132: Little Girl Games

Little Girl Games

"It's a fact not often recognized by the gaming community: Licensed games often sell well. Of course, it's easy to be dismissive. These games are not designed or marketed to us, the gamer. We might even take umbrage with their success, as if developers and publishers can simply slide around us, their loyal fan base, to make a quick buck off of impressionable, young gamers and their willfully ignorant parents."

Jon Schnaars explains why "Little Girl Games" are kicking your game's ass.

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Hmm, I'm not too sure about this idea that delivering a quality game is a moral issue. If a crappy game was acceptable to the license owner, they'd surely find a developer that was prepared to make one.

The fact is a strong brand is hard-earned, and in many cases it makes business sense to make sure the game reinforces the brand. (In other cases the brand might not be based around quality, and yet another crappy product for undiscerning consumers might be considered fine.)

The little girl in our house got a Leapster for Christmas from her uncle. We knew she was going to like it, but earlier this week we caught her trying to skip breakfast because she was too busy grinding mobs!

Well OK, not literally grinding mobs, but it amounted to the same thing as she tried to get all the jewels she needed for her next crown in her Disney princesses game.

Having watched the game a fair bit my initial suspicions are confirmed: as well as being designed with the same attention to detail and care as a "grown ups" game, this title has borrowed many classic faults from mainstream gaming.

So sure, Ramiro Corbetta sounds like has a good attitude to his work, but that's only half the battle... The question is can these kinds of games attract great designers to work on them?

Just goes to show you a built in audience of kids can make you a fortune. Much like UKslim said, the brand is everything and children, at least when I was growing up, only saw a small spectrum of what the world has to offer. If something like "Cars" or "Hannah Montana" is in that spectrum, $$$$$$$$$$$$$$

Dom Camus:
The question is can these kinds of games attract great designers to work on them?

As somebody who works for a company designing games for little girls, the answer is YES. The money is there for great designers, so great designers can be recruited. I thought the article was quite accurate, though it glossed over how difficult working on a licensed product can be. Rather than go into detail, let me just say it can be very challenging meeting the requirements of a strict licensor.

But these games have a role and a place, not only in the business of selling games, but also in the art of game design. Somewhere out there is a little girl with a Winx Club game that could grow up to be the next David Jaffe, Will Wright or Shigeru Miyamoto. And the things she learns from that game's success, as well as its failures, will help inform her future career.

Was this supposed to be the intro to a different article? This conclusion came out of nowhere. I even reread the entire article to see if there was some supporting evidence in there somewhere. Nope.

Let me summarize what I read both times through: We try to not piss off the people who are forced to play the games that they didn't ask for and we didn't want to make in the first place, but its a cash cow so what are ya gonna do? We just want to make games we aren't too ashamed of. Oh, and once we made a mini game that was kind of fun.

I'm trying to think, outside of the lack of evidence in this article, it this conclusion justifiable in any way? Not really. Its like pointing out that yes, some famous actor probably once did lowly commercials! That doesn't make something he did because it paid well necessarily relevant to the rest of his career.

Games they didn't ask for? Uh... girls like to play games that appeal to them, y'know. I was a little girl, once. I was actually excited when a Barbie game came out for the NES. And then I was less than impressed with how the game actually PLAYED. It was hard, and clunky, and really not much fun at all. Rented it once or twice, then went back to Duck Tales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and good ol' Mario and games that didn't suck. Yes, licensed games already have the pre-conceived notion that they suck, and that they're quick cash-ins on a property. Licensed games based on stuff that appeals to little girls? They were even worse, somehow. Both in conception, and in execution, it often felt like. Bad games with a bucketfull of pink and glitter tossed on 'em, and shovelled out the door. I wanted to play stuff that was FUN, so I played REAL games.

But the little girl from way back then is still a part of me, even if I'm all grown up. And if I had gotten a Barbie game that was fun? I'd have been freakin' deliriously happy. It may sound cynical, on the parts of the devs for this Winx game... but that they're ADMITTING that they want to make a game that doesn't suck makes my heart flutter just a bit. I have to wonder if I should re-evaluate my perceptions. I'm sorely tempted to go out and rent a few kiddy-girly-cash-in games, just to see what they're like these days.

Hey, don't condemn something that you haven't actually played, right? There's this guy, I hear, that has some odd conceptions of the gameplay content of Mass Effect....

Lampdevil:

Hey, don't condemn something that you haven't actually played, right? There's this guy, I hear, that has some odd conceptions of the gameplay content of Mass Effect....

I was based my comment on the article, though despite your presumption, I have in fact played several of these types of games. Would I really care enough to comment if I hadn't? My fiancee sees them and thinks they might be fun, having liked the movie or tv show they were based on; sound familiar? Though I attempt to dissuade her, we still end up playing them. Coming to mind are Happy Feet, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and some Spongebob game - I think Battle for Bikini Bottom? All were just copied gameplay mechanics from other games, but with the content replaced by something from the movie. Zero innovation. Harry Potter was the only one I could maybe see someone actually enjoying, but it still had nothing interesting.

So, maybe I had a biased interpretation of the points made in the article, but thats the way I read it. Like I said, I reread it to see, and I still saw no suppporting evidence for his conclusion that this market has any relevance to the rest of the gaming world. His attempts to connect them appeared to be:
*That the developers who make these games play regular games. Ok, so the people who make indie watch Hollywood movies. I watch Hollywood movies too, that doesn't mean I matter to them.
*That they make a lot of money, and are in the same charts as regular games. Ok, this still doesn't make them relevant.
*That they too, have developers, testers, and such, just like a regular game. Whupee, so making a commercial requires a camera and a stage, just like a movie!

In order to justify the conclusion of the article, he would have to find current industry developers of regular games and ask them about how their past work on Pretty Pretty Princess: The Game is affecting their work on Roast Em Alive 3. Other than learning industry practices, I don't really see any connections.

I know I'm being pretty critical of the last few sentences in a 3 page article, but the rest is just a series of unimportant statements about this part of the industry unless it leads up to a relevant conclusion.

Lampdevil:
Games they didn't ask for? Uh... girls like to play games that appeal to them, y'know. I was a little girl, once. I was actually excited when a Barbie game came out for the NES. And then I was less than impressed with how the game actually PLAYED. It was hard, and clunky, and really not much fun at all. Rented it once or twice, then went back to Duck Tales and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II and good ol' Mario and games that didn't suck. Yes, licensed games already have the pre-conceived notion that they suck, and that they're quick cash-ins on a property. Licensed games based on stuff that appeals to little girls? They were even worse, somehow. Both in conception, and in execution, it often felt like. Bad games with a bucketfull of pink and glitter tossed on 'em, and shovelled out the door. I wanted to play stuff that was FUN, so I played REAL games.

But the little girl from way back then is still a part of me, even if I'm all grown up. And if I had gotten a Barbie game that was fun? I'd have been freakin' deliriously happy. It may sound cynical, on the parts of the devs for this Winx game... but that they're ADMITTING that they want to make a game that doesn't suck makes my heart flutter just a bit. I have to wonder if I should re-evaluate my perceptions. I'm sorely tempted to go out and rent a few kiddy-girly-cash-in games, just to see what they're like these days.

Hey, don't condemn something that you haven't actually played, right? There's this guy, I hear, that has some odd conceptions of the gameplay content of Mass Effect....

I'm a guy, and this article makes me want to play a few little girl games, just to see if they are any good... My bias stems, as well, from the NES era, when a good licensed title was good, and a bad licensed title would burn into your memory for decades, so obviously, while there were good ones, to be certain, the bad ones left the greatest impression.

As for the conclusion, I was a bit confused about that, too... The entire article, after all, was focusing on the fact that the games aren't focused for gamers, but instead for certain media titles that are popular with little girls... So, at best, it would be like the lessons an astrophysicist learned in kindergarten, that can TECHNICALLY be described as having given them the first step to their eventual life goal, but in all honesty, is now a negligable part of their history that played only an indescribably minute part in their eventual career.

While I've done my best to introduce the best games that I can to my kids, some of their favorite games include: Catz, Dogz, and Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses. While these games have serious faults and could be far better, they are doing something right if they grab the attention of my kids.

Lampdevil:
Hey, don't condemn something that you haven't actually played, right? There's this guy, I hear, that has some odd conceptions of the gameplay content of Mass Effect....

Is this some future variation of Godwin's Law? :p I really don't see how my comments compare to that guy.

Interesting article.

"You have to realize that the game you're making, you're making this game for people who like the franchise."

This is pretty key when working with younger demographics, regardless whether the material is licensed or not. Licenses basically exist for utility with younger audiences, because the person buying the game is not the person who is going to be playing it -- meaning that they need a secondary layer to guide them in what they should be purchasing. It's also a utility layer in terms of marketing budget, which is generally nonexistent for kids' games.

But the key with a young audience, in reference to what was quoted above about "attracting great designers" is that there is a certain misunderstanding common in this side of the industry that designing for these titles is somehow less of a challenge than designing for a more mainstream game audience game. It's really not comparable. In making a game for this kind of audience you don't just have to be true to the franchise, you have to create a compelling experience for a person whose mind-frame you physically cannot imagine or connect with. Kids' brains work differently. They just do. And girls' brains work differently than boys' brains. To create a compelling experience for this age range requires a great deal of psychology and often a great deal of audience test casing. Kids like the weirdest things in games, and in some respects they're not hard to please but in others they can have absolutely astonishing kid logic that will make them angry in a split second over what they encounter in a game. At 1P we had a little girl who was completely disgusted with one of our levels because Cinderella was wearing her ball gown while she was supposed to be in her poor-Cinderella cleaning mode -- she was in a house and performing cleaning quest tasks, but she was in the ball gown. And this made our kid tester mad. It is the kind of thing we'd take for granted in terms of game creation and general game playing because an older mind abstracts these things into what they represent, but to a child's literal mind, and especially to a little girl, of course Cinderella wouldn't be cleaning house in her ball gown. Duh.

So these kinds of games will attract a certain kind of designer and a certain kind of game developer, but to imagine that designing for this particular audience is comparable to designing for Assassin's Creed is a mistake in thinking.

I liked this article, because it got me to think about licensed games differently. Obviously, most of them are being made to tie into a franchise and make a fuckton of money. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't a group of people who aren't trying at least to make them good and give someone a positive experience. The throwaway value of them (we're making money whether or not this is good, so who cares) seems to come from elsewhere-and maybe, just maybe, these games could be well done, if given a chance.

Thanks

Smokescreen:
I liked this article, because it got me to think about licensed games differently. Obviously, most of them are being made to tie into a franchise and make a fuckton of money. However, that doesn't mean that there aren't a group of people who aren't trying at least to make them good and give someone a positive experience. The throwaway value of them (we're making money whether or not this is good, so who cares) seems to come from elsewhere-and maybe, just maybe, these games could be well done, if given a chance.

Thanks

I agree. Especially since my daughter's getting to the age where video games are cool and exciting, it's good to know that people are working to give her the experiences she wants from them instead of letting daddy sift through shovel-tons of crap.

 

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