I sometimes get asked what exactly the "Busy Gamer Movement" is. We don't mention it much on the Busy Gamer News site, but it's referenced in my Twitter profile. It's not a constant crusade, though it does underscore everything we do here. So I can see why you might be curious.
It seems a (fittingly) brief Busy Gamer Manifesto is in order.
A brief history
Busy Gamer News was founded in 2003 as Gamestay and later renamed to better reflect the primary mission of the site. At the time, it was a creative outlet for me as I tried to keep my finger on the pulse of the game industry, which I have since joined in various roles: product manager, community manager, copywriter and now consultant (aka "gun for hire").
|"Punishing games for people with fast reflexes who live in the land of liquid time and disposable income? There's a seemingly endless supply of those."|
The common denominator in all these roles has been customer focus. I find that seeing things through the customers' eyes leads to more "win-win" solutions. You (the customer) get what you want or need while the business achieves its goals - but with an added bonus: customer satisfaction and the potential for real long-term loyalty.
But back to 2003. Even then in the frontier days of gaming journalism, there were lots of sites that tracked seemingly crushing quantities of gaming minutiae. And most of it bored me to tears. Screenshots don't say much about how fun a game will be to play. Videos only give a little taste and so often deliver prerendered non-gameplay visuals, NOT what you'll get if you buy it (hint: if it lacks health bars and/or a HUD, it's probably promotional). And news such as miniscule game delays and backend partner deals affected my day-to-day life as a gamer very little.
Who has time for all of that noise? I just wanted the stuff I could use right now, plus enough interesting buzz to be able to contribute at the watercooler.
But I'd wade through it anyway, and figured I'd share any news that I found actually useful or at least compelling with anyone else who wanted to keep up with thus stuff. Rather than just quote back what others had reported, I put my daily newspaper journalism training to work: researching the details that were absent from the press release and deciphering any complex and confusing instructions to make them as complete and clear as possible.
Along the way, GrrlGotGame joined the party. We actually met on a newspaper, married and have an 8-year-old son ("Pikachu Fan"; you can hear him occasionally in our Busy Gamer Podcast). We realized that busy gamers like us were being mostly ignored by the game industry, so we started advocating for this not-so-vocal majority.
Punishing games for people with fast reflexes who live in the land of liquid time and disposable income? There's a seemingly endless supply of those. But how many games take into account the needs of the working stiffs with limited gaming budgets and increasingly constrained time to play? Not nearly enough for our taste. You could say we usually get the fuzzy end of the lollipop after core gamers have had their way with the sweet, flavorful part.
|"We believe games are good for you. They offer benefits such as mental acuity, stress relief and skill development."|
Busy gamers are...
We're not casual gamers, though we play casual games. More and more, we're playing games on our phones though we're not strictly mobile gamers either. We enjoy games on consoles, PCs, Macs and portables when there's time - though family, work and life often limit our opportunity here.
We believe games are good for you. They offer a variety of benefits such as mental acuity, stress relief and even real-world skill development. GrrlGotGame credits videogames with giving her a sense of direction. She had a hard time with directions and maps until she started running missions for the Mob in Grand Theft Auto 3. Now she rarely gets lost even when driving without a GPS.
Busy gamers need...
We don't want to be pests, but we’d greatly appreciate it if the game industry recognizes our point of view when developing games and game systems. We don't want games to be dumbed down or lowest common denominator, just accessible to us as an audience.
Here are a few areas where game designers can help accommodate busy gamers:
Save points. The best save system is "save anywhere." When the baby wakes up from nap or you hit that middle of the night exhaustion wall and need to be at work early and refreshed, you don't want to have to ditch your hard-earned progress. Life's too short to have to replay boss battles or tricky timed jumping puzzles just because the designer thought you should have the mad skillz to go 30 minutes and 10 difficult encounters between save points. If save anywhere won't work for some reason (such aqs technical limits or game balance), at least offer frequent checkpoints. Game designers are starting to segment in intelligent ways with innovations such as limited save slots only at higher difficulties. That's a great solution: Increased challenge for those who want it, but it's optional.
Portable game designers may think they get a pass since you can typically shut the lid or flip a switch to suspend your game, but we don't want to be locked into keeping your game in the device for days or weeks on end as we struggle to finish it. And, yeah, we sometimes forget to plug our portable in. Many mobile game designers have learned to save anywhere to accommodate unplanned interruptions such as incoming phone calls. Peggle for iOS can resume your game midshot! Why can't all games move to this?
Consistent, easy-to-pick up controls. Every time we need to learn a new control scheme, it adds to the learning curve. And if we can't learn a game quickly (or jump back in after a taking a break for a few weeks or even months), we're probably going to ditch your game. At least let us remap the keys/buttons so we can select a control layout that works for us. And include full control details and help in the game so we don't have to root around in the dark for the manual when trying to remember how to play (I'm looking at you, Dead Space!). Bonus points if you let us optionally re-enable the in-game tutorial prompts!
Limited updates. I know that jailbreaking mobile devices and homebrew on consoles and portables is a big deal to companies like Apple and Sony (especially Apple and Sony, it seems, though everyone seems to be playing a variation of this game now). But, on the whole, everyday gamers could care less. All we know is that every time we go to buy a game or watch a movie on Netflix, it seems we have to download another patch or accept a new Terms of Service. We frankly don't have time for this sort of thing, so please limit these forced activities to truly critical updates - not just something someone in your Legal department thought was a good idea to cover their behinds.
Also, play through the customer experience before launching a patch. Is there a way to streamline things so we don't have to, say, wade through 15 screens before watching a movie? The customer you save may be your own. I recently had a terrible experience trying to recover my HBO Go profile, and now I don't even want to look at the app. I'm sure I'll just lose my watchlist and movie/show progress yet again. Why bother going through it when Netflix has more instant play content and fewer problems?
Multiple profiles/save slots. Just assume that the whole family wants to play every game you make, or at least 2-3 members of it. Games that lack profiles or have only a single save slot limit your game's appeal. The same is true for co-op games that don't offer a splitscreen option. There are very few games that we'll buy multiple copies of. Yours probably isn't one of them. You certainly shouldn't base your marketing plan on this idea. Instead, make us feel like we get good value out of your games. Then we'll not only be more inclined to buy that second copy if we really want it, we'll watch out for your next game.
|"We want games and consoles and portables and phones that do amazing things, and when the price is right and we're feeling good about the product, we'll buy it."|
Don't market to us, sell to us. It's amazing how many people fall into the 99 cent trap. $9.99 is closer to $10 but I see people frequently round down to $9. That's 99 times the one penny it would take to round up. The way this age-old scam works is that the mind tricks you into believing something really is a dollar or sometimes $10 or $100 less, which is why we always round up in our news reports.
I recently got into an argument with someone who said, "It's only a $1, does it really make that much difference?" By that logic, all 99-cent items are essentially free, no matter how many of them you buy. Those dollars really do add up. Look at it this way: Are you rich enough that you'd pass by a dollar lying on the ground, or would you pick it up? Thought so.
The fact is: We want games and consoles and portables and phones that do amazing things, and when the price is right and we're feeling good about the product, we'll buy it. All game designers and marketers need to do is make sure we're clear on the cost, the benefits and that we'll have a good time playing, whether it's for 8+ hours or only 15 minutes per gaming session.
We'll evaluate the deal on its real merits and, if everything checks out, we'll buy it. Don't try to trick us or conceal the true cost through points or credits. That just makes us have to do extra math in our head, and if we get confused or feel like we're being tricked or scammed, we'll walk away.
The busy gamer bottom line
For whatever reason we play, we're gamers. We want to try your game. We want to have a great, life-altering experience with it. But if it becomes too much work, we're out of there. We already have jobs. We have families that need us. And we do need to sleep a bit more than we used to.
Oh, we'll still play games - with or without you. So why not include us in your plans. We think we can come to a mutually beneficial arrangement: You make a hit game, and we'll help make it a hit.