Game Development Reference
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unDeRseRveD maRket segments
If everybody understood every market segment, then any segment that
was more profitable than the others would attract developers until it wasn't
the best bet anymore. The final result would be a market in perfect equi-
librium, where every market segment yields the exact same profit margin,
and there would be no way to get better than average results.
This is where the model breaks down. In real life, nobody perfectly
understands the shape of the market. It's hard to know how many people
there are in any given segment (quick, how many people like games about
horses?). Market segments overlap in messy ways. Culture and technology
shift constantly, so equilibrium is impossible. The result is that there are
always underserved market segments offering abnormal profits to those
who can find them. It's the finding them that's the trouble.
In 1993, Will Wright, designer of the 1989 hit SimCity , had an idea.
He wanted to make a game in which players managed a family of simu-
lated people as they built a home, got jobs, and raised children. While
there had been a smattering of similar efforts over the years, like 1985's
Little Computer People , there was no existing market for family manage-
ment games.
Nobody wanted to make it. “It was a battle, the first few years, inside
Maxis,” Wright said in a later interview. People in the studio even called it
“The Toilet Game,” because the player directed the family as they cleaned
their toilets. And the game's detractors had market research to back up
their doubts. “We had a focus group back in 1993,” Wright said, “and it
tested very badly. No one liked it at all, and [it] was the worst idea out of the
four we presented that night.”
Who was right? Both sides had their arguments. On the one hand, the
game might appeal to creative, less-combative players in the same way that
Wright's hit SimCity did. On the other hand, who wants to clean toilets in
a computer game? In an age of space marines and fantasy warriors, man-
aging a family just seemed too prosaic. It wasn't long before the studio
bosses shut down the development of The Toilet Game.
But Wright didn't give up. He kept the project alive, picking up help
where he could. He found a programmer who wasn't needed and pulled
him onto the project. “They were thinking of axing him,” he said. “I trun-
dled him into my Black Box—so to speak—and did a little skunkworks.”
Years passed. The family game—now known as Doll House —limped
along in the background through the development of SimCity 2000 , then
SimCopter .
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