Game Marketing: Giving the Audience What it Wants

While Ifritah (who normally covers the crazy world of gaming for us) takes a hiatus from posting, I was lucky enough to run across some interesting stuff about gaming.

Sensing the potential for higher profits, Nintendo is expanding their reach to include female gamers and baby boomers:

Obviously a big part of that is a fresh game concept with a wide appeal, but Fils-Aime also points out that the marketing of Nintendogs reached out to new people. Ads were placed in teen magazines, TV commercials ran aimed at female viewers, and a word-of-mouth campaign was kicked off by giving free games to people around the country. The result was a great buzz among people who normally wouldn’t buy a handheld game.

Which would seem to indicate that, contrary to traditional marketing wisdom, women do have money and do spend it on stuff other than diapers and soap.

And Kameron Hurley recently posted a link to an article in which Patrick revealed an insider’s glimpse into why it’s hard to introduce a brand new element into an existing product line – in this case, gay or bisexual romance into gaming. His company has released some games with possibilities for gay or bisexual romance, and the response just hasn’t justified the additional cost involved in recording extra voiceovers for all the possibilities built into the game. And in defense of how hard his company has worked on this, he offers a rebuttal to Kameron’s original post.

Now, I do see where his company is coming from. Additional costs met with no increase in profits = bad business. But I foresee an awful lot of head honchos in the gaming industry – the people Patrick’s company had to fight to do this in the first place, like MSN – using these examples as justification for why they need not try anymore. After all that’s what the film industries been doing for years regarding good female characters, an option that doesn’t cost anymore to produce than the usual male fantasy gals: offering the occasional great female character(s), then interpreting the overwhelming audience response as being to some other aspect of the show/film, and not proof that people enjoy good female characters.
As Kameron points out:

There was a time when video games didn’t exist (perish the thoughts!) and *somebody* went out there and said, “OK, what sorts of games do young boys like?” and they made games catering to that demographic.

Can I just state for the record something I would’ve thought was obvious to the people who made that initial choice? When you target stuff to one demographic, the rest of us get the message that we’re not really welcome. When you decide, decades later, to invite us to the party already in progress, you don’t have the right to be surprised if we don’t immediately rush into your arms. Especially if the option we wanted wasn’t going to cost you anymore money to produce - i.e., well-drawn female characters, just as cheap to produce as male fantasies.

Here’s hoping Patrick’s company, and a lot of others, will keep trying. Small steps are way better than nothing.

Comments

  1. scarlett says

    It goes back to that myth that the best advertising audience are young urban males. No, the young and urban I get – they tend to have the most amount of disposable cash, and they live in areas where there’s plebnty available to spend that disposable cash ON.

    But why males? In my personal experience, I’ve never seen any real differences in the way men and women spend money on ‘luxury items’. Which says to me there’s a HUGE market out there of young, urban women with plenty of money and the right geographical location – just not the good that interest them.

    So I’ve never understood the logic of ‘we only want the young urban male”. By being too lazy to put in that extra effort of creating a product – in this case, realitic female characetrs – that women will be interested in, they’ve cut themselves off from half the market. That is MOST DEFINITELY NOT good business sense.

  2. says

    Yo Scarlett,

    I’m the guy who wrote the original post and the further explanation. I’d say, as I said in the post, that BioWare is trying hard to appeal to female gamers as well. Hence having an equal number of male and female PC models in Knights of the Old Republic and Jade Empire, and having romances on relatively equal footing.

    We’re also trying to adapt our games to appeal to a broader audience — and here I’ll equivocate a bit. We shy away from saying, “Appeal to women,” because there are women who like our games just fine. My boss’s wife dungeon-hacks like nobody’s business. My wife laughingly admits to the glee of finally getting enough money to purchase the Icy Burst Mithril Greatsword of Speed in Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance. Even though our audience is only 25% female, we don’t want to say that we’re trying to adapt things to “appeal to women” because, after you equalize the female PC-model to male PC-model ratio and give female PC romances equal weight and time, any other assumption (like “women want more story and less combat”) is based on stereotypes that we’d rather not perpetuate.

    We ARE trying to figure out how to build systems that can be tweaked to appeal to both “high-combat” players and “low-combat” players — for example, on one project, people are discussing the feasibility of having a Super-Easy difficulty level, so that people who like BioWare games’ stories but aren’t interested in the combat can still get through our games. A few years ago, the idea of having Super-Easy be a Can’t-Die-in-Combat setting would have gotten laughed out of the room. Now that we’ve learned from our new female designers that some folks would really love to be able to play our games for the stories without having to reload two or three times per combat, it’s actually being taken seriously.

    On the flip side, we’ve also got fans who hate our conversations and just want to kill things and take their stuff. We’re kicking around some ideas that would actually automate conversation to some extent, so that somebody who just wants to get through every conversation as quickly as possible on the good, mercenary, or evil path can have the system do that for him.

    So I don’t know. I feel like we’re making progress. I feel like you can hold BioWare’s female characters up against anybody else’s proudly. And I’m not certain that “realistic female characters” is what’s keeping our audience hovering at 25% female. I’d guess that it’s some combination of a) consoles still being perceived as boys’ toys and b) adult-oriented video games (the aimed-at-adults meaning, not the pornographic meaning) having a learning curve that makes it tough for new potential gamers to pick it up. Because I was playing the awful garbage that we had when I was a teenager, I can pick up an average game and figure out what I’m doing without a ton of trouble — just like the fact that I’ve used Adobe Photoshop and Imageready and Pagemaker lets me pick up another Adobe product and figure it out pretty quickly.

    A new would-be gamer, coming into most video-game markets without that kind of experience, is going to find it nigh-impossible to pick up without help. That’s not a slam on that new gamer. That’s a slam on the video-game industry for making their control systems increasingly complex without improving tutorials, instruction manuals, or guided walkthroughs to compensate. My wife picked up and enjoyed Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic once I walked her through it, but the introductory tutorial did NOT give her the information she needed to play.

    Which is all my roundabout way of saying that I think a lot of CRPGS have come a long way, but the fact that the early ones largely WERE sexist means that the women who could be playing now haven’t had the training that would let them play now easily, so trying to start now is an often-frustrating experience (as my wife does not hesitate to tell me — although she kicks my butt at Guitar Hero). Maybe the best thing we can do to appeal to a wider audience is a) make the controls more intuitive, b) write better instruction manuals and tutorials, and c) advertise the fact that it’ll be easy to pick up as an actual selling point.

    And maybe this is all an extremely narrow viewpoint. In a market with fighting girls who flash their underwear as they kick, maybe BioWare isn’t the target I think it is when I hear people slamming sexist video games. And in a market where choosing the female PC gets you an easier combat experience, as noted in the post below, maybe BioWare’s attempts to slide the difficulty based on what the player asks for, rather than whether his PC model has boobs, is a step in the right direction.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I’ve never understood the myth, either. There have been studies that indicate women are hard to sell to; but an equally valid interpretation of that data would be “the men doing the selling have not yet figured out how to sell to women.”

    In my own experience with sales of high ticket items, I sold to both genders equally well because I tried to read each individual client and figure out what they were looking for, and then highlight the features of the item that most suited them. It’s not such a quantifiable process – takes a lot of intuition – and that, I suspect, is why the suits running the industry prefer to come to other conclusions.

  4. Jennifer Kesler says

    Which is all my roundabout way of saying that I think a lot of CRPGS have come a long way, but the fact that the early ones largely WERE sexist means that the women who could be playing now haven’t had the training that would let them play now easily, so trying to start now is an often-frustrating experience

    Now, THAT is very true. Also, women who might have been gamers if not for the sexism have found other things to do with their time.

    In a market with fighting girls who flash their underwear as they kick, maybe BioWare isn’t the target I think it is when I hear people slamming sexist video games. And in a market where choosing the female PC gets you an easier combat experience, as noted in the post below, maybe BioWare’s attempts to slide the difficulty based on what the player asks for, rather than whether his PC model has boobs, is a step in the right direction.

    I’m not a gamer, but I know the games people have complained about on this site are not from your company. It doesn’t sound to me like your company is part of the problem; in fact, it sounds like you’re really trying to be part of the solution. It’s just going to take more than one company to turn the perception around.

  5. Revena says

    I don’t buy a lot of video games. I’m kind’ve plugged into gamer culture, because I do tabletop RPGs, and used to MUD back before graphical MMORPGs kinda killed text-based, and most of my (male) friends are gamers. But I don’t, myself, buy games very often. I think the last one I actually purchased for myself was Dungeon Siege, which appealed to me because you could fight by clicking with the mouse, and it wasn’t too complicated to do so – strong anecdotal support for your idea that non-gamers may be turned away from potentially interesting games because of playability issues.

    But my boyfriend buys video games, and so do many, many of my friends. On the strength of the things you’ve had to say in the linked posts and in your comment here, I’m going to be steering them towards your company’s products whenever feasible (which shouldn’t be hard – I know they all like Bioware’s stuff, to begin with). And next time I’m considering a game purchase of my own, I’ll look to Bioware first.

    So, you keep doing your part, and I’ll do mine, ok? ;-)

  6. Lex says

    And reading the client, or even just plain asking what they want, is such a simple skill. A few years ago I wanted a laptop so I went into a (usually very reliable) shop to discuss the possibilities. The chap who came over to talk to me was a young man, early twenties. He only asked what I wanted to the extent of ‘you’re looking at buying a laptop?’ before he launched into the wondrous abilities of this unit here to play games, oh and this one too, and that one has music inbuilt. I had to raise my voice to interrupt his flow and point out that I had absolutely no interest in a computer I could play games on – what office software did these units come with, would I need to buy business software, what was the memory capacity and hard drive capacity, what did they weigh, what backup functions were there. He seemed quite taken aback and couldn’t answer any of my questions without looking.

    It’s not just some of the gaming companies who need to shift their views, it’s some of the stores as well.

    When it comes to games, I play The Sims. I was really looking forward to the PC version of the Stargate SG-1 game that was coming out (now cancelled) and have no interest in the new version of the game. Every so often I look at PC or console games to see if there’s anything that will interest me, and I find the same driving, shooting, killing, fighting and sports games that have always existed, just in different packaging (yeah, okay, they probably update the software too *g*). I never find anything that interests me and by now I’ve accepted that I never will.

  7. scarlett says

    Hey Patrick,

    I wasn’t talking specifically about you and your company, but the way things are designed and promoted in general towards men. I have a media background, with some marketing in there, and one of the major things that gets drilled into you is ‘the most desirable audience is young urban males’. Young and urban I get, but there’s no reason for women not be be equal consumers as men (except that women earn 30% less on average) and therefor, no reason NOT to create products that appeal to women beyond laziness and short-sightedness.

  8. Mecha says

    Nintendo’s entire push, recently, has been ‘games to appeal to everyone’ and the advertising and games themselves to back it up. The only commercial I have seen for Brain Age (a smash hit in Japan, and at least a moderate hit over here) for example, shows only one player: an adult woman, somewhere between 25 and 40 (my ability to judge age is indeed lacking ;) interacting with it. Nintendo has been dominating the handheld market in Japan with these types of games (‘Touch Generation’ games) that don’t make many assumptions about player sex, have lots of instructions (using a touch screen w/the handheld helps with that) and build upon easy to understand general constructs (puzzles like Sudoku, trying math problems, etc.) Similarly, their new console design (Wii, not Revolution: The article is a little old. ;) is designed to be wireless with gesture based control, waving the controller, which looks like a TV Remote, in the air in the manner of what you’re trying to do. It’s a very *-agnostic overall campaign. No apparent worries about player age, gender, or any other gamer ‘preconception’, just people playing games (if you like minimalist poetry on that subject, look up a copy of the Wii press release on why they named their console ‘Wii’.)

    They are also doing things like ‘having decent production schedules’ and ‘trying to price it more reasonably than other consoles’ and so on and so on. The kind of things one would expect of a general launch, and not just to gamers who will, frankly, tend to take a heck of a lot of crap to play their games and exist in the gamer community when they shouldn’t have to. Just look at what passes for ‘game journalism’ and the $600 dollar console that Sony is using as a ‘test market’ for Blu-Ray, and gamers get to pick up the tab. Gamers on the overall are good at complaining, but not so good at actually saying, ‘You know what? I dislike that so much I’m not going to give them more money ever again’ when it’s the big names that are speaking.

    Just a bit more from the ‘tracks the game news’ side, I suppose. ^^;

    -Mecha

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    Side note: I have to question even the “young, urban” part. Baby Boomers have the most disposable cash. Yeah, they tend to give a lot of it to their kids to spend, but I think they’re a strong market, too.

    And urban? I don’t know about Australia, but here in the US, some rural people are very cash poor but others represent some of the richest buying markets around. Tons of disposable cash, because they live in areas where housing and necessities aren’t expensive, and even a decent income is surplus.

  10. Jennifer Kesler says

    Another common complaint I hear from women who go to computer stores is when the boys running it just drop you cold the instant they realize you know more than they know about the product. It’s like they’re so intimidated by a woman outstripping their knowledge that they’d rather lose a sure sale than deal with her.

    I got fed up with this in the mid-90′s and switched to Mac, who gets that women computer, and isn’t threatened by it.

    I recently switched back to PC, but I’ll probably never shop at stores – I order everything online so I don’t have to deal with insecure salesboys.

  11. Jennifer Kesler says

    It’ll be exciting to see how this goes. “Appeals to everyone” alerts every segment of the market that’s felt excluded, and contains more humility than, “Now we’re making games for women” which tends to translate in our heads to “We’ve rewritten some of our games for guys to have a lot more pink stuff”. ;)

  12. Mecha says

    The pink thing reminded me of another Nintendo commercial, this time about the Micro, when it came out with multiple skins. Again a female ‘lead’ to the commercial, but two of the colors were pink and green-black camo, and that played into the commercial. *googles* Ah, this one.

    http://gba.1up.com/do/newsStory?cId=3144124

    Think they’re trying to make a point, there? ^_~

    -Mecha

  13. scarlett says

    Yeah,
    maybe I should do a PhD on the myth of the ‘young urban male’ :p
    I think the logic goes that youth are more suceptible to advertising, peer pressure etc, and urban gives you day-to-day accessibility to far more good and services. There’s no point in having a fair amount of disposable cash if you can’t see an ad for something, say ‘yeah I want that’, get in your car and be at the place which sells in in five minutes. Country television stations have a lot less ads for ‘instant gratification’-type things like takeaway food (and yes, a lot of gaming stuff – anything that’s relatively cheap and can be got to in ten minutes or so) and more things like holiday destinations and semi-essential rural luxuries (yeah, I know that’s an oxymoron – I hope that kind of made sense) like motoring equiptment. Basically, there’s no point in bombarding the senses and making people think ‘I want it and I want it now’ because even if they got in their cars that very minute, they may not be at a major urban centre which sold the product for several hours.
    (Having said that, I should point out that Australia is incredibly urban – it’s a tiny bit smaller then the US (think the the size of Alaska) but with 20m people, about 18m of which live in four cities. So the percentage of our urban population is huge, and the remaining 10% live in fairly isolted areas.)
    But still, the idea of exponsing that myth for the crap it is could be interesting…

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