J.K. Riki

The Downside to Eclectic Creativity

Creativity is, in many ways, about endless possibility. Limitations can help guide your process, but at its core the early stages of Creativity require you to lower the castle drawbridge and invite any and all ideas into your courtyard. As a result, you can come up with a ton of amazing ideas, even if those ideas have almost nothing to do with one another.

Last week I talked about Weekend Panda’s first game, The Death of Mr. Fishy. TDoMF (which is fun to say out loud as a word, Ta-DOMF!) has a very particular audience. When designing the game, I kept that audience in mind.

  • They would need to like dark humor, first of all, so it was unlikely that my own mother would fully enjoy the game I was making.
  • They would need to have at least enough patience to not require bombardment with explosions and action-sequences to be entertained, since the game plays out like reading a choose-your-own-adventure story, and the visuals are only there to support the text.
  • They would have to be smart enough to get some of the deeper jokes about philosophy and culture references.

All of this adds up to Mr. Fishy being a blast to play… for the right player. Everyone else may find Candy Crush or Breath of the Wild or Call of Duty far more interesting.

Which I think is alright. Not every game will be for everyone. Even though this game is for a tremendously niche audience, sometimes finding a game exactly the right fit for you feels like you’ve discovered a kindred spirit.

A challenge that arises, though, is what happens when you apply Eclectic Creativity to multiple games.

Game 1 Meet Game 2

Our second game, currently in super early development, will be absolutely nothing like The Death of Mr. Fishy. I have in mind a totally different player and audience for Game 2. Where as my mother will probably give me a stern look while playing TDoMF, she will (hopefully) be all smiles while enjoying the second release from Weekend Panda.

There are two reasons for this change in audience, and I hesitate to make an overly long post about it all, but I would find it interesting so perhaps you will too.

First, I want to make a fun game that anyone can enjoy. As I said, Mr. Fishy is a niche game. I will have no problem telling everyone I meet about TDoMF, but I will have to couple that with an advance warning of “It may not be your cup of tea” for most people. This leaves me in a bit of a tough spot, because if my wife and I are going to keep this going, we will need more than just support from the handful of people who are like me and enjoy dark-humor philosophy-ridden single-serving games. (I can assure you, that audience is pretty small. Important, as I count myself among them! But small.) So Game 2 being for a broader audience will help me recommend a Weekend Panda game without any caveats to anyone I’m having a conversation with.

The other reason for a dramatic shift in audience between games is that I don’t like being forced into a single defined box when it comes to creative work. If every game Weekend Panda ever made was dark-humor, or casual, or hardcore, or a puzzle game, or an action-RPG set in the distant future, or about fish… it wouldn’t be creative anymore. It would become stagnant, as I found a niche and then milked it for all it was worth. While paying the bills is important to survival, it simply isn’t my biggest motivation for working. If I wanted exclusively to pay bills, I promise there are far easier jobs than Independent Full-Time Game Developer. Or easier than my other jobs, like Animator, Writer, and Graphic Artist. These are all monstrously difficult careers that require a passion for something other than a paycheck to do day in and day out. (It is also quite unlikely that any of them will make you much money, unless you happen to get extremely lucky.)

Alienating Established Audiences?

One major issue with making a variety of games across a wide scope of audiences is there’s not much carry-over between titles. If you play and love Mr. Fishy, there is no guarantee you will even “like” Game #2. I’m working hard on the design so that you WILL like Game 2, of course, but it won’t be The Death of Mr. Fishy 2: Mr. Fishy’s Revenge. Players wanting Mr. Fishy 2 after playing Mr. Fishy 1 will not find it in the second game we release. The second game is going to be different.

For some (like me, as a designer) that prospect is exciting. For others, it will be disappointing.

I could do the financially smarter thing and pick an audience and stick with them for the rest of my days. So many successful game designers will tell you that is EXACTLY what you should do, and I can’t disagree with them that it is a wise move in order to keep food on the table. I’d probably even recommend it as the balanced option for other game makers.

For me, it isn’t the right fit. I love the mystery of the great unknown too much. I like tossing the map in the back seat of the car and seeing where random roads will take me (sometimes to the chagrin of my map-loving wife). It means a lot of course-correcting along the way. You WILL hit dead-ends using this method. You WILL have to turn around sometimes and find a different route. Failure is absolutely an option, and in many ways, more likely to occur.

Every once in a while, you’ll also discover some amazing cafe or scenic outlook you’d never have come across otherwise.

Enjoy the Ride

With me at the designer-helm, Weekend Panda may never build a Rovio-level fanbase (that’s the Angry Birds developer, FYI) or be a game giant like Nintendo. I think that’s okay. We will try to keep making fun experiences for a variety of people, and let creativity be the guide. If it works, it works. If it doesn’t, we’ll take it as it comes. In the meantime, the journey itself will be rewarding. It already has been, even only two months in.

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