Using the correct methodologies when researching is important during in the production process, helping to orient and guide the project in the early stages as well as midway through the process. I hope to utilise various research techniques in order to inform my project direction.
In the games industry, play testing is a common and simple first hand qualitative research method that functions by putting the game in front of individuals and letting them play it in order to give their feedback. This can be used in a Quality Control fashion with more dedicated play testers with the purpose of identifying game bugs, however more focus group based play testing can also occur in order to gauge and study the public’s reactions in relation to the expectations of the producers, potentially leading to beneficial changes that can occur early in the production process when changing things is easier. This is the primary type of research methodology I will take – focus groups that will inform me of how I should tailor my game to its audience’s expectations at a stage when I can integrate my findings into the process alongside production – if the research takes place too late, I may have to change or even redo things to remain on track, which would be obviously detrimental to progress.
That said, I believe games are a personal creation and in researching how to better appeal to your core audience you must be wary of changing the game’s direction at the cost of the original idea’s sake – that is, if people are unfamiliar with the concepts a game presents, that might just be because these concepts are original and have never been explored before rather than ‘wrong’ in some way, or that they just need to be explained better. In the past, there has been the occasional ruckus regarding how play testing has been approached – one example is when an executive director of Arkane, the developer of Dishonored, revealed in an interview how play testers reacted to one of the in-game characters (in this case, a guard) telling the player that they couldn’t go upstairs – so the playtesters didn’t, thinking that there were no other options, even though they were playing as a master assassin. The top comment on the page from user MasterFnarg reads: “They didn’t go upstairs because someone told them they couldn’t? Have these people ever played a video game?” But what exactly was the perceived problem here – did Arkane choose the wrong testers? Did they not brief the testers correctly before they started playing? Another user TheVGamer comments: “I think Gabe said this but unexperienced playtesters (ie. non-gamers) are the best type of playtesters because they have no previous experience to taint how they view the game they’re testing.” In this case he is referring to Gabe Newell, founder of Valve, and makes an interesting point – the type of tester chosen to test the game likely impacts the research – do you choose testers from your core target audience, or the general public? In the end it probably depends on who you want your game to appeal to – I feel that my testers will be made up from gamers with at least some experience in order to get the most knowledgeable feedback; I’d like the game to appeal to people like me, rather than dilute it so that it appeals to everyone but in a weaker way.
Other research methodologies include questionnaires, a relatively easy way to gain insight into various aspects of planned features and concepts by setting up questions based on them, and then collecting the opinions of many in order to inspect the results and respond accordingly. There can be drawbacks to this – multiple choice questions are hardly personal and don’t allow people to speak their mind (unless optional text boxes are included with questions) but still serve as a solid way to gain a general overview of the opinions of many; as long as the questions are constructed correctly as well as in an unbiased way.
In the end, there are a few research methodologies that can be utilized, each one serves a different purpose and can aid the production process in different ways.