I am constantly concerned, for any game I play with my game designer hat on, about who is the target audience. The answer(s) to that question influence a huge amount of the game design decisions, and the wrong answer can often mean a bad game. But one aspect to this question of audience that I don’t consider enough is: what sort of person would become a player of this game?

The process of acquiring a player is a complex one; it begins with excitement and interest, relies on a tailored learning experience, and concluded with depth and replayability. The “holy grail” of acquisition, of course, is a lot of new dedicated players that tell their friends about how awesome the game is… but not just because viral marketing is so powerful. Most games will thrive if they have a healthy community spring up around them, and such a community also aids the creation of further new players.

I think, having taught many people how to play many different games now, that a good rule of thumb is that the person must become interested in the first minute or so, must learn enough to be comfortable playing without further tutorial in the first five minutes (optimal is if they also feel comfortable asking questions when necessary), and probably should be left with some sense that the next play through will be as interesting as the first (or more so!)

Some games take longer to learn, and are (just due to the difficulties of attention span, esp. outside of hardcore gamers) therefore less likely to acquire new players. There is often a tension between depth / repeat gameplay and ease of acquisition in good game designs; intended audience helps define where on that spectrum your game should lie.