Guest Post: Getting Schooled on Developing the Best Games for Teens and Tweens

Editor’s note: The following guest post was written by Peter Hofstede, the Game Development Director at Spil Games. Spil is billed as the largest independent online gaming platform. As the social games market grows more crowded, developers find themselves competing more and more for audience share. One group that hasn’t been targeted by most studios are in the tween demographic, an audience that Spil’s found success with via its Girls Go Games label. In this article, Hofstede offers advice on how to find success with tweens.

There are over 80 million social games played each day, yet only 15 percent of these games are played more than once by a user. We’re seeing a high level of abandonment in the social gaming space, but keep in mind that many of these games are developed for mass audiences— where it’s very difficult to please everyone. At Spil Games, we prefer to operate in a world where tailoring gaming experiences to niche audiences is an ideal way to reach an engaged consumer base and convert them into loyal users.

Thinking specifically about tween girls, teenage boys or even parents looking to play online games with their kids, developing games for niche audiences can provide a major growth opportunity. If fact, 91 percent of kids are gamers – we know the market is there – it’s simply a matter harnessing these consumers to get them to play your game. When it comes to success, it is crucial for developers to incorporate a user-centered design approach to appeal to niche audiences’ unique interests and behaviors. Getting it right doesn’t require a PhD in psychology, and while it certainly couldn’t hurt, there are several different tactics to understanding the basics throughout the game development process.

I think of it as a three-step design approach:

1. Understand the psychological foundations of the audience for which you are developing.

2. Use focus groups to double-check your findings

3. Validate your game by testing it on real users.

Let’s dive deeper …

I. Open your Textbooks: Psych 101

Before you can get into your audiences’ hands, first things first: Get inside their heads. Specific to the teen and tween demographic, it’s essential to know the basic psychology behind these players so that they will find your game content engaging. In other words: Don’t trust your own “grown up” intuition. The psychology behind gameplay is fascinating to read up on. The incorporation of psychological phenomena, such as a positive feedback loop (continuing an action or behavior because of the reoccurring positive outcome,) for example, has been shown to influence gaming behavior by extending average length of play and recurring gameplay.

It is also important to examine gender differences when developing games to niche audiences. We find that there are many game components that motivate kids in general, but we also see that boys and girls tend to be motivated by different aspects of games, especially for players that fall between the ages of 6-12. For example, younger teenage boys prefer games that are extreme, with winners and losers, and an overtly competitive component where they can clearly show off results.

Tween girls like competition as well, but are also interested in non-competitive gameplay that helps them to develop self-esteem and feelings of self-worth. Tween girls are also at an age where they are eager to act out different roles they see exhibited in their daily lives. Understanding that they see their daily role models (parents, older siblings, etc.) duties like feeding household pets and being held accountable for a fulltime job could all translate into successful online game themes.