Can Games Ever Please Everyone?
Is it better to dislike a game than to just ‘nothing‘ it? Assuming its competently designed, a disliked game at least implies that it had a goal or aim that just might not have been your cup of tea. Worse, in my opinion, are the games who consider their potential audiences to be ‘absolutely everyone’ who are so concerned about being inclusive, all they do is generate five star ambivalence.
Admittedly, this conversation started because I got LA Noire for Christmas. Ensuing conversations revealed that Team Captain Tim had not really enjoyed scrutinising every inch of LA for clues, far preferring to battle the bad guys face to face – whereas I loved the more procedural, deliberately-paced investigation parts of the game only to instantly be obliterated whenever facing an actual gangster with a gun. (Every. Single. Time) As well as realising that we had strong potential for a mismatched buddy-cop movie, it was obvious that perhaps we were playing the game with different wants. A diverse, detailed and dramatic game – was its only mistake in thinking that it could please everyone? Or was our mistake in thinking all of LA was meant for us?
Whatever methodology you use, it seems undeniable that different games appeal to different sorts of gamers. The Bartle Test breaks us down into Achievers, Explorers, Killers and Socialisers (mostly in terms of World of Warcraft-style game play but can be expanded to general gaming) while Jon Radoff has charted the different things that motivate players across most games.
Is it ‘easier’ (or less risky at any rate) to target specific niche audiences with casual games? Maybe. But I also suspect a clear or ‘simpler’ idea also be used to appeal to all our different gamer motivations.
While anticipating the launch of our own Nurse Quest game on the [adult swim] site last December, one by one, we were all drawn into the strange world of Robot Unicorn Attack featured on the same site. A very simple game in some respects but maybe deceptively so as it seems to lend itself to all the quadrants of Radoff’s game motivation ideas.
It’s Immersive, hypnotically drawing you in with its colours and *that* soundtrack. While not so much a game of Co-operation it is certainly a social experience; a talking point – something you want to tell people about (good thing) but then ultimately can’t fully explain so you tell people to just play it themselves (even better thing).
As an endless runner it’s also a game of Achievement and Competition, attacking all of the stars is a goal and simply keeping going as long as possible can be competitive in terms of personal bests and addictiveness – as is the notion of giving you three lives, allowing you to compare scores with yourself for each go and perhaps drawing you in for more plays than you would on the average flash game.
To an extent, it’s just a game with some (clever) gimmicks…but one that has racked up two sequels, 686,000 likes on Facebook and over 41 million plays to date. We can be loyal to game genres, game brands and our own gaming habits, but how far should developers strive to create games that please everyone? Is it better to have separate puzzle and racing games than one game which has levels of each? Or is the ‘variety pack’ approach just what we have come to accept from modern games – mostly enjoyable, but always one flavour left at the end that someone isn’t that keen on.