Before iPods ruled the earth…

This thread about a unique segment of Fallout fans got me thinking about a book I’ve read recently called The Long Tail. A fantastic read about how the Internet is dramatically changing markets. The Long Tail is about the power of the niche markets — the long, low end of the sales chart, the part of the market the book calls the “hidden majority.”

According to The Long Tail, a Borders book store carries around 100,000 books, versus Amazon.com which lets you choose from over 3.7 million books. Of course, Borders 100K stock are the best sellers, the ones everybody is buying, but surprisingly, 25% of Amazon’s sales are from books outside of Border’s 100,000 stock. The book suggests that there will be huge growth in niche, customizable markets, that businesses are missing out by relying on hit-driven practices.

(I’m not doing the book justice here, so please pick up a copy and check it out. Really fascinating stuff.)

The thread I was reading was about a segment of the Fallout fanbase that is known for their fanatical devotion for the first two games in the Fallout series, and the Fallout universe in general. Fallout 1 and 2 were released back in 1997 and 1998, respectively. Ten years is a long time, but in terms of technology, the early 90s is downright ancient. (For reference, iPods didn’t come out until 2001!) For me personally, 1997 right up until 2000 was a golden age for computer role playing games. Baldur’s Gate, Fallout, Planescape Torment — I played some of the best RPGs in my life during that period. In general, the aforementioned Fallout fans yearn for those RPGs. They may not want to play those exact games specifically, but it is safe to say that current RPGs on the market are definitely not to their liking (to say the least).

By the way, the late 90s were also the last great gasp of my beloved point and click adventure games, too – with Curse for Monkey Island in 1997, and my beloved Grim Fandango in 1998 (Tim Shafer rules). Of course, great games continued to come out — Diablo 2 came out in 2000 and I played tons of that, too. (Actually, I could go on and on about great games I’ve played every year — ahh, 2003: Prince of Persia Sands of Time, Knights of the Old Republic — but I digress).

Anyhoo, back to the thread I was reading. The general consensus of the thread was that these passionate fans are irrelevant, that they are too fanatical and small a blip on the market to really matter. Yet, I can’t help but think of The Long Tail. Practically speaking, current major publishers and developers no longer make those types of games anymore, and retailers won’t sell games that haven’t come out in the past year or two. But you can still find them at places at www.gogamer.com or www.gametap.com. I would be curious if their sales of older titles is substantial enough to raise the eyebrows of major publishers and make a case for these niche titles.

Reed Hasting, the ceo of Netflix, is quoted in The Long Tail saying that historically, 90% of Blockbuster’s rentals are new releases but at Netflix, new releases account for only 30% of rentals. That means 70% of Netflix rentals are back catalog! Gametap indeed.

Speaking of adventure games, for the past few days, I’ve been playing Hotel Dusk Room 215 and while its gameplay is a bit different, it reminds me very much of those old adventure games. I hope somebody at Lucasarts is playing these games too so they bring back Monkey Island for the DS – how awesome would that be!

Perhaps the RPGs of the late 90s will make their way back somehow — those big, beautiful beasts of RPGs. Yet, I imagine, much like adventure games, when they do return, they won’t be anything like they were back before iPods ruled the earth.