Wednesday, July 28, 2021

The Business: Normies, Commercial Game Design, and What It Takes To Get Their Money

Today I tell folks who think themselves game designers something too many of them don't want to hear: Normies are not Gamers; Normies don't do Git Gud.

For tabletop game designers, this isn't such a big deal. They are in a realm where they can maintain commercial viability without needing Normiebux most of the time, and as such they can get away with making a game that requires players to rise to a challenge--to put in work--and not to just relax and enjoy a ride with no stakes. Videogame designers, on the other hand, are far more often beholden to Normiebux for success and thus are going to be constrained by the realities of Normie psychology. This is not controversial; Sales, Marketing, and Public Relations are all about exploiting this fact for power and profit- and it is matter-of-fact acknowledged as an aside these days.

We'll get back to that Pareto Distribution Josh mentions below. For now, just note the following; again, those that pay bills exploiting this know it to be true.

  • Normies do not like to work.
  • Normies want to have fun and play.
  • Entertainment is fun.
  • Fun is play.
  • Play is simple, swift, and effortless.
  • Games that are fun are simple, swift, and effortless.
  • Games that do not are work.
  • Work is not fun.
  • Challenge is work.

The net effect is that a game that relies on Normiebux to succeed has a practical ceiling on how hard and how bothersome it can be before they bail on it. The videogame industry, as a whole, has decades of data detailing the abandonment rate of a given title; the reliable pattern is that when there is a sudden (especially unexpected) jump in difficulty--when it starts requiring work--normies always bail. They see videogames as interactive thrill rides, not virtual training sims, and the revealed preference confirms this.

This is, as one should notice, entirely due to Normie expectations of what is fun and what is not. This is not the fault of the Establishment; they didn't have to say or do anything--or not say or do anything--to create this psychology. This is the historical norm of Mankind, so much so that most people--even very intelligent people--tend not to notice it much like fish don't notice water (or we air).

You can make certain genres of videogame that doesn't conform to Normie expectations. You can even be successful, but you will never be popular and thus never have the vast riches that comes from dumptrucks of Normiebux being backed up to your door for entertaining them as they expect. Other genres, however, are far too expensive to create and maintain--MMORPGs, looking at you--to not be anything but Normie-friendly. These genres are the Hollywood blockbusters--megaexpensive tentpoles that generate revenue at least three times their total cost (development+marketing) in returns--and thus are slaved to the Eternal Normie to justify their existence.

What, therefore, does a successful Normie-friendly game look like?

  • You can play it cold (no preparation; you do nothing but sit down to play) and stupid (no outside knowledge; none of this transmedia bullshit, no watching guides, reading forum posts, looking up walkthroughs and so on) and be guaranteed to beat it.
  • You are always told--with all the subtilety of a brick to the face--what to do, how to do it, where to go, and what to expect when you get there. All of this at the level of an average 10 year old child, the Normie norm of literacy in the Civilized World.
  • You set crystal clear expectations of what is required of them, you tell them exactly what will happen if they fuck up, and you never betray those expectations once they are set. None of this "I am altering the deal. Pray that I don't alter it further" bullshit; that is what goes on in Normie minds when they hit sudden difficulty jumps.
  • You never hit them with more than one complication that requires their total focus at one time or in quick succession. Normies do one thing at a time well; don't fuck that up.
  • Fucking up means starting over from the last save point--and you have save points--so that you don't waste their time. Crystal-clear stages in a boss fight are an example of how one should use save points to respect the Normie's time (but rarely do).
  • They are always the center of attention if there is a narrative present in the game, and get all the credit for what is done by the NPCs.
  • At no time are they ever required to go out of their way to learn what they need to know to succeed; if it's not put before them and required of them, they don't do it and never will because that is work.

Start mapping that to failed and failing MMORPGs and you'll see how not catering to Normies is the common element. As a certain California-based MMORPG publisher is finding out the hard way, you can't rely on milking whales to make up for Normie abandonment; it just delays the inevitable. You cannot cater to the hardcore and remain commercially viable in any genre where you have to have Normiebux to survive. You cannot demand work out of them--this is why sandboxes fail so often--and you cannot expect them to delve into doing anything that can't be handled as Normies expect and thus demand: cold and stupid.

Make them do pointless bitchwork long enough, and they'll bail; you aren't entertaining them- you're making them do work. Tell them to Git Gud? Fuck it, they'll quit and go watch Netflix because they can always find something entertaining to watch. Waste their time with pointless timewasting (running back after a wipe when you can just respawn outside the boss's room, respawning trash so you have to clear it again after a given time, etc.) and they'll fuck off for HALO. Keep this up long enough, and you're done; the death-spiral of MMOs are well known by now, so we can tell when the Normies stampede away.

Normies follow leaders that conform to their expectations. This includes entertainment; that Pareto Distribution that Josh mentioned? Those are the most entertaining channels on the platform in question, so they have mostly Normies watching them and that's why advertisers are warming up to those channels now- to get Normiebux. That's why Normie-friendly games (or at least those saying they are) are also warming up to those channels.

Normies want to be entertained. No one that gives Normies what they want goes broke. They never have. They never will. Challenging this is inherently limiting, and therefore is a thing that is only viable in niche genres that thrive on putting in work to succeed. Never demand that a Normie sacrifice or suffer to have a good time; they won't do it.

Therefore, let me sum up what it takes to get and keep Normiebux.

  • Respect Their Time: Don't waste time getting them into the core gameplay. They should be playing the game--the real game--within 60 seconds of reaching the title screen. They should be back in the game as fast as possible after screwing up. They should never be insulted by bitchwork or incentivized to not play; they should always be rewarded for completing the task put to them.
  • Keep It Simple, Stupid: Don't make them go out of their way. Don't overwhelm them with information. Be as a competent father and guide them where they need to go, teaching them what they need to know (and no more) when they need to know it (and no sooner), telling them where they need to go and what they need to do when they get there (and how to do it if it's never been done before). If they fail, they restart as close to their point of failure--in space and in time--as they can get so as to not waste time doing what was already done or going where they already went.
  • Keep It Thrilling: Do not bore them; this is entertainment, and entertainment is both relaxing and exciting. Thrill them, but don't overwhelm them. They are on a ride; see that they suitably excited by it.

Start seeing with this lens and how to win Normiebux quickly becomes apparent to the competent businessman and game designer- and it also becomes apparent which games have already done so. Remember that Normies are not stupid; Normies are children, and every parent knows how smart kids can be at doing what they want to do--what is fun--and how much they work around not doing what they don't.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Anonymous comments are banned. Pick a name, and "Unknown" (et. al.) doesn't count.