The target audience is a critical consideration for any product. During my engineering days, such considerations were very clear. The customer would provide specifications, and I would create the control panel or wiring diagram or program to meet those specifications.
As a game developer and sometimes-writer, the target audience’s wants and needs are far less cut and dried. When it comes to creative pursuits, it’s very easy to fall into creating the game you would want to play or the story you would want to read, but this can be a trap. It can lead to an audience that’s much narrower than the target audience you truly want. In the worst cases, it can lead to restricting yourself to an audience of one! Obviously, this is less than ideal for any sort of product.
And so it becomes very important to define the target audience at the start and to keep that target audience firmly in mind, even if you are not a member of that target audience, make that especially if you are not a member of that target audience. Target audience will impact art choices, game mechanics, and even aspects of your game as seemingly innocuous as packaging.
It’s also highly beneficial to consider ways to expand your target audience. Movies frequently tone down certain elements in order to achieve a PG-13 rating instead of an R rating. Whether you personally like it or loathe it, the fact remains – PG-13 movies gross two to three times more than R rated movies on average.
Cutting down on over-the-top gore or sensuality can have the same impact for games. In some cases, it can broaden your audience by entire nations that have censorship laws against certain themes or imagery. Always be mindful, however, that aiming for too broad an audience can dilute the appeal. Just because a game doesn’t offend anyone out there doesn’t mean it appeals to anyone out there, either.