Themes in gaming are often overlooked, but can be the most important aspect long term. Choosing a theme is extremely difficult. Trends change everyday, and themes can determine who the fans will be. Appealing to the majority or a niche trend is the biggest decision. In this article from PocketGamer, Rimmy Spanjer analyzes the issues and importance of themes in gaming. Rimmy is the managing director of games at Hyper Hippo Entertainment.
“It’s a strange and sad truth that we have never even heard of the best game ever made. As much as every game designer would like their game to speak for itself – it’s meaningless if you can’t attract the right players, and you’ll never get them without a strong theme.
Think of the theme as the advertising for your game. It tells a story about what your game will be like. This begins to define the type of people who will enjoy it. The moment you choose a theme, you’re inevitably excluding people, and every choice after that will only limit your audience further.
As a game developer, it’s a natural instinct to build games you want to play, essentially for a demographic of one. If you follow that path, the success of your project boils down to how many people share your exact tastes. Sometimes this works – sometimes this even works to an enormous degree, but it’s always a dangerous gamble. But before you consider compromising your vision, or the systems you’re so proud of, consider examining your choice of theme.
Theme is likely the first thing that will draw the attention of your audience. You have to consider whether it will resonate or push them away. It’s also one of the best ways to get the right people, the players who will most enjoy your game. This comes down to carefully examining the core elements of your product, in an effort to better understand the types of players who enjoy your game.
Everything a person sees before they play your game sets up their expectations. Your marketing efforts build up a version of what your game is like in the player’s mind before they even download it. To attract a dedicated fan base for your game, you need to tell a clear story across all channels. The more the game aligns with their expectations, the more successful it will be. You don’t want your players to feel like you tricked them or that you wasted the potential of the player promise.
Getting inspired: how to find themes in gaming
It’s really challenging to choose the right theme. It’s probably the riskiest decision you’ll make when developing your game. It sometimes has the least amount of consideration put into it. But there are a couple of key methods of identifying potential themes you can employ.
The first is to look at the market itself. Use industry tools and the app stores themselves to identify similar products in the space you’re trying to get into. Type in keywords that players might use to find your product. Even just products of the same genre or using the same systems as yours, and examine the results. Remember that this is what the players themselves will be seeing and what they’ll be comparing your product to. From here you can hopefully find a ‘hole’ in the market. Something that follows the rules we examined above, but is also under-represented in the market.
The other option is ‘trend-chasing’ as previously mentioned. This involves trying to predict a theme that either is currently popular or maybe popular when your game is released. You can try tools like Google Trends, but it’s hard to get ahead of the curve. You might find more success by paying attention to other product releases you are aware of, like upcoming movies or highly anticipated games. It can be possible (though risky) to piggyback on the hype and excitement already being generated.
The most important thing to do is remember that you’re building a game for your players, and the market is ultimately going to be what decides how successful your game will be. There will always be exceptions, there will be games that defy expectations or are successful in spite of themselves, but every choice we make comes with risk, and you need to decide which risks you’re comfortable with.
Putting out a game will always be something of a wild gamble; no one can ever perfectly predict how a game will do once it’s in the hands of the players. It’s the most exciting and terrifying moment in a developer’s life when a game finally launches; it’s part of what makes us love this job and also go grey early. But it’s already risky enough just based on the quality of the game and the choices you’ve made along the way, so hopefully, a better understanding of themes can help your game speak for itself.
If you have made the greatest game the world has ever seen, don’t let your theme be the reason we’ve never played it!”