By Rich "Beaker" Wyckoff
How is it that a game winds up with things which just feel wrong, to players and to developers alike? Or along similar lines, why is it that some games ship which feel fine to the people who made them, but feel wrong to the actual audience? I think the answer is simple: these games were designed not as a conversation, but as a monologue.
In less fancy terms, what I am saying here is that in order to produce great gameplay, that gameplay must be tested and revised. Until I joined Knowledge Adventure, I had been working with new technology – engines developed just for the games on which I was working. Making a new game on a new engine is the most difficult task in the industry, and it is no surprise (but also no excuse) that design is often compromised on these projects.
I am now working on a project using a licensed engine, and we are in the ideal position of being able to easily and rapidly test our ideas. Our company, being part of one of the largest publishing organizations in the software industry (Havas neé Cendant), is lucky enough to have an in-house test lab, and it is regular practice on our more-usual products to test them continually throughout their conception with the audience for whom they are intended.
My current project, although much more similar to the kinds of games I have been working on all my career, is also expected to go through the same regular kid testing as every other KA project. To designers at more-traditional developers, this resembles the horror which is known as "focus grouping."
It is not surprising that focus groups cause fear and pain among traditional designers. Focus groups are usually run by, of all the most game-clueless groups at a company, the marketing department, and usually come quite late in a project's cycle, when it is already too late to really change any of the fundamental concepts of a game's design. They usually generate a combination of "I wish this game was exactly like game X" and "I wish this game had these ten features which I like in game Y" comments, and then the marketing department writes these up into a list of demands.
However, just because focus groups are generally useless and aggravating and act mainly to allow people who don't actually know what makes a game good to think that they are helping make it better does not mean that testing with the public is a bad idea. In fact, if you examine the phrase "design is a conversation" it should be obvious that interacting with your audience is not just useful, but essential. To have a conversation, you must have two participants – it should be obvious that one of those participants should be the audience for whom the game is intended.
|Credits: Beaker's Bent logo illustrated by and is © 1999 Dan Zalkus. Beaker's Bent is © 1999 Rich Wyckoff. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't do it. We have ways of making you talk.|