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Indie developers often think of their target group as "gamers". But is this too narrow-minded or are "traditional gamers" still a valid target group in the current gaming industry?

George Portman, Blogger

February 12, 2016

4 Min Read

This article was originally written by George Portman for Marketing Theory.

Marketing and game development have one common denominator: the target group. The target group dictates what will be in your game, and the target group will dictate how you market your game. Making a sports game for horror fans won’t work. Marketing a horror game to sports fans won’t work either. So having an idea of who you’re developing a game for is extremely important for the marketer as well.

However, a lot of indie studios I know just go and decide to make a game. This produces a lot of games that are well designed and a lot of fun. But asking them about who they’re developing a game for is usually met with “uhm, gamers”. Maybe they’ll have an idea of the age range they’re trying to appeal to, or maybe they’ll have thought about the places these people live and the languages they speak. It’s always “gamers” though.

This is a very hard definition to work with, both as a developer and as a marketer. Since indie developers often take on both roles, this adds extra complexity to an already extremely competitive market. “Gamers” as a target group is just far too broad. Housewives across the world play Candy Crush. They can be considered gamers. Sports fans buy EA Sports games, but they won’t necessarily consider themselves gamers. A “gamer” is hard to define because so many people play games nowadays, just like it’s hard to define a “TV-lover” or a “film-lover”.

In the 80’s and early 90’s, when gaming was considered mostly as a childeren’s thing, a toy, “gamers” was a feasible target group. These gamers hung out in arcades, had a console at home and played games in their spare time. Gaming was a new thing, and as such there weren’t a lot of gamers. The ones that existed had a lot in common, making “gamers” a feasible target group to market to.

Gamers played games because they liked gaming. That sounds extremely obvious, but it’s only rarely the case nowadays. Of course this “traditional gamer” stil exists. But far more often than not, people buy and play games that appeal to them thematically. Football/soccer fans play EA’s FIFA games. Not because it’s a good-looking and accessible game, but because they can play with their favourite sports teams and lead them to victory. Crusader Kings II by Paradox Interactive is notoriously difficult, but has sold over one million copies according to SteamSpy. The thematic appeal outweighs the incredible difficulty curve.

These kind of people don’t care how well a game is designed. These people don’t read about games on IGN or Gamespot. These people play the game because it looks cool. It’s the same in the movie industry. Of course there’s people who will watch every single Academy Award winning film because they’re good movies. But far more often, people go to a movie because it looks cool. You’re into superheroes? You probably loved the Avengers. You like dinosaurs? Jurassic World probably appealed to you. Science fiction fan? You’ve probably seen the latest Star Wars. Not because they won so many awards or because critics said they were amazing films, but because it looked cool.

This is why it’s important to think of your target group beforehand. If your game is good, it’s going to appeal to the people who play games because they like games. But don’t market your game to only that group. Your game has a theme. If it’s a game with zombies, you’ll appeal to horror fans. Find out where you can reach out to them and market your game accordingly. If your game is a word-based puzzle game, people who play crossword puzzles might like it. Market it to those people. My father used to play a game where you fix cars and sell them. He wouldn’t consider himself to be a gamer even in the broadest sense of the word, but he likes fixing cars, so the game still appealed to him.

Many indie developers have a hard time marketing their game, which is understandable if your target group is only “gamers”. Looking at your game and finding out who it may appeal to, will help you better direct your marketing efforts towards people who are more likely to buy it based on the theme of your game. They won’t mind if your game doesn’t support the latest HD graphics or how many achievements they can get. They’ll play your game as long as it’s about something they really like a lot.

As always, I hope this was useful to you! Comments, e-mail and Tweets are as always encouraged if you want to show your support, hate or anything else. See you next time!

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