Why some online games can take years to become popular

The gaming industry is highly competitive, with hundreds of new titles being released every year. A handful of those games will become big hits, topping sales charts, kicking off long-running franchises and earning serious money for their creators. But the majority will enjoy a brief period of modest sales before sinking into obscurity. Many will flop completely, never even earning back the money that was spent on their development. 

There is, however, another category. While the general rule is that any game has a limited window of time in which to find an audience, and essentially sink or swim, a small minority find long-term success months or even years after they were first released. The reasons for this can vary, from changing circumstances to the nature of the game itself. But very occasionally, a game that audiences and developers alike have written off as dead in the water can bounce back for a surprising resurrection.

Slow burners

Online games are particularly susceptible to this “slow burn” effect. While a game that’s hosted on the web can be played instantly at any time, many are epic, multiplayer campaigns that can take days to complete, or have no fixed endpoint. It’s hardly surprising that shorter games have more of an instant appeal and so pick up traction quicker. 

Some online games are more like immersive cinema, with complex narratives, character development and whole worlds to explore. These games take time to play and appreciate, and gradually attract players that are in it for the long haul, rather than those who want to buy into the latest hype and then move on.

Continual improvement

Online games can evolve and improve over time more easily than console games. This applies to online casino games as well as traditional video games, as demonstrated by the recently launched online casinos in UK gaming hub. By responding to player comments, fixing bugs as they go along and gradually building a community, developers can give online games a degree of longevity that’s sometimes denied store-bought titles.

A question of marketing

Some games miss the target on first launch because they’re poorly or inappropriately promoted. Take the 1995 Japanese RPG Earthbound, which was a hit in its home country but was badly marketed by Nintendo in Europe and North America. At the time, JRPGs were a niche genre, and the games were expensive to buy. It wasn’t until the character of Ness reappeared in the hit game Super Smash Bros that Earthbound was rediscovered by a new generation of players, finally becoming a best-seller in 2013.

Eventual breakthrough

Another example is Ubisoft’s Beyond Good And Evil, which in 2003 was overshadowed by the same company’s release of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time and simply didn’t get the promotion it deserved. Nevertheless, critics loved it, and this unusual, original game won awards and garnered a cult following, eventually breaking through to the mainstream.

Slow-burn games like these are often the industry’s real successes. Over-hyped games that go viral in the week of release can often disappear just as quickly. Longevity is what developers hope for in a game. Sometimes it takes a while for quality to win out. But it usually gets there in the end.