Amazon can dominate casual gaming if it follows Steam’s lead

Greetings Readers!

For those that need catching up to speed, today, Amazon announced it is going to start doing digital downloads of causal pc games.  With casual gaming growing faster than ever, this is a market they can easily compete in, but if they want to dominate it, there are several key things that they have to do.

Digital downloads for casual games and even core PC games such as Call of Duty and Unreal Tournament have been around for years.  Until recently, little attention has ever been paid to casual gaming except when people are bored and get the itch to play some Pool on Yahoo.  For years, if you thought about digital downloads for PC games, the main thing that would come to mind is Steam.  Steam is the supreme digital download platform for many of the biggest PC games on the market and even has some smaller, more casual games, but has never been known for casual gaming.  There has never been a Steam equivalent for casual gamers.

In the casual gaming market, there are a couple of major players, mainly Microsoft’s MSN Gaming Zone, Yahoo Games and EA’s Pogo.com.  These sites have done very well for themselves and I often see thousands of people at any given time playing games such as Pool on Yahoo or Keno on Pogo.  My mother even downloads many games from Zone.  Despite the relative success these sites have attained over the years, each still lacks something that would allow them to dominate the space.  This lack of market domination is something that Amazon believes it can change.  By starting with 500 games and offering free demos, it seems to be well on its way to becoming a serious player in the casual gaming market if not the dominating player.

Like every market, there are some keys to success and the first one that Amazon must master is that of the customer experience.  It is not enough just to have a convenient way to purchase games, but there are several key points that Amazon must perfect to dominate.  Meeting if not undercutting the prices of competitors would be a great start.  Getting rid of any DRM associated with the games would be another great step in the right direction.  Users must be able to download a game as many times as they need.  Finally, there needs to be an easy way to patch games.

All of the points I just listed are items that Steam has managed to accomplish which has put it above other digital gaming download alternatives such as EA’s download store and Gamestop’s digital downloads.  Competitive pricing is key for digital downloads.  Doing something similar to Steam and having the occasional sale of certain games for dirt cheap prices is also a good idea.  Giving customers a cheaper price because they don’t have to get all of the physical stuff is really the point of digital downloads in my mind.  DRM of course is a huge issue.  With news about how Gears of War on the PC has been more or less killed because of DRM, it demonstrates how big of a headache it can be for users and the more casual the user you are targeting, the worse DRM is going to be if they run into problems.  Of course patching also needs to be made easier as well, something that Steam has accomplish with amazing results.  Having games update themselves without user action is the key.  Gamers, casual gamers especially, don’t like to be bounced around to different websites to keep their games in top shape, a major issue in the pc gaming world.  If this can be transparent to the point that the user doesn’t even know it is happening or needs done, you can put yourself above the competition.

The best way to accomplish these would be to create a download portal similar to Steam, but I have yet to see Amazon take any interest in the desktop software space.  Having a software interface would be much more convienent for users than having to navigate the website in the way that Kindle users can purchase books on their device rather than having users go to a computer, go to the website and then purchase books.  I believe this is one of the biggest factors in being able to dominate this space.

If Amazon can manage to do well, they have the desire to do the same with more mainstream games such as Call of Duty, Spore or even Grand Theft Auto.  This of course is a market almost completely controlled by Steam.  If they hope to become real competition for Steam, not only do they have to provide the same service as Steam, but they must be at least 50% better.  I am a firm believer in the idea that if you want to compete with a major market player, your product must be at least 50-100% better than your biggest competition.

These are just some of the things that Amazon needs to do to compete in the digital gaming download space.  Amazon has an excellent chance at becoming a major player in the casual gaming market, but if they hope to become the leader of it, they have to innovate in a marketplace that outside of new content has been stagnant in terms of innovation for years.

What do you think of Amazon’s new casual gaming download service?  Will you use it?  Do you think it can compete with other established services such as Yahoo Games that have been around for many years?  How long do you predict it will take before they can become a serious competitor or dominant player in the casual gaming distribution market?