I would love to go to one store to buy every product I want. But shuttling from one retailer to another is the reality of the American consumer. That’s what specials are all about. That’s why Macy’s has one-day-only sales and AT&T has the iPhone. People who sell stuff employ all kinds of strategies to get you into their establishments, because capitalism thrives on the better mouse-trap theory, and mouse-traps are not just products, but offerings and services. Such as, only available here.
The other day I discovered, much to my horror, that I ran out of coffee. So what did I do? I drove five miles to Whole Foods because their store-branded Early Morning Buzz Buzz Buzz is, in my opinion, the best whole bean coffee I can buy. When I finished shopping I got in my car and drove across the street to Trader Joe’s because there are several items exclusive to that chain which I simply cannot live without (the Santa Maria Tri-Tip roast, the Mango shaving lotion). Then I drove to Safeway for my brand of cat food (IAMS Multi Cat), my paper-towels (Brawny) and these frozen Safeway stuffed shells I love. I am not angry at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s for not carrying what the other has, because I understand they are rival concerns doing what they need to do to make their customers happy and bring people into their stores.
Sure, it’s a waste of time and gas to go to three different stores in order to get all the things I want, but I am fiercely brand-loyal, and I’m willing to pay more, and drive far, to get certain things. It’s a hassle, but it’s life in the consumer market place. And I accept that with relative calm.
Casual game portals are really no different than any other consumer-facing businesses. Except they sell goods in virtual store fronts. I don’t have to drive to Shockwave or schlep over to PlayFirst for the games I want to play, I simply to click there. As a consumer of games, if I want to play something that’s only on iWin, I either download it there or wait until the game becomes available at my portal of choice. If there is a game that is only available at some other portal, and I absolutely have to play that game now, then that’s where I go.
Each game portal tries to create a space for itself in the crowded landscape of entertainment destinations on the web. Each gaming site tries to create a unique perception among consumers. Generally this is accomplished through look and feel, features, offerings and price. Each site has a personality, just like a grocery store, and though many offer the same ‘groceries’ we can buy anywhere, each tries to lure us in with products that are only available on its shelves.
This strategy is at the very core of a free-market economy. If a portal has a business development team, or internal studio that can enable it to offer games it can leverage as commodities, then bully for them. They’re simply trying to win customers and make more money than their competitors. As long as they are engaged in honest, fair and non-intimidating tactics, such portals have every right to secure and promote products that can only be found in their stores.
There has been some buzz among industry insiders regarding the fairness of exclusive game offerings. Some feel that the practice should be abolished to give all portals an equal footing, and that exclusives are even bad for developers in the long-run because it hurts the value of their brand. There are now some portals who, through stated direct policy or unspoken implication, will refuse to release a game at all if said game has been offered as an exclusive elsewhere. I have spoken to some independent developers who have experienced intimidation and the threat of total exclusion if they enter into an exclusive deal with another rival portal. It’s beginning to get ugly folks.
To be clear, what we’re talking about is not exclusivity in perpetuity, but limited windows of time where one portal carries a game for say, two weeks before any other portal can launch it. Sometimes the window can be as long as four weeks, but generally complete exclusivity (such as The Soprano’s only available on HBO or the Superbowl only on Fox) is not an issue in our little corner of the entertainment universe. Yet. I have long believed that portals will eventually be forced to offer more of its content in the way of television networks in order to win ‘viewers’ and maintain loyalty to their brands.
In all forms of media, content is king and those media outlets who consistently offer original, quality ‘programming’ win. Games, are after all a business, even if it is the business of play. Portals are here, not just to provide consumers with a relaxing respite from their busy, stressful lives, but to make money. If we provide consumers with a good value for their dollar, and treat them with dignity and fairness, then the relationship is a win-win. It’s symbiotic.
If a games portal denies its customers a chance to play a new game on principal, simply because they didn’t get it first, isn’t that unfair to the consumer who trusts that portal to deliver what she wants to play? If I am a subscriber at BobsDownloadGames.com, I’m paying my monthly fee for access to the best games available. I trust the folks at Bob’s to get me the games I want to play. If they refuse to carry games I want guess what I am going to do? I’m going to cancel my membership and go where I can get the best value for my hard-earned dollar.
Customer satisfaction is the single most important factor in any successful business. Quality product is a close second. When the operators of a business begin placing their own concerns above the good of its customers, Rome is burning. Give the people what they want. In this case it’s the widest selection of games possible. In my experience casual gamers are reasonable, intelligent, patient people. They understand how the world works. They won’t tolerate buggy games or crappy games, but they will wait a few weeks for the games they want as long they know they’re coming.
Vincent Louis Carrella works for Shockwave.com. His debut novel, Serpent Box is set in a world far from computers and games.