September 1st, 2011 | 4 MIN READ

PC Gaming: Making it Easier to Find, Try, Buy, and Play Titles

Written by Amanda Dhalla

As head of consumer research with Elastic Path’s Research and Strategy division, Amanda Dhalla helps global enterprises like Google better understand consumer behavior in order to optimize their digital offerings. Amanda’s research has been cited by CNN, Econsultancy, Smart Money, and Internet Retailer. A seasoned ecommerce professional with more than 14 years in the field, Amanda has hands-on experience marketing, merchandising and managing multimillion dollar online stores. Her areas of specialization range from market research, conversion optimization and analytics to traffic generation tactics such as social media, search engine optimization, and content marketing.

Gamers know what titles they want to buy and are willing to jump through hoops to get them, right? That may have been true 5 years ago but with the spread of online casual and social titles, gaming has gone from hardcore to mainstream. According to The Entertainment Software Association:

  • 72% of American households play computer or video games.
  • 42% of gamers are women, with women age 18 or older representing a bigger portion of the game-playing population (37%) than boys 17 or younger (13%).
  • The average age of the most frequent game purchasers is 41.

Many customers may not have a history or deep relationships with gaming. These users carry expectations built from their interactions with popular websites, applications and tools. As a result, they expect online retailers and digital distribution platforms to behave similarly, according to Elastic Path’s latest research The State of PC Gaming 2011: The Shift from Packaged Goods to Digital Distribution. Download a free copy of the full report.

Hmm… I need a new game, but what?

Search and category browsing are of equal importance in game discovery. The chart below shows that one in three gamers browse by game genre (32%) or use the search box (31%) when starting the hunt for a new game.

  • Affluent, more educated gamers are more likely to use recommendation engines.
  • Gen Y gamers (aged 18-34) browse bestsellers, new releases, and highest rated games more often than older audiences.
  • Lower income and older gamers (aged 35-54) are much more likely to browse game genres.

How do you most often find new games you want to play on a retailer website or digital platform (e.g. Amazon, Steam)? Searching and browsing are complicated. There is no one "perfect" design—you need to design and optimize for multiple search scenarios and types of users. Savvy retailers and distributors will expose their product catalogs in numerous ways—through personalized recommendations, an effective search function, rankings, and well-structured categorization—to meet visitor expectations and lift conversion rates. Those that can provide relevant recommendations, and social features that let gamers easily find their friends and see what they are playing, will improve retention rates.

Amazon: Offers predictive search suggestions and, if the search term is misspelled, shows “top results” for the word or phrase the visitor was likely looking for. Amazon also has more sorting, filtering and recommendation options than other game sites. Predictive search on Amazon suggestions for mispelled word 'gear'

Will I like this game?

Merchandising is about understanding the kind of information that’s critical to purchasing decisions. Since many PC games require major investments of time, money and effort, game buyers are looking for no-hassle ways to truly understand and test-drive titles prior to purchase. And the greater the commitment a game demands, the better its discovery tools need to be. Free trials, streaming game demos, trailers, user-generated content (e.g., screenshots, reviews), and industry reviews can all help gamers determine in advance if a title is worthwhile. As Oliver Kaltner, GM of Microsoft Germany Consumer and Channel Group, noted at Gamescom 2011 in reference to the fragile US economy, “So far people don’t spend less, but they spend more time making the right decision before they make a purchase.”

Big Fish Games: Provides trial versions that are easy to spot and well-differentiated from full games. Big Fish Games broadcasts the availability of trial versions

Sign me up, Scotty

Developers and publishers should also make it easy for gamers to get up and running once they have decided what they want to play. Hardcore gamers may have the patience to endure 45 minutes or more to find a suitable game, sign up for an account, pay, and start to download; older or casual gamers most likely will not bother. One reason why Steam has been successful in the PC download market is that it has become akin to a “games folder”; when they want to play, gamers simply launch Steam and choose a title from their library. New entrants wanting to compete with market leaders like Steam will need to offer lightening quick installation, with the rest of the game streaming in the background once play has commenced, or cloud gaming, to find favor with consumers impatient to play.

Steam: Even Steam has its flaws. The benefits of signing up are only explained after the user has decided to sign up. Help is only offered after the user downloads and starts up a game. Creating an account on Steam

Interested in more gaming content?

Download a free copy of the full research report The State of PC Gaming 2011: The Shift from Packaged Goods to Digital Distribution. Alternatively, watch our on-demand webinar, Monetizing Digital Content – the Rocky Road Ahead, where we explore consumer attitudes towards paying for online content.

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