What is the earliest point that the game
designer can interact with the player? It happens when they pick up the box and
read the blurb on the back, or find the game online and read the blurb there. True, this is more marketing than game design, but you
want the customer to pick your game, right? And this choice will be easier if they can be convinced that your game will meet their play needs.
There is an extremely formulaic convention
at use in the videogames industry that dictates that the blurb for a game must
read something like this:
[Statement: “Product identity statement” or “Exciting imperative statement!”]
[Description: Short prose description of the game, usually focussing on either the framing narrative, the atmosphere of the game, or the gameplay description/genre]
[USPs: 3 to 5 unique selling points presented as bullet points]
Consider these three games taken at random:
Resident Evil Zero
- Discover The Root of All Evil
- 23 July 1998. The day before the deadly virus is unleashed upon
- 3 bullet points
Dynasty Warriors 3
- One Warrior Worth a Thousand!
- Battle through vast lands and against impossible odds in KOEI’s newest BATTLEFIELD ACTION game!
- 4 bullet points
- The rolling, sticking, never-stopping ever-swelling clump of stuff that makes a star out of everyone and everything.
- When the King of All Cosmos accidentally destroys all the stars in the sky, he orders you, his pint-sized princely son, to put the twinkle back in the heavens above. How, you ask? By rolling everything and anything on Earth into clumps, so he can replace what’s missing in space.
- 3 points (Pick up everything! You’re already on a roll! Roll over the competition!
(I have lost count of the number of blurbs
like this I’ve had to write!)
You can pick up just about any game in your own collection and spot the same pattern, with very few exceptions.
The only other information given to the
player to help them make up their decision is some basic game data:
- Number of players
- Memory card usage
- Controller restrictions or compatibilities
- Age restrictions
- Publisher logo
Now this is useful information to put on the box, to be sure, but of these five only "number of players" is something that might sway the player into buying. In fact, Memory card usage, controller restrictions and age restrictions are more likely to prevent the player from buying!
I propose that publishers should improve
their conventions for composing box blurbs to include additional information that will
help the player make a positive purchasing decision. In fact, I suggest adapting
some conventions already at use in tabletop gaming.
These icons indicate:
- Suggested player age
- Number of players
- Typical playing time
Now these are excellent guides to the play of the game! Because recommended player age on a board-game is not at all like the age restrictions that are shown on a videogame. Rather, it is a guide as to how hard to learn the game will be – and this is something that players are very interested in.
Equally interesting to players is how long
the game will take to play… A game that takes 3-6 hours to play is only
courting a hobby game audience, but a game that takes only 30-45 minutes to
play has the potential for wider appeal.
I propose that publishers would see a measurable increase in sales if the following additional information were added to all their game boxes and online blurbs:
- Ease of learning expressed as “Suitable for” Beginner, Intermediate or Advanced players (or “Suitable for All players”)
- Difficulty of play as Easy, Medium or Hard (or a list of provided difficulty settings e.g. “Easy, Medium and Hard difficulties”)
- Play time expressed as both a single play session length and the total play time e.g. “30 minutes (10 hours total)”
'Play session length' refers to the length of a typical portion of play, either in terms of the length of an indivisible game activity (such as the typical time between save points) or in terms of a satisfying segment of play. Many Casual players in particular want to play their games for less than 30 minutes a sitting, at least some of the time. Conversely, total playing time is important for many Hardcore players who often feel disappointed if their games are too short. Thinking about play session length would be an entirely new convention for videogame data – but it should catch on easily because it is vitally useful to many players.
Players need help deciding what game to buy – the game blurb should assist by providing information pertinent to individual play needs, along with all the formulaic fluff. And adding data of this kind will also encourage game designers to consider how easy to learn, challenging and quick-playing their games will be – and this, frankly, would be equally beneficial for all concerned.