When developers are asked to identify their target market, the answers broadly fall into two categories: the traditional, hardcore crowd, and the non-traditional mainstream audience. Upstart developer Outpost Games is targeting both.
Speaking with GamesIndustry.biz yesterday, Outpost CEO Sachin Pansuria and creative director Wright Bagwell explained their bifurcated demographic as a reaction to recent industry trends.
"We see this shift where gamers are no longer consumers but also creators of content," Bagwell said. "And if we build a game designed from the ground up to embrace that idea, and is also designed to be really easy and fun to watch, then we think we can attract both the large audiences of hardcore gamers, but also non-traditional audiences for gaming. We think we can create a really massive community of people."
"We're seeing a lot of games out there where it's all about consuming content, and we felt really strongly about creating games that bring out people's skill and creativity and allowing them to show it to the world."
The co-founders aren't the only ones who think that. Today they announced the closing of a $6.2 million Series A funding round led by Mitch Lasky's Benchmark. As part of the deal, Lasky as well as YouTube head of consumer products (and angel investor) Manuel Borenstein will join Outpost's board of directors.
Pansuria and Bagwell have worked together for 15 years, much of it spent pursuing the hardcore and casual markets separately. At Electronic Arts, they worked together on Dead Space 2. Later on at Zynga, they collaborated on FarmVille 2. However, they found the experience unfulfilling.
"We felt really compelled to go in a new direction," Pansuria said. "We're seeing a lot of games out there where it's all about consuming content, and we felt really strongly about creating games that bring out people's skill and creativity and allowing them to show it to the world."
They aren't saying yet exactly what shape their first game will take, but "skill" and "creativity" are clearly strong focal points; the two qualities are mentioned repeatedly over the course of the 20-minute discussion. They want to create a game that will be compelling to a hardcore crowd, but one that will be easier for spectators to understand and appreciate than the current assortment of popular core games. As Pansuria said, it should be "intuitive to watch."
"One thing we've noticed is there's a big focus in the streaming community on the person playing the game," Bagwell said. "Typically what you see is a web camera pointed at someone's face and oftentimes you're kind of there for them and less so for the game. It's not true in all cases, but that seems to be pretty common. And one of the biggest reasons for that is the games are in some cases not all that compelling to watch."
Outpost aims to fix that with games that focus on characters and have elements of storytelling, but also feature strong competitive and cooperative aspects. It will be a PC game because as Bagwell explains, "that's where the most passionate gamers are," and because it doesn't have the same limitations as other platforms.
"We're targeting seasoned gamers, people who have been playing games for a long time and are really excited to show off their skill and creativity," Bagwell said. "That's the demographic we're targeting for players, but we believe we're building a game that's so compelling to watch that it's actually going to draw in a really large and diverse crowd of spectators, and not just other hardcore gamers. A really large and diverse audience that perhaps looks like the same audience that's going to HBO to see premium content."
"What we've been talking about internally is that idea of gamers as consumers just doesn't really seem to make sense. We're fighting the thing that makes games so great, which is the fact the players are in charge..."
Bagwell likened the current gaming market to the early days of film, where many movies were just filmed stage plays. Just as early directors didn't fully explore how the medium of film could open up new avenues of storytelling, Bagwell said today's game developers aren't taking full advantage of what broadcasting and streaming can do to alter the idea of gaming. It also represents an opportunity to explore possibilities outside of the AAA and mobile spaces the developers were frustrated with, from the AAA field's focus on production values over player interactivity to the free-to-play space's uninspired pursuit of building content just to be consumed.
"What we've been talking about internally is that idea of gamers as consumers just doesn't really seem to make sense," Bagwell said. "We're fighting the thing that makes games so great, which is the fact the players are in charge, that it is fully interactive and that people can surprise you with what they can do."
If gamers aren't going to be treated as consumers first and foremost, that suggests the current business models in the industry won't be a good fit for what Outpost is trying to do. Bagwell agreed, and mentioned that Outpost has been particularly impressed by games like League of Legends and Minecraft (which come up in the chat almost as frequently as skill and creativity), as well as Counter-strike.
"All these games designed to bring out skill and creativity and focus on player interactivity, when you get it right, it can last for a very long time," Bagwell said. "And I think we have to rethink the business model because when you build games as a service, you need some way to be able to make money to keep the service alive over time. So the idea of charging people once up front doesn't make quite as much sense when the games are operating as a service. So I think there's a business necessity to rethink how we make a business out of games.
"And we also think once we start to think about gamers as performers, it seems pretty obvious that there are different ways to build a business out of that. I wish I could go farther into that, but I think we might be giving away too much of what we're trying to do. But I think if you just step back and say if gamers are performers and there's an audience there, there are all kinds of ways you can build a different kind of business."