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White Space Analysis: Avoiding The Commoditization Trap

Marketing has the same basic premise as football, judo, and hacking: find the opening and exploit it. In terms of your competition, the opening is known in marketing as the “white space”: the area of the canvas without any color. How does one identify the white space? With a simple exercise called, appropriately enough, a white space analysis.

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White Space Analysis: Avoiding The Commoditization Trap

There’s a peculiar phenomenon in the industry: the fast follow. Company A makes a bazillion dollars with Game X. Company B wants some of that hot action, and uses Game X as a blue print for its own Game Y. Game Y hits the market and, oddly enough, does not replicate the success of Game X. Why? Because gamers already have Game X, and they’re not stupid. They see what Company Y is doing, and they’re not falling for it.

The fast follow, the notion of making a new product that is, mostly, indistinguishable from an existing product is known as commoditization. The less discernible a product is from its competition, the less consumers will be willing to pay for either. Why? Because they now have buyer power. They can chose between two (or more) options.

Okay, no, it’s never exactly that cut and dry with games. Games aren’t uniform like steel or toilet paper. No two games will ever be EXACTLY alike. Copyright law prevents their literal commoditization. But the less there is to distinguish one game from another, the less excited gamers will be about either.

So, rather than making something that does what other games do, the better choice is to make a game that does what others don’t. Enter white space analysis.

Mapping Out The White Space

A white space analysis is a simple 2D, Cartesian chart that compares various offerings across two axes of characteristics. For instance, in comparing snack foods, one axis could be flavor and the other could be healthiness. Or for cars, one axis cold be speed, and the other  safety.

There are only 2 requirements. The first is that the axes are relevant to your target segment. In the snack foods example, an axis comparing how often a particular snack is served on major airlines is probably not of great concern to consumers.

The other requirement is that the axes need to allow for a spectrum of outcomes. So binary outcomes like male/female or non-sequential outcomes like “Voted for Trump”/”Voted for Clinton/Voted for Johnson/Voted for Stein” aren’t applicable.

Picking Axes For Your Game

If you wanted to create a brand new lead character in a game, and you wanted him to stand out from the crowd of Nathan Drakes and Master Chiefs, you might select the Civilian/Soldier as one axis and Loner/Team Player as another. Or you could have one axis be Good/Evil and another be Impulsive/Planner.

If you wanted to map the white space for a horror game, one axis could be “Gore” and the other could be “Time Period”. Or, one could be “No Combat”/”Constant Combat” and the other could be “No Replay Value/Lots of Replay Value”.

For shooters, one axis could be realism and another could be progression system.

You can also define your axes by your target segment rather than a category. For example, compare “Challenge” as one axis and “Gameplay Length” as the other. Or an axis of “Cooperative/Competitive” against an axis of “hand-crafted/procedurally-generated”.

Creating The White Space Map

Once you have your axes picked out for your white space map (or maps; there’s no reason to limit yourself to just one), you need to create it. Any visual tool will do. Even Power Point, will work just fine:

  1. Draw to perpendicular lines to establish the four quadrants of the Cartesian plan
  2. Label the X and Y axes
  3. Now, start slapping in the other games on the market according to where they fall relative to the axes

Your finished white space map should look like this:

Example white space analysis chart

Analyzing The White Space

The next step is simple: find the white space, or spaces. In other words, find the position – or positions – where your game could sit with the least commoditization risk.

The white space analysis should influence your feature design and prioritization. In other words, it should be your guiding light for which feature decisions and combinations will be the most differentiated in the marketplace.

In the example above, if you were thinking about making a horror game, you should think twice about making something combat heavy and set in some future time period. That quadrant is crowded and features some heavy hitters. There are also a lot of games set in the present.

Resources The Informed And Influenced This Post

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What Should You Include In The White Space Map?

There is no bright-line rule for which games to count as competition. The answer largely depends on how you selected your axes. And, as I cover in my post on market positioning, your implied category is not the same as your communicated category. Your game may inherently be a horror title, which would imply one group of competitors. But, if you position it as a survival sim, the competitive set changes.

So, like all things in the marketing mix, don’t think of the white space analysis as a line item on your to-do list. It’s an iterative process alongside video game market segmentation, market positioning, and feature design. These activities should inform and influence each other in a feedback loop. Further, you should utilize customer interviews to test your white space analysis. Does your target segment see the market the same way you do? Would a game that sits in the white space be valuable to those gamers?

Further Reading If You Enjoyed This Post

Market Positioning: The Art of Fighting Without Fighting

Video Game Market Potential: How To Quantify Your Odds Of Success

Marketing Communication Strategy

What’s Next?

Now that you have an idea of the competitive set and a differentiated position for your game, it’s time to think about exploring the niche’s in the market so you can identify and learn about your perspective fans. And the first step is video game market segmentation. Click the link to read on!

Key Takeaways

  • The fast follow strategy is a spurious notion. Duplicating a successful game will not duplicate its success.
  • Making a game that is identical to another de-values both games.
  • Effective marketing means finding the “white space”: the positions that your competitors don’t cover.
  • A white space analysis is a simple and effective tool for identifying potential opportunities.
  • The two axes of the white space analysis should each cover a variable that is a) valuable to gamers, and b) allows for a spectrum of outcomes.
  • You can run multiple white space analyses to cover a more diverse range of positions.

Return To The Video Game Marketing Table of Contents

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“White Space Analysis: Avoiding The Commoditization Trap” by Justin Fischer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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