As a game designer it’s easy to get a little too big headed for your own good. Like many creatives, game designers assume that because they know how to make games, they know the best games that SHOULD be made.
Their next game will always be a big hit, because it ticks all the boxes of what they like. Then upon release it is overlooked, panned or segregated to an incredibly niche audience. Why? Because they failed to consider what their audience was looking for. I must admit I’ve often fallen into this trap myself.
The most successful creators fulfil their own needs, while being aware of the markets desires.
“In 1954, when Disneyland Park was being constructed, Walt Disney would frequently walk around the park inspecting the progress. Often, he would be seen to walk for a distance, stop, and suddenly crouch to the ground… His explanation was simple: How else could he know what Disneyland would look like to children?”
This week I will be sharing the research found in Jesse Schell’s book, The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses. I’ll provide her breakdowns of the individual demographics you should consider when designing your game and provide examples of my own choosing.
First of all, one must consider age. The tastes, habits and skills of a gamer vary significantly depending on their age. There is a game for every age group, something to consider when deciding how to market your product.
“0 – 3: Children in this age bracket are very interested in toys, but the complexity and problem solving involved in games is generally too much for them.”
So unless you’re creating something educational with an iPad, maybe avoid this demographic.
“4 – 6: This is the age where children generally show their first interest in games. The games are very simple and played with parents.”
Consider TV show tie in games like Spongebob Squarepants: Kreature from the Krusty Krab or Ben 10: Ultimate Alien.
“7 – 9: The age of seven has long been called the “age of reason.” At this age, children have entered school, are generally able to read, are able to think things through, and solve hard problems. Naturally, they become very interested in game playing.”
Now we’re jumping into the likes of Minecraft, Skylanders and Disney Infinity.
“10 – 13: They are suddenly able to think about things more deeply and with more nuance than they were a few years back. This age is sometimes called the ‘age of obsession,’ because children this age start to get quite passionate about their interests.”
We’re all thinking it… Fortnite.
“13 – 18: The job of a teenager is to start getting ready for adulthood. At this age, we generally see a significant divergence between male and female interests. Boys continue to be interested (and often get more interested) in competition and mastery, whereas girls become more focused on real-world issues and communication.”
So for this demographic you might see more boys interested in Call of Duty, while girls may enjoy Life is Strange.
“18 – 24: Adults, in general, play less than children do. Most adults do continue to play, but at this point, with their teenage experiments out of the way, they have established certain tastes about the kind of play and entertainment they enjoy.”
So with gamers who grew up in the 80’s, old school throwbacks like Shovel Knight find their niche.
“25 – 35: As the responsibilities of adulthood start to add up, most adults in this age bracket are only casual gameplayers, playing games as an occasional amusement or playing games with their young children. On the other hand, “hardcore gamers” in this age bracket— that is, people for whom playing games is their primary hobby— are an important target market because they purchase a lot of games and are often quite vocal about what they do and don’t like, potentially influencing the buying decisions of their social network.”
This is where big games like The Witcher and World of Warcraft gain a lot of clout. While titles like Lego Marvel Superheroes find success with casual gamers who are trying to find a middle ground for them and their kids.
“35 – 50: As their children become older, adults in this age group are often the ones who make decisions about expensive game purchases, and when possible, they look for game playing opportunities the whole family can enjoy together.”
Mario Kart, Wii Sports and Batman Arkham VR are probably a safe bet for this group.
However age isn’t the only thing to consider. Men and Women generally have very different experiential tastes. That’s not to say women can’t enjoy more male focused titles like Call of Duty, and men can’t cry at the end of Gone Home, but there is data to support which gender will make up the predominant portion of the audience for certain games.
When playing games, men often look for these core pillars.
- Males enjoy mastering things. It doesn’t have to be something important or useful— it only has to be challenging.
- Males really enjoy competing against others to prove that they are the best.
- Males like destroying things. A lot. Often, when young boys play with blocks, the most exciting part for them is not the building, but knocking down the tower once it is built.
- Studies have shown that males generally have stronger skills of spatial reasoning than females.
- Women often joke that men hate reading directions, and there is some truth to that. Males tend to have a preference for learning things through trial and error.
While women tend to look for games involving the following.
- Females like experiences that explore the richness of human emotion. For males, emotion is an interesting component of an experience but seldom an end in itself.
- Females tend to prefer entertainment that connects meaningfully to the real world. If you watch young girls and young boys play, girls will more frequently play games that are strongly connected to the real world (playing “house,” pretending to be a veterinarian, playing dress-up, etc.), whereas boys will more frequently take on the role of fantasy characters.
- Females enjoy nurturing. Girls enjoy taking care of baby dolls, toy pets, and children younger than themselves. It is not uncommon to see girls sacrifice a winning position in a competitive game to help a weaker player, partly because the relationships and feelings of the players are more important than the game.
- It is often said that what females lack in spatial skills they make up for in increased verbal skills. Women purchase many more books than men do,
- Just as males tend to eschew instructions, favoring a trial-and-error approach, females tend to prefer learning by example. They have a strong appreciation for clear tutorials that lead you carefully, step-bystep, so that when it is time to attempt a task, the player knows what she is supposed to do.
None of this information is a full proof, sure fire guide to success, but it is always useful to understand your audience more. You aren’t just creating games for yourself, you’re creating games for them too.