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The turn of the delivery platforms

Feb. 15, 2008

In the last few years the video game market has become more and more segmented in terms of delivery platforms: rental and sale of boxed products is now offered alongside digital distribution on PC and on consoles, delivery on mobile devices and web platforms. As many new formats and distribution channels are becoming available, one of the challenges facing developers and publishers is to promptly understand audience composition for the different channels, to direct products to the right platforms, and to shape content according to the channel's audience and capabilities. In some cases different channels are co-existing on the same system, such as digital distribution platforms on video game consoles, and things can get quite complicated in terms of demographics and product design.
A good example is the Xbox 360, which supports both boxed products and digital downloads. In terms of boxed products, according to VG Chartz the most successful titles to date are Halo 3, Gears of War, Call of Duty 4, Forza Motorsport 2, and Assassins Creed. On the other hand, the five games that have produced the highest revenues on the Xbox Live Arcade service so far are: Texas Hold'em, Bankshot Billiards 2, Uno, Undertow, and Carcassonne. The discrepancies between the two lists are quite apparent. For instance, all of the top 5 boxed products are intellectual properties originated in the video game industry, while this is not the case for the Xbox Live Arcade titles. Moreover, the downloadable products seem to belong to a wider variety of genres compared to the boxed games. Finally, four out of five Xbox Live Arcade titles - and none of the boxed games - are somehow turn-based. This is quite remarkable: the two lists seem to diverge rather drastically, and yet they refer to two different delivery channels offered on the same console, and most probably to a very similar audience.
Clearly, subtle differences in consumer expectations, price point, demographics, delivery methods, and marketing strategies can determine the success or failure of a game, and as such they should be taken into account when conceiving a video game product. However, traditional product design processes in the video game industry do not strictly interface such concerns with game design and technology considerations. In the increasingly complex video game market, developers and publishers able to wire together all the facets of video game production will have the benefit of a clear competitive edge.