Game Development Reference
Then, finally, the winds changed and Wright got the green light to
begin development with a full team. By the time Doll House came out,
Wright had been working on it, on and off, for eight years. And it had a
new name: The Sims .
But even then, nobody knew if the game had a market. How many
people would want a family management game? The game was unlike
anything that had ever come before. There was no established market seg-
ment for this kind of game, so all anyone could do was guess. Even Wright
himself didn't claim to know. “I thought the game would either do a mil-
lion units or. . .50,” he said.
Wright was wrong. The game didn't sell 50 units, or a million units.
The Sims spawned a franchise that has sold more than 100 million units.
As of this writing, it is the top-selling PC franchise in history.
It turned out that the market segment for family management games
is massive because it cuts across traditional categories. The Sims appeals
to people who had never played a game before because it offers a creative,
low-pressure experience. It also appeals to hardcore gamers looking to set
wealth challenges for themselves or take a break from shooting aliens. The
market segment was massive, and completely devoid of competition. So
The Sims became massively profitable.
In hindsight, it seems obvious. Of course, a game like this would
appeal to everyone from gamers to grandmas. Sure, people want a break
from high-pressure competition. It's a stand-out product in a field of
But remember—none of this was obvious before the fact. Focus tes-
ters hated Doll House . The executives hated it. So did many of Wright's
fellow developers. Even Wright himself thought it might be a dog. Luckily,
it paid off. But it didn't have to.
The best market strategy is to find a segment that is underserved.
But this strategy is difficult and risky because there is no good way of
measuring untapped market segments.
There are huge profits awaiting anyone who is able to find underserved
market segments others cannot. In the best case, a game can be alone in
its own huge market segment and suck up all the profit for itself.
But finding those empty segments is difficult and risky. A designer
working in an established genre knows whom he is selling to and what
those customers have responded to in the past. The standards are defined
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