Building Towards the Target
Design pal Jesse Catron prompted me to write about designing a game towards a target audience. What components, themes, complexity levels, and marketing tactics should you use to reach your game's target audience? Challenge accepted!
This is a difficult topic for to me to make decisive statements towards. I have never published a game, though I have had a board game published and I've been on the development team of many many digital products in the marketplace today. But, I consider myself a keen observer and a decent listener. Just because I haven't done it doesn't mean all of us cannot learn from those who have.
Defining the Target Grouups
For the sake of brevity, I'm going to address two market extremes: Casual consumers and Core consumers. I'm painting with a broad brush, which I think is reasonable as this is not a dissertation, but a theoretical exercise.
I define casual consumers as people who play games to pass the time, do not want to spend a great deal of time or money on games, tend to adhere to word of mouth for recommendations, and purchase most games from larger retailers (Target, Walmart, Barnes and Noble, Amazon).
I define core consumers as people who play games with purpose. They gain satisfaction from victory, the challenge presented, and the camaraderie of the table. This is their primary hobby and they spend money as such. They listen to reviews, use hobbyist sites for information (Board Game Geek, Boardgaming.com, Twitter, Facebook), and purchase games from local hobby game stores and sites like Cool Stuff Inc., Funagain.com, and Amazon.
Component Considerations: Good casual components should help players quickly connect the dots on how to play the game. Dice are immediately obvious and well understood. Casual games should have fewer components as heft and a pile of pieces can be quite intimidating. Casual games should use simple iconography or as little text as possible as reading seems burdensome and for some will feel like work. A side effect of reading is that people's heads will be down, reading, not up for players to make eye contact and engage with one another.
Good casual components should also look fun. Scallywags by Gamewright comes with a huge, awesome pile of gold pirate doubloons. The Big Fat Tomato Game, also by Gamewright, has little spongy tomatoes, big plastic tomato baskets, and huge hefty six-sided dice. King of Tokyo by Iello has awesome custom dice, big monster cut outs, and transparent green energy cubes. People should look at your game and think subconsciously "I want to touch that." Oh, and have amazing art.
Never forget that many casual players are very used to Risk and Monopoly. These games provide a sense of ownership (my territory, my army, my property) and use dice as a central element.
Core consumers share some of these characteristics. After all, board gamers love stuff. There are differences. Core consumers will lift your box to gauge its heft and weight. More is better. Core consumers may be leery of dice, or more leery, as it might be an omen of a highly random experience. Core consumers are less concerned about cards filled with text and are perfectly fine with a pile of punch board counters.
Core consumers like tableaus, reference cards, and lots of information. They want to know the card distribution and every side rule. If possible, core consumers also want miniatures. This often isn't practical, but hey, we're not limiting ourselves with reality for this post.
Seasons is a game box filled with fun, inviting stuff for more core consumers. Eclipse is wonderful and its components are magical. Don't get me going on Mice and Mystics. These first two games will terrify more casual consumers -- I've watched it happen. The last one listed hopes to attract them soon. We'll see how it goes!
Thematic Considerations: Theme is a difficult one to nail down for either consumers. People of all types LOVE zombies. Just look at Zombie Dice (casual) and ZPocalypse (core). It's cool to knock zombie games (I've done it, rudely), but it's a mistake to overlook something so beloved by so many.
Orcs and spaceships are always a good path to take. Sometimes, combine them. Honestly, with proper art and mechanic design you can make farming the #2 game of all time (core), or a silly fracas (casual).
There are some general rules of thumb. For casual, focus on art and themes, or presentations of themes, that steer clear of violence and gore. Craft art that's more silly, less serious. Make it very gender neutral, which is something you can do through a wide array of actions. Hire a real graphic designer -- they'll help. Avoid things that are too rooted in reality. Casual players don't want to be reminded of war, famine, history, and things that are eerily similar to work.
For core, you can be more serious, darker (sometimes go way dark), and violent. You can use pictures of British Soldiers from a precise regiment or and orc carrying the head of a poor, defeated human.
Complexity Considerations: I feel like this goes closely hand in hand with my components comment. But, I'll quickly go over a few points. Dave Chalker, designer of Get Bit, commented on Twitter that casual gamers find the rules for Fluxx overwhelming. You scoff, but it's true. You'd be surprised just how often questions are asked of me about Farmageddon. Questions about content that I thought was straightforward.
With a casual game, it's all about simplicity. Keep it simple, keep the game quick, keep it focused. Pick one mechanic and make sure the game ends in a half hour or less. Never forget that casual games are designed to appeal to people who play Texas Hold 'Em Poker, Uno, Monopoly, Dominoes, Go Fish. You can never test too much and you should never make an assumption.
For core gamers? Well, go nuts. But, be warned. I sincerely believe that with the Internet, Kickstarter, growing traditional publishers, Table Top, and more, a time of great growth for our hobby is upon us. Yes, you can make the four hour brain killer. And frankly, you should. There needs to be something for everyone. But, if you go too far off the deep end of complexity, you may overlook a huge, eager audience of new gamers. People who may get their hands dirty with Munchkin and then move on to YOUR game. How cool would that be?
Marketing Considerations: Casual consumers are way more price conscious than core consumers. By this, I mean anything over $20 will cause a casual consumer to pause at the point of purchase. Core consumers are also price conscious, but their point of pause may be far higher. Hell, I am personally only limited by personal budget and a guilty feeling if I spend too much money on games.
Casual consumers don't use Board Game Geek. They don't care about Board Game Geek. To get to them, you need to be on retail shelves (difficult), build word of mouth (slow), and get them onto a mailing list (slow). Core consumers know all about the Geek, review sites, friends and forums, and will actively seek new content to add to their shelves. They will also buy more if they hear the word of mouth, see it on a big retailer's shelf, or happen to be on your mailing list.
Casual consumers are way more likely to gravitate towards a company's brand/logo than remember a designer. Core consumers are more likely to care about the designer. Casual consumers will provide face-to-face word of mouth, whereas core consumers will post ratings on the Geek, Tweet, and use social media to excitedly recommend your game to others.
Both groups greatly respect good value, treating customers well, and being consistent. The Golden Rule will carry you far where marketing is concerned. Be good to others and make great products. Consumers will treat you well in return.
Where are my assumptions off? Did I make any points that resonated? Where does your game fall? Comment below!