With so many games out there from so many studios on mobile, PC, and consoles, it can be really tough knowing what games are suitable for your children, especially if you haven’t played them for yourself. We, the devs, of Mystic Riders want to be transparent about who our game is for and that we’re doing everything we can to both provide a great game experience while protecting the children and young adults who play the game.
First, age. We are specifically writing for the twelve and up set in terms of content. From issues they face to the genre tropes they adore, we are writing with them in mind and what they will enjoy, though some of us also indulge our inner twelve-year-old a lot, so it balances out (Becca has a habit of binge watching PreCure. It’s bad). That all being said, we are also keeping common fears and phobias out of the game such as spiders, darkness, etc., and there will be censoring (and moderators watching for back door maneuvers) of any swearing or inappropriate subject matter, so younger children may be inclined to play.
Safety is our highest priority.
We definitely want you, the parents to be aware of this age-bracket, and we want to have a solid relationship with you. That’s why we have taken a lot of care with figuring out our parental controls. But we are hoping for some consideration in return. While we won’t be any worse than the old Sailor Moon dubs that many of us grew up with, we still aren’t responsible if the subject matter isn’t what you want your child to be learning, and in fact we will be quite vocal about our game aiming for 10+ children at minimum. Some of the mini-game mechanics and plot points might be of higher difficulty than a younger player can play through on their own, so if parents of younger children let them play, they need to be aware that their child might need help for them to advance the game.
So besides age, who else are we targeting? We are aiming for girl players, thus why the Main Character is a female-only option. There is a distinct lack of games that target girl gamers, even now, for a real gaming experience. Most games fall under boy-centric or gender neutral in terms of tone. What few girl games there are tend to fall into gendered “safe” types, so basically makeovers, fashion, and playing house like cooking and home decorating. There isn’t much investment in other types of games because girl gamers are seen as a group who don’t spend money, which creates a chicken-or-the-egg problem. Girls don’t spend money on games because there aren’t any good games for them, so no one makes a good game deliberately for girls.
As for the other two types, well. Some of the male games are tolerable, but if you try and play them, you run into toxic communities that can drive a girl away from gaming for life. Gender neutral games are puzzles or some adventure games, with a few specific genres that are trying to branch away from their original male demographic, but even some of those that tout having female players are designed almost purely for the male gaze aesthetically. We want visuals that are appropriate for pre-teen and early teens without sexualizing their main characters (and therefore adding a certain unwelcome element of online gaming). We are hoping to create a safe environment that encourages them to enjoy video games and the type of community an MMORPG can create.
Finally, what type of gamer are we looking for and is that your child? We want explorers, creators, and any who would appreciate a good story. Mystic Riders was approached from a unique standpoint in the gaming industry—it was built narrative first! (Okay, loosely, and then we figured out what all we wanted in there and the branding. We still aren’t building levels before we know what is even happening in those levels.) There is an emphasis on customizing, exploring a large, open world, and allowing different levels of cooperation based on personal comfort. Some people aren’t happy unless their riding club has over a thousand members, some people don’t want anything to do with clubs, thank you. We try to appeal to both.
Where cooperation really isn’t optional is with the horses. Our type of player loves horses and wants to interact with them in several different ways and with their favorite breeds. We want to meet that need…as much as is reasonable. We understand that your wallet isn’t always open. We need money to sustain and expand the game. At the same time, if the game price is too high then it drives the exact players we want away from playing. That’s why we have set limits on number of horses and the prices of (very limited) micro-transactions. (We’d love to do away with them entirely but aren’t sure if we can or not.)
We have even made it a priority in our game that everything that the player needs to have an enjoyable experience can be earned in the game through quests. (Yes, there are quests the player can play once to earn the type of credits needed to purchase one draft horse and one pony, if maybe not the specific breed or color that they desire.) On top of that, we have limited the number of breeds of horses in our games.
Some breeds are so similar to others, or effectively are the same breed outside of some specific color patterns, that they aren’t going to have separate listings. (Becca has a story about a horse whose grandfather was a leopard Appaloosa, father was an American Paint/Thoroughbred, and then the poor stallion couldn’t get registered as anything but a Thoroughbred.) But if you want an American Paint horse, you can certainly get an American Quarter Horse and customize the coat!
Becca and Ginny are also putting their foot down as far as some elements of horsemanship are concerned. Not to be mean or to make their job easier, but because they require years of experience to do properly and, more importantly, safely. The player character is set up by the story to be only a few steps above novice in knowledge and skills with horses. We’re too honest.
If you or your child don’t exactly fit this target market, does that mean you won’t enjoy the game? Considering Becca and Ginny both have whined about wanting to play the game rather than just make it, it’s pretty safe to assume no. But like with book genres, by knowing who a game was intended for, you can go in with a clear understanding of expectations and not be disappointed.