Platforms – The First Step to Platform – Genre Fit


The aim of any games startup is to achieve Platform – Genre fit. The first step in this process is to choose what platform your players use and understand the key performance indicators (KPI) that define success for this platform.

Game companies should always be seeking to achieve Platform – Genre Fit. Platform – Genre fit should lead to a game that appeals to the maximum number of players that can be addressed within a particular genre on a target platform. I have already talked about my belief that “Platform Type Influences Everything a Game Company Does”. Platforms are where your target players hang out and play games. Understanding the dynamics of your target platform offers the first and highest level insight into how to design your game to achieve Platform-Genre fit that will target gamers at scale on those platforms.

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More and more, games are coming to dominate the time and money spent on the various platforms and devices players use to access the internet, content, media and apps around the world. However as I have noted before the platforms available to play games change much more frequently than game genres. This more than any one trend forces game developers to constantly adapt to new platforms. In many instances these new platform shifts bring with them radical new technological changes, business model innovation, gameplay methodology and distinctive platform features that can be incorporated into your games.


The major platform categories available to reach Platform/Genre Fit

  • Console/PC/Handheld
  • Social/Online
  • Smartphone/Tablet

As defined by Gamasutra

Platform Genre Fit

A games company has a few choices when it comes to achieving Platform – Genre fit they can

  • bring an existing genre into an existing platform.

  • bring an existing genre into a new platform.

  • bring an existing genre into an existing or new platform and trying to

    • re-segment the platform as a new business model entrant (freemium, subscription) or

    • re-segment that platform as a niche entrant (casual, mid-core or hard-core, male, female, kids etc.)

    • clone an existing genre thats successful on another platform

Evaluating Platforms

The first step to achieving Platform – Genre Fit is to evaluate your target platform to determine the opportunity cost in terms of the effort, time and other resources needed to make your game and what success and failure for your game will look like if you do or do not reach fit. At a top level only two fundamental considerations are important for determining the right platform to launch, test and operate your game.

Define Failure

The most important consideration you need to ask about any platform you are attempting to reach fit for is what does failure look like on that platform?

Defining failure allows you to determine the baseline levels by which you decided to kill a game and move on to other games that have a better chance of obtaining fit on your target platform. Lean games is all about launching games that reach Platform – Genre fit therefore getting played by the maximum number of players of that genre on that platform. It is extremely important to define a set of failure points for your game. If your game does not improve upon these failure points then you should kill the game and focus your efforts on a game that has a better chance of reaching platform fit.

These failure points could simply be a set period of time in testing on the target platform attempting to tune your target KPI’s e.g. engagement, retention, monitisation etc. or a set number of target customers or growth rate. If you do not reach or surpass these targets and KPI’s you should kill your game and focus on another. I would argue killing sub optimal fit games quickly is of utmost important to a lean games company and is one of the best outcomes of adopting the lean stack and pubops as part of your publishing process.

Define Success

It is equally important to define your level of success on your target platform. You obviously want to build the most played game in your genre on the target platform. You need to determine how large this game can be, can the platform support that growth, how much that game will cost to build, test and operate and what revenue will you game generate if it succeeds.

Platform Evaluation Stack

I like simplistic one page tools that contain strategic, tactical and operational consideration together in the mold of the Lean Business Canvas when making these top level decisions and the first dedicated game tool I propose as part of the Lean Games stack is the Platform Evaluation Stack.

The Platform Evaluation Stack offers a method of evaluating all the important elements of a platform to determine it’s suitability for Platform Genre Fit. The Platform Evaluation Stack aims to synthesize all of the major considerations needed to evaluate a platform into one tool. It is intended to be used as a guide to present all the essential elements user, technology, approval processes, KPI’s you should consider to evaluate success and failure for any product for fit on any platform. For games that are intended for multiple platform these stacks can be placed side by side.

The Platform Evaluation Stack – Version 0.1

Platform – Genre Fit – Platform Type Influences Everything a Game Company Does

In the business model canvas, the cornerstone lean stack tool, we identify opportunities in the marketplace by defining problems in the lives of our target customers.

The purpose of any startup according to the tenets of lean startup should be to solve these customer problems at scale. We define these customer problems as a set of assumptions recorded in the business model canvas and then use the lean stack to methodically and systematically solve these problems. The end result of this process is to achieve what is called problem – solution fit and build a minimum viable product that can deliver the optimum solution to our customer problem in an agile, fast and waste free manner.

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The No Problem, Problem

However the problem – solution fit perspective doesn’t work when applied to game products and startups. This is what I call the no problem, problem. In essence gamers simply don’t have clearly defined customer problems. Gamers don’t suffer from problems such as a painful lack of a cute free to play casual bird tossing physics game on iPhone (Angry Birds) or a gnawing void in their lives that can only be solved by a freemium competitive synchronous midcore role playing combat game for the iPad (Clash of Clans). Subsequently it’s not very helpful defining game customers using the problem – solution fit perspective.

This leads to games startups defining customer problems just to fit the lean business canvas or more commonly conventional business plans pitched at investors. This is dangerous ground and leads to sub optimum problem – solution fit assumptions, experiments and results. These mismatched customer problems sit at too high a level to be solved usefully by any one game startup. A common expression of this is the current ubiquitous game startup strategy or vision statement I keep hearing from game startups and investor pitches “The problem is gamers need higher quality core games that work across all platforms”. Attempting to solve these high level market problems dramatically raises the cost and complexity of your game startup efforts, leads to substantially more complex minimum viable game products and leads to assumptions with multivariate product experiments which are complex, costly, time consuming and difficult to test and validate.

So applying the conventional problem – solution fit perspective is simply not that useful when we are developing games using the lean stack and lean startup methodology. This is a problem given lean startup methodology is fundamentally driven by this problem – solution fit perspective. However the lean stack is a powerful approach for startups and cannot be disregarded simply because game customers are not easily defined by the normal problem – solution fit perspective.

Games startups are different from game technology startups – I am only talking about game products and startups making games to be played by gamers here and not game middleware or Software as a Service (SaaS) startups that sell into the video game industry such as game analytics, development, marketing or monitisation tools etc. These game technology companies have clearly defined problem/solution fit inputs and outputs. For a game engine startup it is perfectly reasonable to define their customer problem as “gamers need higher quality core games that work across platforms” and iterate around an mvp to solve that problem. Their customer however is a game company and not the player of games and should be viewed as being in an entirely different market type. Many game startups inappropriately define their market type, incorrectly mixing technology, developer, publisher and industry problems together with game customer problems. This leads to a lot of waste, inefficiency and large scale failure in game startups and products and ultimately a lot of misunderstanding between game companies and investors.

Market Type Influences Everything a Company Does

Steve Blank suggests one of the most important tasks for a lean startup is to define exactly what type of market your startup operates in. In fact one of the rules of the customer development manifesto is “Agree on Market Type. It Changes Everything”. He offers an outline of the various product – market fit relationships in the excellent book “The Startup Owners Manual”.

  • bringing a new product into an existing market.
  • bringing a new product into a new market.
  • bringing a new product into an existing market and trying to
    • re-segment the market as a low-cost entrant or.
    • re-segment that market as a niche entrant.
    • cloning a business model thats successful in another country.

At a glance these relationships seem to be immediately useful methods to define market and product type for a game startup. However games are not defined via traditional market relationships. Existing markets or new markets are not useful distinctions for a game startup. Games are ultimately defined by the relationships of two fundamental dimensions those of platform and genre.

Platform and Genre

  • Platforms = Platforms are the equivalent of market type in the standard lean stack and can simply be defined as all the places where your customers hang out and play games. We have an abundance of game platforms in the market ranging from traditional game consoles such as Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, smartphones such as iPhone and Android, game portals such as Kongregate and even social networks such as Facebook (currently the world’s largest single game platform).
  • Genres = Genres are the equivalent of product type (new, hybrid and existing) in the standard lean stack and can simply be defined as the type of games your players like to play. We have many potential genres to pick as templates for our game products and we can easily experiment with hybrid or cross genre games.

Platform/Genre Fit

These two dimensions and their relationship offer lean game startups a highly appropriate means to determine first where their customers hang out and secondly what types of games those customers like to play. Lean game startups should always be trying to create optimum platform – genre fit with their game products. In fact the entire purpose of a lean games startup should be to constantly experiment with various genre types on a specific platform attempting to build games that appeal to the maximum number of players on each of these platforms. Whilst some of our best examples of platform/genre fit (Angry Birds, FarmVille, Peggle, Candy Crush Saga, Poker, Bingo, Slots) can actually achieve platform – genre fit across multiple platforms they almost always achieve genre fit on one platform first.

I fully agree with Steve Blank when he says market type influences everything a company does. However when applied to lean games this rule is more appropriately expressed as “platform type influence everything a game company does”. To understand why this is of so much importance to the efforts of a lean game startup we need to understand the relationship between platforms and genres. The fundamental understanding of this relationship between genres and platforms is that platforms change far more frequently than genres.

Platforms are Choppy, Genres are Smooth

Platforms have the largest impact on the games industry. Platforms change much more regularly than genres and present the market with the largest shifts in customer habit, growth, decline and migration. Platforms can be described as choppy due to this constant cycle of change and the high frequency by which these changes occur. Many of our most successful game companies have achieved success simply by achieving platform – genre fit on a new platform e.g. Supercell on iPad, Rovio on Smartphone, Zynga on Facebook, Call of Duty on Console.

Far fewer game startups have achieved success over multiple platforms or across platform cycles. This monumental task is usually reserved for companies that reach the vast scale of a global publisher such as Electronic Arts. These long term multi-platform and multi-cycle companies end up struggling to adapt to ongoing and radical platform changes and are in a constant race to achieve platform genre fit on a wide range of existing and new platforms.

Genres by comparison remain largely stable across platforms. Genres can said to be smooth given their relatively slow frequency of change. Genres are not entirely smooth and they do change. We all remember going to play coin-op arcade games in the real world and those popular text adventure games. By and large however nearly all genres of games became established at the very beginning of the video game industry way back in the 1970’s and have remained relatively unchanged since then. This relationship can easily be seen in an analysis of 24,000 games released across multiple platforms since 1975 by NcikVGG

Platform Type Influences Everything a Game Company Does

This inherent fundamental relationship between platforms and genres suggests that for lean game startups, platform type influences everything a game company does. This focus on platform type informs the entire lean stack and should dictate all activities a games startup needs to focus on to achieve platform – genre fit. To achieve platform-genre fit a lean game startup can focus on

Platform Genre Fit

  • bringing an existing genre into an existing platform.
  • bringing an existing genre into a new platform.
  • bringing an existing genre into an existing or new platform and trying to
    • re-segment the platform as a new business model entrant (freemium, subscription) or
    • re-segment that platform as a niche entrant (casual, mid-core or hard-core)
    • cloning an existing genre thats successful on another platform

New and Hybrid Genres

I am not going to talk about creating a new genre. Game startups almost never create new genres. In fact one of the biggest mistakes made by game startups is confusing hybrid games and mistakenly defining these games as new genres. Nearly all these hybrid genre games are easily defined within one dominant genre class and do not qualify as new genres.

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