Demographic Advocates

It recently occurred to me that video game publishers might be well served by having an internal advocate for different demographic groups. (The details: i.e. is it one specific person or several people with other responsibilities are less interesting to me than the idea itself.)

The idea came to mind when I was thinking about Marble Blast Ultra, one of our XBLA games. I have heard it said on more than one occasion that “if Marble Blast Ultra included a sandbox mode in which there were no penalties, no timers, etc, it would be a perfect kid’s game.” Conversely, when playing Pokemon Diamond, I’ve often thought “if only there were a way to speed up the rather slow and repetitive feeling of battles (among other related issues), this game might have some chance of appealing to more adults.”

(Those of you who’ve played Pokemon will understand what I’m talking about here. How many times do I need to sit through the same animation of the same attack? Is it OK to be bored after the 500th time I’ve watched the “throwing my pokeball into the field” animation? The repetition is valuable to kids but adults might enjoy a “skip” option…)

Could you increase the potential audience of a card game by 10% if you simply included a gameplay mode that appeals to a certain ethnic minority (i.e. Latinos?) Would women be X% more likely to purchase your casual game if it simply didn’t include that female character with the tiny waist?

Theoretically, the marketing arm of a publisher would be responsible for these observations. But it seems to me that, while this kind of thinking does take place in the industry, it does so sporadically. I think we’re a mature enough industry to justify a more consistent approach. When relatively minor changes or additions to a game could result in a significantly larger target market, to be anything less than vigilant seems wasteful.

All that said, I’m not arguing that games can easily be made appealing to all audiences simultaneously, or even that they should. A game that tries to be everything to everyone will ultimately end up interesting to no one. I simply think that we can do a better job of widening the audiences for our games than we currently do today.

I also think a demographic advocate could play other interesting roles, like:

  • Question marketing decisions that inherently repel a possible audience without good reason
  • Identify under-exploited IP that would appeal strongly to a given demographic and could grow strongly from there
  • Etc…

2 responses to “Demographic Advocates

  1. Regarding Pokemon (which I must say I\’ve been pouring most of my meaningful hours into), there is a toggle in the options menu where you can turn off the super long animations. Which means you only have to sit through the interminable dialogs. For the first 20 hours, it annoyed me immensely. Then I became numb to the rhythm of it all.

    The demographic advocate is a very solid idea. On a smaller scale, we have the \’customer on the team\’ concept and it works out surprisingly well. In software development you have a lot of portfolio type problems: Limited resources, diverse audience, well balanced set of features that serves that audience. The \’official\’ judge often ends up playing either a procedural role in order to balance all the needs or they fall back on their biases and end up championing only one point of view to the detriment of others. By have a \’pure\’ champion, there is often a breath of fresh perspective the puts the team back on track.

    One interesting side effect: customers on the team become polluted after about 6 to 8 months. They figure out the politics of the team and start adopting the viewpoints of others.

    Still, despite this, you want someone who is far more than just Kleenex testers. They need to be team members who can speak as equals with the other folks on the team. It is a balancing act, but quite feasible.

    take care

  2. Viva heterogenaidad!

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