When I've been thinking about games lately, I've been thinking about how within your audience they can be a very vocal minority who drives the support of the game. They are the players who, because of one aspect or mechanic of your game, cannot get enough of the rest of it and must tell everybody that they know what a great game it is.
I want to list some non-traditional archetypes of players and the ways that we can build games with them in mind, with the end goal of having a strong and dedicated player-base by just tweaking or adding one design feature in our games.
Engine builders look at a game and look for all the ways they can optimize it. They look for the items, cards, mechanics or attacks that work together in a positive way, things that build on top of each other, things that might not have been designed in parallel but work together in really interesting ways. They are the ones who look for the fastest way they can go from start to finish - without breaking any of the rules. Engine builders thrive on games where they have control over their powers and abilities and games where they can construct their actions/turn. These are the players who post optimal builds for RPGs, who spend more time planning then playing the game, who will ask for the exact number of cards for a card game to know the exact probabilities.
Examples of games built for Engine-Builders: Dominion, SpaceChem, RPGs with complex item abilities
How can we make a game for them/tweak our game?: Look at how the pieces of your game are interacting. How much do they interact? Does the player have the ability to control and influence how they work together? If there's an easy way to tweak it so the player has more control or if your items can be more connected, that can be an easy way to get the Engine-Builder to love your game.
The Mad Scientists
Mad Scientists break a game just by looking at it. They not always trying to break the game, but they relish when they do. They push the limits of the items, they do things in the games that they really are not supposed to do. They look at a puzzle and solve it in a way you never thought possible - no matter how long it takes them. These players thrive in possibility space, in emergent gameplay, in freedom and options. They will play a game without a weapon, just to see if it's possible. The Mad Scientist doesn't care if they win or lose, they take pleasure in just playing the game and pushing the limits. These are the players who find the obscure strategies, who make crazy decks in card games that should not work but shockingly do, who break your game again and again.
Examples of games built for the Mad Scientist: Slime Rancher, Spelunky, The Magic Circle, Deck-building games with large card databases.
How can we make a game for them/tweak our game?: Think about the number of options players have in your game. How many ways can players solve problems in your game? Instead of removing unintended solutions, consider supporting them and making them into feature or mechanics in your game. Instead of placing limits on what players can do, give them the freedom to solve/do things in their own way. Reward them for doing the unthinkable or the improbable - even just with an achievement.
the a e s t h e t e s
The aesthetes don't play a game - they experience the software and allow their senses to be washed over by your creation. They will play a game just to look at the landscapes, with no concern or regard for the gameplay or mechanics. They live on the characters, the narratives, the world that you have created - they interact with each aspect of the game to experience it. These players are the ones who take their time, who will spend hours in the starting area just because it is the best graphically designed in their opinion. The aesthete will create fan art, they will post screenshots of your game on Tumblr, they will remix the music, just to derive and devise further art from something that they love.
Examples of games made for the aesthetes: Flower, Everything, Firewatch, Assasin's Creed Origins Tourist Mode
How can we make a game for them/tweak our game?: A strong visual aesthetic isn't the only way to get their support. Consider giving the player ways to look at the game without having to play. Give them a button that lets them sit in a chair, just for the sake of sitting down. Allow the player to experience the game at their own pace, don't feel the need to nag or rush them into progression.
The Popular Kids (YouTubers)
YouTubers are a great way to get an audience for your game, as long as they want to play your game. YouTubers not only just play the games that they want to play, but the ones that they think their audience will enjoy the most. They play the sleeper indie games that become hits, the big games that have been anticipated for the past year with unbelievable amounts of hype online, but they also play the passion projects, the games that their most dedicated fans recommend to them. And if they recommend a game, then you can bet their fanbase will end up playing it. They play the games that are not only fun and exciting to play, but exciting to watch. They will provide their own narrative, their own stories and their own objectives - their only goal is making content and having their viewers enjoy it.
Examples of games made for YouTubers: Jackbox Party Pack 3 (with audience interaction for the livestreamers), Five Nights at Freddy's Series, Binding of Isaac
How can we make a game for them/tweak our game?: YouTube is optimized around 12-20 minute videos - does your game provide snappy gameplay at fits in that timeline? Are there reasonable stopping points or does it involve lengthier sections or arcs? Is your game heavily narrative or cumulative, where it will be harder for the viewer to jump in later on, or can your game be experienced relatively the same regardless of when they start watching? Think of ways to create snappy moments in the game that allow for reaction by the players or pleasant surprises/shocks.
There are so many more archetypes that could be listed an analyzed, but I chose the four above to highlight a specific idea - it doesn't always take a complete reworking of your game mechanics to attract a new audience. Sometimes you can just tweak something, add a few small changes or additions to your game, redesign a moment in a level. This all builds to getting your a vocal minority who will bring the game to their friends, their communities and help you build a dedicated playerbase. Think of these archetypes the next time you're lost about which direction to take your game, and even if you make a game with the intent of it only being for a specific kind of player, you will find other ways for other players to be let in.
A game designer, producer, production designer, writer and editor, Jason has dipped his toes into many creative fields, perhaps too many. He lives in Toronto, writing, making games and thinking about dogs. Follows Jason on Twitter at @jwestonwong.