Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Game Dev Quote of the Week: The Not-So-Secret Formula For Success Edition

Posted by Rampant Coyote on January 23, 2014

From a bunch of excellent advice from the article, “What Triple-A Developers Could Learn From Indies“:

“With such a great track record of repeated successful titles, the most common question that I get is ‘What is your formula?’ Really it is very simple. Pick a target market that you know well. Understand what they are interested in or what excites them. Then come up with a title that focuses on ONLY those things eliminating as much ‘noise’ as possible. By doing this we are able to make products very cheaply that our fans love. In addition, the things that ARE important we can spend lots of energy focusing on.” – Thomas Steinke, DigitalDNA Games

cmwarfareI have a quote on my wall in my office from Antoine de Saint-Exupery that reads, “Perfect is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.” I learned it from Steve Taylor of NinjaBee / Wahoo Games. It’s a great quote, and one that I should heed more often. It’s not perfectly aligned with Steinke’s quote, but there’s a lot there to consider. It’s not as easy to take out the unimportant stuff as it sounds, sometimes. For one thing, we may not even think of it as being a separable feature anymore – it’s so ingrained into our understanding of the game style. It can require some forced out-of-the-box thinking. For another thing – for every “unimportant” feature you want to rip out, there will be a contingent of your target audience for whom that really is a major feature. Each part you rip out may potentially shrink your target audience. Will you rip out so much that there’s not much audience left? Or will the people who value that feature still be happy with your game in spite of that? While it’s not as easy to follow that simple “formula” as it might sound, it’s good advice. It’s all about focus.

Filed Under: Quote of the Week - Comments: 5 Comments to Read

  • Infinitron said,

    That’s good advice, but at the same time, some of the biggest successes have been games that try to do a bit of everything.

    (One reason you see advice like that more often these days is that the cost of “doing a bit of everything” is much higher than it used to be.)

  • Anon said,

    That’s indeed good advice – for a *b*u*s*i*n*e*s*s*.

    However, I expect more from a game than just “what I love” (=tried and true recipies). I don’t want to be on a diet – I want an opulent smorgasbord of content, even if some parts may not fit perfectly.

    I want noise, I want to be surprised, I want to see that the developers have put their heart into the product – and not just their money-counting minds!

    You may argue that all studios are business and that they perhaps need such advice but if they would really all follow it we would end up with the games that look the same and play the same.

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Maybe we’re interpreting things differently. When he says, “Understand what they are interested in or what excites them,” I don’t see that as being “repeat what has been successful before.” You could very well be targeting a niche that has never been addressed before.

    For example – with old-school, hardcore, western-style RPGs, I can kinda understand what the audience wants because that’s me. But I’m also trying to innovate. I’m trying to do a better job of making “people like me” happy. And to be honest, as a player, I’m not always sure what I want.

    But look what you just said: “I want noise, I want to be surprised, I want to see that the developers have put their heart into the product” — That’s what you want as a player, as an audience. Why can’t I address that desire as a game developer?

  • Anon said,

    > Why can’t I address that desire as a game developer?

    Of course you can – when you wear the “developer who loves games”-hat and not the “developer who just follows advices to maximize profit”-cap.

    And just to be sure: I’m not addressing you personally, Jay! I don’t have the slightest doubt that you are one of the “good guys”. 🙂

    But I have seen so many RPGs – especially on consoles – that appear to be strictly made by formula. Even if the studios utilitized people that love games they whole product just came across as a stale concoction.

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I reduced the amount of triple-A titles I play…

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    NP, I did not take it as a personal criticism at all, don’t worry.

    I think it was probably a case of both of us reading the same thing, and it reflecting our own experiences. I’ve virtually abandoned triple-A gaming for quite some time now, and been so neck-deep in the indie thing that when I read that sentence, I see it talking about what I’m striving for (and often failing, admittedly) as a developer – trying to really understand what my audience really wants.

    But I’ve been there in the AAA world, and literally had a marketing director tell my manager (back in the day when Microsoft was producing / publishing some very popular games) just to make a cheap knock-off clone of whatever Microsoft was making. Most of the other folks giving the company “guidance” were simply repeating the features of the most recent hit games.

    That was one of my big frustrations with the industry – and my fellow game developers felt the same way. We would ask ourselves, *How* did these guys get their jobs, and what are we paying them for? I mean, we game devs could rattle off the hit games from memory, and knew their features and what made them cool because we’d PLAYED them, not because we’d studied market research papers. And we could explain something the marketing guys couldn’t – *why* the features were so cool and so popular.