Friday 2 November 2012

Who will play Mysterious Path?

When formulating a product strategy 'Who is your audience?' is one of the key questions you need to ask, but when it's a personal project... it's just not a factor (after all YOU are the audience!) If, however, you have aspirations to gain a large readership you really should consider it carefully. In the case of interactive fiction knowing your audience will influence the stories you tell, the interactions you design and the aesthetic you follow.
Which art style is right? If I understood my target audience it would inform everything from character design to plot & game mechanics.

Disney, with the recent acquisition of the Star Wars IP, will be asking themselves whether the new movies should be constructed to appeal to original fans or to the next generation of fans. Whether to make something modern and relevant or nostalgic and true to the source.
With regard to Mysterious Path, I should be asking questions like:

1) Who are the potential end users? How old are they? Where are they?
2) How are these people consuming digital media? What devices? What usage patterns?
3) If I intend to charge, how do they make purchasing decisions? What pricing strategies appeal?
4) What is the size of the opportunity? How big is the interactive fiction market?

If I had my business hat on I would probably validate my hypotheses with some user research and, if any of the findings where discouraging, kill the project. But I'm not wearing a business hat...

Instead a cursory glance at research and off I go.

The classic gamebook format and the core audience

I was reminded of the traditional gamebooks archaic and cumbersome nature whilst scrolling up and down pdfs in an attempt to work my way through this year's Windhammer competition entries. The original print format has its charms but, like vinyl records, is surely only appreciated by the purists. With music, now that analog systems have been largely eradicated by digital delivery and consumption, we are now able to stream and rent our music.  Although not as dramatic and far reaching, isn't it now time our beloved gamebook was reinvented for the digital consumer?

Tin Man Games, with its growing catalog of gamebook apps, has successfully removed the chore of resource management and other physical gamebook annoyances - yet have retained the smell of the old gamebooks. They employ a skeuomorphic design replete with turning pages, rattling dice and even paragraph references, qualities they have attributed to the success of their products. For a child of the 80's this is pressing all the right nostalgia buttons, but what do newbies make of this quirky interactive experience?

Blood of the Zombies is a fitting celebration for Fighting Fantasy's 30th anniversary, and shows the format is still alive and kicking, but is clearly targeting the original audience. Has it enthused a new generation of gamebookers? Without any market data I can only speculate, but the app is certainly riding high in the dice game charts and received critical acclaim.

Creating new experiences and reaching new audiences

Removing the pain of the pen & paper gamebook is surely only a fraction of the potential the digital format can accomplish. The remaining potential waits to be discovered in the new creative opportunities that technology allows. New technology is disruptive. We should disrupt.

Mysterious Path is a creative endeavour and I seek to...

- Utilise my passions and skills (a background in interactive design & a desire to draw goblins)
- Be true to the digital media and explore the potential of the 'hypercomic'.
- Keep doing it as long as it's fun.

At this point I want to create something I can be proud of.  If that turns out to be an experience other people enjoy too, great!

This could all end horribly, but as David Oglivy once said... Leaders grasp nettles!

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