"Flappy Bird knows what it is...The problem with Semi-Automatic is we didn't know who this was for. We were just making it for, like, the world."
- Indie developer Asher Vollmer, recalling the learning experience that was the mobile game Semi-Automatic.
Making games that everyone can enjoy is a nice thing to say and a really, really tricky thing to pull off.
In a recently-published conversation with game dev Soren Johnson for the Designer Notes podcast, Sirvo Studios' Asher Vollmer (Threes, Puzzlejuice) demonstrates how this kind of sentiment can lead you awry by telling the story of how his 2011 game Semi-Automatic (pictured) flopped.
"The problem with Semi-Automatic is we didn't know who this was for. We were just making it for, like, the world," he said. "Because everyone in the world's gonna play it, so everyone in the world has to like it. And it ended up being so vanilla, and so...whatever."
It's a small piece of a much longer (and very interesting) Designer Notes episode about Vollmer's work, but it's worth noting because it encapsulates not one but three important lessons: know who your work is for, don't always trust paper prototypes (Semi-Automatic seemed great on paper), and perhaps most importantly, put relationships over products.
"We were taking it really seriously, asking people to work for us, and not paying them...like realy awful, greedy stuff," Vollmer continued. "And when it did nothing, and I'd ruined some friendships and stuff over this game, I was like 'Wow, I'm not gonna do that again!' I'm just gonna be grateful for everyone's help, and try to include everyone, and try to be fair, in the future. That was the biggest lesson of Semi-Automatic, to be honest, in addition to know your audience."
It's a really good bit of rumination, part of a solid (nearly 90-minute) chat that covers everything from how Vollmer got into making games (Homestar Runner, basicaly) to his experience having the mega-popular mobile game Threes (which he made with Greg Wohlwend) mega-cloned. You can listen to the whole thing over on the Designer Notes website.