October 2000

Differentiation Engine
Scenarios for Gamers.com 2001
By Justin Hall

Here are a few scenarios for the future of Gamers.com. Each contains a For/Need/Offer formula as well as a broader "Pitch" followed by potential "Downsides."

Gamers.com is an irresistible combination of a portal, with links out to web content for your searches, and zine, attitude and content on games and gaming culture.

For: Gaming Enthusiast
Who Need: The latest gaming information
We Offer: The ultimate gaming portal-zine
That Unlike: GameSpot, IGN, Yahoo
Offers: Best search combined with best editorial

We have an enormous database that should satisfy any game-related search you have in mind. At the same time, we have edgy exciting game-editorial content that will attract your eye. You'll come for the search and you'll stay for the attitude - no one else covers this many games and backs it up with quality, in-depth coverage.

Distinguishing ourselves in the online game editorial field may be difficult at this late date. Being the best gaming editorial site may not be a big enough pie either. We'll have to add ancillary services to complement the revenue from advertising and syndication, and this draws the focus away from our "best of best" approach.

Center of the Web
Gamers.com is the place you come before you go other places. We search the web so you don't have to. Come to our web site, and you know you'll find out what you need to know about games, and about only games.

For: Game addicts (mostly young males) and adults looking for a clue
Who Need: Cheats and reviews and news and release dates - game information
We Offer: The best guide to the world of games available online.
That Unlike: GameSpot, IGN, Yahoo
Offers: One or two clicks to anything you need to know about games, anywhere on the web (non-exclusivity).

This is sort of the Switzerland/Information Middle Man approach popular here in late 1999/early 2000. We've broadened our scope to include editorial, since we needed stickiness. But there's still no central gaming portal online, no place to go for the best game links, and we could grab hold of that distinguished role if we promote ourselves that way and polish up the links in our database.

We may have already decided that there's not enough glory or cash in that proposition. Someone like Yahoo could come along and crush us with a web database that's half as good.

Community Hub
Gamers.com is the place to find your friends and play with them online. Through our message boards, community hub, instant messenger, free gamers email and buddy system, we'll help you find and stay in touch with a gaming community.

For: Avid gamers (mostly young males)
Who Need: Friends
We Offer: The best tools and setting for meeting and keeping gamer buddies
That Unlike: Yahoo, GameSpot,
Offers: A focus on games combined with community tools tailored to gamers.

This model could be adapted specifically to serve the burgeoning communities around online multiplayer role-playing games. EverQuest, Asheron's Call and Ultima Online have already colonized parts of eBay, IGN, and the Gamers.com message boards. But no one has offered those communities a suite of tools build with them in mind, tools that can track characters, facilitate item/character auctions, and help players communicate with other players. Besides that market, we could develop tools for matchmaking gamer buddies, keeping track of game advisors; tools to turn a broader audience into content for itself.

The community space is crowded; everyone has free message boards and free web pages. Building critical mass here could take serious trench warfare online, pitching our boards to every thief, mage or fighter online.

Lifestyle Center
Game playing is the lifestyle choice for young people of today. Gamers.com offers gamers the information and tools they need to stay on the cutting edge of gaming.

For: Some members of Generations X and Y (mostly young males)
Who Need: To have something to identify themselves with
We Offer: The place that makes gaming cool and makes you feel cool for being a gamer.
That Unlike: Yahoo, GameSpot, IGN
Offers: a combination of information and community, with attitude.

This is the ESPN/MTV approach to Gamers.com and gaming. The idea is that video games (as well as computer games and to a lesser degree offline games) will become a dominant and self-perpetuating form of youth culture in the 21st century. We would position ourselves as a kind of "hit-maker" for the games industry, and the place to see and be seen for the gamers themselves. Older people who feel like they're losing touch with the hip world of gaming would use us to find out what's up, and the young folks would come to us so we can tell them what to think. This is a great position from which to create desire; Gamers.com holds the keys to gamer culture and people who want to identify with that come to us. It's a similar model to what Wired did for aspiring tech executives, Rolling Stone did for aspiring rock stars, and Playboy did for aspiring lechers.

Maybe gaming will not sustain the kind of attention that music and movies and sports have enjoyed recently, since gaming is something that most everyone can do, why would people log on to the net to study the culture of gaming instead of participating? Would the anarchic world of adolescent male gaming culture respond well to a self-appointed culture broker?

G.A.M.E.R.S. League
Gamers.com presents the exciting world of games, where teenagers make tens of thousands of dollars playing games, and you can see where you stand if you like to play games online. Watch the best players do their thing on our website, and pick up some skills for your own matches.

For: Video game sports fans (mostly young males)
Who Need: A sporting culture, competition, to feel excited and involved
We Offer: Professional gaming for spectators, and the chance to get ranked yourself.
That Unlike: IGN, CPL, UGO
Offers: Ladder systems for internet-wide ranking, help for newbies, a world of gaming coverage.

This is a natural path for Gamers.com, considering our history - video game fanatics recognize good players and like to watch them. The mainstream world can't believe these kids get paid to play games. Dennis "Thresh" Fong bridges that gap with composure and serious skills. We could leverage his brand and his connections and instincts to develop the professional video gaming league.

Professional video gaming could be too small a niche for the conceivable future. The American mass market is not ready to admire a bunch of scrawny young men twitching in front of televisions. We're not going to be able to get the momentum necessary to build the league as big as we envision it, big enough to sustain Gamers.com.

Place to Play
Gamers is the place to find out about games, and the place to play them, through our community tools and our partnerships with the leading online games-makers, as well as some notable independents.

For: Mostly newbie gamers and some veterans (kids and office workers)
Who Need: Quick fix gaming and something to distract themselves on a budget
We Offer: An "Independent Label" approach to online gaming -the best games from various online games-makers.
That Unlike: Gamesville, Shockrave, SquareSoft Online, GameSpy
Offers: An intelligent approach to online gaming.

Gamers.com is sort of an "independent label" for sifting out the best in online play, only promoting the best of the best. You come to us when you've got a few free moments, or when you're trying to improve your standings in our online game rankings. We are a place for play, less money focused than Gamesville and more agnostic than Shockrave. Anything that's good and fun to play through your web browser you can find through us.

If we're not focused on making money and we're priding ourselves on our agnosticism, there's not much to hold on to in this proposition. We'll be competing in a crowded space. Most of our database and message boards wouldn't be useful. We're not going to look that cool when SquareSoft comes online and begins offering multimedia internet gaming community.

News Network
Gamers.com lives on the edge of gaming. If you want to track the latest developments in the world of electronic entertainment, visit Gamers.com or download our news-ticker to follow our headlines.

For: Anyone curious about games
Who Need: To have something to identify themselves with
We Offer: The place that makes gaming cool and makes you feel cool for being a gamer.
That Unlike: Yahoo, GameSpot, IGN
Offers: a combination of information and community, with attitude, covering all types of games.

We position ourselves as the default news organ for the world of gaming. The AP/Reuters of game news. By covering any type of news for any game, with an intelligent but unbiased tone, we're a great syndication partner for any publication that wants game information without generating their own.

Who cares that much for game news? With nearly zero stories AP and Reuters may already satisfy the mass market appetite for gaming headlines. The gaming sites are too fiercely independent to pay for news from another gaming web site. If we decide to stay on top of the news, we'll either be paying a lot of money to offsite reporters, or flying reporters all over the place all of the time.

Game Mall
Gamers.com is the best place to shop for games and entertainment products. From our expansive selection to our insider knowledge, and user reviews, you'll find what you couldn't find anywhere else, and you'll find things you didn't even know existed.

For: Regular video game buyers (mostly young males)
Who Need: A cool place to shop with better selection
We Offer: A place to buy games that knows how important games are to you.
That Unlike: Amazon, GameShopper, EBay
Offers: Gamer-to-Gamer recommendations and sales, tools for tracking collections and rare items, auctions and trades.

You can buy from the big guys, or you can buy from Gamers. Who do you trust? Gamers trust the people who know the product they want to buy and sell. If you have something that's rare and valuable to you, Ebay doesn't care, and the used game stores rip you off. We have the best tools for you to sell your games yourself, or to use our database to find buyers for your games collection or your recently finished titles. We know games so you'll trust us with your game buying and selling.

Gamers don't need a place to shop just for games; games alone won't attract enough buyers and sellers for critical mass. Since most of our market is 11-24, we'll be cutting out at least half of them if we focus on commerce and require credit cards. Building critical mass as a targeted ecommerce site could be impossible at this stage of the game.

Gamer Brain
Gamers.com is the brain apparatus for Gamers. The world of electronic entertainment is so large, you need another mind out there thinking and researching for you. Gamers.com is a big beautiful brain storing anything you want to know.

For: Twenty-first century citizens of all shapes and ages.
Who Need: To be connected to electronic entertainment.
We Offer: The humming twitching gamestation at the heart of the infosphere
That Unlike: Yahoo, IGN, GameSpot
Offers: Real-time hookups to the wide world of playing pleasure

Gamers.com can be all things to the right people, if it is brazen enough with its identity. We need to think more science fictional about our role in the universe. Anything you want to know about games, you can get from us. Game history, game futures. Real gamers hanging out in real communities. Rules for card gamers, strategies for hardcore PC gamers, cheats for weekend console gamers. Game content out on the web. We've got it all, in an unbelievably rich web site useful for anyone interested in any game. It's a giant gamer brain!

We may already be thinking science fictionally about Gamers.com and we're not yet distinguishing ourselves in the marketplace.

Gamers.com needs to develop a stronger sense of mission. Unless we can impress our readers that we are the gamer portal-zine for the 21st century gamer and attract some serious momentum, we may need to redefine ourselves in narrower terms. That will involve losing or spinning off many of the most valued parts of our site and our company.

We're trying to be most all of these things above now. We don't want to deny our potential to excel at any of them. But the potential to excel at any doesn't equal the potential to excel at all. That's probably impossible. We should choose one or develop a coherent synthesis of two or three to focus our ambitions, and allow our audience to see us as something unique.

Mental models like these scenarios can help that future planning. I would like to refine these scenarios with some high-level thinkers within the company.

I would talk to John Joh, Kenn Hwang, Dennis Fong, Lyle Fong, and Joel Downs, people who have been envisioning the company from it's inception, to see what scenarios they would add or change.

Then I would revise the scenarios and talk them over with Paul Villa, Edward Shapiro, Taylor Murphy, George Chen, people who have been making sense of this site in the marketplace.

Finally I would share the final scenarios resulting from those discussions with Geoff Mulligan and Scott Foreman, the people ultimately responsible for the fate of this enterprise.