Part 2 of 10: Marketeritis [previous parts]
Marketeritis is the unspoken assumption that the audience consists of passive consumers.
Hence you cannot expect them to adapt. By extension, you cannot convince them; you can only manipulate their habits and urges. Marketers commit to this mode of thought when they insist your next game is a First Person Shooter about Space Marines saving Half-Naked Chicks from Mutated Zombie Nazis. But they’re not the only ones guilty.
The ugliest face of Marketeritis is the fear of anything that involves encouraging players to act on their own. They wouldn’t get it, anyway.
One project I worked on was a First Person Shooter with flying enemies in it. They would move reasonably fast while trying to stay close. One of basic design challenges with regard to this kind of enemy is that it does not stay in front of player. In case there are enemies on the ground as well, player needs to control two different areas, which they usually cannot see at the same time, because their field of vision is too narrow.
Hence a problem with our early prototype: there were two or three huge rocks near the player; flying enemy would pass by the player, then fly behind one of the rocks. Player would lose track of it at that point. Then, the enemy would fly from the other side of the rock and attack the player - usually without warning, because it wasn't making any sounds yet.
Essentially, what you need to do in a case like this is develop some way for the player to quickly find where the flying enemy is. Players are not stupid, but they’re not telepaths, either, so you need to keep giving them information. Your mileage may vary, but some basic tricks involve giving the enemy a distinct sound, putting it on a predictable trajectory, giving it a trail of smoke, or even giving the player a perceptive sidekick.
The solution we chose was to remove the huge rocks, so there would be no conceivable way for the enemy to be obscured by anything. Instead of making the challenge fair, we got rid of it, because we assumed players would not get it. Then we concentrated on making sure the flying enemy looked and sounded cool, because consumers dig shiny stuff that goes kaboom.
We just blamed players for our design problem; we didn't even try to solve it. Our game was made poorer as a result. Flying enemies would hover in one spot most of the time, so not only would the encounters be simplistic; they would also be all alike.
Designer’s marketeritis is a downward spiral, because every time something doesn’t work, you end up cutting something. It’s the KISS principle gone wrong. Novel ideas die first, because when a generic footman enemy doesn’t work, you may want to tweak it, but you don’t think there’s an inherent problem with it. Everybody knows generic footmen work, because there are already a million games with generic footmen in them.
Lesson learned: Game is a language. Your prototype doesn’t work? It’s not player’s failure to “get it”. It’s your failure to communicate.