I recently finished The Long Tail, which posits that the Internet is changing the entertainment business by making the sale of niche products viable. In other words, iTunes can derive significant revenue from the extra million tracks it keeps around compared to a bricks and mortar retailer. This effect has yet to make a significant dent in the gaming market – although Live Arcade, Virtual Console, GameTap, and Steam are all quite promising – often because older titles aren’t in a standardized format, unlike older film, music, and words.
Nonetheless, an important Long Tail effect is occurring within the games industry, just along a different axis. It is the long tail of online gamers. For publishers of standard boxed games, the world outside of North America, Western Europe, and
Usually the Long Tail concept describes ignored media or products, which have small audiences but cumulatively add up to a big number. The vast majority of the 5 billion people outside the retail game market are not going to start playing online game, but if a tiny fraction of them does, it would still add up to a big number.
Take Travian, a Web-based PHP strategy game which has attracted huge international audiences by localizing to as many languages as possible. Checking the “Total Players” category on each country’s server, there are big numbers from some unexpected places:
- 160,000 Poles
- 130,000 Russians
- 320,000 Czechs
- 90,000 Slovakians
- 300,000 Turks
That’s a lot of people, and they have over 30 other localized servers, including ones for Chile, Portugal, Norway, Slovenia, and even Bosnia. It’s a whole new world!