When I wrote this, it was because I was annoyed with games become easier and easier, meaning players like me who wanted challenge were getting fed up.
I wanted to prove that people being perceived as stupid on the whole was not the problem; rather designers being arrogant or just poor at designing games that were simple to understand mechanically, as well as conceptually, was. I also figured having this data in an organised format would help sell in ideas based on mechanical fun; games like Katamari (not out at the time, but it’s a good example) or Monkey Ball.
The seed of the idea originated from when I worked at SCEE ten years ago and paper in-house pitches without tech were the way things were done. The problem – or so I believed – was that all ideas would be run through marketing folk who were not game savvy.
The real problem was the language barrier and a lack of understanding each other’s creative goals. When I would pitch say, a ‘platform shooter with racing bits inbetween levels, set in space’, they told me it was unmarketable. There was no hook for them. For me, I was imagining the potential fun aspect, but for them, it was about trying to find something sexy or ‘MTV” within the concept they could sell to a shop. Fair enough.
Meanwhile, it got me thinking that maybe if I provided them a list of the game’s USPs, at the highest and lowest levels, matched with ones that were in successful selling games, they’d see how it could be a success and actually try and figure out how to sell the product.
Eventually, I came up with this. Since then, I’ve worked on improving the language side and coming up with terms that encompass a range of ideas across genres, without being too specific or vague. In short, it’s a pain.
I’ve also learnt that my personal favourite games often provide a range of play types and challenge levels from a very early stage, if not the beginning. Funnily enough, games containing this sort of thing tend to consistently sell well. GTA, Super Mario Bros and Burnout spring to mind.
I figure it’s a similar factor like Joseph Campbell discovered: satisfying a larger number of archetypes in a story allows more viewers to relate to it. I believe the same principle applies in gaming, in that satisfying a large number of related ‘player archetypes’ or player personalities competently, will grant you more players in regard to their suitability in that game.
Through understanding the needs of each individual player archetype / personality, developers will learn how best to target and develop their games and bring more success to their games, as well as more new genres and play experiences to market.
For instance, a game designed with a ‘Sim’s’ player in mind may not work well with a Virtua Fighter style combat engine when a lover’s tiff occurs, however comical it may be. However, with enough imagination and consideration, such combinations shouldn’t be entirely ruled out; know the rules before breaking them as the old adage goes.
Since I wrote this report, I’ve used tables such as the ones enclosed to monitor games from genres I’ve worked within to explore what shared commonalities made those games fun or otherwise. It’s taught me a lot thus far and I plan on releasing the lot at some point in the near future. I’ve also learnt that the problem wasn’t that games were necessarily becoming easier, it was merely a by-product of decision makers not understanding their audience and having an unrealtistic creative attitude toward courting a perceived ‘mass market gamer’ game.
Till then, if you’re interested in other games research, you could try Chris Bateman’s research into gaming audiences (great stuff) at Ihobo.com, or gameinnovation.org’s list of game innovations throughout time. There’s more out there, but the sad reality is, it’s just not that popular and doesn’t make much money, so it’s not that easy to find.
Daniel Boutros - [email protected]