Anyone developing an original IP for XBLA, PSN or Wiiware should take note of LucasArts’ Lucidity. Why should you take note? Because Lucidity is a truly delightful game that unfortunately showcases two of the most common “big mistakes” made by developers and publishers on XBLA. If the leaderboards are any indication, Lucidity’s sales are suffering as a result.
First, it’s worth recognizing how many things Lucidity gets right. It is beautiful, distinctive, and offers an original gameplay mechanic that actually works. Many game developers will never manage to create something that meets all three of those criteria in their entire careers. And many developers, with such a game on their hands, might assume that their success is all but assured.
There’s just two problems. If you’ve been reading this blog for any significant period of time, you already know one of those problems: insufficient marketing. Lucidity was unveiled mere weeks before it was released. No time to build consumer awareness. No time to woo the press. Nothin’.
The other problem is the game’s unforgiving design. (I won’t say the game’s “difficulty”, as something can be difficult without being unforgiving.) Lucidity lacks a checkpoint system, and that combined with a few other design issues causes the game to quickly become a punishing experience. This is apparent to players even in the demo.
It’s no accident that most modern platformers are more forgiving than their ancestors. While many XBLA and PSN users enjoy a stiff challenge, their patience is ultimately limited. Don’t let the success of a few insanely challenging retro titles fool you — those games have generally succeeded because of nostalgia, not because today’s gamer longs for the relentless butt-whooping of old.
1) Come up with a meaningful value proposition for your game. 2) Craft a gameplay experience that emphasizes that value proposition and that accommodates as many players in your target demo as possible. The latter can almost always be accomplished without noticeably diluting the gameplay experience. 3) *Repeatedly* communicate the value proposition far in advance of your game’s launch. –> These are the fundamental tricks of our trade.
PS. A year ago I wrote an article on game difficulty that is relevant to this post. The comments on that post were solid, too.