Top Selling Video Games All Have These 3 Things In Common — Which Of These 3 Does Your Indie Game Have?

Inside this article, you’ll learn new insights on how to market your indie video game

So, why is shooting a projectile at a small target so popular? Think about it… the most popular sports, that make the most money, include this type of game play.

In basketball, you shoot a small projectile into a net. In football, you throw a small projectile into the hands of somebody. In hockey, you slap shot a puck into a net.

It’s the same with baseball, cricket, golf, soccer.

All these sports include a simple game play mechanic where you shoot, throw, hit a small projectile at a small object.

Other sports like running, cycling, swimming, aren't as popular. They don't use this mechanic. It’s usually the sports that include this simple mechanic where you shoot a projectile at a small object, that make the most money, that are most popular.

And it’s not only in sports. Most popular hobbies are photography and video creation. You “shoot” with your camera to “capture” an image.

Same with drinking. When you want to celebrate, you have a “shot”. Or if you've lost, and you want to forget, you take a “shot”.

Now, what does this have to do with video games?

My goal in this article is to help you create an indie video game that sells itself.

And, if you learn a little bit about biology, psychology, human behaviour, gamer behaviour, you’re going to improve your chances of making a game that sells itself.

So, let’s keep going. I want to show you why, “shooting a small projectile, aiming, firing, throwing it into a small target” is so popular.

Then I’ll show how to use this new insight you’re about to learn, and help you sell more copies of your own indie game.

The Top Selling Video Games All Fulfill These Three Basic Human Needs

There is a science behind why this game play mechanic of “shooting a projectile at a target” is so popular in sports, hobbies, and video games.

I’m going to jump into some geeky science stuff. But follow along, because it’s important. I promise that after you learn this, you’ll have a NEW insight about your video game and how you can make it popular

So, let’s go…

Have you ever heard of the Triune Brain Model? It’s an evolutionary explanation of how our brain developed.

Our oldest part of the brain is the “Lizard Brain”. This is our primitive brain responsible for things like aggression, self-preservation, food, shelter, survival, sex.

On top of that, we have our “Monkey Brain”. This is part of the brain responsible for warm fuzzy feelings, relationships, cooperation, tribalism.

Then we have the newest part of the brain in terms of evolution, the “Human Brain”. It’s the rational part of our brain. It’s responsible for abstract thinking, art, math, creativity, imagination, planning, strategy, forecasting.

Now, here’s where it gets crazy interesting…

You’ve probably heard about, “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?” It’s a pyramid that looks like this…

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (Image from Wikipedia)

… where at the bottom you have your Basic Human Needs. These are psychical needs such as food, shelter, sex, survival, health.

On top of your Basic Human Needs, you have Emotional Needs, such as relationships, love, friends, belonging, warm fuzzy feelings.

And at the top of the pyramid, you have your Abstract Needs, such as self-actualization, goals, planning, art, math, planning, etc.

Do you see a pattern, here?

You just learned that our Triune Brain is made up of three things…

  1. Lizard Brain = food, shelter, survival, sex, self preservation, health
  2. Monkey Brain = warm fuzzy feelings, friends, family, relationships, community
  3. Human Brain = abstract things like planning, forecasting, strategy, art, math, science, creativity, goals

Notice how these biological parts of our brain MATCH our psychological needs?

Our Lizard Brain matches our Basic Human Needs (food, water, shelter, health, survival, sex)

Our Monkey Brain matches our Emotional Needs (friends, family, self-esteem, warm fuzzy feelings, community).

Our Human Brain matches our Abstract Needs (goals, planning, art, math, creativity, self-actualization).

These are the top THREE human needs. It’s how our brain is built, and how are psychology is built.

And it’s no coincidence that the top selling games all incorporate these three needs in their game.

And it’s no coincidence that games that don’t incorporate any of these don’t sell.

Let me show you what I mean…

The Top Selling Video Games All Fulfill Our Need For Survival, Community, and Creativity

If you look at the list of the most played games on Steam, you’ll notice that these games all have 3 things in common…

…they all fulfill our Lizard Brain, Monkey Brain, and Human Brain Needs.

Remember at the beginning of this article, I showed you how a simple game play mechanic (shooting a projectile at a small target), is so popular?

Well, the reason why this game play mechanic is so popular is because it fulfills our Lizard Brain needs.

Hunting and gathering is what helped us survive. Being part of a tribe, helped us survive. Planning attacks, hunts, and journey's to other parts of the world, helped us survive.

It’s no coincidence that the top selling video games, cover out basic human needs.

Dota 2 is a “pew pew” shooting game. It’s also a multiplayer game. It also is a strategy game, where you need to do some planning.

Same with CS:GO, and Playerunknows’ Battleground, Team Fortress. These games all have these three things in common: where you’re shooting at a target, in a group, and you’re planning your actions.

And what about games like Football Manager, and Civ 5?

Not everybody needs a “pew pew” shooting game to fulfill their needs. Some people need to fulfill their Emotional Needs. That’s why Relationship Sims are popular. Some people need to fulfill their Abstract Needs. That’s why games like Football Manager, where you get to plan and forecast, are popular.

Again, this goes back to our human evolutionary psychology. These three behaviors where you hunt in a group and plan your hunt, is what helped us survive.

And this NEED manifests in our video games.

Most of us no longer have to hunt for our food… we no longer have to worry about where we sleep… we no longer have to worry about a tribe coming in and warring us.

But this NEED in us is still there. It’s what Desmond Morris talked about in his book, “The Human Zoo”.

Our cities are like cages around us. And don’t act out our “wild side” because we are in this safe bubble, where all our needs are taken care of. We no longer have to fight to fulfill our needs. And like a zoo animal that can’t act out on their basic urges, we become lethargic, and sometimes depressed

Anyway, my point here is… video games let us act out on our basic human needs. We get to shoot, gather, be in a group, and plan.

Video Games That Don’t Sell Also Don’t Meet The 3 Basic Human Needs

Now, as an indie video game developer, I want you to understand why some games don’t sell.

Most indie game devs want to stay AWAY from making what’s popular. They want to make indie games that are more risky, and more creative.

And that’s the appeal to indie games. These games are almost the total opposite of what AAA publishers make. And gamers are always looking for what’s new, and novel.

But here’s the tricky part…

It’s when an indie game dev goes beyond human basic needs, that they fail.

For example, Indie Adventure games, have a hard time selling. Yeah, Telltale Games is successful at making story driven adventure games. But for the most part, most indie adventure games fail.

And that’s because adventure games fall in the realm or “entertainment”. Meaning, that these games go beyond our basic human needs.

Entertainment is important to us… we love movies, tv shows, music.

But video games are not movies. They’re not entertainment. And most non-gamers don’t understand this. They think video games are toys or entertainment.

Once a non-gamer starts playing, they soon realize that video games go beyond entertainment. Video games let you express your basic human needs.

My point is, that games that fail are games that fail to incorporate these 3 humans needs: Lizard Brain, Money Brain, Human Brain.

Examples of Indie Video Games That Fulfill Our Lizard, Monkey, Human Brain Needs

I just talked about how indie games fail because they fail at fulfilling our basic human needs.

Now, this doesn’t mean you as an indie game dev need to go out and start making an Indie Dota game.

No. What I’m talking about is, to go explore other types of game play mechanics that aren't always, “shoot a projectile at a target”.

For example, Undertale. This game wasn’t a shooter. It didn’t have co-op. It wasn’t a strategy game.

Yet… it still fulfills our basic human needs.

The STORY is the game mechanic. What I mean is, you had to strategies your decisions because it would affect the story. Shoot or leave them alone. Make friends, or enemies. These type of forecasting and planing IS the game mechanic. The STORY is the mechanic.

Also the STORY gave you warm-fuzzy feelings. But, it wasn’t passive. YOU, the gamer made that happen.

You see what I’m talking about? Most story driven video games that are popular are NOT passive. The gamer has control over the story, and thereby fulfilling their 3 needs: Lizard, Monkey, Human.

Same with with Stardew Valley. Part of our survival was hunting AND gathering. Gathering resources is as important as shooting a projectile at target. And Stardew Valley let’s the gamer farm, and gather resources.

Most triple-a publishers would never focus on “gathering”. They would rather make games where you shoot.

But indie games have survived because they’re known for making games that let you do more than just shoot, and where you have to gather resource.

Games like The Long Dark and Amnesia all explored the game mechanic of just survival with no shooting. Yeah, you can hunt in The Long Dark, but it’s a game where you survive the elements, not fight zombies.

Or, look at Kerbal Space Program. The game devs explored the Abstract part of our brain. No “pew pew”. Just a focus on planning, art, science, math.

My point is, that indie games CAN go beyond just making another “shoot a projectile at target”.

The top selling indie games all explore other parts of our human needs. Lizard Brain needs like gathering resources. Monkey Brain needs like warm-fuzzy feelings. Human Brain needs like planning, goals, abstract thinking.

Your One Step Action Plan To Help You Make an Indie Game That Sells Itself

Remember, my goal is to help you make an indie game that sells itself.

And if you know a little bit about the science behind why some video games are more popular than others, then this insight will help you in your own game development.

Now that you know more about the Triune Brain, and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, you can then incorporate that insight into your own game development.

You don’t necessarily need to make another “pew pew” game where shooting a projectile at a target is your main game play mechanic.

You can explore other basic human needs like gathering, warm-fuzzy feelings, and abstract thinning and planning.

So, to help you with your game development, and help you market your game, I think that answering this question will help…

How Does My Game Fulfill the Lizard Brain, Monkey Brain, Human Brain Needs?

So, go open a new word document, and take 15 to 20 minutes answering this question.

The more you work on this, the more insights you’ll get out of your game. And you can than use these insights to market your game. You can come up with new ways on explaining why your game is fun… and how it’s different… and what your gamer will get from playing your game.

How you communicate about your game is all that marketing is. Good marketing is when you can tell a gamer what they’ll get for playing your game.

Gamer’s are too lazy to figure that out. They’re not going to analyze your game and try to figure out why they should play it.

It’s up to you find a way to describe your game in a way that’s persuasive. And by gaining some insights about how your game fulfills human basic needs, you’ll find new ways to describe your indie game that is persuasive, and gets a gamer to buy your game.

About the Author

My name is Konrad. In 2005, I built a scanning app and started a scanning company. For 12 years, I’ve been using digital marketing to sell my app and services.

Now, I’m using what I’ve learned to help indie games sell their own stuff.

Think about it this way…

You’re the ship builder. I’m the sailor. I may not know how to build a ship from the “ground-up”. But I know how to sail it, and find new lands… new treasures.

My point is, if you’re an indie game dev who’s good at building games, but not so great at marketing and selling them, then I’ll help you out.


You can grab my ebook, “Money Making Video Games”, click here. It’s 160 pages, 7 chapter jam packed with marketing advice made for indie game devs. No credit card required. No email optin require. No bamboozles.

Click here to claim your free ebook on indie video game marketing.