Target audience considerations (part 2)

Today’s post is the second part of an article about target audience and its implications on the development and commercialization of your app or game on the AppStore. You can find the first part here. In this second part I’m going to try to apply the theoretical concepts discussed on the first part onto my current project New Sokoban.

We talked about that it is important to fix the target audience of your game or app. And we also talked about that it is extremely difficult for your initial projects to do so… So, I’m doing my best :) Anyway, I decided that I would like that the target audience for New Sokoban would be mainly casual. The reasons for that are mainly two: (1) casual gamers are the most and this means more potential downloads. (2) My family and friends are mainly casual gamers or even non gamers. Therefore, working on a casual game allowed me to receive more valuable feedback in early stages of development. Some years ago, I worked on a hardcore project (not for my own) and it was really frustrating to talk about that to family and friends and notice that they were not really interested on that, despite on their efforts to simulate interest. So, this time I realized that I needed all the support I could get and this also inclined me to start a casual game project.

Casual gamers usually like logic games. Sokoban is a simple game, with a few rules and with much emerging gameplay. So, working on a game based on sokoban looked like a good idea. However, to exploit the emergent gameplay of sokoban you basically need to increase the difficulty at high rates. That’s why I decided to introduce some gameplay variations and new features to classic sokoban. This allowed me to keep smoother learning and difficulty curves without loosing the “wow!” effect. Every now and then new features are introduced to the player which are supposed to surprise and keep him playing. Moreover, introducing new features allows me to decrease a little bit the difficulty to increase it again smoothly. This keeps the player in a comfortable waving difficulty curve that tends to increase (see the Flow channel theory from Jesse Schell).

Flow Channel theory from Jesse Schell

Flow Channel theory from Jesse Schell

However, casual audience is tricky. They are not so inclined to pay for a game, unless its value is evident (for instance, it has 5 stars rating on the App Store). Moreover, as they did not pay much for the game, they are not going to give it two changes. If in the first 10 or 15 seconds something doesn’t like them, they will shut down your app, remove it from their device and drop a “nice” review on the App Store.

Mental note: when talking about casual games for the Apple App Store, the first 10 o 15 seconds are crucial. You need to attract the attention of your player and keep it “only” for about 15 seconds. However, maybe paradoxically, is incredibly hard to achieve it due to the nature of the casual audience.

Therefore, I decided that my business model will be based on a free app ad supported. Obviously, this blows up the paying barrier but it increases the change of getting burning reviews on the App Store. We will see :)

I also plan to add IAP (In-app purchases) in the future. I will start adding the possibility to remove the adds paying a little amount. Depending on the game’s success and its sales maybe a will introduce both hardcore and casual content via IAP.

Yes, I said that my audience will be mainly casual gamers. But I said “mainly”. During beta testing some hardcore testers pointed out some interesting things:

(1) Getting 2 stars was too easy. That made sense. Actually, getting 2 stars was so easy that there was almost no difference between getting 2 o 3 stars in terms of game experience. So, I decided to fix the 2 stars par more accurately and specifically for each puzzle in the game.

(2) Under par solutions were not rewarded. I was so focused on casual gamers that I thought that 3 stars were enough. However, rewarding hardcore players that solve the puzzle with less moves than the needed to get 3 stars seemed a good idea for two reasons: first, hardcore players love to achieve “special things” and under par solutions look really special. And second, under par rewards doesn’t affect the casual game experience. Actually, they will never notice the existence of this feature. So, I added that.

Probably, these are the most important decisions I have take regarding the target audience. However, there a lot of other tiny things that help to achieve the final desired game experience. For example, focusing on keeping things simple. New Sokoban’s interface is clean and simple. Information is presented clearly and it is not overwhelming. The “win” screen maybe has more information than a casual gamer needs, but you can skip it easily (I’m still working on it. Beta testing has pointed out some issues about it).

Putting your efforts on the right place is also important. It is impossible to do all you have in your mind in a realistic amount of time and money. So, for example, from the marketing perspective, I’m not planning to offer a lot of content on the game’s website. I plan to include a brief description of the game and a stunning trailer. Casual gamers will probably never visit the game’s site.

So, as you can see, target audience is an important issue. Maybe there are some topics I covered in this article that seem obvious to you. However, realizing about them and thinking about them carefully from time to time will help you to assimilate them better and apply them accurately on your projects.

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