Why you should not focus on making your games inclusive and target new audiences instead
As a person born in the Soviet Union and raised in Ukraine, I grew up in a bit different culture than most people reading this. The post-Soviet culture was patriarchal, favoring young and healthy over the people with disabilities.
Despite that post-Soviet game developers were one of the first to go beyond classic “dudebro” gamer audience and develop different games for different kinds of people.
Female-centric celebrity-heavy MMO based on widely popular The Big Brother TV show clone? Dom 3 (not to confuse with Doom 3), launched in 2006 and still in operation, although under a different name. A time-management game about life in prison aimed at an older male audience with lower income and primary education? We have a whole sub-genre of these, including games for social networks and mobile devices.
Almost any audience you can imagine in a post-Soviet country had some game developed for it. Some of them failed, but not for the lack of trying. Some of them are making millions of dollars.
World of Tanks is a better-known example. It’s a game targeted at 50+ working men with full-time jobs, families, kids and responsibilities. You know, the people you don’t expect to do anything with their computers save for reading news, sending emails and calling their children for tech support.
I could go on about post-Soviet game development for hours, but here are two main points I’m trying to convey:
- Post-Soviet culture is not gender-equal or minority-friendly. It favors healthy young men over everyone else. It’s not just cultural; it’s dictated by the different economic situation in those countries, where failing to secure a job might result in your actual death.
- Post-Soviet game developers are creating games for women and minorities. And not just for the “geek girl” subculture, they’re developing games for older women in their 60s as well.
It’s all about the money, stupid
Let’s stop for a moment and think why post-Soviet game developers are not all patriarchal and exclusive when it comes to their audience? Landing a job as a female or 50-something male in a local game company is extremely hard, but when it comes to games, they’re way more welcoming.
That’s because post-Soviet game developers lost the fight for the stereotypical 18–35 male gaming audience. They’re not so different around the world, so your Ukrainian 20-something college graduate plays the same Assassin’s Creed: Somewhere Cool as his German or American counterpart.
Developing a game to please this audience with lower budgets and less experienced developers is extremely hard. Not impossible, mind you (we have Metro 2033 and Warface to show for it), but quite challenging.
You might not be Ukrainian, Russian or Lithuanian, but you are competing against Ubisoft, Activision, and all the big guys if you’re targeting the same people. Even students can only play so many games in their 24 hours, and yours is probably isn’t one of those.
I think that’s the reason why Nintendo is developing games for “non-gamers”. They can’t compete for dudebros, so why bother when you can have Nintendogs, Brain Training and Wii Fit.
There is a simple fact here: all people like to play, and most of them are willing to spend money on their hobbies.
I do understand that it’s harder to develop a game for people of different gender or age, but that’s another reason to hire them so they can help you.
You can’t even complain about not having access to this audience. Everyone in developed countries owns a computer since the early 2000s. Everyone has a smartphone now. So what if your sixty-something doesn’t have a Steam account? It didn’t stop Wargaming.
Yes, a lot of other developers have already realized that and made billions by creating games for previously non-existing audiences. Like King or Supercell. But these new niches are much bigger than our classic 18–35 male gamers, so there is still plenty of space in the market for smaller teams.
The difference between inclusive and targeted games
I don’t want you to re-design your platformer or first-person shooter to be more inclusive — it doesn’t work like this, you can’t just add milk to vodka to make it “kids-friendly.”
I want you to consider entirely new genres for these new audiences. They like to play; they’re willing to spend money on your games if you meet them halfway and create something for them individually, and not as an afterthought.
Here is an example: World of Tanks is a painfully slow game. Doesn’t Wargaming learn from their mistakes and reads gaming press that was lamenting about the lack of speed in WOT since its release? Yes, it does, and that’s why World of Warships is even slower.
If you’re 50-something male, slow to act, but like to think things through, you have an advantage over 18 years old kid with his incredible reflexes and raging hormones. He can try to double-jump out of your artillery strike or headshot your IS-2 all he wants, but in the end, superior strategy wins.
Compare it to Call of Duty. Nobody explicitly forbids a 50-something male from playing COD, but he is going to have a hard time enjoying the game with all these kids flying around him in their goddamn jetpacks. You can add female heroines and older characters to COD, but it won’t change the fact that the game was designed for young men.
If you want a game designed for women, they should have an advantage over men in it.
Hidden-object games are just one example here (women are usually better at finding stuff), but female audience is as diverse as male audience, so there are plenty of opportunities and genres to explore. Do you want a game for 40-something car mechanics? Make a gameplay about things they like and 20-something hipster won’t play.
I’m not saying games shouldn’t be inclusive; I’m saying it won’t help them to gain new audiences. Tomb Raider is inclusive but it is still played by predominantly young male audience. Gameplay is the biggest limiting factor in getting non-gamers to play,
Now here is a simple task for you. Think about significantly older or younger relative: your mom, your grandpa, your niece. And then think of a (probably non-existing) game where this person would be a better gamer than you. Post it in the comments below.