Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

1 December, 2008

Weekend Design Challenge: Commercial viability
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 8:56 AM

This week, we’ll do something that usually isn’t part of design’s job: determine the commercial viability of a proposal. This will be a good exercise for us; it will show some of he considerations that go into this process. Understanding the process is important to knowing what your boss is looking for.

I’m going to select a few projects that have been discussed over the last few weeks and we can discuss potential commercial viability in the comments below.

Here are some of the games previously proposed:

  • From Mrop, a game based on the politics of ancient Rome. The game focuses on player negotiation to accomplish shared goals or to achieve personal success, similar to the classic game Diplomacy.
  • From Bret, a game about running a trendy restaurant while managing resources. The players would be competing with each other to run the best restaurant. (Some extra suggestions were made by Wolfe.)
  • From Rik, a game about operating a hospital. The game employs a “Tragedy of the Commons” theme to the gameplay where players are trying to accomplish their individual goals without destruction of the shared resource (in this case, the hospital).
  • From Aaron, a game of survival horror, where players have to work togehter to achieve common goals to survive the horror.

For this challenge, discuss the potential audience for a game. Try not to rely entirely on personal opinion, but point out what resources for (preferrably low-cost) market research you could use to find information. Also discuss what game elements might be needed to make a game more salable. For this exercise, state what market you are discussing; the default will be assumed to be North America unless otherwise specified.

So, which project would be the most commercially viable?

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  1. In order of commercial viability

    #1 Trendy Restaurant Game – It could appeal to a more casual demographic, the same type that liked the Sims or Cooking Mama if done right. It sets itself in a niche completely apart from existing products. I’d perhaps downplay the competitive nature to prevent alienating the casual market.

    #2 Survival Horror – Proven market ie. Resident Evil, Silent Hill, Lovecraft, and Left 4 Dead is hot right now (suits love copying whatever is hot right now) The small group co-op would be familiar to current players. However I’d worry about how suspense could be held for long periods of time and how the scarcity of resources that is part of the survival genre would translate.

    #3 Hospital – I’d love to rank this as #1 as it seems the most fun to me personally. I adored Theme Hospital and this feels like multiplayer Theme Hospital. But the inclusion of the Tragedy of the Commons element dooms it to a lower spot. It simply screams for greifers. With the consequence free nature of the internet and games in general one cannot expect players to act in rational enlightened self interest which is what this type of game would require to thrive. Allowing players to to simply not contribute to success without directly contributing to failure would help.

    #4 Diplomatic Rome – Niche, to the point of having too small a market to be sustainable. Rome is a specific historic period and while it does have its fans they are no where near as numerous as fantasy or sci-fi while containing as much of not more baggage. You’d have a never ending series of obsessives nitpicking every last detail that did not conform exactly to historic record. This historic constraint prevents making decisions solely for the good of the game or risk alienating one of your most ardent potential player bases. The gameplay is also problematic as you cannot possibly program the full depth of possible diplomatic negotiations. This means that treaties and their enforcement would be left up to the players, an integral part of gameplay perhaps but a nightmare for your support organization. You’d need a small playerbase familiar with one another to combat that problem but that leaves you with a playerbase too small to support your game.

    Comment by Makaze — 1 December, 2008 @ 12:32 PM

  2. Am I remembering right that this is a board game? I appreciate the endorsement, Mazake :) I actually have seen someone drunkenly grief a board game, but I bet it’s not -that- common… ;)

    My thoughts about viability of the four ideas:

    Restaurant Game: People love food, and productive gardens. I think the tileset provides a certain instant appeal. I worry that what I’m picturing in my head has a bit of a steep learning curve, but I think we could have a lot of fun paring it down.

    Survival Horror: I think that this type of game appeals to young males, the problem being that young males are more likely to look for this catharsis in a vector more realistic and immersive than a board game.

    Hospital: Sure to inspire discussion, which could be a plus (if its a bunch of policy wonks or college kids playing) or a minus (if its a politically split family trying to have a game night).

    Diplomatic Rome: I think this tileset has a great history of broad appeal (Caesar I-IV, Rome, etc.) I think we’d want to ask ourselves, “Why Rome?” as opposed to, for example, the Cold War. How are the specifics of Roman diplomacy going to be 1) marketable 2) rapidly grasped by new players. I could definitely see it as instructive about how Republics fall apart, which seems to pique a lot of interest these days (the Star Wars Prequels, V is for Vendetta, etc).

    Another question I think broadly fits into commercial viability is, ‘How much would we have to charge for this game?’ and possibly also, ‘Can it be produced without using non-renewable resources?’

    Comment by Bret — 1 December, 2008 @ 7:44 PM

  3. A quick note.

    Bret wrote:
    Am I remembering right that this is a board game?

    Yes, this is correct.

    Comment by Psychochild — 3 December, 2008 @ 7:37 PM

  4. Makaze said “It simply screams for greifers.” Well, this is not an MMO, this is a few friends or family members sitting down for some fun. Intentionally trying to sink the hospital would be close to kick over the chess board.

    Based on what they stock at my local board game /DnD/ TCG store, I’d say that theme wise Restaurants, Zombies and Hospitals are all good choices. Zombies are the only one that seems present in any competition at all. All four suggested ideas would seem to be at home there, but I do worry that Rome will be the least easy to stand out.

    Then again, with the right art style, any of these could be aimed at a family-fun style or a more serious older game players.

    Comment by Rik — 4 December, 2008 @ 3:19 AM

  5. I admit my idea is the least commercially viable, even though I originally had ideas about changing the setting to something else. The core diplomacy gameplay is hard to sell, even if it takes place in a more popular setting. There are of course some hard-core board gamers, but the casuals hold much of the board game market.

    The restaurant or hospital ideas are the best settings-wise, and the restaurant and zombie games are probably strongest gameplay wise. It seems games that downplay conflict are quite popular, instead focusing on cooperation or “multi-player solitaire”. Of course there is still popular classic games like Risk and Monopoly feature direct conflict as well as player elimination.

    Comment by Mrop — 4 December, 2008 @ 8:02 AM

  6. Weekend Design Challenge: Initial concepts

    [...] Last week, we discussed the commercial viability of different board game projects. This week, like an inscrutable boss, I’m going to pick one project and tell you to work on it. [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild’s Blog — 9 December, 2008 @ 4:11 AM

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