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EA Montreal's Schneider: Who Do We Make Games For?
EA Montreal's Schneider: Who Do We Make Games For?
November 16, 2009 | By Chris Remo

November 16, 2009 | By Chris Remo
More: Console/PC

"Do we make products for ourselves or for our customers?" asked Reid Schneider, EA Montreal's head of the Army of Two franchise, in a lecture delivered at the Montreal International Game Summit today.

Sometimes, the answer is both, he said -- when a certain kind of game is being made: "We should make games for ourselves. We should make games that inspire us, and that we're passionate about, but that's only true if we are the target audience."

In essence, the EA developer noted during the during the Gamasutra-attended lecture: "It's not always about you. It's also about what the market wants."

Schneider recalled an experience he had in college that first taught him the realities of addressing the audience's demands. When he became the "social chairman" of his school's chapter of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, he was tasked with improving the frat's parties.

"The first unanimous request from the guys was that we needed to have more girls at our parties," he said. "I was in total agreement; this made complete sense to me. But the core problem is that our parties were about good beer and music that we liked. It was just for us. We were missing our audience. We were building stuff for ourselves."

"I needed to redistribute capacity and resources," he realized. "It was time to stop spending cash on top quality beer and live music. It was time to start thinking about was spending money on girl-friendly drinks -- anything pink usually works -- and, more importantly, 80s music, because 80s music is what girls like to drink and dance to."

"It was not about us," he admitted. "It was about the market, and the market wanted that. We ended up with lots of friendly women coming to our house and hanging out. It was about changing how we were thinking about the problem."

Game developers would do well to learn a similar lesson, Schneider argued: "We need to marry our creative aspirations with the reality that we work in a packaged goods business." It can be too easy to develop games in an insular environment, where the same influences and taste are reflected and magnified, he said: "If you think about your typical game developer, we're all coming from the same place."

This can have direct, unfortunate consequences, even when making a hardcore game for hardcore audiences. "One of the original ideas for Army of Two was to recreate the 80s buddy action flick in a video game," he said, but "where we really missed the boat was on tone."

"We assumed everyone would find the same things funny that we did, and we were definitely wrong on that," he went on. "We alienated about 50 percent of our market, including Europe. Europe didn't find the same things funny that we did in North America."

That principle goes even further when making games not for the core gaming audience. And, to some extent, the idea of the core gaming audience -- and the average core game developer -- is changing.

More and more developers are getting older, getting married, and having children, Schneider said. At Ubisoft in 2001, the average developer was 24. Eight years later, that average has risen to 30. That shift has reflected the change in average age of gamers themselves. "This is a major shift, not just in how they're making games, but also in how they're thinking about games," Schneider said.

Still, "the hardcore is not dying," he added. "It's actually becoming a whole lot bigger than ever. But there are new markets that can be targeted. Globally, the industry is growing. You need to know who you're targeting, and you should never, ever straddle the fence and try to make something that appeals to everyone. That requires ruthless focus."

Finally, he pointed out -- as everyone now well knows -- that "we are not recession-proof... two years ago, we used to believe we were recession-proof, but we're not," he warned. "We're losing market share and mindshare to other forms of entertainment, and we need to capture that back.

"We should make games for ourselves. We should make games that our exciting to us. But we should make sure we know what the market wants. We need to be prepared to make games that may not appeal to us personally but could be massively successful in the market. If we can make more games the audience cares about, we're going to see the numbers start rising again."

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Brighton gardiner
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He makes a great point, and I agree entirely.

I am not personally interested in the content of the game I am working on. Its not targeted towards me. But I do realize that there are millions of individuals who will enjoy the game extensively. And I take pleasure in the context of creating the game.

Fiore Iantosca
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Never design a software for you, ALWAYS think og your customer base. Nothing new here.

Kevin Kissell
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The company should built games that they like to play plus do well in the market. On the other side a company should try and look outside the box and try something new.

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Its a great point, but it depends on the game you make. If you make a game, and you're part of the audience, why not look at what you like first ? For example, you love FPS, you breath FPS, and you work on Quake. Why wouldn't you want to make a game that works for you? Aren't you the best sample of the audience?

Now, if you are a FPS hard-core gamer, and you work on the Sims, obviously, you're not the audience, and you need to listen.

Stephen Northcott
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I never thought that EA actually gave a damn about it's customers.. You learn something new every day! :)

Luis Guimaraes
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The best game one can do is when making a game for the audience he's part of.

Carlo Delallana
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This highlights something important; if you are making a game for a specific target audience make sure you build a team that understands the audience or better yet has experiences that relate to them. We need to have a modular team approach, putting the right "core" people on the right project can mitigate the risks/issues highlighted in the article. Studios need to take into account the skill sets as well as the personal passions of its developers and match devs with projects they believe in. At the bare minimum you will find a very happy and productive team.

Nick Janssen
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Carlo, I agree! I believe this is one of the more important things to do once you start developing games collectively. I am now working with a team on a school project, and unfortunately things aren't always working out. This is lowering production speed for all of us.

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Well Miyamoto model was not only to design and develop a game, but to get random people to play pieces of it and see if it had a quality of fun that appealed to them. Why hasn't the rest of the industry followed this model? It not only about increasing your demographic, but also seeing if what you are creating is just as fun to the outside guy as it is to you. The biggest problem is the Demo. The Demo just shows he public what game is going to be like when it comes out, why not a demo that records what a few people think about the game itself? It could just ask a sample of people random questions after the Demo is done, and then record the response. The developer would get good feedback from a model like that.

Bart Stewart
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"[I]f you are making a game for a specific target audience make sure you build a team that understands the audience or better yet has experiences that relate to them."

I agree with your point, Carlo... but how does one do this? More specifically, how can developers *know* that they have accurately perceived the reality of what the typical member of their target audience wants?

A lot of developers seem to believe they know what their target audience wants, either instinctively or through experience. Certainly it's easier to assume that one understands a target audience than to assume ignorance and spend money and time to go get real information. So in practice, "I know what they want" often seems to become just another case of "they like what I like."

So what actual, practical steps can developers take to get real-world data? Are market surveys worthwhile? Is it usually necessary to hire a third party to administer such surveys in order to avoid biasing the questions to favor the game one is already planning to make?

What else can developers do to insure that they're shaping their game to fit reality instead of redefining reality to fit the game they're making?

Carlo Delallana
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One of the most practical steps a developer can take is to spend time observing and interacting with the target audience. Watch them play competitive titles and REALLY listen to their feedback. These focus tests can both be formal and informal. Work it into your dev schedule, have as many of the core team present during these sessions. Take plenty of notes, voice record or video tape the sessions and try not to make conclusions on the spot.

The next (and probably the most challenging) step is analyzing the data. Information is only as useful as how it is interpreted and implemented. Question the data even if it seems to support your theory.

But to return to my first recommendation, project leads or those responsible for forming teams around a concept should do their own mini-focus tests. Walk up to someone and just do a quick elevator pitch of the concept and see if something lights up within that person, that spark could grow into a fire that fuels the game development process.

There is plenty of science behind creating a game that satisfies the requirements of an audience, but there's something to be said for creating a game that resonates the player to the core.

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