As the popularity of social and casual games continues to rise, differentiating yourself from your competitors via careful targeting -- and exploring themes that are nontraditional for games -- might provide an advantage.
Instead of creating games that appeal to a broader population -- for instance, one that that's highly generalized, like the wildly popular FarmVille or Diner Dash -- they seem to be targeting, say, connoisseurs of specific foods, like wine lovers in the Facebook game My Vineyard or chocolate aficionados in Chocolatier and its two sequels, the latest being Chocolatier: Decadence By Design.
What's going on here? What could possibly be the strategy behind going after such nontraditional thematic niches?
"It's all about finding the sweet spot within the target audience," says Michael Thornton Wyman, CEO of Tucson, AZ-based developer Big Splash Games.
Previously, Wyman believes he and his partners found the "sweet spot" with Chocolatier, and hopes a brand new game scheduled to be released "soon" -- Love Ahoy! -- will appeal to the rapidly growing number of vacation cruisers.
"When we came out with Chocolatier in 2007," Wyman recalls, "it seemed to us that chocolate was experiencing an explosive interest -- not just among our target gaming audience but among people who care about food in general.
"In our new game, we're coupling what we perceive to be a huge interest in vacation cruising along with a romantic angle and the allure of traveling to exotic ports that we think will appeal to our 25 to 55-year-old female audience."
Gamers will take on the role of the cruise director whose job it will be to discover the hidden interests of passengers and then match them up to create romance. In this Love Boat-like scenario, success is measured by how good you are at hooking up couples.
Chocolatier: Decadence By Design
Similarly, Raph Koster says he applied some of what he learned from building his Facebook "island farming" sim -- Island Life -- when he created My Vineyard. Koster is founder and president of San Diego-based Metaplace.
"Both titles are still farming games -- we're not trying to reinvent social games altogether," he explains. "But we did try pushing some boundaries with My Vineyard -- after all, our company motto is 'Next-Generation Social Games' -- trying to see what kind of complexity people would accept in this space, changing up the mechanics, adding a bit of narrative, and so on."
Metaplace's goal was to focus on the entire experience of making wine, so instead of the game being all about just farming the grapes, Koster says they added steps like stomping on the grapes, choosing what sort of materials to barrel them in, and blending the different varieties.
"In order to appeal to wine lovers, we paid attention to the actual process of wine-making rather than sticking slavishly to the established farming model," he says. "And because it's a social game, players can get together for wine-tasting parties and there's a fairly significant level of user creativity in that the vineyards can be decorated and built out."