Will Wright: Game Biz Needs to Appeal to More than 12-year-old Boys

In a recent conversation with the Chronicle of Higher Education, famed game designer Will Wright remarked that the video game industry has brought some of its mainstream acceptance problems upon itself by continuing to design games as if the players were all 12-year-old boys.

Among Wright’s comments:

We’ve had this cultural bias against games for the last 20 years, and a lot of it I think is self-deserved, because if you look at what people are doing with technology it is for the most part directed toward 12-year-old boys. But that doesn’t mean the format doesn’t have the potential to do a whole lot more…

Games… have been with us for hundreds of thousands of years, with some of the earliest games like Go or Chess. People have looked at those as ways to sort of learn strategic thinking, to expand their minds in certain abstract, symbolic areas…


So I think adults that didn’t grow up with games, don’t play games, have gotten disconnected from the idea of play… We sort of think of play as disposable, useless, time-wasting activity when in fact play really is a fundamental educational technology. We’ve, as a culture, just kind of forgotten that.

Via: IndustryGamers / Kotaku

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on Google+Share on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. metroidprimegmr says:

    Myst Saga, Grim Fandango, Ico, SotC, Beyong Good & Evil, The Longest Journey series, Silent Hill series, so on and so forth.

    Yeah, you can pretty much tell where I’m going with this.


    Jack Thompson: future Good Burger employee of the month

  2. metroidprimegmr says:

    Another Myst fan? SWEET!!!!!!

    ……..(‘(…´…´…. ¯~/’…’
    ……….”…\………. _.·´


    Jack Thompson: future Good Burger employee of the month

  3. V4nI114 Ic3 says:

    at the end of the day, its still a game.  arguing that it disturbs you that it could not be made without violence or whatnots is like being disturbed that pornography cannot be made with out naked people.

    could an interactive medium be made without shooting someone with a grenade launcher that causes their body to be torn asunder?  absolutely.  could said media still be creative, sold to an audience, and still turned a profit for a company so that its members could recieve due compensation for their collective work?  in today’s market, likely not.

    a lot of people argue that myst was a great game, but the reality is that myst was an EXTREMELY niche game, and the only reason it was as successful (commercially) as it was, is that it sold back in the day for 50 bucks at pop and had something like, 14 developers working on it.  there was not a lot of production cost to be recouped.

    video games have a unique design, in that a lot that come out now, have many, many layers for any subset of player can find a deeper value in.  MMORPGS are a great example of this, as the complexity of the game is totally up to the desire of the individual player.  if i want to take on the task of leading 40, 50, 60, or even 200 people through a high level end game dungeon, that is a great example of a maturity and complexity that i can choose to take away from the game, as herding around god knows how many people of god knows how many different mindsets is a daunting and more than arguablly complex task.

    on the flipside, i can be the 12 year old jack ass from halo 3 who all he wants to do is run around and teabag people.

    taking the example of mass effect again, given the complexity of its "morality" system, i can run through the game, kill everyone i see, be a dick to every NPC when given the dialogue option, and steal from everyone in the game; does that make the game any more or less mature?  or does it make *me* more or less mature?

    personally, i think the game maintains a high level of maturity, because it is presenting me with those options, and allowing me to do as i see fit, and the fact that it offers players a path (and often times today, rewards) to take a non-violent or less violent course of action makes it light years ahead of games like duke nukem or doom.

    is the book version of fight club any more deserving of a "mature" moniker than bioshock?  or how about saving private ryan?  both of these contain elements that appeal to 12 year old boys, but because they are a different medium, they are given special consideration, and any "mature" or "moral" message they contain within are given closer inspection then a video game contemporary?

  4. jedidethfreak says:

    I’ve read a lot of posts and some of you seem to be missing the point.  He’s not just talking about content (as in gore or sexuality, which WOULD appeal to a 12-year old boy).  He’s talking about the experience and message.  Most games don’t have a deep, spiritual or sociopolitical message, primarily because the target demographic wouldn’t play them.  Most of the few that do wouldn’t be taken seriously anyways because the message is so blatant and biased that only the extremists toward that side would enjoy the game.

    Do I believe he has a right to say anything?  No.  Look at his works.  What sociopolitical message is he giving?  His biggest games are basically Second Life played offline.  However, he has a valid point, that a lot of people on here seem to have missed.

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  5. Neeneko says:

    Even Bioshock probably would not have been produced if it did not include lots of blood/violence/explosions.

    Which while I loved Bioshock for what it was (action included), the idea that it could not have been produced without those elements disturbs me.  We are seeing fewer games like Myst that get produced without the ‘will appeal to young violent males’ meme.

  6. nefermore says:


    There is a lot to what Mr. Write said and it needed to be said.  We also need to think about what the dev community is seeing in the target audience.   We wont do that by making assumptions though , we need to get some honest answers from them by asking them some unpopular questions.  What I hear a lot in reference to why a game is one way or another are terms like "fun, cool, dynamic, exciting, new ….you get the idea.  Terms that could be applied to just about anything depending on your point of view.  In other words no answers to any reasons why things are made the way they are.   I’m trying to remember when was the last time I saw a game site in an interview ask who the target audience was and I think I’ve never seen it. 

    The demographics of target audiences it seems needs labels though so yes we should reconsider that 12ish may no longer be the ideal.   Perhaps its time to let go of the picture of the American nuclear family that produced the aggressive gamer boy as well.   The child with more money than actual parenting who’s parents would pay for just about any entertainment device to keep him out of their hair.   Sounds simple, maybe too simple.   I think to some extent the behavior of the sexually frustrated teenage  gamer boy has bled over and been adapted by older gamers while in game.   And so from there we go to defending the way things are and that is why forums get no where and tell little truths.  The amazing adaptability of the human species. 

    In the end though its the marketers who must be convinced.  We have to let  them know that adults of all kinds are playing and they in turn may effect the people who decide at the foundation of a new game who  the target audience will be.  

    I’m middle aged and female , been gaming for 15 years or more.  I put up with things in game and dream of a game that will give me what I want [ and what that is might surprise many ].  I talk to others in game and ask questions that get brightly colored eyebrow raises.  I know that the demographics are wrong but good luck breaking the mold.   New molds are expensive.



  7. DraginHikari says:

    I wouldn’t say people defend it more so then accept it as a fact of life really…

  8. ikillchicken says:

    "now, looking back, tell me how a game like fallout 3 is geared toward the same crowd as super mario galaxy?"

    What? How did you get this out of what I said? Let me clarify.

    First off, I was pointing out that he did say "for the most part", thus bringing up some exceptions does nothing to counter his point.

    Secondly, I’m not comparing Fallout 3 to games like Mario. Also, I’m not sure if Will Wright is complaining about games like Mario which genuinely are for children (well…children and older nintendo fans but I assume you were refering to the prior.) It seems more likely to me that he is complaining about games that play at being mature but in reality are totally immature and appeal best to immature teens. Regardless, I wasn’t really adressing his comments but yours:

    "of course he wouldnt take notice of more mature themed games like kotor, mass effect, bioshock, or fallout 3. ut i guess they only appeal to 12 year old boys because the ONLY thing those games are about are killing people.  none of them touch on making moral decisions of any type.  just killing people and fucking aliens.  i wasnt aware he worked for fox news now."

    I believe that Mass Effect, Bioshock and presumably kotor (I never actually played it) are genuinely mature games. This is because they are genuinely intelligent, complex works that appeal to mature people.

    A whole lot of games however, despite carrying a M rating, are not actually mature at all. Gratuitous gore, nudity, and swearing do not make something mature. In fact, their excessive use can often make something decidedly immature. It’s this kind of thing that appeals most to 12 year old boys who think it’s all cool and edgy. (Again, I assumed it was this that Wright was refering to.) While Fallout 3 is far from the worst offender for this kind of thing, I don’t think it’s especially mature. Fallout 3 is contrary to what you said, basically a game about going around shooting people. (And no, there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s just not especially mature.) That is my opinion due to the simplicity of it’s morality and role playing system, lack of significant story or character and disapointing lack of anything really worth exploring. The character building elements are okay, but not amazing. I’ll give it some credit for that though.

  9. Neeneko says:

    I disagree.

    Nice complex games exist, and about the same number of them are produced as were in the past.  What has changed is they make up a smaller percentage of the total games since the other markets have grown while those markets have remained fairly small.

  10. V4nI114 Ic3 says:

    what makes a game deep?  what makes a movie deep?  what makes a book deep?

    all of those are subjective, because what is received from any of them is ultimately up to what the user wants to derive from them.

    now, looking back, tell me how a game like fallout 3 is geared toward the same crowd as super mario galaxy?

    i think you need to understand the material being debated.

  11. ikillchicken says:

    Two things:

    "because if you look at what people are doing with [video game] technology it is for the most part directed toward 12-year-old boys."

    Please spare us your sarcastic ‘wit’ unless you have actually understood the article you are responding to.

    Secondly, while you’re right about the other games you mentioned, in regards to Fallout 3, even saying it "touches on making moral decisions" is stretching it. Just because you throw in a half assed ‘morality system’ does not suddenly make a game deep.

  12. V4nI114 Ic3 says:

    kind of ironic, coming from the mind behind spore and the simcity, sim-whatever series.  of course he wouldnt take notice of more mature themed games like kotor, mass effect, bioshock, or fallout 3.

    but i guess they only appeal to 12 year old boys because the ONLY thing those games are about are killing people.  none of them touch on making moral decisions of any type.  just killing people and fucking aliens.  i wasnt aware he worked for fox news now.

  13. Afirejar says:

    This must be true, because these days no games are made except brutally violent FPS. None at all! By the way, you forgot to tell the people who play video games these days to get off your lawn.

  14. ZippyDSMlee says:

    brutally violent at all then the title is questioned more, FP seems to be favored less than 3rdP IMO.

    Gaming has become a medium akin to film, IE its ruled by the lowest common denominator and  zombie like consumerism, even hardcore is more about consuming and brands than about quality and pride.

    Casuals are not very fickle they could less about polish and features, this is reflected in corporate who have ramped up focus on short term rushed profit over any value polish/bug work,fans and the long term may bring. I have said it many times gaming as a medium has left alot of people behind to suit the needs of ther few in power that make millions out of the industry but not nesserily off any single title. Thus IMO there is little need to fully support it when the whims of fate will decemiate even the most profitable developer, its not about profit as much as the over all politics of the industry.

    The media industry is run on fads and what can be gotten over the masses, nothing more nothing less and I always find it funny when people defend its right to profit to the extreams, the peons working for the system make their money regardless just as developers can be closed down or dismissed regardless of what their work has made because they are very disposable and at the end of the day have little to do with owning the IP’s in question.

    *sigh* rambling rants’omatic…….


    I am a criminal because I purchase media,I am a criminal because I use media, I am a criminal because I chose to own media..We shall remain criminals until Corporate stay’s outside our bedrooms..


  15. Bennett Beeny says:

    How true!

    The real sad thing is that the game business didn’t used to be this way.  We had ultra-high tech flight sims, deep meaning-rich adventure games and all sorts of other genres that appealed to older players.  Sadly, these days, if it’s not a brutally violent FPS it’s not regarded as being worth investing money in.

  16. hellfire7885 says:

    Part of the problem is that if games try to tackel more mature themes, they get slammed for trivializing said issues, as there is STILL that stigma that video games are children’s toys.


    Until that mentality goes away or is less ocmmon, the industry can’t grow up without being told to sit back down and be quiet..

  17. jedidethfreak says:

    Dude, this has nothing to do with his point.  In context of his point, he was saying THE MOVIE Howard the Duck wasn’t as good as THE MOVIE Ghandi.

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  18. Neo_DrKefka says:

    People seem to forget or didn’t want to read into that ghandi didn’t fight for Civil Rights for all people, just Indians. He was offended in South Africa they were put together with Sub Saharan Africans (Black Africans) who are way at the bottom of the Hindu Caste system.

  19. jedidethfreak says:

    I agree that there’s a lot of shovelware for the Wii, but it’s not like that’s a new thing in this industry.  However, I’m optimistic enough to believe that there may still be developers out there willing to take a chance on a new type of gaming media, and if there is, it’s most likely the Wii or DS that those devs would release their game on, merely due to the fact that there isn’t really a staus quo as far as the other games on the system is concerned (i.e. every third title for the PS3/360 being an FPS or Fallout clone).

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  20. Ratros says:

    The problem with the Wii for many gamers (myself included), is not that they made it mainstream for the whole family, but that they continue to put out worthless shovel ware that they program in a month instead of quality titles that are fun to play.

    I once had a dream about God. In it, he was looking down upon the planet and the havoc we recked and he said unto us, "Damn Kids get off my lawn!"

  21. jedidethfreak says:

    Thus my worry about the new Star Trek movie.  I was hoping for more of the same.  The problem is, the 15-24 demographic probably didn’t see enough Trek to know what a good Trek movie is.  This problem compounded upon the announcements of Abrams directing and no Shatner.  I’ll admit I was VERY suprised that it was a great film, but that was more likely the exception than the rule.

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  22. Neeneko says:

    Unfortunatly from a funding perspective, he has a point.

    I am not sure ’12 year old’ is right, but if you want to pitch a design and get it built, the marketers generally want to know what your plan to appeal to the 15-25 year old male demographic is.  And if you can not claim to attract that one coveted group, your chances of getting support for your game (even if it is an internal pitch) are small.

    Movies have the same problem.  Seen sci-fi lately?  If a sci-fi movie/show doesn’t scream ’15-25 year old male’ it is unlikly to get much of a budget if it is even allowed to see the light of day.

  23. jedidethfreak says:

    This is exactly what Nintendo did – expand the consumer base for video gaming.  Yet not even just fanboys would nuke Nintendo headquarters for vengeance for the "wrongs" Nintendo commited.  I’m willing to bet that, if a developer did make an attempt at featuring a fully mature game (not just content wise, but control and interface wise as well), it would probably end up on their console because of the fact that there are more "non-gamers" that might actually appreciate it.

    Freedom of speech means the freedom to say ANYTHING, so long as it is the truth. This does not exclude anything that might hurt someone’s feelings.

  24. beemoh says:

    I wholeheartedly agree. I mean, nobody’s ever complained about popular music, ever. And there’s never been any disagreement about football teams- at least, certainly none that got physically violent. And everybody loves mainstream television.



  25. Tom says:

    The thing about the truly atrocious fanboy idiots is that they tend to exist in a closed system.  Movie nerds are the same way -they’re rabid and vicious and blinded and foolish, but they don’t represent the average movie goer.  They exist in a certain realm, much the same way that the crazy fanboy gamer punk only really exists in a certain realm, but the vast majority of game players are reasonable people. 

  26. Zerodash says:

    I think the average gamer is just as guilty for holding the medium back.  From the antics of your typical XBL player to the blithering fanboy wars, they constantly remind me why I will never call myself a "gamer".  These swine are the ones who will complain and cry when anyone tries to expand the medium to make it inclusive. Just look at all those fools who, in their black & white world, profess how causal games or motion controls means that traditional games will be gone forever.  Perhaps we need to reboot the average gaming consumer- too many of the current ones are either dumb prepubescent losers or simply overgrown man-childs (is that how you pluralize it?).

  27. Adamas Draconis says:

    nah I blame the 8 year olds 12 year olds tend to have the sense to shut up when the bigger guy tells them to.

    Hunting the shadows of the troubled dreams.

  28. Father Time says:

    Man 12 year old guys are the scapegoats of the scapegoated (us). Those jackasses who swear on voice chat? 12 year-olds. Games being too casual or immature, blame the population of 12 year olds.

    I don’t know any 12 year olds but it still seems odd.


    Debates are like merry go rounds. Two people take their positions then they go through the same points over and over and over again. Then when it’s over they have the same positions they started in.

  29. Neo_DrKefka says:

    It’s true sadly most game designers are reluctant to do mature or adult games though most gamers are now adults. For me it’s a turn off to play a Final Fantasy game was newer characters to designed to be little girl looking teens with teen problems. Give us an adult story!

  30. GoodRobotUs says:

    I think the problem is more about financial weight than quality of games.

    Mr Wright is completely in error in his comment that games manufacturers only make games for 12 year old, but the fact of the matter is that companies like EA do have a reputation of writing games as though they were for 12-year olds, and they have the financial clout to dominate advertising and shop-space, thus pushing out more ‘cereberal’ developers.

    One of the biggest guilty parties in earning games that reputation is the very company that owns Maxis, and I think this is something Mr Wright should be taking into account, his success is part of the financial engine that is powering this attitude towards Video Games.

    I’ll admit, occasionally, there is a diamond in the rough, but most of EA’s produce is designed to appeal as broad a range of customers as possible, so ‘simple and colourful’ seem to be the watchwords.

  31. foolkiller79 says:

    As I see Will Wright saying this I can’t help but think of My Sims and SimCity Creator, which have taken his ideas and lowered them to a mentality that I find painful.  I agree with him to a degree, but I think that he may want to express his sentiments directly to EAm while he’s at it. 

  32. Alex says:

    Very well said on his part.

    I’m not under the affluence of incohol as some thinkle peep I am. I’m not half as thunk as you might drink. I fool so feelish I don’t know who is me, and the drunker I stand here, the longer I get.

  33. GoodRobotUs says:

    I’d say the effect is reciprocal, there ARE games out there that are aimed at more grown-up players, but they don’t get the attention because everyone assumes that if it doesn’t feature a radioactive ninja Guadeloupe it surely isn’t a computer game.

    The games that sell are ‘bite-size’ games, even the ‘big’ productions might take hours or days to complete, but they’ll take a couple of minutes to learn, and this makes them considered ‘childish’. This is particularly amusing when you consider how ‘complex’ the rules of things like Chess or Reversi are…

    It’s not that Video Games need to grow up, in my opinion, it’s that people need to stop looking at them through blinkers, and assuming that only the games that reach the charts count.


    To me, this seems the equivalent of saying ‘The movie industry needs to grow up, because Howard the Duck wasn’t nearly as good as Ghandi…’

  34. Snipzor says:

     Well if Will Wright said it, it must be true. But of course it is, it is a logical statement that games should do more than appeal to the soon to be sexually frustrated, bloodthirsty 12-year old. There aren’t enough games to challenge our intelligence, and we do need more.

Comments are closed.