After [listening to us pitch] Wits & Wagers, the [Target] buyer was very interested – he said, “This was probably the most unique game that has ever been pitched to me. This is something I would like to play. But here’s my problem: If I carry it, it won’t sell. Here are the only things that have sold, based on my experience: One, a Hollywood license. Two, a 2+ million dollar television advertising campaign. Three, a recognizable brand name, because it’s been built up for 3-5 years in other channels, and it’s sold at least 100,000 copies previously. Those are the only three types of games that sell at Target.”
So, does this mean that you can’t break into mainstream without being, well, mainstream?
Recognition is central
I don’t think so. Clubs broke into the mainstream on the first try. It had easy game play and funny yet recognizable graphics but that’s not what made the game attractive to buyers. In my opinion Clubs smashed the mainstream barrier due to two things: its theme and its name.
The theme has one strong suit (if you pardon the pun): Clubs is like Hearts and Spades. It says so right on the box. So people who’ve played Hearts and Spades (who hasn’t?) know it.
The name is part of that theme: Clubs (Hearts, Spades, Clubs, when will Diamonds be out?). People recognize it. People think they recognize the gameplay (“Oh, it’s just like something I liked; I must try it!”).
Test, test and test again
We don’t release a lot of stuff, and we do a ridiculous amount of testing before we release it. So with Wits & Wagers, we tested that game with over 1,000 people before we first released it, and that’s really important. What’s also important about that 1,000 people is, that it’s not all gamers. If you test with only gamers, don’t expect it to ever go to mass market – expect it to be beloved by gamers, and that’s where you’re going to sell it. So you have to figure out ahead of time who the market is that you’re aiming for, and that’s where you test it. So with Wits & Wagers, we tested it with about seven hundred gamers, and three hundred non-gamers.
Tested with a thousand people. Say that he exaggerate (I don’t think so, but lets assume). Say that he exaggerates by a factor of ten (not even the most rabid fishermen telling the story of the one that got away would do that, but lets assume). Say that the game takes and average of 5 – that’s 20 different playtest groups. So ask yourself the question: when did you last test a game with 100 different people?
I know I haven’t. But after reading this interview I know that I will. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll be able to make a game that makes it mainstream.
And keep testing
Note: I’ve spoken to Dominic and here’s his recap on the amount of testing:
We tested it with nearly 200 people at our business school. Some were from our class, some were from the class below us, and some were from the Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship. Everyone was very supportive of my aspirations to start a game company. I was the token entrepreneur from our class because I came to the MBA program in order to start North Star Games.
It was tested at 3 different Gathering of Friends. It was tested at 2 different WBC. It was tested at 2 different ProtoSpiels (one of our original investors was from Protospiel). It was tested at 2 different EuroQuests and 2 different Game Days (though a lot of the same people attend these conventions).
It was tested at 4 different game groups in the Baltimore / Washginton DC area (again, a lot of these people also go to Game Days and EuroQuest).
I tested it with all of my close friends.
Satish tested it with all of his close friends.
It was tested with my extended family over Thanksgiving and Christmas for two years in a row.
It was tested by Satish’s extended family over Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It was tested at 3 New Year’s Eve parties that my parent’s host each year. My parents have a microphone which I use to host a game show using questions about the past year.
And I’m sure it was tested by a bunch of other people that I’m not forgetting.