Mar 15, 2011

The Only Player That Matters

Josh Williams's picture
Josh Williams
Director, Product Strategy

There is, according to a recent PopCap survey, only one gamer that matters. One gamer that companies should focus on, especially in the social and casual games space. The 43-year-old woman. That’s it. That’s all that matters. Okay, that’s not really it, but that survey added emphasis to ongoing discussions around what social games are and should be.

Not surprisingly there was an entire GDC session dedicated to the 43-year-old woman, called “Designing Games for the 43-Year-Old Woman.“ And it was one of my favorite sessions of the conference. The presenter, Chris Trottier, is a game designer at Zynga who also happens to be of the demographic in question, so she knows what she’s talking about. She presented an insightful, tangible list of top turn-ons and turn-offs that game designers should keep in mind when designing for what one attendee called "women of a certain age, who’ve exercised their biological imperative."

The deal breakers:

  1. Don’t make them work to play. Don’t ask for payment, installs, updates, or anything else that causes friction. Just let them play!
  2. Intense eye-hand coordination.
  3. Dude fiction.
  4. Rigid timing. Free time is unpredictable, or as Trottier said, “There’s no such thing as 7:30pm.”
  5. Pinkness. Everything in pink.
  6. Stuck points. Getting stuck on something for this audience just means they’ll bail. And probably won’t be back.
  7. Strangers.
  8. Gadgetry. Unusual or unfamiliar hardware requirements or interactions.
  9. The mere scent of a right/wrong choice.
  10. 3D camera. They’re confusing, no matter how good you think you’ve made your camera control.


  1. Real world value. Time spent on themselves is already viewed as a guilty pleasure, so if they feel like there’s a real value coming out of their interactions—like reconnecting with friends via the social network—it increases their enjoyment and appreciation.
  2. Help them express themselves.
  3. Keep evolving. Have the same familiar core, but with new twists.
  4. Real world fantasy. I don’t want to be an Orc or an alien, I want to be me. “My avatars look like me… but with a full-time stylist!”
  5. Reflects their people; their friends and family.
  6. Big deal milestones. Fictional meaning can be just as important as functional.
  7. Wanting, getting, having. Wanting is nice. Wanting and getting is better. And not just a trophy or a badge…
  8. Satisfying core action(s). The activity itself should be satisfying, not just the reward it yields.
  9. Simple pleasures.
  10. Make it nice to touch. Make it appealing.

And I just realized that she went through this list more as a countdown, so really the top deal breaker is the 3D camera, and the top turn-on is making something nice to touch.

My other takeaway is that for many of these concepts you could replace the word “game” with “experience” because the ideas are completely applicable to the design work we do at Hot. And that goes for many other concepts I’ve heard people are talking about at GDC.

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