No on-screen map? There goes part of your potential audience.

Many MMO designers I’ve talked to consider an on-screen map to be a luxury, a convenience feature for lazy people who don’t want to navigate “the real way,” whatever that means. These people tend to be really good at FPSes and think of maps as a bit of a crutch.

WoW Radar
The mini-map: a requirement or a crutch?

This is why it’s so important to identify your audience early on. If you’re going for the FPS audience, then having a map on-screen is in fact often considered a crutch. But these games are very difficult for many gamers to get into.

Women, in particular, tend to navigate by visual cues like maps and guides, rather than by directional orientation.

I’m not female, but for whatever reason, I have no innate sense of north or south or whatever. As a guy, I’m expected to have this ability, but it’s not something that can be learned. You have it or you don’t. So when faced with a game that doesn’t give me enough cues to tell where I am, I simply don’t play. It’s not snobbery — I just can’t play it. I am not the only person like this.

In the real world, I navigate by finding distinct landmarks continuously. In a game, landmarks betray me: textures and geometry get reused constantly, and soon I am utterly turned around.

When you remove the map and compass from your on-screen GUI, you remove me from your audience. You also remove plenty of other people. Does it matter? Well, that depends on your target audience. If you’re going for broad appeal, then yes, it matters. If you’re trying to hit the 18-22 male FPS-playing crowd, you should probably avoid the radar, because that’s what they expect. It boils down to knowing your audience goals.

So, what’s your target audience? Is it written down? Is it clearly delineated into one or more marketable entities? If you don’t know your audience, then you’re designing randomly. You might get lucky and design a game that an audience really loves, but more likely, you’ll make a hodge-podge and fail.

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7 Responses to No on-screen map? There goes part of your potential audience.

  1. brent says:

    Wow, it is a very good thing you decided to include that last paragraph, because up until then you were rather blindly attacking a game design DECISION and completely forgetting that your way isn’t necessarily THE way. But, you exonerated yourself with that last bit.

    Going for sensationalism? Or perhaps a last minute (blog design) decision to soften the message a bit seeing as this is week one?

    Either way. Welcome to the fray.

  2. Aaron Miller says:

    Even FPS games need a compass sometimes. I’ve been having this problem with Halo 3. Because it’s a fast-paced shooter, I often get spun around during the fighting. It’s particularly a problem in some of the Flood levels, where there aren’t enough visuals to distinguish forward from back (or sideways). The guiding arrow works well enough, but it doesn’t show up until I’ve been wandering around lost for 30 seconds or so. It would have been smart to let the player activate the arrow whenever needed.

    With most games, I’d have no map or compass as default, but I’d have a small icon on the screen to be sure the player knows they can turn a guidance system on. And I’d keep the guidance simple… NPC guides and the like often end up being annoying at some point.

    As for picking a target audience, my experience is only in other forms of entertainment (fiction, music), but I figure that’s the first revision stage. Brainstorm the core of your game first. Then define a target audience and use that to hone and cut away, rather than to build ideas.

  3. Eric says:

    Brent – for me the last paragraph is the key of it all; most game designers simply don’t consider what target audience they’re designing for. A pet peeve of mine is sitting in meetings where people say, “We’re designing this game for all PC gamers to enjoy!” There’s no such game, at least not in any of the common genres. I do think that “traditional” WoW-esque MMOs pretty much require and expect a map/compass/radar now, but the upcoming MMO-FPSes have a much harder decision to make, regarding exactly who they’re targeting.

    Aaron – interesting angle on choosing the target audience; you’re right that you can’t pick the exact audience in a vacuum. You have to narrow it down during the prototype stage.

  4. Personally I keep wishing that Team Fortress 2 had a map HUD. Perhaps male FPS gamers over 22 need maps too ;)

    The way I see it, any game where a HUD map will help you play better should have one. In PC-land even if you don’t add a HUD map to your game the players (err, hackers) will simply add one for you (like the Magellan Decal plug-in for AC). Even in console land a custom proxy based solution (like ShowEQ) can give some players a great advantage by adding mapping features.

    Of course I come from the server engineering side where I invest enormous time in ensuring that I only send the client the minimum amount of data needed to provide the desired player experience. After all that work I want every scrap I data I send to be displayed for everyone to use.

  5. Pingback: Azaroth » Blog Archive » Identifying Your Potential Audience

  6. fornetti says:

    I do not believe this

  7. [....] says:

    hello does this map disghn atuelly work?