Now, I’ll be the first person to say to design the game you would want to play, but let’s be honest here, if your goal is to make a game for others, you are going to have to put some effort into trying to figure out who you are trying to appeal to.
Different audiences have different tolerances for different things in your games.
For instance, let’s look at mechanics. Some time ago, I had an argument with a person over resource management in video games. He hated them, to the point that he said while he couldn’t come to the conclusion they were universally bad, he was looking into a way to prove it.
Now for him, resource management was nothing but a hassle. It wasn’t “gameplay” it was just busy work. But think about this: What would the survival horror genre feel like without inventory management?
See, for him, it was unforgiveable, while to the survival horror audience, the game doesn’t even feel like the same GENRE without resource management. Every story and mechanics decision you make in your game should be filtered through one lens: How does this enhance my game for my target audience?
The RPG Audience
I know what you are thinking now: But Nick, I’m making an RPG, that is a single target audience right? Well not really. I mean, first there is the wRPG/jRPG divide. Not saying you can’t like both (I do), but the target audiences for them are actually different. But even INSIDE those, I want to look at three different jRPG franchises:
Final Fantasy vs Dragon Quest vs Megami Tensei
These are three of the most popular jRPG franchises currently being published, and while they have a lot of similarities, even they are aimed at slightly different audiences.
Dragon Quest holds as the most traditional of the three. “Old School” style mechanics are at the forefront, the gameplay is still turn based, it still has “standard” equipment slots: Weapon, Armor, Helmet, Shield, and only just recently has it introduced a way to gain skills in any way other than just straight level. The stories tend to be more all ages. Visually it is usually very high color contrast and cartoony.
Final Fantasy tends towards more innovative mechanics, every game after five for instance has a completely different way of learning skills, and it went from turn based, to ATB, to CTB, and then kept innovating after that. The stories are aimed at probably early teens and up. Visually, Final Fantasy tends to go towards higher end console graphics with an anime visual style.
Megami Tensei’s mechanics are more traditional generally than Final Fantasy, but more innovative than Dragon Quest. The mechanics tend to focus on difficulty. It’s stories are usually the most mature of the three, though still I wouldn’t put it above mid to late teens and up. Visually Megami Tensei isn’t as high end as Final Fantasy usually, but also usually evokes an even more anime visual than Final Fantasy.
As you can see, target audience can be VERY specific. (For that matter, there is a bit of a difference even inside the franchises. Persona 3/4 fans can be pretty different from SMT: Nocturne fans)
So What Do I Do With This?
So, take what you have of your game, and try to find the audience that matches it. Then you can use that audience as a sounding board for certain mechanics, story ideas, and visual style.
Get out there early and find people who like the things your game is doing. Ask them questions! Find out what they find and what they find bad.
Does this mean sacrificing your vision? Not really. Sometimes you can stumble upon something that doesn’t normally work but does in the specific context you are using it in. Don’t be afraid to go against the grain, but be AWARE of what you are doing and why you are doing it.
Every audience is different. That is why some people consider Final Fantasy VII the best game ever and some think its horrible. Find your audience and speak to it.
What audience do you think your game is speaking to? Have you tailored any mechanics to fit that audience? Or maybe you just want to say what audience you feel you are in and what things drive YOU up a wall in a video game. You can join the conversation below in the comments!