263 - Target Audience

Developer diaries about creating Neverending Nightmares.
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matt
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263 - Target Audience

Post by matt » Fri Apr 17, 2015 11:09 am

In this developer diary, I talk about our considerations for target audience when designing a game.

Thanks to Evil King Gumby for suggesting it!

-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by evilkinggumby » Mon Apr 20, 2015 11:37 am

Man, about 1/2way through this you get sidelines with negativity and what was possibly unliked or badly recieved about NeN. :) not exactly my intent for this question and seeing it made into a discussion video.

I am glad you do take your audience into consideration. It seems like it was not at the forefront of the project, perhaps you were more passionate about making the game and not so much about targeting a specific demographic. I guess mental health effects everyone so that is sort of universal, but the gameplay style/themes and overal execution seems like it wasn't rightly targeted at a specific audience or demographic aside from "gamers". It is not really going to fall in line with popular youth-based games that are twitch based, colorful, over the top or highly open world/customizeable. But it also isn't geared towards older games looking for a retro experience with pixelart graphics, reto-hard gameplay and layers of depth most kids today would cry at. I guess in a way it is targeted at some of the more "casual" crowd, you don't need a gamepad really or tons of controls, there is no interface per say, and it has its share of jump scares and levels. Strangely I could see this game doing fairly well if it had reliable autosaves (on a phone, I assume it's all working fine now with ouya and pc) if you edited the design slightly so you could explore and pick up/put down the game in short spurts. It kills any real sense of immersion, but using a touchscreen to point where you should go would feel fairly natural and the worst that would happen is the graphics scale poorly, but since more and more phones and tablet like devices are going up to 1080p or even 4k, that shouldn't be any issue due to the crazy pixel density.

i guess in this case the biggest reason the game would fail as a app is the lack of vapid gameplay. it's too "deep" in it's visceral tone and themes. I could totally see it appearing as a "cinema" thing in another game though. :) as in, you walk into a theatre and explore it to find a large screen playing clips of the game, or if you make it to the projection booth, you have the option to play part of the game itself on a large theater screen, complete with glare, slight frame stutter, scratches/dirt and slightly distorted soundtrack... would be a kool way to get folk interested in buying the full one if they liked playing part of it as a mini game.

I think teens who are troubled and might actually fully get into the game are part of what you got, but the game may not be as fast paced, shiny, and interactive as games now are and so they are not all keen to it. older folk that can appreciate what you are doing, and understand and can read into the themes and ideas in the game are likely unsurprised as it's all stuff they've learned and moved past earlier in their lives. Of course some young folk will defy this as some old folk will. and yes.. i'm being terribly anecdotal.

I think knowing the folk you want to make the game for helps a lot in choosing the right tones for the game overall. kind of a "big picture" thing so that whereas the music/gameplay/visuals all match on a aesthetic/thematic level, there is also a overall texture to it that will feel "right" to the folk you think will be buying the game. it's nit pickery.. but it can make a big different. it is why they do focus testing for games whenever possible, but not always.

On an unrelated note.. as a possible point of discussion on a video, or on here, I'm curious if you might know and be able to explain why it is so easy to just forgoe communication with backers for extended periods while developing a game? I see a lot of campaigns falling into updates every 2 months and at times well beyond that (and backers getting cranky). I was hoping you could shed some light on what potentially causes this and how it isn't neglect or malicious intent but just "because of this.. and that"
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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by matt » Tue Apr 21, 2015 6:01 pm

We gave a lot of thought to the target audience for Neverending Nightmares. I think we didn't appeal to the audience as well as I thought, but that is life. I think I missed the mark more on Retro/Grade. hahaha

If you are curious, we were aiming at:
1) Horror fans. To me, I thought the holy grail of horror game design was something super atmospheric and tension filled that feels disempowering. I thought it was interesting to listen to Griffin McElroy talk about the game on Polygon. It seems like to some extent we succeeded too well with the tension ratcheting because he found it too uncomfortable. Plenty of other people found the game boring, so I'm not trying to pat myself on the back.
2) People interested in mental illness. I wasn't sure how big this audience was with Steam gamers, so it's tough to say whether we succeeded.
3) People interested in artsy games. I don't think we capitalized as much on this as I had hoped. I felt like we had a Gone Home style game with some interesting aspects, but perhaps the story was too obtuse or people were looking for more gameplay hooks.

I'm not sure if you're aware, but the game autosaves at the start of every room, so you can play it in very short spurts if you'd like.

In general, I think if you try to design your game for a "target audience" or a focus group, you'll end up with something uninspired. I create games that are important to me, but I try to make sure that they'll appeal to other people as well.

I don't think I can talk about why other developers don't communicate with their backers since that's the opposite of what I did. Perhaps they are embarrassed if they don't have noticeable progress? Or perhaps they just don't feel it's important enough to make time for it? Hard to say..
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by RightClickSaveAs » Tue Apr 21, 2015 8:15 pm

From what I've seen in other projects I backed, I think lack of communication is a combination of things. First, most developers are really small teams, and typically don't have a dedicated community relations/PR person who has the specific job of doing stuff like writing up Kickstarter updates, so it falls on the project creator, who tends to have a million other things going on. In the case of Infinitap, that'd be Matt, who is a rare example in that he actually sets aside time for and prioritizes these things anyway!

Another component seems to be that a lot of projects fall into a "nothing to report" attitude, especially mid-development after the Kickstarter buzz has worn off, and the work is just plugging along. I've seen so many Kickstarter updates that are basically just "Hey we're not dead and neither is the game, work is still being done, but there's really nothing new to talk about!"

And then there's the issue of wanting to control what gets out, although I think this applies mainly just for bigger projects from bigger developers. In today's world, if you do a backer update, it's essentially public information. The honor system will only go so far, and even if some exciting new info is given as backers only, there's a good chance it will get out. A prime example of this is the broken review embargo on the first episode of Broken Age, that caused all sorts of issues and is probably the reason why part 2 is just going to come out to everyone at once.

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by evilkinggumby » Wed Apr 22, 2015 6:45 am

I like how you think, Rightclick. Every explanation you gave was giving the developers the benefit of the doubt, and so few people willingly do that in life in many situations. I salute you and your open minded positivity!

I also agree the reasons listed may be why some groups do that. It makes sense for most situations. I just also think there may be situations where the developer 1: gets so wrapped up in work that the updates are simply "forgotten" for longer than expected and 2: they stretch the updates a bit knowing they're close to ma major milestone and want to devulge info all together as a big reveal.
We gave a lot of thought to the target audience for Neverending Nightmares. I think we didn't appeal to the audience as well as I thought, but that is life. I think I missed the mark more on Retro/Grade. hahaha
I am surprised because the way you talk about it in the video my impression that this is either an uncomfortable topic, or one you hadn't given a lot of thought to as you seem to struggle more with the information. compare this to some of your other videos, like the contracting one, where you speak with a confidence and assertion that shows it is a topic you know well and have dealt with extensively. I guess maybe you were having an off moment.. hehe.. no worries.

And yes i know the game autosaves on pc, but i didn'tknow how often. with that design (every room) it WOULD work well as a phone/tablet game.
In general, I think if you try to design your game for a "target audience" or a focus group, you'll end up with something uninspired. I create games that are important to me, but I try to make sure that they'll appeal to other people as well.
This sounds like you are equating "targeting" to "catering to" or even "pandering". I don't see how knowing your intended audience can make something completely uninspired except in the extreme where you are just plugging in popular tropes to make your game (and then it's not so much about target audiences as it is poor game development and creativity). I do admit going overboard with focus groups and really tweaking a game to make sure it si EVERYTHING a certain demographic wants is a lil nutty and can ruin a game (sort of like over-developing) but as a tool and a method to refine it seems like there is some merit to it. But in the case of Infinitap games, I guess it isn't part of the equation so much as an afterthought. First and foremost it is creating your vision. And that is ok, as you have a degree of passion to your work that helps drive your team and the project. As you stated before, you are kind of the primary force behind the projects making sure things happen, making decisions, and using your decision making as final say so if YOU aren't invested in a project passionately, it's DOA.
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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by matt » Wed Apr 22, 2015 10:54 am

Yeah, I think when developing a game, it is hard to keep people up to date. We did ZERO community management for Retro/Grade other than showing up at PAX every year with a new build, and it REALLY hurt us. We did a PAX after the game came out, and several people who said they played the game in previous years didn't realize the game actually came out. :(

Well, I think thinking about creating something interesting and special should be the first priority and target audience should be secondary. I guess we are probably saying the same thing. I was just thinking about developers that really try to follow a target audience based on what's "hot" now, and that doesn't seem to work well. I think Daylight was trying to cash in on the success of Slender and market themselves for that audience, but they missed the mark (in my opinion anyway).

I think there will be an enormous flood of rogue-likes given they are "hot" on Steam now (Binding of Isaac, FTL, Darkest Dungeon, Crypt of the Necrodancer, etc). I was tempted to follow the trend, but since I personally don't like rogue-likes (except Toejam and Earl), it seemed like a bad idea. :)
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by evilkinggumby » Wed Apr 22, 2015 11:40 am

this reminds me of a phrase writers use in school early on.
Write what you would want to read.
If a writer creates something they are not interested in, invested in, or passionate about.. if a writer is making a story they'd never enjoy reading, then most often the final product will fail or be found lacking.

I think this also will apply to game design. It is good to know your target audience, because if all else you should know that YOU are potentially your target audience and if you have fun with a game making it, testing it, talking about it, there is a good chance the final result will also be received well. Now yes there's a lot of variables that can flip this upside down and prove it doesn't work "guaranteed" but i still think the games with the most passionate teams end up noteworthy for SOMETHING as opposed to forgetable for everything. When everything is said and done, asking someone what was one thing they remember or sticks in their mind when they hear the title "neverending nightmares" and the same for some middle of the road generic FPS, even if they weren't 100% crazy happy with NeN i bet they'll remember something specific, detailed, and have a personal opinion or emotional reaction about it. it doesn't necessarily make the most money or turn the most heads.. but it can been seen as more significant for those in the industry that appreciate more than making games for tons of money :) It seems like that was your goal, to make something "significant" more than "financially successful" but now you regret the latter while still smiling at the former. understanding target audience might help close the gap between the two so you get a nice share of both.

cause yes money is good too.. ehehee... keeps the lights on.

i say all this because i want you to keep an eye on the good in all this. it is easy and normal to focus on the bad. 80% approval is not actually a BAD thing. I have looked at metacritic and seen many games i thoroughly enjoy that have crap for overall rating. kicking yourself for that last 20% isn't helping. Worrying this next project is going to do the same as NeN isn't entirely a BAD thing. Some great films got terrible reviews when they released. Same with books and even with games. 80% is still more than 3/4 of the whole.

You are growing a brand, a franchise. If down the road you crank out half a dozen in this series and players realize there is a underlying plot/world that ties it all together and is completely mind blowing, you'll win the hearts of fans and foes alike. But keep those eyes on the horizon ahead. I am saying this because... I see you fretting and hand wringing more and more as we move close to the next project release and KS announcement and I see you habitually derailing video's talking about what may have been unappreciated or ill recieved or poor decisions or gripes folk had with NeN and... it worries me man. it really does. You walked into Nen with a lot of emotional baggage because of the risk, the topic of the game, but also everything weighing on you from Retro/Grade's lackluster sales and you know more than any of us what a toll that took on you for the first months of development. Save yourself those headaches.

I'm speculating here. but My fear and worry is genuine and sincere.
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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by RightClickSaveAs » Wed Apr 22, 2015 3:22 pm

evilkinggumby wrote:I like how you think, Rightclick. Every explanation you gave was giving the developers the benefit of the doubt, and so few people willingly do that in life in many situations. I salute you and your open minded positivity!
Well thanks! I do believe that outside of the small handful of outright scams, most developers genuinely do have good intentions. This doesn't seem like the kind of business people get into just to make money.

Speaking of target audiences, there do seem to be developers out there who just calculatingly try to cash in on successful trends like Slender, and I'm sure a few of them actually do make some money out of it, but the cream tends to rise to the top.

As a weird thought exercise Matt, I'm curious, if you wanted to crank out a quick, cheap jumpscare heavy Slender clone to capture that specific audience, how would you go about it? Use Unity (I know you don't care for Unity, but in this complete hypothetical, would that be the easiest and cheapest option?) and just hire out or buy some cheap artwork and models and rig up a few jumpscares? Now, I know you wouldn't do that, this is all just a theoretical situation :)

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by matt » Wed Apr 22, 2015 5:35 pm

I don't know if it's possible for me to not worry and second guess myself. I have OCD, and I obsessively worry. I appreciate the positivity, but I don't think I'll be able to shed any negative baggage. Unfortunately, it seems like that's just the way I'm wired.

Yeah, I think using Unity and getting code/models/whatever off the asset store would be the way to go. Unity gives you a great starting point, and I think if you aren't trying to create a really polished experience, Unity can cut corners. If you want to stamp out all the bugs, it can be a nightmare with Unity because at least in my experience, Unity has a ton of a bugs. If you want to optimize the loading times or other aspects of your game, it can be a huge amount of work because that's not the "Unity" workflow. But if you are trying to fart things out, Unity works well. I think an indie dev (can't remember who) mentioned they were using Unity for prototyping but implementing the actual game in Unreal.

I personally have no experience with Unreal engine, but I suspect I'd like it a lot better than Unity. :)
-Matt Gilgenbach
Lead Frightener at Infinitap Games

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Re: 263 - Target Audience

Post by evilkinggumby » Thu Apr 23, 2015 8:04 am

matt wrote:I don't know if it's possible for me to not worry and second guess myself. I have OCD, and I obsessively worry. I appreciate the positivity, but I don't think I'll be able to shed any negative baggage. Unfortunately, it seems like that's just the way I'm wired.
Yeah I can understand that,. Sorry, guess I am overstepping my bounds here. I think I may take a hiatus for a few weeks so I don't screw up and really insult/offend/piss someone off. Maybe return when announcements for the next game hit.

But I'll continue to watch your vids, for sure.
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