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20 May 2015

Indie Developer Tips: Align Your Indie Game’s Difficulty With Your Target Audience

How many times have you picked up a game that you thought was going to be incredible, only to find that the game wasn’t quite as…challenging as you thought it might be. It has nothing to do with your skills, it’s just that the game’s difficulty is so poor that it’s a breeze to blow through. Without any challenge, the game becomes boring and results in you losing interest much faster than if the difficult had been fine-tuned. Thus, this is one of the indie developer tips you need to put into practice today.

Personally, I’ve seen this happen with strategy games over the years – and it’s incredibly damaging to the game as a whole. Whereas you expect the game to have some sort of challenge, a game that fails to have an appropriate difficulty level pertaining to its target audience is going to do nothing but hurt the studio that made it. Before you begin developing your indie game, know the exact type of difficulty that your audience craves, and give it to them.

This works the other way around, too. For example, if you are developing an indie game for a casual audience, you don’t want to make the game as difficult as say a game like Dark Souls. Casual players typically play for only a few minutes at a time, so if they are finding themselves getting more frustrated than having fun, they are going to uninstall your indie game immediately and never give it a second thought.

To this end, aligning your indie game’s difficulty appropriately is all about:

  1. Providing a challenge naturally
  2. Knowing your audience

Natural challenge

What I mean by this is simple: a game’s difficulty should always increase naturally with the skill of the player. The best puzzle games are a perfect example of this, in that the difficulty of the game progresses naturally as the player progresses. Players never feel as if the game is too easy – and although they may feel as if the game is too difficult at times, the best games never feel as if they are unfairly difficulty (this is the appeal of some games though – namely From Software’s games).

When developing your indie game, you need to ensure that the difficulty increases little-by-little as the game transitions. Remember: a good challenge will always ensure that your game feels fresh!

Knowing thy audience

How do you know how difficult you should make your game? It goes back to knowing your audience. As we stated in the beginning, there’s a difference between casual players and hardcore gamers. The 30something mother than only plays Candy Crush is probably never going to play a game like Bloodborne, and the player that has put hundreds of hours into perfecting Bloodborne probably isn’t going to spend a lot of time playing Candy Crush. Know exactly what type of difficulty your audience expects from the beginning, and you are going to find that it will be much easier to please them in the long-run.

In fact, apply this logic to every facet of your indie game, and you will save yourself a substantial amount of headache over time!

It’s a shorter post I know, but it’s something that has been on my mind lately and nobody is really talking about it. In an era in which there’s an emphasis on pleasing everyone with each release, sometimes you have to take a step back, realize who your game is targeting, and align the game appropriately to what that audience wants!

Any questions on this or any other indie developer tips we’ve given out? Comments? Please, let us know in the comments below!

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