Recently the NPD had stated that they would no longer be providing their estimates of hardware and software sales to the media, which meant that the public wouldn't be seeing them. The public was outraged and NPD was surprised by the widespread backlash.
This phenomenon is really quite interesting. After all, if you've already bought a Wii or X360, why should you care how many are selling each month? What difference does it make when you've already made your purchase?
In July of this year I did a compilation of 3 years worth of GameTunnel's monthly round-up, creating a Top 100 games list based on the round-ups. In addition to learning that most people don't actually read an article before responding to it, doing the top 100 compilation reinforced something I'd already learned through my Game of the Year articles, people need context.
Each year GameTunnel has done a game of the year article highlighting the Top 10 Indie games. It's an impossible task that cannot possibly please everyone and will even leave some people indignant. Doing the Game of the Year awards takes around 160 hours of my time every December. So why am I doing it again?
If you go to the listing of Action games on GameTunnel, you are quick to become overloaded. There are so many games! Which ones are good?
This is the problem of context.
There has been some decrying of review scores lately and I agree with the complaints. In fact GT did away with review scores 3 years ago. However, I'm not sure that not having review scores helps the general public.
The general public needs some sort of context to make decisions or the decision will be to do something else with their time and money. Looking at the list of Action games on GameTunnel, you should be able to find a game you will absolutely love. However, due to the fact that you have no context to compare the games one to another, you are more likely to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of games and quickly move onto somewhere else where there is context.
The GOTY awards for GT provide context. Though impossible to make the perfect list of top games, it provides a list of games that are considered to be the best. It's a starting point. It gives the reader a context to work within. It keeps people from feeling overwhelmed by the available choices and gives them direction.
NPD data also provides direction. Though the blog commenters who complained about not having the data have already purchased hardware and software, most of them are trying to put their purchases into context. Are they a part of the majority? Are they missing out on something? There is a secondary issue of the comfort of the majority, but the primary issue is context.
If you make games, what is the context that will get people to notice them? Nintendo used alpha moms to make the Wii more relevant and a brilliant pack-in game. Mystery Case Files launched a new game this week that is more of the same, but more polished. However, the brand gives context and makes the game have tremendous value that it wouldn't have had if it had been released as a MCF game. Jay Barnson runs a blog about RPGs and development and sells games he recommends alongside the blog.
Indie and casual games both face a low awareness and struggle in having the right context for the customer. How to help customers find quickly find something so they don't leave, and so that they also add the vendor's website to the small list of sites they visit frequently.
How are you providing context to what you are doing? How are you helping your customers find things for them? If you aren't doing it, be assured someone else is.