Make Games for People (Not Demographics)

3D and UX Design for Games, VR and Animation

Make Games for People (Not Demographics)

May 20, 2012 Uncategorized 7

Every day I work with game designers who either want to make a living making games or want to learn how to make better games. Those of you who have had me as a coach know the kind of tangents I can get into when I get ranting about something I’m passionate about. Those of you who haven’t had me as a coach yet – here’s one for you.

Context: Rant sparked from a debate centered around who the most important figure is to the creation of a game – designer, artist or programmer. I was arguing for the Player:

“The player is centre to a game like the actor is centre to a play. Obviously there are many people extremely important to getting all the moving parts working on and off stage – but take the actor away and you have no play. Take the player away and you have no game. You have a film, a piece of music or a story – but not a game.”

Here’s the comment that set me off (poor guy):

“Player is an acronym for user or market, often mass market which is never creative”

My Response:

…errr completely disagree [humanMale_00] – player means player. He who plays your game. The PERSON (real live human being) you are making a game for.

Markets and mass markets are nebulous terms that mean different things to different people.

As often as you can, try to stay away from vague and nebulous terms when you’re designing a game.

When you’re designing a game for your favourite young cousin Pippa who loves her DS but hasn’t played a good game since Pokemon – and wants something she can play outside with her friends – well, you can start picturing what that game might need to be.

But if you go into this thinking “I’m going to make a casual game for the handheld device market targeting girls ages 8 – 12…” – what the fuck does that mean? Can you picture that? Can you see what kind of game that would look like? Can you imagine what it would be like to play that game? Hell no!

Marketing Buzzword bullshit is just that…bullshit.

Now, on to the rest of the rant:

…people support people, not products. If we believe in what you’re doing we’ll help you on the forums, invite our friends to your playtesting events, tell EVERYONE we know when your game is ready to launch. Because you obviously give a shit. You obviously want to create something we’ll value, something worth our time and money because you respect us too much to give us yet more filler in an industry full of interactive mental junkfood.

You can’t respect a Demographic. You can’t respect a Target Market. You can’t even picture what the hell they would look like playing your game.

But you can respect someone you know. Someone you genuinely give a shit about.

Make a game for them. Make them the game they wish existed, make them an experience they’ve always wanted to have, give them a game that helps them solve a problem they’ve been struggling with for years.

This person can be you.

Whoever you choose as your muse they have to be someone real. Someone you can hand a playable to and say “How does this feel? What do you think?” and watch to see how they respond.

You’ll know you have what could be a great game when they don’t walk away. When they tell YOU about what the experience is like – as opposed to you trying to tell them.

And you know the truly amazing thing about making a game for someone you respect? There are probably people like them out there who have always wanted exactly the same thing.

Then it’s not about selling, it’s not about marketing or convincing people to buy your game…it’s just about making it as easy as possible for them to know it exists, where to find it and help support you so you can keep making great games.


7 Responses

  1. Shekhar says:

    Completely agree. Great word Epona. YOU ROCK 🙂

  2. Dennis says:

    A nice writeup! I agree with it completely, something marketing people use is Persona’s to make it more personal. Which is really close to what isexplained here.

    • Epona says:

      That’s a good start in the right direction and I would suggest taking it one step further to having an actual person in mind as opposed to a fictional persona. Reason being that you develop an understanding of someone you give a shit about that you aren’t always wholly aware of. You’ve got a “gut instinct” for what they’ll respond well to and what will turn them off. This gut instinct will guide decisions in game design, business development, content marketing, etc.

      Also you have the benefit of being able to put the game in their hands and see if that instinct was right! You don’t have to rely on your own highly perfectionist judgement to tell if the game is ready yet.

      A really good author or actor can develop an appreciation for a persona. But you’ll never care as much about a fictional person as someone you genuinely give a shit about in real life (at least I hope not, that would be somewhat worrying o_O)

  3. axcho says:

    Yes! It is so frustrating to me to see game designers making games that they don’t enjoy as players, whose players they neither understand nor respect, and then wondering why their games aren’t awesome or selling well. It’s not a mystery.

  4. Epona says:

    From the comments on r/gamedev:

    “In other words, write for your audience.”

    [–]indieBits[S] 1 point 425 milliseconds ago
    Write specifically for one person. Your “audience” can become amorphous, difficult to picture. When you’re designing with a specific person in mind you think to yourself “they’d play the game this way” or “they’d enjoy this”. You get the advantage of a gut instinct for what’s working and what’s not working.
    When you don’t have that person in mind you’re relying on your own judgement alone – a judgement that is very naturally bias and can quickly become blind to your own creation.
    Back when I was doing art professionally there was a point where I always had to get another opinion on my work because I’d just stop “seeing” it. I’d been working on it so long that I couldn’t see the first impression it would make anymore. I was too aware of everything that went into it and everything it was meant to do to see it from the perspective of someone new to the experience.
    The other advantage of having one specific person in mind is that you can ask them to be your first playtester. They can be your compas when you lose the ability to see without bias.
    Stephen King wrote for his wife first and “his audience” after.
    My best writing on has been done when I was thinking of a specific person I wanted to help. The most shite articles were the ones where I was thinking about “the audience” 😛

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