making a game for people that dont play
Making a game for someone who is not familiar with games can be tough.
Forget everything you thought of as given. All this stuff we are used to, all the established conventions are useless now because to them, they don’t exist.
Even though your audience doesn’t have high expectations you have to fulfill, it’s generally more challenging.
To get to know our audience we created several prototypes, each one testing different things.
Now I’m going to list the most important and surprising learnings we had from the playtest of our prototypes.
challenge of interactivity
Games are defined trough their interactivity. An ability that separates them from other media. Some of our adult playtesters who were not used to games were frightened to destroy something through “wrong” interactions. The fear of failing at trying to interact with the game prevented some playtesters from doing anything.
challenge of input
The players which overcame the fear of interaction now faced the challenge of input. For someone who uses the keyboard mostly to write e-mails and probably doesn’t know anything about the existence of shortcuts or function keys, even the idea of holding down a key for some time, instead of just pressing it several times can be unintuitive.
Pressing more than one key at a time while looking at the screen simultaneously? Nearly impossible for some. When your biggest challenge already lies in the input you are hardly able to even think about the layers on top.
no reactionary gameplay
Reactionary gameplay contains things like jumping above a hole in the floor (temple run) or blocking a sword attack at exactly the right moment in some more complex fighting game. Reactionary games are based around mastering input and reading the events and entities on the screen. Managing to find the right reaction and input in the shortest amount of time possible.
When bare input is a big challenge, reactionary gameplay is simply not the type of gameplay your players are going to get along with.
clear goals are better than toys
That’s something especially people who are more interested in games may not understand. Even though toylike games are not for everyone I feel like that’s something most game enthusiasts really enjoy. Smaller Indie games like Spelunky but also bigger titles like Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim have very toylike systems and worlds.
Most testers expected that their interactions have to be expedient towards an explicit goal. The idea of exploring something, toying around with it like a child would do, seemed to be far away for our audience. Even after telling them, they showed no interest.
missing meta reflection
The reason for missing mera reflection is probably the high mechanical hurdle. It also seems like you at least need think you understand a media to a certain degree before you start interpreting and reflecting. Where in film most people know that characters, which are shown from a low angle are supposed to be seen as dominant. But for games it seems they don’t know the language of mechanics and also don’t have any other games to compare with.
Most interestingly, some testers didn‘t expect that certain aspects of the game can be designed or have deeper meanings but think that things like balancing are more of a coincidence.
narrative framing is important
Other media is full of narrative, and since we already cut toylike games and other aspects, we are left with a space that wants to be filled with narrative. Narrative gives purpose, it explains and makes the unfamiliar media more relatable because stories are conservant to them, therefore they are able to understand.
If they can’t take a mechanic on it‘s own, they certainly accept it if they get told the narrative purpose.
Of course, knowing your audience is important but it gets even harder the more they differ from yourself. Most certainly you won’t have the luxury of developing a game for only yourself as the target audience. The interesting observation for me is that we ended up taking inspiration from a lot of other media our target audience was more familiar with. No message was incorporated in the meta gameplay but instead very explicitly shown through caricatures and movielike animations instead. More like a walkable interactive scenery with a few very simple gameplay challenges to overcome on your own speed with layers for narrative and tutorial on top.
I think some audiences doesn’t want to play games so the willingness to open up and really try is very limited. The fear of failing and the desire of clear goals stops them. We decided to give them something that’s not reflective about or even representative of what games are or can be. But instead something accessible and familiar with small slice of exciting and new on top.