Monday, November 7, 2005

A five step program to move beyond the game geek culture

Folks in general completely missed the point of the last little post on the culture of the game design community. I want to particularly thank Zoombapup and the other great commentators who pushed me to clarify. Kudos to Gamasutra and Elias for getting the gist of the article.

The post wasn’t about lambasting programmer-designers. It was about pointing out a strong blind spot in our culture and practices. Instead what we got was a stream of prerecorded comments that were triggered by the words “programmer” and “designer” being on the same page.

I touched a nerve, but unfortunately it wasn’t one that I was writing about. :-) It is like telling your grandparents that smoking kills and they spend the next few hours arguing about whether menthol or regular is the better flavor.

Take two
Let’s take a different look at the original issue. The premise is this: The game industry is a highly interdependent ecosystem that is the natural consequence of historical starting conditions. It is not however the only form that a game development culture can take. It is almost certainly not the most profitable form.

We need take a step back and introduce some systems thinking to understand the dynamics of the industry. If we blame the publishers or the programmers or the consumers or the designers as individuals, we gain little understanding of the issue and manage to create a lot of denial, hand wringing and hurt feelings. The truth is that most individual actors in our industry are doing what they think is best. The result may be a degenerate system, but the individuals are operating with a clean conscience. There is absolutely no paradox here.

Ultimately, I’m not concerned by individuals doing their jobs poorly. My concern is that they are fixating on an insignificantly tiny market when a much larger one awaits. By blindly devoting their efforts toward the current market, we starve the market expansion process.

Everyone is doing a great job
First, let me assure everyone that they are doing their best. Let’s run through the list.
  • Publishers are being impressive optimizers: They exist to take successful products and built upon their success. This results in great profits. Who could blame them?
  • Developers learn from the best games: Most game developers are absolute experts at the various game genres. They know what they personally like and they use this creative vision to improve upon their past game play experiences. Who could blame them?
  • Programmer designers were just having fun: Of course, all those original designs come from programmer-designers that were building games for themselves. Can you blame them for their personal preferences? Heck, they started the industry. Throwing stones at geniuses like Yu Suzuki is like beating up on Jesus.
  • The customer want more of what they like: Two kids walk into a store and ask for candy. The guy at the counter only has sour candy. One kid loves it and the other one doesn’t. The kid with the sour tooth comes back the next day and asks for more. Heck, he even invites comes of his friends that also like sour things. The statistics? 100% of children who purchase candy love sour candy. Can you blame them?
The result across the board is a classic self-selection bias on the part of developers, the customers and publishers. Everyone is doing a great job, but the system that results has issues.

I like current games
You end up with a market that eats its own tail. We’ve seen this before in the comic book industry and the same pattern reoccurs in many other industries. I’m reminded of Garret Hardin’s essay, The Tragedy of the Commons where Hardin describes the process as “the remorseless working of things.”
  1. The game development community is limited to people who like existing games. The skills, the extracurricular interests, and the passion necessary to build new genres for different audiences rarely exist. In fact, the community actively rejects those who do not fit a rather narrow hardcore mold. We’ve all seen the insidious hiring phrase “Must have a passion for video games.”
  2. The population of existing genres is derived from a very small genetic base. This base was historically built by programmer-designers for people who have tastes that are similar. The 8 or 9 dominant genres are the sour candy that the industry is built upon. The thought that different types of games might bring in new customers is typically brought up by fringe elements only.
  3. The publishers optimize what is available. The publishers look at the limited set of existing options, cut out the least profitable ones and start building efficiencies of scale into the creative and marketing operations. Considering you didn’t have much to start with, you aren’t left with much variety. It is the equivalent of practicing eugenics when you start out with a population of only 4 or 5 healthy animals.
  4. The audience self selects based off the products being offered. People who like the limited population of games buy them. When publishers offer better versions of the same basic software product, the customers buy more. In the process of focusing a limited audience, the industry systematically alienates large swaths of the population.
Occasionally, game developers get a chance to expand the industry. I was just chatting to a friend who worked on a title targeted at pre-teen girls based off a highly popular brand. The designer on the project could have made almost anything and the right design might have turned into a billion dollar franchise.

What he created was a Zelda clone. He also ‘innovated’ by adding insanely difficult jumping puzzles because everyone knows that is how all the cool platform games work. I got stuck completing the tutorial and can’t even imagine what an 11-year old who barely knows their way around a game controller would think of it. By follow his gamer heart, the designer royally screwed up a great opportunity.

No one is to blame. Everyone was doing their job remarkably well. Games for gamers, by gamers. It seems like heaven.

All of this is perfectly fine and results in a small core audience that is well served. If you liked Halo 1 and 2, I have some really exciting news for you about an upcoming Microsoft blockbuster. (I’ll give you a hint. It ends in a ‘3’.) If you want to make product that predominantly serves young, white, introverted, analytical men, I’m certainly not going to stop you.

What about the money?
My problem is that I think a lot about money, profitability and competition. Yes, I am a greedy bastard. Let’s run a few numbers. The current ‘active’ population of US households that own one or more consoles is around 35 million. This is different than number of consoles sold and represents the current addressable market in the US.

Now 35 million is much less than the 300 million potential customers. For a consumer electronics device, it is also far less than the 500 million PC’s in service. It is even less than the over 200 million have cable TV in the US alone. It is less than the 200 million cell phones used world wide.

It is okay to be small since we are growing rapidly, right? Unfortunately, no. We are currently growing at around 7.3% a year with much of this arguably driven by population growth not market expansion. It’s a far cry from the 15-20% you hope to see in a thriving high growth industry. For example, that little cell phone market that is 4X larger than the game market? It is growing at a reasonable 19.1% a year.

Also, when you have hundreds of companies targeting the same 35 million person audience, the result is considerable competition. We do not even end up with is eight or nine media categories like you might find in music or movies. With genre king dynamics, we end up with eight or nine software categories. People buy games closer to the way that they purchase copies of word processor or tax software. They don’t need 20 FPS any more than they need 20 copies of Word. Being a first mover on a new genre that serves a new need is like being the first company to master the sale of photo editing software. Big opportunity, low competition.

So, our great population of gamers is really a tiny insignificant fly speck if you look outside our insular little community. We fool ourselves into thinking the industry has ‘made it’ because the few gamers we’ve hooked spend a large amount of money. We even have splashy events on MTV. Sorry.

“If the tribe gathers roots and follows tradition, it will survive”
The crazy thing is that so few people in the industry are publicly discussing these very simple numbers. Whether we are talking about the economics of publishers and their portfolio models, or we are discussing about the limitations of programmer-designers, a major element driving the dynamics of the industry is this massive historical and cultural blind spot. We act like a rapidly maturing industry.

We really don’t see all those other people out there. They aren’t gamers so they don’t count. Maybe this is what young men do. They create a self-contained community that values homogenous personality traits and excludes people who are different. That is great if you are attempting to build a fraternity. From an objective business perspective, however, we need to look outward.

One simple strategy on a golden platter
I’m an optimist. I see this as an opportunity.
  • There are lots of folks out there that don’t currently play games that could play games.
  • If we could get out of our cultural rut and design games that appealed to them, we could make money.
If you don’t, someone else will
I’d like to say I came up with such a brilliant strategy, but of course I didn’t. We’ve seen it executed with impressive success on titles like Sims, Nintendogs and DS Brain Training. Nintendo in particular is trumpeting it lately. But we’ve also seen it pop up in the birth of the vast populations of MMOGs in Asia. In 6 years, one enterprising young man has gone from founding a small start up to become the second richest man in China.

You begin to see these surreal numbers tossed around. Over a billion dollars earned by the Sims. The portable gaming market is another billion a year market. A large-scale MMOG will earn upwards of a billion dollars over its life span. This is what happens when you start targeting billions of potential users instead of the same old 52 million.

Some people have figured it out. They’ve made a major shift within their organizations. They are not engaging in market optimization activities like the rest of us. Instead, they are actively pursuing market formation activities.

A five step process for moving beyond the gaming geek culture
Here are a few simple steps that any part of the game development community can take in order to start forming new markets and expanding the industry.
  • Step 1: Stop fixating on the current game market
  • Step 2: Stop listening to your gut
  • Step 3: Learn about product design
  • Step 4: Surround yourself with other perspectives
  • Step 5: Build an integrated business plan
Again, this isn’t for everyone, just those people who are interested in pursuing the biggest group of opportunities that our infant game industry has ever known. The rest are very welcome continue with their rarified discussions on how to make a better FPS. :-)

Step 1: Stop fixating on the current game market
We all have a favorite game. In our dream world, we would spend our days making the ultimate version of that game. The dreams are laced with the kudos we would get from our gamer friends. Not surprisingly, for 90% of the game developers I’ve talked to, their dream game is a clone and serves the existing game market. We need to stop lusting over the thought of creating a better Mario Kart, a better Doom, or a better RPG.

Instead, look beyond the current demographics singularity for people who are not being served by the current game market. It is okay to make a great game for people who are not part of our tribe.

Step 2: Stop listening to your gut.
If you happen to have an INTJ or ISTJ Meyer-Briggs profile, you need to stop listening to what your ‘gut’ tells you is a good game. If you happen to love FPS, Platformers, and anything involving WWII violence, put an ice pick through the part of your brain that digs these clone monsters.

Admitting to yourself that you don’t instinctively possess the magic answers to all the game design problems is the first step towards starting to truly listen to your target audience.

Step 3: Learn about product design
Product design is a fascinating, successful field practiced by almost every consumer industry except game development. It deals with creating products for a vast and ever shifting spectrum of customers and seeks to meet needs that they may not even have expressed. Here are some really great aspects about it that are lacking from the current field called ‘game design.’
  • Product design is an established, highly successful field. There is a lot of depth to tap into in the product design field. There are books that contain validated results, not theories. There are thousands of published case studies. In comparison, the game design field is composed primarily of wandering sages-for-hire and overly dramatic blogs like this one. :-) If our goal is to learn a new perspective, having a rich guide is helpful.
  • Product design has techniques for identifying needs: Once you stop listening to your gut, you still need a body of knowledge to inform your design decisions. Customer observation, ideation tools, rapid prototyping, on staff customers and others methods can be invaluable.
  • Product design has techniques for mitigating risk / improving creativity: In particular, the stage-gate product development process allows smart decisions to be made at the appropriate times with the appropriate amount of resources at stake.
To get the most out of a product design philosophy, you need to accept the assumption that games are software products that serve real market needs. This is a bit different than the perspective that games are primarily “an artistically expressive entertainment experience.” Each philosophy has its place, but if you are interested in market formation, I highly recommend sticking with the product design viewpoint. It allows you to tap into existing tools and drive toward concrete results in a pragmatic fashion.

Ultimately, product design has one fundamental lesson to share. A game designer must make games for their customer, not for themselves or for their preferred tribe. There is an objectivity and professionalism that comes with this perspective that keeps us honest. Market orientation is remarkably satisfying if you can pull it off.

Step 4: Surround yourself with other perspectives
A typical product design team has people from all walks of life. Engineers, artists, psychologists, men, and women partake in the cross functional design meetings. We can’t all be Leonardo da Vinci (though we should all strive to be.) However, we can certainly build teams that have a mass of experience across a wide spectrum of talents.

This means actively bringing women onto the team. It means bringing in people from different races and cultures. It means actively recruiting non-traditional skill sets from the cognitive sciences and art fields. Even if they know nothing about game development, their perspective into customer behavior is still incredibly valuable. They can always learn.

As a side note, most of what current designers do is not rocket science. In our egotism, we often fail to realize that our mystical powers of game mastery differ only mildly from the highly refined tastes of a Star Trek geek. When you move outside of the very narrow market segment that celebrates the high art of chain mail pasties, you’ll find that smart people from other fields may make even better game designers.

Here is an imponderable. Are Will Wright’s design skills universally unique, or are they seen as unique simply because he happens to be surrounded by the rest of the highly homogenous game development community?

Step 5: Build an integrated business plan
Market building requires you to think through a lot of activities that previously you took for granted or simply followed a formula. You often cannot rely on standard retail channels or marketing channels. The status of your relationship with Marie Claire magazine is something that rarely comes up when marketing Doom, but it may be critical to the success of your dress making shop simulation.

You need to build a business plan that demonstrates the entire chain of activities that will make your product profitable. The product must support the business and all aspects of the business must be intimately integrated with the core customer benefits that support the product.

This is quite different than the loosely coupled system we have now. The publishers make strong suggestions based on historical data and then the developers attempt to build their dream game within what they see primarily as a set of arbitrary and often harmful constraints. Often each group sits in a different silo and barely communicates.

The customer-centric approach puts both marketing and development on the same cross functional team. The same team exists to shepherd the product through from conception to market launch. Responsibilities shift, but there is no ‘tossing’ the product over the fence. Everyone on the team is equally responsible for the product’s final business success.

This works because there is a single common goal “make profit by serving the customer.” This is much more workable than managing a set of cultural assumptions and dreams.

A philosophical shift
What I’m describing here is a process and philosophy. It isn’t an answer, but a method of getting to an answer.

I’m not going to point out a specific market opportunity for you. In reality there is not one big market, but thousands of potential markets. By listening, observing and putting aside our subconscious biases and cultural assumptions, we can discover the underlying needs of new customers and begin to serve these markets. This process is more about market discovery and building than it is about market exploitation.

A shift in priorities occurs when you pursue a customer oriented market expansion strategy. Your biggest focus is no longer “Will this new rendering engine work” or “Will these graphics be seen as the best”. Instead you are constantly asking “Does this product meet and exceed the needs of my customer?” The tactical, technical details that are so often the primary focus of our industry are sublimated into the broader concept of making the correct product.

Now you get some interesting decisions that result from this perspective change. You have the opportunity to hire another person for the team. You can hire another programmer to improve your effects system or you could hire a cultural anthropologist to help you gain a better understanding of the target audience needs.

In a market formation situation, if you don’t understand your customer needs, you will fail. The cultural anthropologist becomes a far superior hire from both a business and quality perspective.

This essay is asking the game development community to do something that it historically has almost never done: Make games for people who are different than you.

My hope has been to point out the following:

  • There exists a self-reinforcing cultural bias within all systems of the game industry that limits our definition of the target market for games.
  • There exists a larger market outside of our current market that can be highly profitable if they are served with well designed products.
  • By increasing our self awareness and following product design methodologies using broadly cross functional teams, we can serve these new markets.
There are plenty of people who are happy with the current state of the industry and will defend their lifestyle choice to the grave. They drank the Cool-aid. They dressed up for the Star Trek convention. They beat Ninja Gaiden on hard. They love making games for the current gaming audience.

Many will actively attempt to discredit or dismiss attempts to create new genres. When opportunities arise to spread games into new areas, they intentionally or unintentionally will sabotage the results and try to turn them into games just like any other. They are not being spiteful. They are merely trying to do what they feel is right and enhance the culture they grew up with.

Who really wants to work in an industry where lavender is an acceptable color and shoe shopping an acceptable pastime? Ask your workmates if that is what they want to do with their lives. Eew, yuck, change it to blue! Chances are that you are part of this group. I am.

Cultural change is hard. We often make choices in life because of our implicit value system. Rarely do we ever question that value system or actively seek to change it.

There is, however, a big fat carrot awaiting the few who can make the transition to thinking about customers. It involves obscene profits and legendary status as one of the industry’s early innovators. Yes, there are still slots open in the game developer hall of fame.

The game industry is still young and has enormous room to grow. Stop looking at only your little corner with the assumption that it is the limit of the entire universe. Start listening, observing and imagining how your art can serve others. It is a life worth living.

Take care

Miscellaneous stats

Ernest Adams’ discussion of philosophy behind the current game industry

Reggie talks ‘disruptive innovation’

Tragedy of the commons

Stage gate product development process


  1. Thank you. This essay shows very well how important feedback is since you only wrote in on your second try. ;o) Great writing!

  2. Brilliant. You've really hit the nail on the head.

  3. Well argued Danc. Now, since I'm an ENFP, does that mean you'll start listening to all my cool ideas!? Think Pokemon in space!! It could be sooo cool! (har har har...)

    Seriously though, it's an interesting idea... I like it. Does this mean you're gonna head to my house and start product testing on my girls? ;) I totally agree with the jumping combo criticism. Sondra loves all things M&M and she got the gameboy game for M&M... It was nearly unplayable... a typical platform... it is now gathering dust. Heck an M&M tetris would get more play with her...


    PS> Beat up Jesus? Um... that was once very popular... in some circles I suppose it still is... ;)

  4. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  5. "If we could get out of our cultural rut and design games that appealed to them, we could make money."

    Perhaps emphasise letting the customer design the game. imo everyone loves games (of all kinds) but many are terrified to play them. Just ask one of those people if they like "games"? What would they like to see/do?

  6. It's a great analysis, as always, but unfortunately it still doesn't give me any new clue as to how to get those potential customers to try a product in the first place. To me, that is the bigger concern.

    For instance, we just released Guitar Hero. It's not exactly your typical game; but it's getting amazing reviews from gamers and non-gamers alike. I take it to a group of my friends who've never played games and they go nuts over it. Some of them have gone nuts enough to put down $149 for a ps2 and another $110 for a copy of the game and two controllers. They wouldn't have even walked into the game section on thier own.

    Certainly thats an accomplishment for any game, but I'll be damned if I can figure out a good way to make that scale enough to really change the industry.

    For instance, the stores don't want to carry GH even though it's selling because the box is big. And if they do carry it, it's in the back room somewhere waiting for someone to ask a store clerk where it is. That larger potential market we're after doesn't even own a ps2, let alone wander through the video game section of the local best buy.

    Essentially, the walls between our industry and those customers are very high. Even if we make a product which can appeal to them, it's nearly impossible for us to get them to look at it without industry wide support. A company like Nintendo can muster enough force to get product over that wall; but I don't see the industry as a whole really following thier lead in this regard.

    And that, of course, is a problem..

  7. Hello. This is the first time I leave a comment, but I've been reading your posts for a few months now.

    From my perspective as a hobbyist programmer, I find your posts quite enlightening. And from my perspective as a gamer looking for different and original games I love articles like this one.

    Now, there are a couple of things about your article I wanted to comment on: First, It's not only about the money. I know this is a big industry and some people will only try this approach because of it, but real innovation comes from a deeper need. A need to see the evolution of gaming.

    If you're really into games (and I mean after years of being there) then you want games to evolve. To see the next step of what can be done (and I don't mean on the graphical sense :)

    This takes me to the second point: The DS examples show us that there really is an interest in video games outside the hardcore audience. This "different" audience is not only comprised of people new to gaming but of gamers that are tired of playing the same games over and over (I know I feel that way...)

    This big group of potential gamers deserves to have games suited for them available. I don't see it so much about creating a new need in a new potential market (I'm sorry but I see this as a bit evil) but addressing a current need in a neglected part of the current market.

    People really want different, new and original games, so developers should start giving them!!

    Well, sorry if I was a bit long... Lately I'm giving a lot of thoughts about these issues...

  8. Jason, thanks for dropping by. You have a product that is a great example of this particular strategy in action.

    The basics are important and this is where the 'build an integrated business plan' really becomes important.

    - Who is the target audience?: I'm assuming it is people who like jamming on an air guitar or wish they could play guitar themselves. Is it gamers? Maybe a percentage of gamers enjoy it, but I suspect they aren't the majority of the people who would enjoy it. We are talking a different circle of the ven diagram.

    - How do you reach these people? What about guitar stores? What about guitar magazines? Are there any celebrity guitar players who dig your game? Do they speak to your audience? Can you set up demo stations at concerts? At music schools? Have you contacted the Wall Street Journal or Time and pimped it as the season's big toy sensation? Think small and get small results. Think big and you've got a chance at launching a new category.

    - How do these people buy? Maybe they don't have a console, but they love the value of your product. In that case, create a bundle: PS/2, Game, Controller + Big rebate on the second controller. You'll see Nintendo do this all the time. DS + Nintendogs. You sell the package...the complete experiance, not just software.

    - What is your marketing cycle? Done correctly, a title like Guitar Hero could sell for a year or longer. Plan for the long haul. Is it a toy like a skateboard or is it a game that you toss aside after a few hours? A good product in a low competition area that fills a need can build a long term buzz and exist for many years with only minor changes (DDR for example)

    With this sort of thinking, game stores become a supporting detail of your go to market strategy.

    If you toss a non-gamer product over the fence to a traditional game publisher's marketing department, they tend to treat it like just another game. You miss out on that holistic, integrated "marketing / product / untapped demand" explosive punch that turns products into crazes over night.

    I don't even own a PS2, but I was thinking of picking one up just for your game. Who didn't wail out to Smoke on the Water growing up?

    take care
    Danc. (fire in the sky...)

  9. Great article Dan. Seeking to serve a new market has much more potential profit than making a badass++ game. Especially as an indie.

    Jason has an excellent point too. Trying to reach new customers is daunting. Games have gotten such a bad stigma that people start ignoring you once they know you have anything to do with them.

    Attaching the word "game" to the product means that only the regular audience will keep reading. If you use "interactive 3D experience" instead I'm not sure that anyone keeps reading.

  10. How about 'Be a Rock Star experiance'? It isn't about the technology. It isn't about it being a game. It is about serving the need of the customer. Define the need of the customer and you have your benefit / messaging statement.

    take care
    Danc (No matter what we get out of this, I know we’ll never forget)

  11. I guess I'm one of those people who misinterperted your original post. Sorry about that. The funny thing is that now that you have restated yourself, I kind of feel that I have always believed what you say to be true. I'm told that's the highest compliment you can give to a writer.

    Now I have just discovered that four floors below the CS & Math section of the library there is a couple of shelves dedicated to Product Development. New reading list awaits.

    Colm Mac

  12. Don't worry about misinterpreting my previous post. It didn't quite get the idea across and the feedback was invaluable. :-) That is progress.

    take care

  13. Ninja Gaiden didn't have difficulty levels, but if it did, I'd have cranked it up. And still won.

    In all seriousness though, I don't care how much money is in the pot at the end of the rainbow. The shame of working on a shoe shopping console title can not be paid for in mere dollars and cents.

    Damnit, every time I sit down to write anything I fit into the little box you've layed out for me. For serious serious this time though, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us again. You of course don't care, but someday, when this avalance lets loose someone might be passing around links to the waybackmachine and this little site. You should be proud, you're doing good work.


  14. Danc; thanks for the advice, it's along our line of thinking as well. But the realities of making each of those things happen is daunting to say the least; we'll definately be trying, but I think our goals are reasonable at this point: do well enough to make a sequel, if we hit the mainstream, thats bonus.

    Sometimes the gorilla tactics can work wonders. For instance, The Slip (a band I work with who have a song in the game) are going to be playing Guitar Hero on stage during one of thier shows soon. They have a small but hard core following, who like the dead, travel with them across the country (I should know, I'm at about 350 shows now). They're audience is our audience (expecially with thier song in the game), so it makes perfect sense.

    We're also trying to work the music store angle; it makes sense for us because they're used to carying large items, and parents often want a sub $100 gift for thier kids. But they don't carry video games, so thats a challenge.

    All in all, it's a hard place to be in to sell something different. We've created an insular skin around our industry which is hard to pierce. Even when you do pierce it, it's seen as the exception, not the rule, and the next product has to fight the same battle as the first.

    Not to linger on too long with this post, but I spent some time watching the demo station at Best Buy. Generally, anyone who picked the controller up at least looked for the box (it was all sold out). Many asked the store clerk about it. So signs are good that if we can get someone to look at the product we can sell it to them. Now if the stores would just order more than 2 copies at a time.

  15. Many asked the store clerk about it.

    Maybe I'm too naive about how this works in the US, but isn't it possible for customers to order products right in the store if no more of them are locally available? I know I do that plenty of times here in Germany, and many chains in their advertisements explicitely suggest their customers to order products they can't find. Then you could add a note to your kiosked controller for interested customers to order your game if no longer locally available.

  16. Sure, but many customers don't want to wait a week when the kaosk is right there in front of them. They simply buy something else instead. On top of that, you have to pay stores for a demo station thats demoing a game they can't impulse buy.

    Also, many stores won't even put it on the shelves; they have it in the back where customers can't even get to it or know that it exists. And thats the point, do something different, and you're effectively punished for it by the nature of the industry. This is, of course, not unique to our industry, but it does go to show why pumping out FF192 or Madden2278 is a more successful route than inovation.

    It's also true that many hard core gamers are as turned off by new or different as the channels are; they reject anything which doesn't easily fall into thier classifiable patterns of what a game is or can be.

  17. Jason: the obvious thing would be to target different stores. While a gaming store or a department store may put it on the back shelves, what about a record store or a guitar store?

  18. egarwaen: thats in the plan, but for instance, guitar stores don't carry games traditionally. Point is, your kind of damned on both sides; non-gaming stores don't want to carry games because they don't do games, and gaming stores don't want to carry games which are different from the norm. So you have an uphill battle both ways.

    We'll see how it all turns out in time; who knows..

  19. Breaking into a new market is always very difficult, but particularly so with video games. It takes too much money ($150 play station + game) to just try something out on a whim. I think the first step to breaking out of our current consumer base would be to start offering cheaper games. Price has always been an advantage that the gameboys have had over traditional consoles. Imagine games sold off in small $10 bundles, like a book series or television show. Maybe sets of five, just to let the buyer taste the gameplay without making such a large investment. For long term gamers, $50 dollars doesn't seem like a lot, but to someone who hasn't had any contact with games before it's a different story. It would be like buying a month's supply of ice-cream just to taste rocky road.

  20. Every time I read Danc's articles, I feel enlightened..

    Before I read his now somewhat infamous article on Revolution and it's controller, I had taken it for granted that games were the number one form of entertainment. After reading that article, I not only realized how silly that claim was (are games really played more than movies are watched and books are read? No) but also how antiquated and limiting our current controllers are.

    I think that a lot of people are going to ask how we can reach these people who don't normally play games. For this reason I think Danc's article on the Revolution controller - and it's follow up - are essential. The user interface is perhaps the biggest barrier to playing games, and Revolution's interface could change all of that.

    Games are not the #1 form of entertainment. But we can make them much bigger if we listen to people like Danc. Excellent article.

  21. I'm going to disagree with the comment about prices being too high to make a point. :-)

    - Is a $150 dress purchased for single evening too expensive?

    - Is a mountain bike that costs $1000 too expensive?

    - Is an exercise bike that costs $500 too expensive?

    - Are new guitar lessons that costs $50 a month for 6 months too expensive?

    Thinking about games as disposable mass media our problem. We compare our goods to other commodity. We define our product as a commodity that is valued like corn or wheat futures...'entertainment per hour' is always in the back of our head.

    What if instead, we think of games like products similar to the bike, the dress, or the guitar lessons? At that point we can start assigning value to our products based off benefit, not 'what is expected'

    Not all software sells as the same price. Photoshop has a different price point than Word. Different audiences value products at different levels.

    When you sell a game to gamers, they have set pricing expectations. So don't sell to gamers. Instead, build your strategy around putting a box with a console, a game and instructions in home depot. Don't call it a game. Call it a high end gardening simulator. Whatever...offer a product that is priced to reflect the value that the customer gets from it.

    Use two generation old hardware if you need to. Use portable systems. Focus on the customer value and optimize out everything else. Don't be fixated on what a 'game' should be.

    At a certain point, being a game developer is not enough. When you build a market, you can't just build a great game and toss it into the existing channel. You need also to be a marketing and sales expert. This is why real cross functional teams are so important...the product and the sales strategy evolve simultaneously.

    This is crazy talk. It means eradicating or rethinking many of the economies of scale that we gain from our current marketing machine. But the upside is that you get to serve a larger market with less competition.

    take care
    Danc. :-)

  22. As always, well-thought-out writing, Danc.

    I admire your optimism, but I wonder just how big is this untapped market you speak of? Is it like movies, where anyone with a little disposable income should be able to find something that they like, or is it more like candy, where there are a distinct (and significant) portion of the community that just doesn't go for the sweet stuff?

    I also think you hit it right on the head when you labeled the current gaming market as being like a fraternity or tribe. The gamers I know, for the most part, like being the only ones who understand the trade. It adds to the "too geek for you" mystique. As you've said, you're suggesting there is potential to make lots of money by ignoring these self-serving independents and tapping the larger market.

    ...which gets back to my first point: how big is that market? Would everyone with a cell phone pay for a game if we could just find the right title? I somehow doubt this available market group is as large as you imply. Disposable income is available to a remarkably small percentage of the world's population.

    I also wonder if the passtime of gaming is something that appeals to all cultures? For example, it's been determined many times that (massively over-simplified) men desire accomplishment and women desire relationships. Thus it seems men are more like to enjoy games where risk/reward patterns are easy to design. Designing a meaningful relationship simulator -- without involving other actual human beings -- drifts inevitably toward The Uncanny Valley (visually) and The Turing Test (mentally). Tough nut, that.

  23. First off, great article, Danc. Long-time reader, first-time poster.

    I support your optimism. Games and play behavior have been fundamental to pretty much every human (and animal) culture ever. The introduction of computers into games only represents the most recent 1% or so of the history of games, so making any assumptions about who could potentially enjoy games based on that 1% is missing a lot of the picture. Games are safe microcosms of what our brains do every day in an attempt to understand and navigate the world around us. There is nothing inherently “male” or “L33T” or “Western” about that.

    That’s one reason why I often enjoy board game design over video game design – I want anyone and everyone to feel welcome to play and enjoy it (parents, kids, college students, gamers, grandmas, etc.). The established markets are much broader, so I’m free to target all those markets (and not get laughed at by a publisher). The video game industry needs to do some serious social branding to get to that point.

    Also, just to add an example to your post, I got hired as a video game designer after getting my degree in Cognitive Science, and I can attest that I’ve used a surprisingly huge amount of that background so far as a designer.

    - Jeb

  24. Hi Jeb,

    Very happy to see you stop by. The caliber of the folks on this site seems to be increasing daily. :-)

    I'd agree with the pleasure of designing for the broader audience of board games. I periodically set up little design challenges for myself. Many years ago, my challenge was to make a video game that wasn't violent. I was honestly shocked at how difficult it was. The design building blocks I had available to me in many of the popular games weren't there. The narrow population of both developers and gamers had barely explored that side of video games.

    With board games, on the other hand, you can't turn around without spotting a non-violent title. That is what you get when you have generations of designers targeting a market that doesn't make violence a primary value.

    The games that exist reflect the current culture and needs of the market, not what *could* exist.

    To amathar point about the difficulty of making social games, I'd have to say that it is only hard because we've got a very limited definition of games.
    - If I don't talk to anyone (because I really don't like talking all that much)
    - If I have to making something involving trajectories and shooting
    - If I have have challenges where you die over and over again
    - If I have to keep score
    ...then social games are really difficult to design. I'm exaggerating, but these are all remarkably powerful assumptions that most 'gamer' game designers carry around with them.

    However, if SMS can addict millions of customers, someone can turn that into a social game. Just rethink what a game is and it all becomes rather enjoyable.

    take care

  25. Danc wrote: "The caliber of the folks on this site seems to be increasing daily. :-)"


    I like the suggestions you're giving. I think in Japan they get this idea a bit more than we do here... we've kind of relegated games to mindless unproductive entertainment. It's probably a work-ethic thing... like work can't be fun, or something. Dunno... anyhow... I would love some device I could attach to my vacuum that would entertain the kids while they pushed it around my living room floor... maybe made sure they did a good job of vacuuming at the same time. ;) A lot of your ideas, Danc, to me, suggest additional hardware as well as software... which is something that petrifies most programmers. :)


  26. danc; there's a point to be made that the crazy graphics race will soon start paying off for all in one device/game/whatever systems. While these systems are still displaying sub-par graphics/sound today, they won't be for long. It won't be long until we can produce something as poweful as a ps2 for very little money, and for a game like Guitar Hero, ps3 level graphics won't add that much to the experience.

    Now, you could argue that you could apply that back to ps1 graphics; but I do believe that there is an acceptable bar of quality which needs to be hit for the average consumer. Different experiences require a different bar. Tetris, for instance, doesn't require much of one. Guitar Hero would be somewhere in the lower middle of the scale, while a realistic FPS is at the top of the scale.

    So in some ways I do see the posibility space for alternate and inclusive systems increasing. We've actually seen quite an explosion in the space recently with all of the dancing/atari 2600/Nintendo/etc all in one devices.

  27. I don't think that anybody who sat and thought about the current game market would suggest that it is representative of the population of the earth, or that developers are even representative of thier local population. Hell, they wouldnt even be representative of games players (most game developers are in fact, pretty hard working which is NOT that common in the normal populace).

    The fact is, that the one percent of the population capable of actually developing games is doing the best it can to cater for the percieved audience.

    Now of course the publishers would suggest that they much much prefer a mainstream audience because they make more money. But you simply have to realise that the "mainstream" simply doesnt give a crap about games.

    The closest a lot of british males get to a game is going to a footie match before going down the pub and getting soused then returning home with a kebab and sitting in front of the telly.

    These people probably WOULD play games, but in a very conventional fashion, preferring games like burnout of halo to something like the sims.

    The ethnographic and demographics of the potential games audience on the surface seems to encompass the whole population of the earth. And yet, are we *really* saying that is our potential audience?

    Thats like saying the whole earth would potentially be interested in playing football.

    The fact is, as a whole earth population, we LIKE to form niche's. Admittedly some niches are bigger than others, but they are niches never the less. These could be geographically based, socially based, language based or whatever. But we obviously like to identify ourselves as a "type" of person.

    I do agree that the modern industry is under-serving a whole slice of the potential marketplace, but it is definitely a gross oversimplification to suggest that this is because of some bias within the industry itself.

    The strange thing is, that from my contact with other developers recently, I've seen almost exactly the opposite. Almost everyone I talk to is unhappy about the current situation because they would prefer to have a different audience and experience.

    I guess that is partly because I lie at the fringes of "indie" games and "real" games. I have often heard the most hardcore of hardcore developers talking about the requirements of their audience though.

    The fact is, that the developers produce products based on the needs of thier publishers. The publishers produce products based on their perception of the marketplace.

    And thats where I get to my point...

    I think its because the publisher perception of the marketplace has been skewed by the reliance on historical sales data and not on potential market requirements that has driven us to this imbalance.

    I think you are placing the blame at the feet of developers when in fact the blame should be laid at the feet of the bean-counters at the publishers who are only interested in short term return on investment and not long term market size and share.

    I have enough anecdotal evidence to suggest that in fact publishers have almost NO grasp of the concepts youre espousing here and actually developers (as you can see in most of the positive reaction to your post) are largely aware and in favour of change in this regard.

    I hold out hope though, if we see companies like nintendo coming out with what some consider an insane product, just when many of us are waking up to the fact that chasing the historical markets is a fallacy.

    As Jason so clearly points out, it is far easier for a company like nintendo to champion this kind of mainstream activity than it is an individual developer. As nintendo grow the marketplace for innovative titles, if they succeed in making a healthy profit, I'm sure others will join in.

    Just as the "casual" marketplace has matured and seen a boom in recent years to the point where companies like microsoft are tracking that "soccer mom" demographic as a growth area for game sales, I can see that other areas will grow.

    But please, stop blaming us devs for being who we are. We cannot change the fact that we are white, male and develop games to the best of our ability. I'm not unable to empathise with other markets, I certainly dont discount them and I often target niches that arent clearly served by others (ok, dont throw Air Ace back at me :))

    We make games because if we dont, they will cease to exist.

  28. Woah...slow down for second and reread the first couple of sections of the article. At no point was I blaming developers. What I'm describing is a self reenforcing system. Everyone is doing their job based off the incentives that are present in the system.

    Publishers are no more evil than developers are evil. They are applying sound business practices to optimize a portfolio of products. Seems pretty reasonable to me.

    What I'm hearing you say is that "We are doing the best job we could possibly do, given the circumstances" and I'm saying the same thing. Everyone is doing the best job possible within the current system. Frustrating all around, perhaps. But if you take an 'us vs. them' perspective, you can't really solve the systematic issues.

    Change is occuring. Current developers are certainly targeting targeting different market niches right now. I gave several example in the essay. The casual games market is another great example of people listening to customers and tapping into a new market.

    The five step process is intended to publicly describe powerful techniques for attacking and winning in new markets. These can be adopted by either developer or publishers, but are most powerful when both are on board.

    Some smaller folks can do that right out of the gate. Casual games is a good example. Larger companies need to go through a more difficult transformation.

    take care

  29. Actually Dan, now that Ive made it home and had time to think about it on the drive back, perhaps I was sounding a bit harsh there, plus I left out another part of the puzzle here.

    I forgot to identify the effect that other media has on the perception of games. That has a HUGE negative impact on the potential of developers and publishers to create games outside the current niches.

    I do think that publishers are at fault a great deal here, because they work only on sales evidence, which by its very nature is historically based.

    The fact is, if the mainstream media decided to actually portray the games industry as its reality rather than some misconcieved ideal, they would actually have a very different picture of our industry.

    For an example, imagine if column inches on games was based purely on sales. Imagine how much more coverage the sims would have gotten over Quake 3?

    What we have, is a cultural and media bias that strives to belittle and marginalise games and games players because they are scared that games as a media are far more compelling and rich than they are.

    The fact that a lot of women play games, but would be appalled if someone called them game players points to an imbalance of the cultural perception of games that has hampered a lot of the diversity that we all seem to agree would be a good thing.

    So sorry if that came across a bit strangely Dan, we broadly agree on things anyway, because its actually sensible argument. I just think that my experience is perhaps a little bit more positive in the regions you identify as problems than yours is.


  30. I think a big problem, Danc, is not merely that a lot of people do not want to be identified as "gamers," but that the fundamental concepts that seem to be universal in modern games - things that are so deeply believed to be necessary by developers and published that very few people who are familiar with video games can even conceive of something that works differently (I don't have the time right now to think of an example) - represent a barrier to the non-gamer. They are not an assumed or enjoyed part of the process for the non-gamer, they are a liability. They cause the game to require a significant investment in time or interest just to get started. Games, to the non-gamer, are an arcane and incomprehensible field - a foreign country with bizarre customs and a vastly different language - and they worry that the effort they expend to learn this language will not be worth the enjoyment they derive from the literature written with it. Merely understanding games is seen as an imposing task with dubious rewards.

    The stigma must be overcome, yes, but that is secondary to actually identifying the ways in which gaming can become friendlier. These are certainly there - something that more closely resembles, say, Solitaire would do well - but the problem is finding them without actually being a person who appreciates the new type of game that we're looking for rather than the type of game that we've already got.

  31. This blog is so fascinating!!!

    I'm not much of a gamer. I'm one of those stereotypical girls who like social games, and it's not like there are a whole lot of those kinds of games. But I do think that video games as a medium are really really interesting, and blogs like this keep me hooked. Thanks for the brain food. :D

  32. Hey Danc,

    Weird thought just buzzed me...

    Have you ever thought that getting more people to play games (for your own profit) is an ethically questionable thing to do?

    Just curious...


  33. about $$. My point earlier was not that games shouldn't be expensive, but that new markets should be broken into with cheaper products. An extreme sports biker would easily spend $2,000 and upwards on his (or her) bike, but I only spent $100 or so on mine. I'll spend $50 for a game, but not everyone will. A range of prices is the key thing. Nowadays there isn't much diversity in that area.

  34. Instead of assuming that everyone misunderstood your article, you should consider the possibility that your first article really was lambasting programmer-designers. Maybe you didn't intend that, but that's irrelevant: we don't see your intentions, we see what you put on the page. Don't blame others for your failure to properly express yourself.

    You complained about "programmer-designers" when you meant to talk about a broader concept: the problem with gamers designing games for gamers. I'm glad you've covered the topic you meant to cover in this much clearer essay, but it's unfortunate that you felt the need to insult your audience and pretend that this essay is a mere restatement of the first one.

  35. I disagree with the premise.

    There are tons of people making non-gamer games. The Sims. The Movies. Everything at Popcap. Zillions more here:

    Your article's proposals are so good, hundreds of entrepreneurs are already doing them, and have been for years. :P

  36. I think there's one more component here which does damn the publishers a bit: advertising. The publishers spend money supporting titles, and they tend to support the titles which they think, from historical data, will do better. This is what closes the self-reinforcing cycle and keeps the same types of games being made. Worse, it also pushes us into an even tighter corner in order to meet expectations.

    I think an excellent example of this is 3D graphics. While I'm not a technophobe that hates 3D, I think that some games simply don't benefit from 3D; yet, you see games fixating on 3D. Consider the recent Civilization 4, where they "upgraded" to 3D models. It serves little purpose in improving gameplay, yet it frustrates people. Consider the experiences of Dr. Richard Bartle, co-creator of the first text MUD. One assumes he knows a thing or two about computers, but Civ4 is frustrating him to no end. Now imagine what one of your hundreds of millions of "potential gamers" would feel in a similar situation! Yes, consoles fix this but they're expensive "toys" that most of these "potential" gamers see as a waste of time; on the other hand, there's lots of PCs out there.

    You can lay part of the blame for this sorry state of affairs on advertising. Sony needed a selling point to set their shiny new PlayStation apart from the other game systems at the time. The PlayStation could do better 3D graphics than the Super Nintendo or Genesis, so they focused on that. "2D is old, 3D is cool!" was the message, and it's stuck with us even today.

    This also brings up another big problem: there's almost no "in between" spaces for games that can satisfy both the gamer and the "potential" player simultaneously. Take 3D for example. If I make my game near the cutting-edge then it will potentially frustrate the potential gamer. If I make my game 2D in order to simplify things and try to attract new gamers, then I'll alienate the hard-core who will consider my little 2D game old, ugly, and unworthy of their time. This applies to a lot more areas in game development as well: complexity of gameplay, availability in stores (including non-gaming ones), etc.

    Sure, you can say, "damn the hard-core! Make the game 2D (and simpler, and available in non-gaming outlets, and so on) and reap the rewards!" But, advertising (there's that damned word again) to a new market is expensive and hard; well beyond the means of my little company. "So, let's look to the bigger companies," you might say. But, as soon as you get large enough where you have the money and ability to reach a larger market, you start seeing other opposing forces: ossified management, traditional thinking, CYA attitudes, the works.

    In the end, what you are talking about is a lot harder than you think. If it were easier, then more people would be doing it. As another poster points out, we've had some success with this in other fields: niche online RPGs like Puzzle Pirates, casual games from PopCap and gameLab, etc., but none of them are challenging EA on any terms that I'm aware of besides perhaps "least developers per title".

    My perspective.

  37. For the record, I agree completely with your assertions on the market and the state of the industry. I think we're going to see a big shakeout in the next few years, because the supply of games is increasing drastically but the demand - the potential market - remains static.

    However, I suspect that there's a fairly big gotcha here, viz:

    - Games tend to be about conflict. Character vs. character, character vs. environment, and so on. If you take the conflict out of a game, you've pulled its teeth. Even Nintendogs and the Sims have an element of conflict, although that is mainly about balancing your sim's time or your dog's needs, and other extenuating constraints.

    - Computers are best at simulating physical conflict (fighting) rather than social conflict (Survivor!).

    - The variety of conflict which appeals to a typical gamer is physical.

    - The variety of conflict which appeals to a typical non-gamer is social or otherwise non-physical.

    So the cycle of culture is only half the picture, although I cannot deny its significance (nor would I want to). The other half is to look at it and say, well, simulating conflict in society is hard. Let's look at some ways that some games have done this:

    Civilization - You have culture and civil disorder. Both of these are essentially numbers on a spreadsheet; they aren't going to speak to a non-gamer in a meaningful way.

    Tokimeki Memorial - If one of the female characters dislikes you enough, a little ticking time bomb appears by her portrait. If you let the time run down without doing something nice for her (which can be difficult given that 'something nice' has to fit into both your schedule and hers), she can't stand it any more and complains to all her friends about how callous, unfeeling, etc. you are, and all her friends won't like you either. (This is a rather "brutal" take on the whole notion of social violence.)

    Facade - It's great for what it is, but the thing is that social conflict is a long-term thing which involves great change, and the "short, sharp" evening of Facade simply has too short a "window" to represent that. (Although the player can make interesting changes happen even in that span of time.)

    Dead Or Alive: Xtreme Beach Volleyball - Social contact with other characters consists primarily of (1) giving gifts and (2) playing volleyball. Gifts are rated based upon the recipient's likes and dislikes, as well as her opinion of the giver, and will affect her opinion of the giver accordingly. A game of volleyball will tend to raise the winners' opinion of each other and lower the losers' opinion of each other. In this fashion the player may 'convince' another character to become their volleyball partner (by establishing a relationship with her, and breaking down her relationship with her partner).

    Any MMORPG: The players create their own social conflict. (See: any MMORPG discussion forum.) In essence, the designers get a freebie here.

    I'm not counting Sims here because the player isn't usually personally involved in the social conflicts in the game (I think), but tends to manage them from a third-person POV.

    In any case, it's interesting, if a little ironic, that one of the better games w.r.t. this aspect of conflict is also one of those which "serious designers" are afraid to talk about. But this is the crux of the matter: to appeal to a significant untapped market, designers need to introduce the element of social conflict, in a tangible, interesting way, to supplant physical conflict, and that is technically difficult.

  38. reasons why i love nintendo...the controller is awsome (and different, sony's and microsoft's controllers look too alike, to past generations and present generations)
    the only problem i argue is that it may be too early for the rest of the world to accept, at least not right away

    ima classical gamer!

  39. Product Design sounds eerily like the process that has brought us countless crappy movies, toys and games (video or otherwise) throughout the years. If you don't have someone with a passion for the product spearheading its production you'll end up with a soulless flop. I know, I've seen a bunch of guys who worked on RPGs make a hunting game. It didn't work out, in case you're wondering.

    Product Design is a tool. A person who is passionate about making an RPG should use it's principles to make that RPG more appealing to other RPG lovers - not to make a game based on a romance novel.

    You can't just analyze and focus-group your product to death and sell to a market you don't fundamentally understand. Someone at the core of the project has to "get" what the market the project is going for, and beyond that, actually enjoy the same things that the rest of that market enjoys. Oh, and they have to be good at not only design, but also motivation, management and countless other skills that make a good game happen. The only way this is going to happen for new markets is with new blood - and that's where we run into a catch-22.

    Very few people who aren't gamers get into the industry - and those who do soon leave. Why? Not just because everyone else is zonkers about the current crops of games. It's also because it's an industry that no sane person would work in, except that they love games. The pay is lousy, the hours are extra lousy, and the management is super-mega-mega-lousy. I tell people not to get into the industry if they don't love games, and that's because if you don't, you're quite frankly going to be happier working in a fertilizer plant. And things are getting worse, not better, to the point where even a love of games is only keeping a small fraction of the workforce from burning out.

    So if I had to think of some steps to expand the market, I'd say:

    1. Improve working conditions (and let people have a family life, social life, or a life at all) so you can...
    2. Recruit people (artists, programmers, writers, sound guys, interns, etc.) who are not "gamers" and KEEP THEM AROUND because it's a good job. Then you can...
    3. Identify people (who may or may not be gamers) who have the "stuff" to come up with a great idea and see it through. Now...
    4. Nurture them, mentor them, then set them loose on the product that's going to sell you a zillion units.

    Unfortunately, you gotta be somewhere above the level of working stiff to make this happen - which means there's a snowball's chance in hell of it happening. Right now it happens by accident. Wil Wright is a great example - he didn't cook up The Sims to cash in, he made it because he wanted to play it just like the rest of us. Same with Keita Takahashi, creator of Katamari Damacy (who's already run far far away from the industry). Somehow these non-gamers ended up in the industry and made non-games that non-gamers couldn't get enough of. More of that would happen if the industry weren't so soul-sucking.

    So to sum up:

    Using Product Design to cynically create a game you would never play: bad idea.

    Using it to enhance the game you WANT to make: great idea.

    Changing the workplace so we can bring in new blood: only way we'll change things.

    Things you the average non-owner developer can do to achieve that: ???

    Thanks for the post, although I disagree with the premise it got me thinking...

  40. I agree with the poster above to a large extent. He also nails it on the head about having someone that believes in the product. One only has to look at the converse of that, the reality of publisher driven titles. Generic FPS? check, MMO with elf ripoffs? check.

    It would behoove anyone who is active in game development, regardless of speciality to at least broaden their horizons. Grow up a bit. Learn more about non gamers and also integrate their viewpoints, things they already understand into your own.

    You also see people in other businesses and industries taking in people from all sorts of backgrounds i.e. anthropology. Our industry also lacks a real, accessible entry level. QA isn't cutting it, you have a system where the only people that make it are the ones that regurgitate what's been done who are willing to repeat the status quo that publishers love to see. In order to succeed in our little cottage industry, ideas and ideals must be compromised and usually forgotten along the way.

  41. Two words, Thomas Schelling.

    Second, "What about the money?" - if I'm not mistaken you are confusing households and individuals in one sentence to make a point. 35 million households that have consoles is not comparable to 200 million who have cable TV - why? There are only 110 million households in the US. Those 35 million console households are more like 100 million people. And no, there aren't 200 million cellphones used worldwide, it is way higher than that, that is the number that was shipped for sale (suggest you re-read your own link to this info).

    Point being - get your facts straight if you are going to write articles like this. You actually have a sizeable potential US audience growing at a good rate (it even says so in another or your links - again, re-read).

  42. I agree with a previous post saying that improving working conditions is a must if we want the industry to change. No one in their right mind would want to work in the game industry if they didn't have a passion for gaming. Imagine working with someone who doesn't like what they're doing. That person would not have the necessary "drive" to produce something great. They'd just be watching the clock to see when 5PM rolls around.
    Furthermore, one of the main reasons why a developer works such insane hours at such low pay is because they absolutely LOVE what they're doing.
    But now the question would be, "How do we improve working conditions?" We could hire more workers and enfore the 9-5 rule. Well, unless you're EA, I don't think anyone has the money to do that. OK, so we can just enforce the 9-5 rule and not hire anyone else. Hah, then the development time for a typical game will shoot through the roof and no developer can afford to work on a single game for very long (unless they have a serious cash reserve). Overall, improving working conditions in this industry is a very hard and expensive thing to do. The only way we can stay afloat is by hiring people who have a passion for what they do. Those are the types of individuals who are willing to work 12 hour days, six days a week, for six months straight in order to get a game shipped on time.
    If someone finds an economical solution for improving working conditions in the gaming industry, hats off to you - you have provided the first step in pushing the game industry away from "gamers making games for gamers".
    OK, I may have pushed this discussion in a new direction and I apologize.

  43. "No one is to blame. Everyone was doing their job remarkably well. Games for gamers, by gamers. It seems like heaven."

    Um...I would disagree that someone who designs a Zelda like game (with insanely difficult jumping puzzles) for the pre-teen female market as someone "doing their job remarkably well".

    Many of the things outlined in your article are things you need to do in order to do your job well.

    So while this shouldn't be an exercise in pointing fingers but not recognizing critical failures as such doesn't help the process.

    I also think there is a lot of thought given to reaching a wider audience beyond the traditional gamer demographics. Maybe not so much investment but there has been some...with some notable failures.

  44. Yes, I know this post is way old so no one's actually going to read this, but I just had to jump in to dispel the myth that having employees working "12 hour days, six days a week, for six months straight" is the key to getting a game shipped on time. In practice, it leads to worse games and missed deadlines. This fantastic article sums it up:

    Quality of Life is not a passion problem, it's a management/production problem, and there are lots of great management/production solutions to our "crappy hours" problem. The average amount of actual business management training most managers/producers have in this industry is unfortunately very small. As with many of our industry's problems, we promote up from our own little subculture rather than realize all the existing knowledge and experience we can recruit in (from all those other little subcultures).

    Perhaps Danc will see this and decide to write a whole post based on it...

    - Jeb

  45. As a woman and occasional game player I'd like to say thanks for writing the article, it was a very interesting insight into why the game market is the way it is.

    For all those feeling baffled as to What Women Want (hello Freud), this is a list of games I or other women I know have played:
    The Sims
    Sim City
    Mah Jong

    It seems to me they betray an interest in planning, strategy, and exploring/learning from new environments, and tend not to include violence, point-scoring, or overt conflict. And they're all great fun! So I don't believe making a game women enjoy is beyond the industry - all that's needed is a respect for and interest in what women find entertaining.

  46. Yes this post is old, but this article ( made me think of it again.

    The article talks with game designers about possible game uses for the Nintendo Revolution controller. And all through it, I find myself banging my head against "conventional" ideas, and gamer stereotypes.

    An idea for an orchestra conductor experience, was met with this repsonse:

    "1UP: Going along with that, even if the gameplay turned out well, do you think a game with a concept like this would sell at all in either the U.S. or Japanese market?

    AR: Honestly, no. Sadly, the number of people who listen to classical music is rather small, particularly among the console gaming demographic, so I suspect that a conducting game would be destined to be a niche product. I would love to be wrong about that."

    They don't get it. Don't just make games, make experiences.

    I had the good fortune of playing Buzz on PS2 this weekend with some friends. It's a music quiz show experience, that just happens to use the PS2 as its platform. It coould easily have been a stand alone plug into your TV product. the point is, that it is an experience, broader than one designed for traditional gamers. Although it still has game standards like a high score table (which i found uneccessary), it has completely non-game related things, like a prize at the end of the show. From a game-orientated view, this prize is worthless, but it fits so well into the game show format (a necessity even), that it became a highlight, with all of us screaming for another prize of a "chesses of the world platter"!

    The 1up article annoys me, hopefully it is not totally representative of what game designers (and designers in general) have in mind for this REVOLUTIONARY controller.

    Here are two more snippets from the interviews:

    1UP: When you picture a mechanic like this, how do you imagine the rest of the game working? Would it be a typical third-person game and then go into a special setup for spell-casting, or would the whole thing revolve around the spell-casting?

    Eric Holmes: I think it would be best to view it as a 'layer' which goes on top of an existing game model. If I had free reign, I'd suggest a somewhat conventional third-person action adventure with this as a layer on top. Now, that means it could arguably be implemented on any platform, but I'd think the nice thing about the Revolution is that you could cast a spell as you were maneuvering, dodging, fighting -- rather than stopping and going into some other mode, as you'd almost certainly have to do in the other platforms. It'd also be just so much more visceral to cast with a 'wand' than just flailing an analog stick around.

    1UP: One of the problems with this and other Revolution game ideas we've heard floating around is that -- like some EyeToy games -- they seem like great fun for a mini-game or a couple minutes of play, but it might be challenging to turn them into full-length games. Do you think this Harry Potter concept could hold up for a full game, or would that be too gimmicky/would players get too tired?

    EH: It'd be hard to make game that's purely based around casting spells and make it compelling for four hours -- you're totally right in that it would suffer from the mini-game syndrome. I think we'll see a lot of novelty value use in the first wave of games, and then people will figure out how to more tightly integrate it into 'complete' games. It's a medium, just like when the Dual Shock first turned up. There were a good few abortive attempts at using one or both sticks when that first came out, and now the majority of games have many good, conventional models to follow for using both sticks for first-person shooters, third-person action games, and so on. I just wish people would learn that using the right stick as a fighting controller doesn't work (Blade 2!)."

    Arrrgggg. Will someone please continue the revolution, so that the next 100 games don't all feature boxes to smash, lives and an annoying, unrelated stealth level?

  47. The entry is 1 month old so maybe the discussion is over. But I just stop here once in a while to read your last articles :)

    I have the feeling the the actual game situation is not only unattractive for non gamers, but also driving gamers away. I have played since NES and I like most acctual games, I love Halo, C&C and so on. But somehow its not so much fun anymore. I think I have just consumed to much of the same and would like to get something new. And I am starting to get less interessted in too complicated games.

    I have a friend wo his mental handicaped we used to play a lot of games together during the NES and SNES time, he liked the jump and runs like Super Mario and we had a lot of fun. But this ended with the N64 and Playstation. Too much 3D and too complicated for him, now he does not play videogames anymore. I know that he is not representing a big share of the market and he is maybe a person in an unique situation but this could be an indicator why people who play games are mostly hardcore gamers.

    As a hardcore gamer I though Nintendo is crazy after I heard their opinions at the last E3s. But now I start to realize that they are on the right way. Somehow I used to talk more about games then to play them. I bought the new games to talk about them on forums and with friends. But I didn't have much fun, maybe I am crazy but don't know what was happening to me. Now I play less games and read more books :) Last week I thought about buying an Xbox360 but ended up buying an DS with Mario Advance 3+4 to bring back the good old times ;)

    As far as Nintendo is concerned: I played Super Mario Bros. 3 on the NES and the SNES and now on the DS. How can a company that was able to sell me the same game 3 times be wrong?