Video game consulting company Hit Detection has hired George Jones as its chief consultant. It may be a small matter in the grand universe of games, but the move says something about where games are going. As we’ve noted before, it’s the community, stupid. Game advisers are changing with the times, bringing aboard people who know something about building a content creation community around games.
Hit Detection provides advice to big game publishers about their games before they’re published. Its influence is hidden from the public’s view, but it’s nice to think that the company plays a role in making sure that games don’t suck before publishers sell them to the public.
N’Gai Croal, a tech and video game critic who left Newsweek, started Hit Detection in 2009 to offer his insights to game developers. He expanded his consultancy and last year hired André Vrignaud, a former technical strategist at Microsoft’s Xbox division. Now he’s bringing aboard Jones, who was previously director of content programming for games at Wikia, the user-generated web community. He also served as senior vice president and creative director at GamePro, editor in chief of Computing Gaming World and Maximum PC, and the founding editor of Cnet’s Gamecenter.com.
Jones said in an interview, “Once we started talking about this, it was a no-brainer. The publisher needs a feel for how people are playing a more active role in game development, shaping the story and helping. The question is how to best manage that. It’s an exciting time for this.”
Croal said that publishers have long organized their marketing and advertising activities around a “media-first strategy.” They focus on a small community of game writers critics who preview products and review them. The collective analysis is measured by a game’s Metacritic score. But in the waning days of the current consoles, Metacritic scores are declining.
Now publishers have tools that can help calibrate the demand for a game, such as crowdfunding on Kickstarter. And if the game critics are becoming tougher, it might make more sense to shift marketing and advertising efforts directly at the community, Croal said.
Croal said his company will help publishers navigate the transition at a time when publishers are “right-sizing themselves” and are more willing to tap external experts for help in making games.
“It’s fascinating to see free-to-play games like League of Legends and World of Tanks develop a massive community,” Croal said.
At the same time, you see Nintendo cracking down on gamers who post videos with Nintendo characters on YouTube. Is that a wise move? Valve, by contrast, embraces those who build content related to its games by releasing tools such as the Source filmmaking software, Croal said.
“Valve understands extremely well the power of allowing people to remix and build value on top of their brands,” Croal said.
Jones said, “The shift is happening. I learned that at the broadest level at Wikia, where there is a community for everything. Publishers are finally understanding what these communities want, and the need to manage these communities can’t be overstated. We are still midstream in this transition.”
As the new consoles are coming out, the platform makers are embracing community. Sony has a “share button” on its controller for the PlayStation 4. Microsoft is expected to talk more about its plans for sharing at the upcoming E3 game trade show in Los Angeles.
“Social is clearly important to what they are doing,” Croal said.
Jones said, “We are hurtling toward this unknown future. Content creators are coming from the community.”