Capturing Your Audience in Video Games
Since the dawn of video games as a medium there has been a war to find and capture an audience. Game designers fret and fight for the audience and while the target might be called “revenue” or ”market share” or “brand loyalty” really it just boils down to a captured audience. A single game or a studio can be what captures them, and there are certainly benefits:
- A captured audience is more likely to invest in a game and a game studio (by paying for games and not pirating them)
- A captured audience is more likely to look past small flaws in titles in favor of the total package
- A captured audience is more likely to contribute meaningful things in a community
- A captured audience is more likely to be patient for releases (look at Blizzard’s ability to keep a game in development for years. Aside from the occasional outburst the majority will wait years for a release)
Now… What is the secret then to capturing an audience? What I have found is that there is a choice that studios make between features, or immersion.
Features is pretty vague…
What I mean by features can include a lot of things but tends to boil down to graphics and gimmicks. Video games have continuously pushed the capabilities of graphics cards and each successive title has forced a constant upgrade cycle. The difficulty with pushing the graphics as the selling feature of a game is that by the time a game is released those cutting edge features are already behind.
Immersion seems even vaguer…
Immersion is the secret of placing a player in a game for extended periods of time where qualities of the game keep the player coming back again and again. Deep story lines, intuitive design and appropriate difficulty keep players coming back again and again. For online games, you can add competition to difficulty.
Story Lines – We become more invested in a character or a world where the stories are rich and woven around everything. Firaxis’ Alpha Centauri and Alien Crossfire are excellent examples of this. The progression in the game is filled with references not only to the fictional past of the game, but the ongoing progression of the personalities in the game. I still get goose bumps when I hear some of the audio files for the technology or secret projects because I distinctly remember the story line around them.
Intuitive Design – Nothing breaks immersion in a game faster than a poorly designed interface into the game. Sometimes graphics get in the way and sometimes the interface itself has so many options that it becomes unwieldy. One of the heroes here in my mind though is Starcraft (the original). Everything about the interface was designed for speed and it shows in the online play.
Difficulty (and competition) – Difficulty is one of the hardest nuts to crack. Games that are difficult keep players coming back. They respect a game that can beat them and conquering it brings pride. However, games that present near impossible situations become the object of scorn. If your game is difficult because of poor design (camera angles, poor ‘hitbox’ design or just impossible odds) players will quit and make sure every one of their friends know why. Competition is the other side of this and draws the online play. Most players don’t play PVP games for the simple joy of beating others. They play to get on leader boards.
Now, to design a game that has all of this…