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Designing for a Mass Audience, or not...

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I've been mulling over this issue for a while... There's a game I've been loosely drafting up the design for for ages now, and I feel like I'm at the point where a lot of its core elements are really locked in place in terms of plans and vision for it. One issue I keep coming back to though is that of mass playability. I'm extremely particular about control in a game. It's make or break for me. If character control feels off, or isn't my style, I just won't play it regardless of other merits it may have (an exception would have some extreme circumstances). I'm therefore every bit as particular in the games I create, I tune it and fine tune it, painstakingly striving to perfect its feel according to my own likes and dislikes. This particular game I'm working on at the moment will be an action/RPG hybrid, side-view 2D. A huge emphasis for me will be attempting to craft the action element to perfection. Perfect fluid control to allow skilled agility, very complicated combinations of attacking actions that bring a huge degree of skill into play rather than relying on stat vs stat. That's the kind of game I want to play, and that's what I want to make. So, firstly this will immediately alienate a large number of traditional RPG gamers, but that's cool. Looking even deeper into the planned mechanics though; I feel as though if I did (theoretically) build my "perfect game", I would also probably have plenty of action gamers who found that my control and gameplay style just didn't gel either. I feel as though if anyone is going to like it at all, it'll probably be a relatively small group of avid enthusiasts at best. Anyway...I could be wrong, we'll see, but that's only what got me thinking about this whole topic. It can apply to anything. As an indie game developer, this is just about the only time you can exactly try to make a game that's EXACTLY what you want (let's just set aside the Hideo Kojimas for a second). When it becomes an official commercial venture, excluding people or knowingly limiting its appeal to a significant degree is in almost all ways an -official- failure, regardless of personal feelings. It's also in some ways a wasted opportunity for recognition, career progress, and all the other things that come from a game that for whatever reason becomes a "hit" en mass. I don't think there's any question in my mind about what I'm going to do. I'm going to aim for my own personal vision, and hope people like it, but if they don't then so be it. But I thought I'd put this to you guys... What are your thoughts about game design for personal enjoyment vs game design for success and mass appeal? Of course, the two aspirations can very easily be one and the same, but often that's not the case (for me at least).

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Many decisions about how something should look and behave are not really decisions. One is clearly better: it provides more feedback, is more reliable of a move, is more understandable (in the framework of the game as a whole), is not-exploitable, is not-over/underpowered... Be smart about the design. Some things we want in a design are not good for the design.

A few though are proper decisions. Some upside, some downside... whatever. I make games as a hobby. Motivation is very important to get something done. If I try something everyone will enjoy but it kinda sucks to me, then I'll get demotivated and not finish it. A done game that only you play is infinitely better than a game everyone would play if it only existed.

If you make commercial games? Enh, the paycheck (or more accurately for a designer, your company's survival) should be motivation enough.

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Original post by Telastyn
Many decisions about how something should look and behave are not really decisions. One is clearly better: it provides more feedback, is more reliable of a move, is more understandable (in the framework of the game as a whole), is not-exploitable, is not-over/underpowered... Be smart about the design. Some things we want in a design are not good for the design.

A few though are proper decisions. Some upside, some downside... whatever. I make games as a hobby. Motivation is very important to get something done. If I try something everyone will enjoy but it kinda sucks to me, then I'll get demotivated and not finish it. A done game that only you play is infinitely better than a game everyone would play if it only existed.

If you make commercial games? Enh, the paycheck (or more accurately for a designer, your company's survival) should be motivation enough.


Well it's actually a completely moot point in the commercial world, I shouldn't have even mentioned the commercial aspect.

I agree that some 'decisions' are simply better design according to simple logic and sound playability, but when you move beyond those staple foundations is what I'm talking about. Decisions become more aligned with personal taste, at least the way I see it, the further I really get into complicated details and intricacies.

It's these kinds of things that feel great to me that I think may just seem arbitrary or jarring to others. It's exactly what I think about many if not most of the games that are out there, and I know for a fact most people don't agree with me.

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I have to wax philosophical on this one.

You have to eat, you have to pay the bills. If you're one of those people whose passion does this for you, you're a lucky bastard. For the rest of us, there's the day job...

I go by this principle: You're only on this Earth once, and it's completely up to you to fulfill your potential. I don't think I'd be true to myself if I got to the point where making games was no longer an option and I hadn't at least tried to do what I see in my head, regardless of whether or not it was popular.

Having said that, cultivating a wider perspective and genuine concern for other people can open you up to the idea of appealing to their tastes. For me it's like the idea of "chef's joy," the enjoyment you get from seeing others partake of your creation. That makes me far more open to control schemes, gameplay and UI that are more accessible and trying to find the bridge between what's popular and what I'd like to do.

(Of course, if I had any sense I'd kick sci-fi out the door and start making medieval games, but that's another story[smile])

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OP wrote:
Quote:
What are your thoughts about game design for personal enjoyment vs game design for success and mass appeal?
Of course, the two aspirations can very easily be one and the same, but often that's not the case (for me at least).

Some general guidelines I've lived by for many years of doing this stuff:
1. You need to know whether or not your taste on a particular matter is out of whack with most people's taste.
2. If your taste is not out of whack, trust your taste, design it the way you prefer it.
3. If your taste is out of whack, design it the way the buying public prefers it. But include a user-selectable option so you can have it your way too.
4. If you don't know whether your taste is out of whack with the buying public's taste or not, make it a user-selectable option to be on the safe side.

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Original post by Wavinator
Having said that, cultivating a wider perspective and genuine concern for other people can open you up to the idea of appealing to their tastes. For me it's like the idea of "chef's joy," the enjoyment you get from seeing others partake of your creation. That makes me far more open to control schemes, gameplay and UI that are more accessible and trying to find the bridge between what's popular and what I'd like to do.


And that's the essence of the dilemma for me.

As an indie developer, working really hard on a game and having it received poorly or liked only by a select few would be rather heartbreaking. On the other hand, compromising what I want to do in its truest form would also be a big let down in its own way.

It's not that I want to be obnoxious and say "screw you, I know better" to gamers, I just have REALLY particular tastes and I'm into certain gameplay styles that probably aren't that popular.

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As an indie, you have the advantage that niche might still be profitable. It can be a good tactic as an indie to avoid the mainstream and focus squarely on satisfying a small well-defined niche better than anyone else can. That way you're not competing with other, better funded companies with a similar product for mainstream customers.

The catch is that the niche needs to be large enough to support you, and you need to be able to advertise directly to that niche. If the niche is so tiny that it effectively only consists of you, or those in your niche don't know of your existence, then you'll be in trouble.

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With control input aside, I'm completely the opposite. I have an easy time adapting to very different interactive styles.

I have a much lower tolerance for input. If I have to use the arrow keys or number pad to move the character around, I probably won't play it very long. The same goes with timing controls that are too fast, too slow, or clumsy. You should provide options for all those things, to let players tune the control. There's no reason not to. It takes 1-8 years to make a game, and less than a few days to provide a control configuration menu. Not providing one is just wasteful.

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