J.K. Riki

The Hard Parts of GameDev: Failed Design

Today I am going to share a lament, for I am feeling disappointed. (There is a lesson to learn here, though, and so a silver lining glistens on the cloud hovering over me.)

As I mentioned in a previous post, our second Weekend Panda game is a big departure from our first (The Death of Mr. Fishy). It has a completely different audience in mind.

Unfortunately yesterday I presented an almost-complete demo of the new game to the target audience, and it failed horribly. They were not engaged, they did not have fun, and they could not even figure out how to play in spite of my doing my absolute very best to refine and refine the small tutorial on the first level. What I thought was elegantly designed was, it turns out, not understood by the player.

This happens in game development, and it is why testing is so important. I’ve experienced this before, and you get a lot of great feedback and data from such tests. The problem is, this does not seem to be an issue of design as a problem of mechanics.

Even after a full explanation, the player did not grasp the core mechanic of the game. Over and over they tried to complete levels in other ways, like turning the phone sideways as if the game had motion controls (the game does not have motion controls, no matter how many times they tried this, and they tried MANY times). In spite of Level 6 having a completely hand-holding tutorial on how to move a certain object, when faced with Level 7 that used the exact same thing to move the exact same object, the player did not know how to solve Level 7.

It was so disheartening.

What I have come to realize is that the game I designed for a particular audience is simply a bad game for that audience. That audience does not want this game. What that audience wants is Candy Crush. Not a variation of the concept of Candy Crush even, but exactly what Candy Crush is. Maybe with cat faces instead of candy pieces. Nothing more, nothing less. That audience does not have the thing inside many gamers that draws you to explore and learn new tricks to solve puzzles and achieve well-earned victories. That audience is fully and entirely content with Candy Crush.

And that’s okay. Everyone needs to find what is fun for them. It just puts me in a difficult position.

If I ever want to create an experience that is fun to that audience, I will have to make a Candy Crush clone. If I do not want to make a Candy Crush clone (and I mostly do not, because it already exists in 100,000 forms across the app store, so I see little reason to) then I will never reach that audience. This is what I am faced with today, and I am sad because of it.

I am sad because I really thought I was making something with Game 2 that this other audience would find fun. I don’t make games to be popular or make money (though at some point I must make some money or have to quit this job) but to give people fun experiences. I believe that’s the point of video games. That I failed to do this with Game 2 and this audience was heartbreaking for me.

We will still forge ahead with Game 2. Some people will still find it fun (I certainly do!). But it will not be the people in my life I purposefully designed this game for, unfortunately. That audience, who also didn’t like Mr. Fishy, will remain outside our scope once again. My best, it seems, was not good enough.

1 Comment

  1. momom

    Well as a part of the test market…I certainly found myself wanting to play Game 2 and share some of the tips i learned with others. It IS fun once you understand so possibly instructions early on for those of us that need them and know the “story” of the game —-
    We all know I was hesitant and confused the first time, but became creative in my own way to find solutions. Isn’t that a bit what life is about? Not always one right answer as we make decisions. And maybe not one target market too.

    It is very cute and fun and I like it! So my vote is to learn from the ‘focus group’ as you tweak and enjoy the journey…..


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