Endless Ocean: Games for People

A big challenge for game designers is to open up their games for different target groups, especially for girls and women. However, what I often found that they end up developing games specifically made for female players. Instead of getting games out of their teenage boy niche and creating product which can appeal universally to different people, they end up in yet another niche.

This is the game I have bought instead if Mario Galaxy.

At this point I would like to mention one interesting game I bought just recently (instead of Mario Galaxy) called Endless Ocean. The game fascinates me and I might talk some more about it. Today I will talk about it as a product.

What really completely surprised me about Endless Ocean is what kind of Product it is. It is very similar to other games out there but you don’t really see the similarity because of the completely different presentation. In the game, you dive in the ocean, stroke some fishes, learn some cool facts about them, get a dolphin as a pet and teach him some tricks. Generally it is a game where you can play a lot with animals. If you summarize the game in such an abstract way, you immediately start seeing the similarities to games like Nintendogs, Pet Vet 3D: Animal Hospital, Imagine: Animal Doctor, Petz Wild Animals Dolphinz etc. The amazing about Endless Ocean is that at first sight, you wouldn’t really compare it to those other products.

Pink Ware! Not Pink Eye.

To understand what Endless Ocean does differently, you have to look at the other products. I think the most obvious is “Pet Vet 3D: Animal Hospital”. This is a prime example of something I would call “Pink Ware” (somebody used that term in Clash of Realities) – products deliberately made for young girls. Just look at the packaging! Everything is in PINK because as we all know, PINK is the girl-color. The font is fluffy and curly like marshmallows because they are sweet and girls like sweets (in Germany it is PINK as well). There is also cute Barbie-look-alike on the package reinforcing the girl-oriented nature of the game even further. Oh yeah and there are some stars because you couldn’t really tell if it was a game for girls if there were no stars.

As you can imagine, I have a deep problem with Pink Ware. In a way, Pink Ware is just as bad as the clichéd niche Products we are used to. In fact they are even worse. I can imagine a girl (or rather a woman) playing Doom III or Counter Strike. I can’t imagine a boy picking up Animal Hospital. Even worse, as Ernest Adams once mentioned:

“Once a girl learns that some of the software is for girls, she’s going to figure that the rest of it is for boys. Worse, there are undoubtedly parents out there who will believe the same thing. The boy can roam all over the store, while the girl is stuck in her tiny area. The “for girls” label does the exact opposite of what its advocates claim. It’s not empowering, it’s limiting.”

But take a break for a while, close your eyes and try to see trough all that pink. You can really imagine that somewhere within the game there might very well be something about interacting with animals, even “girlish” animals like Horses which could very well appeal to boys and even men. After all, cowboys do ride horses and that’s cool, right? Boys also like to play with dogs and cats, I’ve seen it with my very own eyes and did it myself. So the problem is not the topic, it is the presentation.

As soon as there are no stars on the package anymore it gets increasingly difficult to determine whether the game is for girls or for boys. You might actually have to start THINKING! *GASP*

And THIS is what Endless Ocean does so well. In fact, it does it so well that for me, it belongs in a totally different category of games although gameplay-wise, it might be very close to the mentioned Pink Ware titles. As you can see, the presentation is totally gender-ambiguous. It is even age-ambiguous. Cool, serious font. The title itself is brief and doesn’t suggest anything, apart maybe from the lyrical quality of the word “Endless”. Just a great screenshot, no character portraits or anything. Might be straight from National Geographic. Also, note that the animal on the cover is a Manta Ray. Neither a Dolphin nor a Shark. The game is completely open as far as the target demographic goes. Because diving in the ocean and looking at fish is actually something everybody might enjoy. Focusing on a particular part of the audience would mean excluding all other people.

The way to open games to the female part of the audience is NOT by creating products especially for them. Instead, the challenge is to find out what is universally attractive regardless of gender and maybe even age. Don’t create games for boys or girls, create game for people.

How to kill a game: shoehorn it into a target audience.

This is exactly what Endless Ocean is and frankly, I haven’t seen a game like this before. Sure, there was Brain Age but that was something more like a crossword puzzle. It didn’t have that rich, immersive quality we are used from other modern games. Endless Blue is one of the first games for people in general. I can imagine lots of situations where Endless Ocean might appeal to somebody. The 20-something diver want to use between holidays while he/she looks forward to his next trip. The 40+ biology teacher might use it in class. The little 10 years old Finding Nemo fan, who has his bedroom covered with seahorse-wallpaper. And yes, in the end even a teenage boy might pick it up just to check out the sharks.

Krystian Majewski

Krystian Majewski was born in Warsaw and studied design at Köln International School of Design. Before, he was working on a mid-size console project for NEON Studios in Frankfurt. He helped establish a Master course in Game Design and Research at the Cologne Game Lab. Today he teaches Game Design at various institutions and develops independent games.

8 responses to “Endless Ocean: Games for People”

  1. Corvus

    Nice post! I’ve lamented the “Add More Pink” approach to design girl friendly game before. I think it’s a cop out, not to mention a bit demeaning.

    Nice to see there are games that break the mould!

  2. Chris

    I’m not going to defend “pinkware” since like you I believe in making games for *people*, but it must be noted: if a game is primarily selling to an adolescent female market, the use of pink improves sales – possibly because it increases the chance that the target market will pick up a copy of the game.

    Of course, the way around this would be to have a retail channel for videogames that was “female friendly” – most videogame stores are very male-oriented.

    While there’s a practical commercial value to the pink, it will be hard to get rid of it.

    PS: this game is a semi-sequel to an earlier diving game by the same company; as a diver myself, although one who hasn’t dived in years, I’m quite excited by the possibilities. Your review gives me some hope. :)

    Best wishes!

  3. Krystian Majewski

    Thanks for your comments!

    The problem with Pink Ware is not the color. That’s just a nasty cliché but you are right – it has become a symbol and it works.

    The problem with Pink Ware is more the Idea: To create a game which is concentrates so much on such a specific target group. That is just narrow-minded thinking.

    About Diving: I didn’t write about the game mechanics of Endless Blue yet and there are some flaws. I might go into details some other time. One of them is that the technical aspects of diving are portrayed very rudimentary. I never dived but I heard that you have to watch the speed at which you re-surface. Well that’s totally missing.

  4. K. Thor Jensen

    Nice to see you posting again! Pinkware is a constant struggle, especially in the casual games industry where the audience is so predominantly female.

  5. Nicolas

    For the record, I (a 20-year-old male with little to no interest in pinkware) actually saw this game in a store and wanted it, and it wasn’t to see if I could accidentally get eaten by a shark, though the thought crossed my mind.

  6. David Hellman

    Nice post there. The cover of this game indeed appealed to me, and I suppose it’s good that the publisher realized the breadth of EO’s potential audience. This is the kind of broadly-appealing, easy-to-play, “about something” software I was hoping for on the Wii.

    Unfortunately, the game itself is rather limited… It is almost a nice game about just swimming around and seeing what’s there, but there isn’t that much to discover. If the world had been more varied and spatially interesting, I’d have played it a lot more.

  7. Rafael Van Daele-Hunt

    “To create a game which is concentrates so much on such a specific target group. That is just narrow-minded thinking.”

    In theory, I agree. However, trying to make a game for everyone often results in crap. Game design involves making choices, so we need criteria, and having your “typical player” in mind is one good way to make those decisions. For example, would Endless Ocean be improved by a head-to-head mode in which you ride a shark and try to eat your opponent? That depends on who you want to play it.

  8. Krystian Majewski

    One of my favorite “The Simpsons” episodes is “O Brother, where are thou”. There, Homer is allowed to design a car that fits exactly to his needs. If you know the episode you know what came out of it:

    The episode is not only funny, it also makes a very important point about design: Although it is true that it is impossible to please everybody, you can’t expect your users to solve your problems for you. In the end, it is the designer who is doing the choices. Pink Ware is not smart because it enhances sterotypes, prevents exchange and excludes large parts of the audience. Saying that you designed the game with a certain audience in mind does not mean that your picture of the audience was automatically correct or that you did a good job.


Game Design Reviews is a Blog used by a group of game designers from Germany to publish and discuss their thoughts on various games. The blog consists entirely of reviews of games. Each review focuses on the important game design ideas and concepts of that particular game. We also run a second, more informal Blog called Game Design Scrapbook.


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