Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Game Design Fundamentals: Know Your Audience!

I decided to start writing about my ideas of what game design entails. Game design is not an exact science or mathematical formula. However we can study it as a subject and try to learn some ways to approach game design that can help promote a successful design theory. Game design to me boils down to creating many solutions to a single problem and then seeing what best addresses all the issues presented. There are many different aspects of game design that all contribute to the success of a game but this post is only going to pertain to a small but important aspect, the target audience.

One of the first decisions you should make as a game designer is to decide on your primary audience. People like to believe that they are individually unique which is true but they also tend to share a lot of similarities. Companies spend vast amounts of money and time on market research to learn more about their customers. As a game designer you should tailor your game towards a specific market segment. You can try targeting more than one type of audience but it can leave the users dissatisfied with the overall experience. Trying to appease everyone will leave you with a game that has satisfied no one.

Choosing an audience depends on a number of factors. If you’re designing a game for a firm chances are they are trying to increase their profits through the game. So then you need to figure out which audience would be able to best support the profits needed. Sometimes a firm will need to make an educational game which already has an intended audience. If the project is something more personal then you can decide who you would like to play your game and then tailor the experience around them. You also have to take into account your specific skill set and how they translate to different audiences. Let’s take for example someone who can design very challenging levels that require a specific set of skills. This designer’s skills would be better suited for a more traditional and skillful player than someone who prefers to play casual games.

After you decided on a primary audience you should then understand their needs. Your goal from this point on is to design a game that is tailored towards your target audience. You need to learn as much as you can about what they enjoy, how they play, how often, how much time they dedicate per session, the different genres they play and their skill level. The better you understand your primary audience the better you can mold your game to their needs.

You should begin to design your game while catering to their skill level. The earlier sections of the game should be slightly easier so that players can be introduced to the ways your mechanics work and to ease them into your game. Frustration early into a game will make your audience annoyed and they will most likely avoid playing the rest of the game. When I refer to difficulty here I am referring to it as a relative value. An easier difficulty means that it should be something easier for that target audience. So an easy level for a skill traditional player could probably be something that would be a medium or hard level for a person less familiar with the genre. Difficulty should slowly ramp up as the player continues through the game. The audience should be able to gradually increase their skill as they continue to play slightly harder levels.
Listening to your audience is probably one of the most critical skills a designer needs. As a designer, you should be constantly visiting forums and reaching out to your primary audience. You should look at similar games to the one you are designing and see what your primary user’s enjoy and what they loathe. You need to be able to listen to their feedback and understand what they really dislike about it. If they tell you that the game is too hard, then maybe you should try to change the section so that it eases them into the area. Maybe they find your game too similar to other alternatives. You should then try to find out what other types of games they enjoy and try introducing those mechanics into your game. Everything revolves around trying to appease your audience.

Knowing your audience is one of the most important skills a game designer needs. The scope of this post does not include everything you need to know about your audience but it does address what I feel are some important points. I’m sure in the future I’ll continue to address a few more ideas about a primary audience but I feel like this post should provide a certain way of thinking when designing games. Hopefully I will continue to provide some of my insight toward game design fundamentals in the future.