What is the measure of a successful game? Selling something is no simple matter, and a keen understanding of one's customer is crucial. Often, the needs of a game's target audience can differ from customer-to-customer. We all want different things. It's a trait that rings especially true amongst people of different cultures and origins. So then, how does a game crack the code of accessibility? How do developers create a game for everyone? In last week's Games Worth Buying, we looked at how Final Fantasy XV found global success - primarily, through hype, good marketing, and a favourable sales history.
But sometimes, a developer is better off picking their battles. Targeting a smaller niche-audience can be a safer, more reliable strategy. The upcoming Nier Automata is a great example of a game that knows its strengths and plays them on the market. When gambling with sales and marketing, the Nier franchise has a history of placing its bets wisely.
The Nier Franchise
For the uninitiated, Nier is a JRPG franchise developed by Square Enix. It releases on PC and Playstation 4 in Japan on February 23 of 2017, and in North America on March 7. It is a spinoff of the Drakengard series, and sets itself in the same decaying world many years after the events of Drakengard.
Nier Automata is concerned with an ongoing war waged between machines and what's left of humanity. It is the second title in the Nier series.
Nier on the Market
Where Final Fantasy has repeatedly sought out the largest audience possible, Nier, instead, shifts its focus to Japanese markets. The franchise's first effort saw healthy Japanese sales in 2010. Clearly, it's a game that's captured the interest of it's intended audience. However, Nier remains a relatively niche title among Westerners.
As a spinoff, Nier's international sales were somewhat predetermined by its association to the Drakengard franchise. While titles in the Nier series are certainly able to be played as stand-alone games, fans familiar with the Drakengard series will get more out of the experience. Like Nier, Drakengard also saw excellent sales in Japan, but remained relatively obscure in North America and Western Europe.
Yet, where Nier was released only on home-console, Nier Automata will release on both Playstation 4 and PC. As a result, Nier Automata may have a little more luck in the Western markets than Nier or Drakengard before did. However, it's likely that its overall success will still remain largely tethered to Japanese sales.
Marketing, Hype, and What to Expect When Nier Automata Releases
Nier Automata's PC release is no small victory for the franchise. In fact, it signals a great deal of Western excitement for what is being labelled a "niche title". Many are attributing Square Enix's decision to release Nier Automata on Steam to the recent hype surrounding the "All-Star" list of talent working on the game.
There’s a great pool of talent behind this one, which is part of the reason why gamers are so excited.
As we saw with Final Fantasy XV, hype is a driving force in determining what a game's sales will look like. However, it's not the only variable. Marketing, too, plays an essential role in what shape a game's sales figures will take; and it certainly can spark, or snowball hype within the gaming community.
Marketing for Nier Automata has been slow and steady. It was first announced in 2015, at the Electronic Entertainment Expo. Later, at the Paris Games Week trade show, an official title and gameplay trailer were on display.
Nier Automata was originally slated to release in 2016, but was pushed back to avoid competing with larger, more popular releases. Square Enix clearly wants Nier Automata to succeed.
Can a Bad Game Succeed? Can a Good Game Flop?
Nier, the first title in the series, was welcomed with mixed reviews. However, it was a commcercial success in Japan. A game doesn't always have to be perfect to succeed on the market. Of course, the opposite is also true: good games aren't always successful games. Take for instance, Psychonauts, the brain-child of critically acclaimed designer, Tim Schafer, which performed well among critics, but poorly as a commercial product.
How a game is marketed is critical to its commercial success. Often, an effective video game commercial won't feature any actual gameplay. Lost Odyssey, a 2007 JRPG from developers Mistwalker and Feelplus, saw strong international sales. It sold well enough that a sequel was rumoured to be in development by Microsoft. In North America, Lost Odyssey was advertised often, in a promotional video featuring no gameplay, and set to the song "White Rabbit" by Jefferson Airplane. It's an advertising format that's not unlike the commercials of many big-name titles airing today - for example, Battlefield 1 and Gears of War 4. Both focus more on cinematic visuals over gameplay, and each are set to a famous Western rock song.
If Nier Automata's advertising continues to ramp up towards its release, and North American promotions are localized with Western culture in mind, we might expect Nier Automata to find considerably more mainstream success than its predecessors.
What Success Means to the Nier Franchise
From visuals, to gameplay, to character design, Nier Automata is made with a Japanese audience in mind. It's difficult to elevate something so vernacular to an international or mainstream audience. If Nier Automata sees commercial success in North America, it will likely remain modest. However, that's the brilliance behind Nier Automata as a product: its success on American soil doesn't really matter. It's a game designed to succeed in Japan, and anything beyond that is simply icing on the cake.