What the market wants

Discussion in 'Development & Distribution' started by Phil Steinmeyer, Jan 23, 2006.

  1. soniCron

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    Then I must appologize for coming across as a biggoted ass, because I'm certainly not, and that was most certainly not my intent. I was simply trying to find something tangible -- beyond an age/sex demographic -- to aim for. After all, what does "middle aged woman" mean, anyway?

    As far as target preference is concerned, I'd only rather develop contemplative puzzle games simply because those are the games that I enjoy. While I'd obviously feel more "at home" with that audience, I definitely don't have anything against the casual audience, and I'm very greatful that I'll have the opportunity to touch someone -- anyone's -- life.

    EDIT: I just read my post right after Fabio's, and I did sound like I was "better" than the casual demographic, and I appologize. What I meant by, "I have the capacity for much greater," was that I know I have a passion for another facet of this industry that will really bring out the best in me, and the casual gamespace just isn't that facet.
     
    #21 soniCron, Jan 24, 2006
    Last edited: Jan 24, 2006
  2. Bmc

    Bmc New Member

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    While sonicron may not find that casual users = dumb, too many people who visit the Indiegamer forums do.

    on a side note....

    Phil, I'm just curious... have you ever giving any thought to making more simplified (much more simplified) versions of the types of games you made at poptop?

    You made tycoon type of games correct? There's not too many of them in the casual space and quite a few of the ones that do exist have done well... Lemonade Tycoon, for instance.

    PS- just bringing this up cause i was reading your blog entry about trouble finding game mechanics.
     
  3. Phil Steinmeyer

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    Did Lemonade Tycoon really do that well (genuine question - I hadn't really been paying attention).

    When Oasis sorta tanked, it gave me the impression that this market doesn't care much for that kind of strategy game.

    I enjoyed making the tycoon games at PopTop, but puzzles are fun too. I don't really have a strong preference for tycoon games, nor do I feel that making puzzle games is 'slumming' or anything like that.

    Frankly, I'm kinda burned out on tycoon games, and other than a brief stab at SimCity 4, I haven't played any tycoon games or world-builders since I left PopTop a bit over a year ago. I have, on the other hand, played and enjoyed a lot of the casual puzzle games that this sub-industry produces.
     
  4. Phil Steinmeyer

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    Expanding a bit on a previously mentioned issue...

    I have been playing and enjoying casual games, including word games, for over a year now. I really enjoyed downloadable Scrabble, and sort of enjoyed Bookworm, though I bored quickly with the latter due to it being too easy in general with no sense of progression or level variation. Bonnie's Bookstore was taking a genre I liked a lot, and a specific implementation that was fun, if too limited for me, and improving it with new ideas (some of which came from other games like Jewel Quest).

    I enjoyed making Bonnie and enjoyed playing it. I got my wife started on it at about the beta stage, and though she hadn't really played any computer games in 10 years (since Tetris), and hadn't played any of my previous 'hard-core' games, she got hooked on Bonnie's and playe it all the way through on each of the 3 difficulty levels (I think she stalled near the end on Genius).

    So I liked it, my wife liked it, the PopCap guys liked it, and all the other industry people I showed it to before and after I signed with PopCap liked it.

    And yet it hasn't resonated with the target market as much as I though it would. And I don't even know precisely what factors to attribute that to (i.e. the 2 competitors, the genre, the art style, the theme, the complexity, something else?) There's not a lot of good, detailed feedback that you can turn to to figure these things out.

    So that has me questioning my instincts. Even though I play and like these games, my tastes apparently don't coincide with the broad market.

    I generally don't like the simplest of the casual games - Bejewelled, Collapse, even Zuma was only so-so for me - a simple repeating mechanic with little variation or progression bores me quickly. I like more complex stuff like JewelQuest, BKR, Adventure Ball, etc.

    But now I'm trying to design something a bit 'simpler'. Still appealing to me, but more basic in concept. And it's a bit of a struggle, compounded by the fact that when you're playing with prototypes that are nothing more than colored bricks being moved around, it all seems ugly and a bit boring. If Chuzzle or Bejewelled were prototyped with colored bricks and no sound or FX, I'm not sure if you could even recognize the cleverness of the game through the placeholder art. But I don't want to spend 3 weeks coding up a more polished prototype if the core idea is lame to begin with.

    [/venting off]
     
  5. JPGinLA

    JPGinLA New Member

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    Phil,

    There's never been a plainer example of why "portal" distribution is a much tougher route. Even with all the support and feedback you and the game received the game still hasn't "resonated" with the target market.

    You're game is screaming for user feedback so you can do the things to it (through subsequent revision and release) to make it the great game it can be.

    Imagine if all the people who have downloaded it could communicate with you (and you with them) to tell you why they don't want to register or why they did? Pretty quickly you'd know what tweeks to make and could re-release with a "pretty good" chance of resonation - double-entendre intended.

    The big players and "portals" offer ease and big potential, but IMHO, a surer path to financial success, i.e., resonation with the target market, is the slower, do it yourself distribution, including do it yourself customer service. I think the customer service piece may the most important part. This method also is more likely to lead to the so-called Long-Tail instead of the weekend box-office hit.

    Just my 2 cents.

    -JPG

    Just my 2 cents
     
  6. Chris Evans

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    @Phil:
    Well, don't take for granted that the Popcap guys liked it and that it DID get on Real Arcade. That's an accomplishment right there. Most people who've released word games around here haven't even got that far.

    But with the game your prototyping it sounds a lot like what I'm saying. You're struggling because you're not in tune with what makes simple casual games very appealing. So you're doing a lot of guess work and trying to balance what you like and what you think your audience likes. If your tastes are somewhat close to your target audience, who knows maybe you won't have much of a problem. But the farther it is, the more problems you'll have IMO.

    I'll take myself as an example. A year ago, I wanted to make a puzzle game, but I'm not big on simple match-3 games. So I tried adding more action elements to make the game more "fun" for me. I ended up liking the game, but I pushed it too far away from my target audience by adding too many game mechanics. My game basically ended up in no-man's land, too complex for most casual players and too simple for most "gamers".

    I just think it's really hard to make an exceptional game if you're not really into the genre.

    @JPG

    Great points you raised. Portals do have beta testing periods where you can get player feedback, but it's obviously not the same as being able to quiz one of your own customers. Also once your game launches on the portals, it's really hard to get quality feedback once it's released. You also can't contact the people who've bought the game since you don't have access to their contact info.

    I really think it's a good idea to launch the game on your own site first for a few weeks or even a month at least. Get some player feedback and make some improvements, then launch it on the portals.
     
  7. Phil Steinmeyer

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    Getting more feedback pre-launch is definitely a priority for my next game. I actually beta-ed Bonnie to about 25 volunteer beta testers (found through my blog), but I'm not sure how closely they resemble the target audience. There were some other possibilities to beta further through PopCap's programs, but we were aware that the competing word games would be launching soon and we wanted to beat them to market, so we skipped that. Under a more typical development schedule, that would have been useful.
     
  8. steve bisson

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  9. soniCron

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    You must be out of the loop. Check Savant's blog more often. ;)
     
  10. Fabio

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    Phil, I certainly do not have anything against that demographics. Nor I think that the average woman 30-50 that plays casual games is any less intelligent than the average 20-30 man that plays Quake4 (I rather tend to think the opposite, but it doesn't really matter. FPS are the kind of games that I play most, BTW, but I don't think that this qualifies me as stupid. I have many other activities to express my intellect, and for me gaming means mostly action (preferably++ not splatter/killing BTW), fast action that I need to outlet some stress). My mother is a casual game player that I consider, and not because she's my mother, very intelligent. Same for my wife, who certainly doesn't play Quake (which I personally believe is an excellent game in all sense, by the way, and I also think that not *all* games must "make you think").
    What I think soniCron depicted, and what I confirm I don't like, is the "whatever!", in other words "indifferentist", person. Now I don't know if that's the majority or if it's a minority but, not judging from game players but from the world I see around me every day, I don't see much "intelligence": we HAVE to carefully define this word, by the way.
    I personally don't believe at all in the IQ test thing. Even more so since when I've read that both George W. Bush and Bill Gates have an excellent IQ (IIRC I've read something about 160). Now, I believe both are exceptionally ambituous people, very tenacious in reaching their goals, but that much "intelligent", I don't buy it, sorry. That's my personal view, so please bare with me.
    So I resort to consider "intelligence" what it etymologically is: the ability (or will, I add) to see inside things.
    Most people nowadays don't seem to want to see (regardless if they're neurologically capable of not) inside the real truth of things. They prefer to take other roads in their lifes, which are apparently easier to take. So it's a cultural/characterial limitation in my opinion, not a neurological one.
    But *if* that kind of person is also the typical buyer of casual games, I'm quite "scared" of that. And since soniCron depicted that kind of person, and I am afraid that may represent (and even more in the future) the typical buyer of casual games, that made me "sad".
    Which doesn't mean at all that I have anything against a certain age and gender type of game player. But the person soniCron depicted recalled me that stereotype a lot. And wheter it's a game player or my cousin, I don't really enjoy or particularly esteem that kind of people. I don't say "hate", at all. But it makes me a bit sad to know that this kind of people not only exist, but dominate someway the world.
     
  11. Ish

    Ish
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    I think you've hit the nail on the head right there.

    I bought an Xbox 360 and checked out most of the games on XBox Live Arcade. I found myself immersed in Zuma and after a while stopped to think about what I was doing and why I was enjoying myself - I don't usually like games of that style. I came to the conclusion that the game mechanic was nothing special. I was doing something fairly mechanical. What engaged me was the presentation. The game had a satisfying clunk when I removed a chain of blocks and there was cool feedback and reward in the place of new, attractive, levels and a cool sound "Zuma" sound effect. The whole thing had got me sucked into a rhythm.

    I'm certain that one of those elements on its own (graphics, sound, or gamplay) wouldn't have engaged me at all. But they came together into a whole very well.

    But how do you distill that into some kind of game making method? Well thats the six million dollar question. If I ever discover it myself I think I'll be rich.
     
  12. goodsol

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    You may not be asking the right question. It isn't "what the market wants" but "what do people want". The market is just a collection of individual people.

    If you are not a part of your target market, or rather one of the people who likes your game, then that is obviously going to make it more difficult to figure out what the people who like your game want.

    As JPGinLA said, the best way to know what people want is what they say when they contact you for help with the game. You find out a lot about what they like and dislike about the game that way. The problem with the portal model is that you don't get contacted by people who are playing your game and so you don't find these things out.

    If you were being contacted by people who are playing Bonnie's Bookstore, you would probably be finding out what they like about the game and what they are having trouble with. You could then use this information to create a new version that would be more in tune with what people want.

    Personally I liked Bonnie's Bookstore and I suspect my wife would like it, but I can't get her to stop playing Snood long enough to try it.

    I've seen the problem of casual game developers looking down on their players for a long time. The problem of developers wanting to make games for teenage boys but believing that the market is middle age women is a big one.

    At first, there was a lot of resistence among developers to target this demographic. Now, I think things may be swinging too far, that developers are so obsessed with trying to target their stereotype of the middle aged woman (whom they consider stupid) that they are not realizing that the casual game demographic is more complex than that.

    The casual game demographic includes older women as well, and also middle aged and older men. There are a lot of people there who desire complex games, so the constant attempt to dumb down to the lowest portal denominator is missing a lot of the casual game market.

    The portals are fixating on only a part of the market, the part that they happened to discover success with. Now everybody is going after exactly the same type of gamer, in exactly the same way that everybody used to be fixated on the teenage boy gamer.

    When everybody is going after one segment of the market, you are more likely to find success by going after some other segment. There are segments that are clearly being underserved right now.

    The best way to find out what people want is to ask them. The best way to find people to ask is to ask the people who contact you about your game.
     
  13. Uty

    Uty
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    You might be able to find a forum frequented by your target audience. Just read up a bit, perhaps interact.
     
  14. Savant

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    Time and again, however, people prove that what they SAY they want isn't what they actually want. It would be more effective to watch sales trends and try to predict what will come next.
     
  15. Bmc

    Bmc New Member

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    here is a simple idea that would probably do alright, combine a match 3 type of game, with insaniquarium...

    might think im kidding but no,

    I think we are in for a wave of insani type games, Garden Dreams and Plantasia being the first 2 (recently releases anyways)
     
  16. Phil Steinmeyer

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    The problem with 'make what you like', is that nearly 95%+ of game developer are 20-40 year old men who are into 'core' games, but the market (i.e. the universe of people who buy games) is much broader. Yes, you can have some success 'making what you like', but you're overlooking the ~60% of the audience that isn't a 20-40 year old male.

    That said, I DO like word games, and I like BB. But I made certain thematic/art choices targeting a prototypical consumer a bit different than myself (closer to what I perceive as the 'center' of the target market). Discovering where that center is and what they like is difficult.

    That said, in the time since my first post in this thread, the game has been on Real and a variety of other portals for a while, and there's a fair amount of user feedback there, in reviews and such. Unfortunately, many of the reviews are no more than "this is awful", or "this is the greatest thing evar", but I think I did pick up some useful bits.

    One thing I noticed is that a lot of people perceived as a kid's game - even people who liked it. "This game is great for you kids and you may like it too" - that kind of thing. In retrospect, having the storybook setting and Bonnie as a children's author rather than, say writing mysteries was a mistake I think. I also picked up some other interesting bits.
     
  17. walkal

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    Many of the casual games given prominence on the portals look like kids' games to me, even though they're not meant to be. When Chuzzle first came out I walked in on a female friend in her 50s playing it, and she looked a little sheepish and said, "I'm just playing this kids' game." She was astonished when I told her it was aimed at women aged 35+ and that the discussion in this forum included comments like "the soccer moms will love this!"

    I think this relates to goodsol's point about the game developer's stereotype of the middle aged woman. Some of the comments about this group seem to evoke images of an Eisenhower-era matron, baking cookies and listening to Pat Boone. In fact the women in this demographic group probably listened to Madonna or Bruce Springsteen in their formative years (or in the case of my friend in her 50s, Janis Joplin). Most of them go out to work, many in management or professional roles.

    Maybe the high sales of games with childish themes and candy-box aesthetics is partly just because this is what is mostly on offer. Of course, I'm just speculating, but then isn't everyone? In the absence of hard facts about what people want, I'd be inclined to stick to making games I find appealing.
     
  18. Raptisoft

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    Hmm... regarding the look of Bonnie's:

    My wife is my primary critic, helper, etc. She's basically your classic soccer mom, except our kid is only three. She won't play a game that has cartoon characters in it. This is a hard distinction to make-- for instance, she'll play Insaniquarium, with its cartoon fish, because they don't function as cartoons, but instead, as playing pieces.

    But when she sees a game with a still-life "cartoon" onscreen that basically acts as a backdrop to the game, she's turned off for some reason. If they move, if they're part of the action, if they're anything but a still life, she's cool with it.

    Maybe this is a pervasive attitude?
     
  19. Bmc

    Bmc New Member

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    I think thats one thing that may of given BB more appeal... The fairie tale backdrops "coming alive" as the player completed more and more of the level, whether by brightening/revealing colors or adding animations
     
  20. Stu

    Stu
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    Have you seriously considered redoing the theme? It seemed to be time well spent for Retro 64 on Water Bugs/Cosmic Bugs. A slick, mystery solving theme could change everything.
     

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