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June 23, 1998

by Greg Costikyan

art by Michael R. & the Illchemist

Browse the Hit Hunter fall catalog!

Rock Star
So You Wanna Be a Rock Star?

Christ & Conquer
Christ & Conquer

Fry Raider
Fry Raider


LL Bean
L.L. Bean Wilderness Survival

The most astonishing--perhaps the most alarming--recent news in computer gaming has been the enormous success of huntin' and fishin' games. Deer Hunter sold more than 700,000 copies, even though it's as dull as dishwater: you lie around waiting for Bambi to show up so you can put a bullet through his head. Its development cost was less than a quarter that of a typical game, and it looks like it, too--but that hasn't hurt its sales.

Deer Hunter was the number one best-selling PC game for several months. Trophy Bass clocked in at the number eight best-seller for 1997.

Needless to say, these games set conventional wisdom on its head. They aren't first-person shooters, and they sure aren't real-time strategy games. They don't sell to the hardcore. They're different.

The computer gaming industry isn't completely incapable of learning from experience, even though it may seem that way sometimes. You can bet the major publishers sat up and took notice of the success of these games. But as you might also expect, they've drawn the wrong conclusions.

The first thing they noticed was that Deer Hunter premiered in Wal-Mart, and was sold exclusively there for a time. Indeed, Wal-Mart approached GT Interactive with the idea, and pushed the game hard. In case you've had your head buried in the sand for the last decade, Wal-Mart is the largest retailer in the world. They can move a lot of product.

Their next observation was, hey, rednecks will buy games if you give them something on a subject they can relate to.

So what the publishers concluded is: line up Wal-Mart and do games with shit-kicker appeal, and you're golden.

So we're going to see a lot of these kind of games in the next year or so. And you can bet that a constant stream of sales guys from the computer game publishers is flowing through Bentonville as we speak. Bentonville, Ark., is where Wal-Mart is located; the closest airport is hours away, and if you want to sell to Wal-Mart, that's where you have to go, to kiss the ring of Sam Walton's vicars on Earth.

But what the publishers should have realized is this: you can succeed in selling a game that appeals to a special interest, if you line up strong support on the retail end first. Do a game on dog-breeding and try to sell it through Software Etc., and you're dead. Do a game on dog-breeding and get it in every pet store in the country, and you've got a shot.

So what they should be doing is commissioning games on subjects people are passionate about--and lining up retailers other than Wal-Mart to push them. Here's six game-cum-marketing concepts to give you an idea what I mean, free for the taking.

Check out the Hit Hunter fall catalog....

© Copyright 1998 by Greg Costikyan.