As a result, I went from a studio where a majority of the team belonged to the target audience of the games they worked on, to a studio where not a single team member was included in the target demographic for their games (what with child labor laws and all).
The first teams I joined at my new studio made kid-friendly first-person shooters for the Nintendo Wii based on Nerf N-Strike foam dart blasters.
They argued that the difficulty level was perfect and shouldn't be ‘dumbed down’. I said that they were basing their analysis on how they as adult users perceived the game’s difficulty level, without taking into account that the target audience of 8-12 year-old boys might experience the gameplay differently.
At the end of the following day, the post-playtest survey results were unanimous - the game was too hard for our players. While technically, I had 'won' the argument, I was far more excited about how tuning the difficulty would benefit our players.
Assuming responsible scoping and budgeting, a win for the consumer, who would ultimately determine our success or failure, was by definition a win for our game, our team, our studio, and our company as a whole.
It's not about winning or ego; it's about knowing who you're making your product for, and never forgetting it.
Of course, this isn't a new revelation in the STP (segmentation, targeting, positioning) world of classic consumer product managers, where this marketing best practice is applied daily.
Early in their history, Nike was a company of serious runners creating shoes for serious runners. They were the target demographic, so what was good for them was automatically good for their consumers.
But at a certain point in the moviemaking process, they hand their 'baby' over to the moviegoers, defaulting to what will delight the audience over their own preferences, when the two aren't in sync.
Once you truly understand who you are making your product for, then when your consumers invariably ask "What's In It For Me?" (about a game's difficulty, a product's learning curve, a new feature, whether to convert to a paid user, or whether to even try your product in the first place), you will have the answer.