Broadening your Audience - It Can be the Death of you

It is tough being in the gaming industry, even more so as of the last few years. With several notable game studios going under, such as THQ and Zipper Interactive, and other companies barely staying afloat, like Capcom, it is becoming more and more obvious that bad business decisions affect these companies. One thing you hear often from developers now is the idea of “broadening your audience”. Why is it they are trying so hard to appeal to more people?

When you look toward why so many companies and developers want to appeal to more people it makes a lot of sense, on not just a business aspect but as a game developer as well. As a business, you want your products to sell and gain substantial profit and increase your company’s popularity. As a game developer, you really want your work out there. game developers are artists and as an artist you want your as many people to experience your creations as possible (ask our Chief Editor, Jerome). With that being said, you can see why broadening the appeal of your games is a big deal, but at what costs are you willing to pay for such mass appeal?

It’s no secret that Call of Duty is one of the best selling franchises throughout the 7th generation and is still selling. It is one of the biggest examples of a game that is able to grab mass appeal with an extremely broad audience. Due to its success, other developers have tried to mimic the Call of Duty formula in order to gain that appeal. Who can really blame them? With it’s yearly releases that bring nothing new to the scene, Call of Duty has developers green with envy because of it’s mass appeal with very little creativity. Every Call of Duty title sells millions, except on Nintendo platforms, and it’s extremely disappointing to see your title, which you worked so hard on, be overshadowed by Call of Duty.

Some games are meant for mass appeal. Some titles serve niches they only they can fill, and by attempting to broadening the spectrum of those titles, they lose their initial core audience. Zipper Interactive is an example of them trying to broaden the appeal toward their tactical shooter SOCOM. Doing so destroyed the success of the PlayStation 2 titles. The dedicated fans hated everything about the game and they failed to even keep new players for long. Shortly afterwards, Sony shut them down. Guerilla Games is another game studio who has failed to appease the masses by trying to obtain a broader audience. It is evident in Killzone 3 they tried to go more into the Call of Duty route while there might be some changes people would prefer the overall changes made a weaker multiplayer experience compared to 2. With the second iteration they may have drove off the Call of Duty people, but with the 3rd iteration they even lost the core fans that came with the second game. In the end, the product is easily seen as and feels like less of a product. The online community even dwindled away at a quicker rate as the dedicated fans didn’t like the changes, so they either went back to the previous game or went on to a different game altogether and the newcomers most likely just came, played, then left for the next big game on the market or Call of Duty.

Not that broadening your audience can’t work, it just has to be done in such a fashion so that the games feel like a full product. Most of the time it never feels that way, as a developer tries to appeal forcefully toward a specific crowd and their game loses its identity. Plenty of games have become victim of this and they don’t even feel worth the 60 bucks you paid for it. This is why I am excited to see Guerilla Games work on a new IP because with a fresh game they might not worry on trying to broaden the audience of that title.  Even with their latest installment, Killzone: Shadow Fall, they still tried to go for wider audience, although I believe they knew not to go full force into it. Despite that, it still seems they failed to hit their mark they made back with Killzone 2 in quality. That is why my message to developers is to stick to what you wholeheartedly want to make! I’d rather you make something with your personality in it rather than to force yourself to gear toward people that you won’t know will like your game. If you make the game you want without being under pressure of others you will find your own dedicated fan base that will love each and every installment as long as you make them to your accord. You will earn much more respect by not only me but other gamers as long as you stick to what you envisioned!