking such as Facebook and Linkedin which are about to replace porn as the biggest application on the internet, the many hundreds of thousands of forums (quick plug for artforums ) where anything and everything is discussed, picture and video libraries such as Youtube and also the blogsphere as exemplified by this article. These applications interact and overlap seamlessly. You will find Youtube videos in blogs and forums on social networking sites. This is a veritable online and social revolution.

So how has gaming reacted to and incorporated the huge impetus of Web 2.0 into it’s products? Well, by and large it hasn’t. This is the fault of the platform holders and their business model of shipping plastic and carboard around the world as one release follows another.

Now I will tell you a story which, putting modesty to one side, involves myself. A few years ago, before this Web 2.0 stuff, Codemasters had a new military action PC game called Operation Flashpoint, also at that time we had very little money to market it. So we concentrated on pr and online, especially nurturing the community. We couldn’t afford much in the way of advertising. Anyway our efforts and an excellent product got us to number one in every country with a chart, including America, Codemasters’ only American number 1 in over 20 years. As part of the close community involvement with the game we released tools that allowed users to make their own missions. And many did. Some of these were terrible and some were as good as the published game. We also gave the tools to our QA department who created a mission that we sold as a download. This mission must be one of the most profitable pieces of games software ever, minimal development costs and no marketing and distribution costs. It sold well and brought in a nice pile of money. Overall our community involvement with this game meant that it sold a lot more units over a longer life.

So what could you do with Web 2.0 today? Starting a year before release you would need a community officer, or even team, dedicated to the game. With the development team they would run a blog and a forum with monthly newsletters to an opt in database. A webcam in the development studio is a nice touch that the team can have fun with. Competitions would see game merchandise shipped to winners and the most vociferous fanboys can be invited to come and meet the development team and have a curry and beers with them. Youtube would see a string of viral and teaser videos. After shipping the game you would release development tools as a (paid for?) download and set up social networking to make it easier for customers to form development teams and generate content. You can use the community to beta test and vote on the results so you only make the best available for distribution. You can even monetise the whole process. Paying a team £10K for a mod and then charging £5 for a download of it is good business. All this may seem like a lot of work, but it is incredibly cost effective marketing and will prolong the life of the game in the market as well as selling more on day one. There is much more that can be done in the same vein, this is just a quick brain dump.

Now I am not saying that Web 2.0 methods and practices are never used in the games industry today, just that we are lagging a long, long way behind and that most of that is down to the platform holders and their outdated business models.

So is this a load of rubbish or do you detect a germ of truth? Post your thoughts as this is an interesting topic to debate.


  1. Bruce, a very fair and balanced argument – there has been a general shift towards an ‘online’ sales channel, but in all fairness the people making the decisions still see ‘Retail’ as king and are too frightened of ‘Retail’ and their alleged power, to deviate from the ‘norm’

    Keep up the good blogging a very interesting and informative read – I especially liked the piece on censorship.

  2. Thanks Murray,
    It is nice that Steam now has 180 games, 13 million users and has added the social networking features that are so important. I am sure that ultimately it will make far more money for Valve than Half-Life and Counter-Strike combined.

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