Monday, July 23, 2007

Marketing to Gamers: A Theory

Paul Tevis and I were "chattin' it up" today in an all anime catgirl chat room .... er... um...

moving on...

We were discussing Convention attendance and what sorts of games people play.

I asserted that people wanted episodic Buffy-style games, with little depth or planning. Most people wanted to minimize their exposure to new ideas, even though they wouldn't mind playing a NEW game. Dogs, for instance, might draw in players because of the theme or mechanics, but the game SHOULD and MUST adhere to a typical THREE ACT RPG session, lest people be confused. The villain must be clear cut and the decisions on who to kill and who to save be obvious.

Anything else might leave people wondering if they had a good time.

Paul contended that people want to have fun, but they don't want to risk have just a little fun for a game that is radically different from their "comfort zone." (I'm paraphrazing. Paul's a big kid. He can make his own assertions.)


Imagine the following scenario. GM lists FOUR games in a local convention catalog. Maybe his name is even listed next to the events. Doesn't matter. All of the descriptions are pulled directly from the backs of the rulebooks. All identical to the last time he ran games at the con. All with zero or little prep and most requiring the players to make characters when they sit down. It's not unrealistic and I know some good GMs that do this on a regular basis.

My opinion is three-fold.

One. I think people like rolling dice. It does not matter how compelling a story is. If they get to roll dice and take umbrage with GOOD and BAD die rolls (especially good), then they have "won something" somehow. This means that games with little-to-no die rolling may not be received as well as token, freeform, diceless, experimental, or "arbitrary" games [Mark Valiantos' Satanic Mills uses no dice and it's awesome.]

As an aside, every gamer knows the guy with the "worst die-luck ever." Yawn.

Two. I think gamers would rather be "pacified" with their entertainment, rather than risk something with a high good/bad ratio of fun. This extends to all nerds. Comic book fans. Anime fans. Check out Marvel comics or any robot anime. How many people just want a solid movie, rather than risk seeing something like Ghost Rider or Fantastic Four which has SUCK written all over it, but might have a gem. Okay. Bad example. How many people would watch an Anime named HIDE AND SEEK instead of an anime named GUNDAM 7000XYZ.

HIDE AND SEEK (to me) is the best anime I've ever seen. GUNDAM 7000XYZ is the same tired old crap GUNDAM always makes. But it's safe, because you know how it's going to end.

To use a gaming analogy, imagine an RPG session where the PCs have to kill an NPC, but they don't know which one is truly evil... everything is hearsay and conjecture. The game is no longer a morally BLACK/WHITE game with an obvious LICH adversary.

How unfulfilled would a gamer feel, knowing that his/her decision might have far-reaching and unpredictable implications?

That's HUGE.

Which brings me to my final point.

Three. I think people are very concerned about their own fun, but maybe not the fun of everyone they are playing with. They might even show up for selfish reasons. This is not an attack. Additionally, many people lacks the skills necessary to evaluate and explain why they love or hate something. They just do... and they form opinions quickly... that cannot be changed. D&D Sucks and that's the end of it. Mad Scientists ruin games. End of discussion. Charisma is a useless stat. Move on.

Game industry companies deal with this ALL THE TIME.

It's a fascinating phenomenon. I doubt Pepsi has this problem.

You have a consumer base that can form opinions without tests, without evaluation, and without education. I don't need to know how to write a story, but I can certainly evaluate that THIS ONE is stupid.

And it basically means you have to always be perfect, all the time. Or at the very least mediocre. You can't risk telling a new kind of story and you're unlikely to expand your threshold of acceptability. Mixing mediums is acceptable, so long as the story ends the same way a D&D game would. Otherwise your book on halfling druid machine monkey men not be taken as seriously as it should.

Anyway. This is not a slight against anyone. But it's slowly becoming a more important part of making/running/enjoying games with others that I find limits my exposure to big ideas or unconventional stories.

This is an unofficial observation/theory. No lab tests were done. No formal studies were conducted. No panels were developed to investigate how accurate these opinions might be in relation to the real thing.

No animals were harmed in this post.