A Marketing Lesson On How To Attract Non Gamers Without Dumbing Down, Or Making Your Game Easier
So, this is what you got to do, right?... Get a publisher who will do some advertising for you, and help you attract more non-gamers to buy and play your game. Right?
Or, you have to do what other game devs do, and streamline your game so combat and controls are super easy. Maybe even start making mobile games? That seems to be where all non-gamers are going. Right?
Well, what if you don't have a publisher... or even want one? What if you don't have thousands of dollars for marketing and advertising? And what if you don't want to dumb-down your game, or make mobile games, just to attract non-gamers?
And what's the benefit to attracting non-gamers to buy and play your indie game, anyway?
This is what you'll discover after you read this article. You're going to learn a new insight about how to attract non-gamers to buy your indie game.
You're going to learn a huge benefit why it's important to attract non-gamers -- even if you're main focus is to make games for hard-core gamers.
And you're going to get an action plan you can use to execute all these new ideas you're about to learn.
Go grab your favorite beverage. Get comfortable. Sit back, and let's learn something new that will help you make more money as an indie game dev...
The Battle Isn't Between You and Other Video Games or Other Media, The Battle Is Between You and This...
It's obvious that there's a lot of new video games coming out every week. And this is who you are mainly competing with.
And you're also indirectly competing with other media like movies, TV, and sports. You also have indirect competition from media like e-sports and gaming podcasts, videos, and streams.
That's not the battle here.
The battle is between you and the mind of the person. Let me explain, and that vague sentence will makes sense...
People Will Pay A Lot of Money To Save Work, Discomfort, Worry, Doubts, Risk, and Embarrassment
I just said that the battle is between you and the mind of the person. The real competition isn't between you and other games and media, it's between you and the mind.
What does that mean? How will this help you sell more copies of your video game to non-gamers?
What I'm about to tell you is what Steam, Apple, NetFlix, and mobile games do to attract people who would not normally buy their stuff.
Steam built a system where it was a lot easier to buy a game than to pirate a game. Same with Netflix. It's a lot easier to browse for a movie or TV show, than it to pirate or even use cable and network TV.
Remember, people will do more to avoid a problem than to work to gain a benefit.
What I mean is, it's a lot more WORK for a person to pirate a game or movie, than it is to buy it off Steam or Netflix. Even though it's free, it's a lot more work. And people will always pay more for convenience than work for something and get it free.
Of course, not all people do this. Some people will find cheaper ways to get something. Some people still use tap water. It's free. But a lot of people buy bottled water because it's more convenient to them.
It's the same with Apple. Their design made it so easy to use their computers, that I always recommend somebody who has never touched a computer to buy an Apple. They are made so anybody can jump in and use them.
So, what am I really talking about?
This is what mobile games hit upon. It's a lot more convenient to jump into a mobile game than it is to play an indie game. Mobile games attract non-gamers because mobile games don't have a road block like most indie games have.
What do I mean by a "road block"?
You have to remember, a gamer brings in a history of knowledge of how to play certain games. And this history of gaming has let you and I have an intuition of how to play games.
For example, I don't have to learn WSAD whenever I have to play a new game. I know that "E" is to open doors. "F" is sometimes flashlight, or sometimes to pay for respects.
You get what I mean.
But now put yourself in the mind of a non-gamer. The basics like player movement that you and I take for granted is a HUGE barrier to entry for non-gamers.
They have no idea of concepts like what side-quest is... what looting is... what leveling up is... that you can die in water... that you have to talk to certain people to get more of the story... that games are not linear like movies... that you're allowed to explore.
There's a lot of tropes in video games that you and I take for granted. But for non-gamers they have to learn all these tropes. And this "work" is why most non-gamers gravitate to mobile games that are less work.
To a non-gamer, learning all this stuff is WORK. It leads to embarrassment. It leads to discomfort.
The mind of the non-gamer is saying things like...
"Why struggle, when I can just put on Netflix, or go watch a NBA game? Why work for my entertainment?".
You see what I mean? What is intuitive to you and I, are huge barriers to non-gamers. And that's because they have to work to learn game mechanics, game-play, story lines, the concept of open worlds, the concept of puzzles, etc.
This is why mobile games attract non-gamers. Non-gamers don't have to work to get enjoyment out of mobile games. Even hard-core gamers are playing more and more mobile games.
Again, your indie game is batting for the mind. People are attracted to what is convenient, what doesn't take work, what doesn't lead to embarrassment, what doesn't make them uncomfortable.
This is how Apple made their billions. They simply made computers more convenient to use. Hardcore PC users don't mind tinkering around with drivers, with hardware, with software. For the non-techy people, this is work for them. So Apple builds computers so the user doesn't have to deal with all the geeky stuff. It's a lot easier to jump on a Mac, and literally click ONE button, and start using the computer. Better yet, why not have the person TOUCH the screen, and just get rid of the mouse and keyboard.
So, what does this have to do with your indie game? How does knowing this help you sell your game to non-gamers? And why care about having non-gamers play your game?
Let me show you that next...
The Biggest Problem For Gamers and Non-Gamers Isn't Money... It's Time
Netflix, Apple, Steam, mobile games, AAA games, all do one thing important: they respect the person's time.
That's the main goal in making something more convenient. It's about helping somebody save time and effort.
However, most game devs don't think this way when developing a game and a story. And it's hurting their sales.
And it's not just non-gamers not buying. But it's gamers also who are not buying.
And if they do buy, and the game doesn't respect their time, they don't finish the game.
I imagine how much work goes into a game. How many hours a day you sacrifice to make a game you'd love to play... and hope that thousands of other gamers would love to play, too.
And when you realize that the average play time of your game is 2 to 4 hours, that would be hard to deal with. That's because your work, your art, isn't being appreciated to the full end.
But the game devs who do respect a person's time, will have more gamers play their game to the end.
And this is why it's important to make games that attract non-gamers. If you can solve the problems that non-gamers have, you will solve most of the problems hard-core gamers have.
Gamers don't have time to play all the games that are coming out. They don't even have time to finish their favourite games.
And this is more than just having a gamer appreciate your game to the full end. It's about building a die-hard fan of your FUTURE games.
It's going to be the game devs who start designing games with respect to people's time that will start selling more and more copies. Games that are designed to save a person's time, effort, and worry, will be the ones that not only will attract non-gamers, but will also attract hard-core gamers.
How? How does "respecting a gamer's time" mean you'll attract non-gamers (and even hard-core gamers)?
Let me show exactly that next...
How To Get More Non-Gamers To Play Your Indie Game in Three Easy Steps...
Whoever makes something MORE convenient than the other guy, will get the customer.
It's more convenient to buy games from Steam than it is to pirate. It's more convenient to watch Netflix than it is to watch network TV. It's more convenient to play mobile games than it is to play PC games.
Convenience is a huge selling point to people who would not normally buy your product. And AAA game and publishers know this. They know that to grab non-players, they have to make the game more convenient than any other type of medium.
Remember, people will pay a lot of money to save work, discomfort, worry, doubts, risk, and embarrassment.
Also, this is a battle for your mind. Your mind is bombarded all day with ways you can spend your time. And you don't have much time to do it all. Watch Netflix or play a game? Play a PC game or play a mobile game? The mind is bombarded, and it usually takes the path of least resistance.
So, let me show you 3 steps on how to make your game convenient so it attracts non-gamers. And I'm not talking about dumbing down your game. I'm not talking about making your game easier. I'm not talking about making mobile games.
There's more subtle ways to make your game convenient to non-gamers. Here's how...
Step One: Teach Them Power Chords First, Not Complicated Scales
Here's an analogy...
In guitar, it's easy to learn power chords. Even if you've never played guitar, I can show you a power chord, and in 7 minutes you can be playing a melody that sounds good.
But if I tried to explain to you what a pentatonic scale is, and had you try to work on your timing and accuracy, then you'd bounce off.
Playing power chords is a lot more fun than learning scales. And as you start playing more and more, you'd want to start "geeking" out more. You'd get tired of easy power chords, and you'd want to learn more complicated techniques like scales.
Remember, the goal is to respect the gamers time. Anything that require work or effort is going to have non-gamers bounce off your game fast, and never come back.
One of the best ways to get a non-gamer to jump into your game, and start instantly reward them is to show them the "power chords" of your game.
So, what do I exactly mean? Let me show you an example...
Super Meat Boy's first chapter is cleverly designed to show off the "power-chords" of the game. Most game devs recognize that your first level is a great way to hide a tutorial. It's what Super Mario is known for.
But what's not so obvious about doing this, is that the first level actually shows off the BEST parts of the game. In less than 7 minutes, the gamer understand the mechanics, and understands what's fun about the game.
As the gamer progresses, the game gets harder and more complicated. But the first level is a entry to let non-gamers understand the mechanics and WHY they should be playing.
And that's the main purpose of the first level: to show the non-gamer WHY they should keep playing.
I know you know this. I know that no matter how complicated your game is, it's important to have some sort of tutorial or level.
But a lot of game devs don't know this. And they still make this big mistake. They either have a boring tutorial. Or they don't hide a tutorial in the first level, and make it fun.
And that's because game devs are GOOD at their game. Most game devs feel that the game is too easy as it is, and they forget that new gamers haven't played 980 hours of the game.
Remember, non-gamers will bounce off the minute they have to work. Any moment they feel embarrassed or they feel discomfort, they're done. They'll go play more "accessible" games.
When you lead with boring "scales", you're going to lose their interest. Show them the "power chords" first, to get them emotionally hooked.
Let's keep going, this will make more sense in step two...
Step Two: Remove Any Repeating Content, and Streamline The Course
If you ever played Witcher 1, you know what I'm talking about here. Most people who did play this game, play it for the story. Plus, the game has some great environmental design. Little things like NPC's going under shelter when it starts raining made the world feel alive.
But, boy, is it janky and also a grind fest that takes away the immersion of the story. You're going along with the story. But you realize that you're not leveled enough to progress, so you got to stop the story line, and start grinding. I remember reading that one of the biggest mistakes the devs made was that the gamer had to grind to level up.
But they learned their lesson. Witcher 2 was more "accessible" to more gamers because it got rid of any repeating content. You no longer had to grind. Grinding didn't break the course of the game and story. Also, you no longer had a combat system that was clunky and janky.
And then in Witcher 3, they streamlined the course for the gamer even more. What I mean is, even the side quests felt part of the bigger narrative. It didn't feel like you had to go do these side quests so your so leveled up that the main story line was easier to deal with.
These little subtle changes where they got rid of repeating content, is how they made the game "accessible". They didn't make the game eiser. They didn't dumb it down. They made the game for efficient to help the gamer progress through the story. And they made it more efficient for the gamer to level up.
So, what are some example of how to remove any repetitive content? Let me show you...
What happens when a gamer dies? What do they have to do to get back to where they were? Dark Souls made dying efficient. You didn't have to start back with nothing. You were motivated to go back and grab your Souls. It made dying a rewarding experience because they made delayed gratification as convenient as possible. Yeah, it sucked that you had to go through the entire level again, and battle the same monsters again. But the second and third time you had to do it, it was more efficient.
Another example of getting rid of repeating content is...
Add the ability to pause and save your progress anywhere. I know you know this. But some game devs still don't get it. Most gamers are parents now. Most game at lunch. Most play 1 hour at night. They need to put the controller or keyboard down at some point. They can't game all night like they use to. Making it easier for the gamer to stop whenever THEY want to is important for them. Even if they have check points, this is an inefficiency that adds up. Checkpoints add friction to the game. This is why most console games basically save your game where you're at. They even got RID of the whole entire save system. You don't have to worry about long checkpoints AND save systems.
Another example of getting rid of repeating content is...
Unskippable cut scenes. Again, I know you know this. But a lot of game devs know this, too, yet they still do it.
I Playing Hyper Light Drifter. And wanted to start over. I had to watch the intro again. That's when I turned it off. I know. It sounds irrational. But at that moment, I said "fuck it, I'm already irritated, I want don't to watch this again..."
I'll go back to the game, sure. But it's been 2 weeks, and I have no interests to go back yet.
I know, it's irrational. But a little roadblock like that will cause gamers to bounce off, fast. Now think of a non-gamer. Any sort of friction like unskippable cut-scenes are not respecting a gamer's time.
Again, the goal is to make the course of your game as efficient as you can. It's not about dumbing-down your game. It's not about making your game as simple as possible. And it's not making your game shorter.
You still can have a 60+ hour game -- and still make it efficient, and respect the gamers time.
It's about removing any inefficiencies that get in the way of the gamers progress. Unskippable screens, long checkpoints, repetitive actions the gamer has to do after they die, even grinding. There are all frictions that will cause the gamer to bounce off -- irrational or not.
Witcher 3, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of The Wild, even Dark Souls are long games -- but all respect the gamers time. And they do this by getting rid of repetitive content that get's in the way of the course the game takes in the game.
There is a better way to design a game that respects the gamers time. And the best way is to remove any repetitive content that will cause the gamer to bounce off, and play something else or watch something else... to never come back to your game.
Step 3: Come Up With a Phrase That Explains What Your Game Is and WHY Somebody Who Knows Nothing About Video Games, Should Play It
In indie game marketing, words are your most important tools. How you describe something is more important that what you're describing.
For example, "death tax" vs. "estate tax". The stuff that you owe, will be taxed when somebody else gets it when you die. The two phrases describe the SAME thing. But the description is more important than what the actual thing is. When you hear "estate tax", it doesn't emotionally hook you. But the phrase "death tax", you instantly know what it is. It conjures up unfairness, and something you can't avoid.
My point is, it's the same thing when you describe your video game...
What's a Souls-like? Is Hyper Light Driver a "souls-like"? It's hard. It has atmosphere. And a lot of people give it the term "souls-like" to explain it. However, some gamers call it a "souls-lite".
If it's hard for you and I, as gamers, to come up with a good explanation, then what is non-gamer is going through?
Think about it. When a non-gamer finds a game, and reads that Hyper Light Drifter is a Souls-like, they have no clue what the hell that means.
It's like saying "estate tax". It's too ambiguous. It can mean a lot of things.
How are they suppose to be emotionally hooked by an abstract word like "Souls-like". Even if they heard that term, they probably never played Dark Souls, and understand that term completely.
Little things like that will stop a non-gamer from being interested in a game. It's these irrational reasons why non-gamers stay away from gaming.
To make your game more "accessible" (without making your game easier, shorter, dumbed-down), a better strategy is to be more concrete, and clear on what your game is.
Like saying "death tax". That is more concrete and clear than "estate tax".
So, what if instead, Hyper Light Drifter was explained as...
"A 2d, role playing game where you explore an atmospheric, pixel-art, world. Controls are easy to learn, but the game will challenge you."
Put yourself in the mind of a non-gamer. And remember, it's a battle for your mind. If you are vague about what your game is, then it's going to be hard to be get a non-gamer's attention.
The more concrete, tangible, measureable you are in explaining what your game is, and why it's fun, will grab a non-gamers attention.
Even terms like "2d" and "RPG" are vague to a non-gamer.
With my example above, I'd go even more detailed and concrete, and explain Hyper Light Drifter as...
"Explore an atmospheric pixel-art world. Discover new secrets. Controls are easy to learn. The challenge is hard but also addicting."
Terms like "2d", "Souls-like", "RPG", "FPS", are meaningless to non-gamers. They may attract you and I. But like I said before, you and I have a history of video games.
We bring in years experience we take for granted. We understand tropes, and we get them.
What I mean is, non-gamers don't know what we know. And if we start talking to non-gamers in abstract terms and ideas, they're going to bounce off.
Again, simple communication is better because it's LESS work for the non-gamer. And when you are clear about what your game is, you're doing all the work for them. The non-gamer doesn't have to learn new phrases, tropes, words.
By being clear and simple in your communication, a non-gamer will intuitively know what your game is and why it's fun to play.
Here's Your Main Takeaway, and What You Learned From This Article...
Remember, people want to SAVE time, work, discomfort, worry, doubts, risks, embarrassment.
These irrational reasons is what stops non-gamers from trying out new games, especially indie games.
AAA games know this. They know that non-gamers biggest obstacle to get into gaming is "accessibility". So they dumb-down the game. They streamline the course so gamers can get an instant reward. They make the game easier. They make the game shorter.
But, that's NOT the only way to make your indie game "accessible". You don't have to resort to those practices and "water-down" your game.
A better strategy is these three things...
- Start off with a bang. A non-gamers first experience with your game should show them how easy the controls are, and WHY they should keep gaming. Things like a long-tutorial or a long intro are obstacles. I know these are irrational reasons to not play a game. But to non-gamers these are enough for them to bounce off, and maybe go watch Netflix
- Remove any repeating content, and streamline the course for the gamer. I'm not talking about making the game shorter or easier. I'm talking about removing any inefficiencies that cause the game to do "busy work". Respect the gamers time.
- Don't be abstract when describing your game. When you write about your game, make youtube videos, podcasts, be clear and tangible. Non-gamers won't even bother with your game if they can't understand what your game is and why it's fun. If you can't clearly communicate what your game is and why it's great, then an non-gamer won't take the time to do so, either.
So, before you go, I want you to do a simple 15 minute exercise. Learning concepts, and ideas is one thing. But when you put those ideas into action, that's when you actually learn.
Go grab a clean piece of paper, and a pen. Or open a new word document.
On the top, write down this questions:
- What is your game?
- Why is it fun?
- Why is it great?
Simple questions, hey? But not so easy to answer. My goal here is for you to discover a NEW insight about your game that you've never thought of before.
I also want you to be as clear and as tangible as you can.
Remember, non-gamers first impression of your game will be an explanation of your game. If a game dev can't explain why their game is fun, and what it is, then they've lost that non-gamer.