Target Audience vs. Game Designer


Who are you making games for? Have you ever asked yourself this question? Who is going to play the game in the end? Who am I trying to reach with my idea?

My latest observations show that the target audience is sometimes neglected, ignored or simply forgotten about in the process of making a game. Too late, or sometimes not at all, the question arises who is actually going to spend some hard-earned money on the game.

This question should arise earlier, though. In fact, at the very beginning of a project the target audience should be defined. After all, everything that comes after this definition will set the general course of the game. The casual gamer will probably not be interested in a game that requires an enormous amount of time and effort to progress in a game. The casual gamer will probably not care about amazing graphics that require a high-end gaming machine. The casual gamer wants to start the game on the PC, or pick up a mobile device and start it there without much fuss. Loading times should be short, graphics rather bright, the game should be easy to grasp, simple in its rules and mechanics but fun to play. Make it fun! And addictive, if possible. ;o)

Simple and fun and bright might not be the cahracteristics the hardcore gamer is looking for in a good game. Will the gaming PC be fast and strong enough? Will the graphics be realistic and fascinating? Or, at least, somewhat more appealing than just bright (and possibly cute). Is there a story and what kind of story? Is it captivating and challenging? What about the game mechanics? The AI? If the AI is too dumb, the game becomes uninteresting quickly. Repetitive tasks to beat a highscore? Not really challenging and capturing.

And this is just a rough description of what the casual gamer desires and the hardcore gamer finds unappealing (and vice versa).

Defining a target audience at the beginning of a project will set the direction of the appearance of the game as well as the mechanics, the story and, in the end, the marketing.

My question to you – are there games out there that appeal to both the casual and the hardcore gamer?


11 Responses to “Target Audience vs. Game Designer”

  1. That depends on how you define “hardcore gamers”. Am I one? I play a whole lot, but I shun all typical console genres (FPS, racing, sports etc.), and I’ve read an article where “hardcore gamers” were basically defined as jocks playing said genres on high end consoles.

  2. I have to admit that my personal definition may very well vary from the usual description. I approach this definition from the motivation-angle. How much is the gamer interested in games? What kind of aspects is he looking for in a game? How does the equipment look like? What is he looking for in a game? How much time is he willing to invest in gaming? How much money is he willing to invest in gaming? When does he game?
    The casual gamer, from this approach, is someone who likes to play but not for a longer period. 30 minutes of gaming might already be a long session. The casual gamer likes to play something more simple mechanics-wise but not stupidly easy. Something that can be played “in-between”. Either when waiting for a bus (mobile), or when trying to relax for 5 minutes at the desk (browser game). Buying and updating equipment on a regular basis is more likely to be something a hardcore gamer would do, not the casual type.
    But, there are arguments pro and contra this definition and it also depends on the point of view, I’d say.

  3. I like your definition. Not least because it makes me a hardcore gamer – a title I am proud to flaunt as a geek.

    What do people think about Civilization Revolutions on the NDS? I have to admit that I prefer the complexity of Civ3 and Civ4, but the game is still enjoyable. It very openly tries to bridge the gap between casual and hardcore gaming.

  4. 4 tryphina

    i think i can be classified as a hardcore gamer too (no surprise here), but i’d like to add a few things.

    on the pc i prefer games which require efford, time and thinking (like spellforce, anno, monkey island, knights of the old republic, …)

    online i am torn between deep, life-consuming games (wow), light, repetitive, time-consuming games (maple story) and casuals (travian)

    on consoles (mostly ds and mostly in bed :)) i play calm, longterm games (rune factory, magical starsign) or crazy stuff (wario ware, mariokart).

    so i think the question is not only for which group you design, but also for which setting/time of day/machine.
    and i don’t think it is possible to cater to both casual and hardcore gamers in one game.

  5. As I’ve mentioned (I hope) – the definition varies greatly depending on the point of view of the “definer”. For some, Street Fighter and similar products are casual games, whereas my personal definition covers mostly browser, flash and mobile games.
    At the moment, I wouldn’t call myself a hardcore gamer, though, just a gamer. Haven’t wasted days in front of the PC, just to finish this one quest (and then the next…and the next…and the next…). I am not saying this is a requirement, just a personal observation.
    See, it’s all relative, just like every other attempt to define highly subjective things.

  6. It is not surprising that a game-affine person likes more than only one genre. Especially at different times. While I agree the time and place is an important factor that needs to be taken into consideration a clear view of the target audience at the beginning of a project is a lot more helpful than defining the time and place of the game played. Mind you, I am not saying that this isn’t important and needs to be taken into consideration, especially if a game is actually focusing on a specific time or space.

    My main point, with this rant, is why neglect the target audience, when designing a game. The machine can hardly be neglected, since the design highly depends on it. Not only from a programming point of view. Different screen sizes, different modes (especially on mobile phones), different ways of controlling a game (joystick, joypad, touchpad, touchscreen, accelerometer, etc.) need a different approach of design. I have never had the feeling that other factors were that often forgotten about.

  7. 7 Tesh

    Market differentiation and target audience are important facets to a well-run business. The game industry is still fairly young, and successful despite being rather incompetent when it comes to understanding business, both in the interaction with customers and internally with HR practices.

    We’ll learn, but the industry will see some growing pains.

  8. I have seen rather young companies that have struggled for an impressive amount of time and had a lot of potential, especially knowledge-wise (when it comes to the developing team). Still, being rather incompetent and not able to really use other companies as an example leads to the inevitable, it seems.
    A pity how being a fairly young business combined with a certain stubbornness can lead to the downfall of some companies, even though the potential is there.

  9. /agree with Tesh, although there is large variation within the industry. But I have never worked for a company where there was proper cooperation between marketing and game design over target audience, even though this seems like a natural match-up to me. But in most companies I’ve seen or worked for, marketing means advertising and PR, not analyzing the audience.

    From what I have seen of discussions like this, ‘hard-core gamers’ and ‘casual gamers’ have obvious flaws as concepts and mean different things at different times. Certainly their overall stance towards gaming is part of it, as well as the kind of game you will play (You like fantasy / sci-fi that goes beyond a pretty border? Hard-core). But then there are the middle-aged women playing on-line card games all day, or people who are really, really good at Bejeweled. Obviously, these games are important to them, to the point of being an obsession. It used to be that if you were a male teenager exhibiting that behavior, you were a hard-core gamer.

  10. Ah. And although I have seen discussions like this one before, I have not yet seen a new taxonomy that is generally accepted. Naturally, this does not mean it doesn’t exist: I know some people have worked on it.

  11. Oh, and a game developer, especially designer, who neglects thinking about his or her target audience is extremely likely to fail, commercially and, I would argue, artistically.

    And re taxonomies: I wonder if marketing departments prefer simple segmentation without overlaps, which is not what you would necessarily do if you were to classify aspects of your target audience. If that makes sense.

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