Video game markets fail at recommending games

It’s hard to choose the right game to play

There are around 15 big AAA games with huge marketing budgets every year that everyone knows about and are somewhat a safe bet to invest your time in, but if you are interested in more niche genres or want to play something different things are getting confusing very quickly.

Not everyone is satisfied with watching only Marvel and action movies, right? Try searching and recommending a game for someone who loves postapocalyptic setting or played Commandos (awesome tactic strategy that was popular years ago) and not forcing them to buy a new device for just that game. Not the easiest thing to do. Of course you could google it, or research media websites and user forums and reviews but there is no obvious route to take.

Things are way more complex than they need to be.

Here is why (or the current state of video game stores)

Discoverability is a major problem that each platform tries to solve in it’s own way. There are basically three different approaches in use:

  • Console platforms are gatekeepers and heavily curate their markets and license every game that reaches the enduser. So there are not a lot of games to begin with and the games are not cheap. Which in the end acts as a stamp of approval — if the game is selling in PlayStation or Xbox store it is of at least a decent quality.
  • The main entry point for a mobile game is either through feature banners at the main store page or a top 10 position in the charts. Usually the stores update on a weekly basis, so every week there is another batch of games. The visibility besides the main store page is very low, not a lot of users go to category pages. So the user can find a new game to play either based on editorial taste (featuring) or if the game is very popular (almost 100% F2P games with huge marketing budgets)
  • Steam (which controls the major part of PC distribution) relies on a combo system of “curators” and greenlight. Greenlight acts as a buffer and ensures that everyone can publish the game on Steam and in the end you — the users — decide which game are good enough to go to the main store. Curators are experts that already have an established audience and consequently a reputation. So it is in their best interest to recommend the best games.

This leads to a situation where every platforms approach has it’s own tradeoffs and all of them behave as closed gardens that do not have any interest to recommend games outside of their markets. While recent data shows that users play on more than one platform. To be specific of all console gamers, 87% also plays games on a PC, you can be sure that a vast majority of them also have a smartphone and play games on them as well. So it makes total sense to build bridges between different entertainment systems.

Netflix data shows that after watching longform tv series users tend to “relax” with movies. There is no way we can get that kind of data in video game space but i think it’s safe to assume that after completing 20 hour long console game a lot of users take a break with mobile games.

Furthermore marketplace recommendations are not enough. If a game is not in a “impulse” price range users go to different services to help them make a buying decision. Lets’s plays at Twitch, Metacritic scores, non biased user reviews, hype on media websites all act as signals and in aggregate persuade consumer in one or the other way. Why the user needs additional information to make a decision?

Obviously, because they do not have enough trust in a store recommendations. Any store (no matter what it sells) is biased and is interested in selling you more stuff.

The above-mentioned process is time consuming and requires domain knowledge. Maybe there is a way to simplify and get rid of discovery routine? To find out let’s look at other entertainment industries.

What could be borrowed from other entertainment industries

In the movies space there is a bunch of services that are used for recommendation purposes. IMDB acts as yellow pages of the movies and tv series, providing a comprehensive knowledge base where one can lose themselves in surfing and finding new movies connected through actors, directors and lists. Trakt and TMDb provide access to their databases via the API and a lot of great apps and websites make good use of it. Letterboxd and iShows are notable examples. A diverse ecosystem of services exists and this is awesome for the end user.

Goodreads is a huge and very popular book sharing and recommendation website that millions of people are using to find new books, organize their own collection and see what friends are reading regardless of the store where books were bought or the way the books were published in print or electronic form.

And all this activity happens absolutely independent of the companies that sell things. If some unlucky store goes down the ecosystem for finding information and recommendations will still be in place.

So what needs to be done

Let’s take all the good parts and sum them up:

• Crossplatform

People play on more than one platform, sometimes they switch or buy a new one. IMDb and Goodreads are valuable no matter what apps you use to read books or watch movies.

• No intersection of interest

If you operate in recommendation space users must trust you and believe that you are not biased. Video games press and media websites are struggling not to cross the line here but you can’t argue that when you promote something for money and than write a review, there is an intersection of interest and a potential problem by definition.

• Personal recommendations

I’ll bet you played some games in your life that you liked. You already have personal preferences. Maybe you know some people with similar taste and rely on their advices. This is experience and it must not be ignored. Just look at how Netflix adopts it’s mainpage based on your viewing habits or Goodreads show you what books are your friends into.

• Huge catalog

Every game that mattered at any point in time. Because your past experiences affect your current choices. And because comprehensive knowledge base helps to make an inform decision.

Video games, to me at least, are a very rewarding experience. I spend countless hours exploring new worlds, solving puzzles and building civilizations. And i’am very grateful for that experience. The moment of discovering next great game is no less exciting. That’s where the adventure starts and it deserves more attention.