What Happens When You Have a Small Audience
I’m making a game for LGBT gamers (here): a combination community sim/RPG with super nostalgic, Pokemon-esque pixel art. The audience for this game is kind of small. These have been a few reoccurring themes that I’ve encountered while working on this project.
People will TELL YOU you have a small audience.
When I introduced this project to people, most of them were pretty positive. Some of them, though, tried to ‘warn’ me about what I was getting into. “Most people aren’t going to like this”, they said. “You’re appealing to a niche group”, “You should try adding in some straight characters to make it more relatable to straight people.” And I listened to these people. I did. And it was important for me to recognize what people outside of my audience would see. And ultimately? I decided I didn’t really care. There are plenty of games out there that have mass appeal. Mine doesn’t need to be one of them.
People who aren’t your audience don’t ‘get it’
This is something I dealt with even before this project, with many different subjects. For Cape Luna, in particular, it was about LGBT issues. I don’t talk about being bi very often in real life. Not because I’m ashamed, or scared of what people will think (usually), but because the people I’m talking to don’t get it. Usually the response is, “Oh! Okay, that’s…cool?”.
The overcompensation of some people can be even worse: “Oh my God!!! That’s SO cool! I TOTALLY support you!!! My uncle’s cousin is actually gay I think, isn’t that such a coincidence???”.
It’s kind of like being in a club. An orchestra, for example. And when you go to practice, it’s great. There are so many people who understand you! And like the same things! They GET you, you know? And maybe one time you mention the orchestra to a friend who only plays the guitar, and they’re all “I want to hear you guys practice!” so you’re like, “I mean, I guess — there won’t really be anything for you to do though…” but they INSIST on going with you anyway, so much so that you start to think, maybe it won’t be so bad this time; maybe they really will understand. And so you bring them to the next orchestra practice. And they’re entertained for the first bit, when you’re introducing them to people and chatting and waiting for everyone to warm up. And then practice starts, and, well, there’s nothing for them to do. So they just sit and listen for a little bit, but eventually they’re on their phone, waiting for it to be over. And even though you usually have a lot of fun, and even though you told them this would happen, seeing them over there, bored, hurts a little.
That’s kind of what it’s like to talk to straight people about gay issues. Even small ones. So I just…don’t. This could be (and has been) a topic all on it’s own that many other people have written about, so I won’t go into it here. What it boils down to is: when you’re really excited about something, and someone with zero experience with that thing asks you about it, it can be deflating and awkward to explain. It’s usually met with a smile and nod and a “Oh, that’s nice”.
There are only so many places for you to engage with your audience
Nowadays, if you’re ever wondering, “Is there anyone else who is also passionate about this random, obscure thing I love?” there are two places to look at first: reddit and tumblr. And when you find a subreddit that basically has your name written all over it, or when you write a post about the obscure thing you love and it suddenly has 1,000 from people you don’t know all yelling in the tags about how awesome the thing is…it can be liberating. You get to know these people. You recognize usernames. People start tagging you in posts. There are long message chains with lots of inside jokes. You make friends! It’s like a big party where the theme is all your favorite things.
But when you leave the party to enter the ‘real world’ again, it can be a little jarring. You’re so used to talking about your passions with other people who understand, that when you try to talk to a ‘real world’ person about them, and they look at you like “???” it brings you back to Earth real quick. If you’re lucky, you have one, maybe even TWO ‘real world’ friends who love the same things you do, but if you don’t? You’re like “Where did you all go? I know you’re out there!” It’s isolating.
Your audience is WAY more invested
This is what’s been keeping me going. After discussing ideas and getting feedback from people who aren’t in my audience, sometimes, I’d feel drained. Or like maybe I was the only one who even wanted this thing — I am kind of designing for myself, after all. But then I’d get on reddit or look at my Kickstarter messages and see little bursts of encouragement. Not even from a lot of people. Only a few, usually. Someone getting their PhD in queer history. A simple “Keep it up! This is awesome!” Someone else who gave me a bulleted list of all the things I was doing with Cape Luna that they loved, and who sent a SECOND message before I had time to respond to the first praising an article I had linked to. Plenty of comments about how many straight white male games there already are out, and how it’s our turn now.
To most people, this isn’t a lot. Most people would consider that amount of encouragement in the minority. If your audience is a small one, you have to be okay with that. I’m talking Leslie Knope-levels of optimism. I was lucky in that so many people had positive reactions, but that’s not always going to be the case.
When you’re part of a small audience, the thing you’re passionate about feels so much more like a part of you. A part of your identity. Sometimes it IS your identity. So you have a lot of feelings and thoughts and opinions about it. If you’re aiming for an audience like that, especially if you’re not part of that audience yourself, you need to listen. Don’t assume you know everything (you don’t), or that you’re the only one who has thought of this Great New Idea (you aren’t). Small audiences will actually TALK to you. Embrace that. Engage with people. For me, it’s made this whole experience worth it.