Focus Testing is a type of study in which analysts gather a small but diverse group of individuals, and compiling the results of that test based on emotional responses and opinions on a given subject. These tests are often used either in marketing research, or even political analysis. For the purposes of the video game industry, major publishers will use focus testing for marketing purposes to decide what their next project should be like. However, there are certain negative aspects to this practice, particularly in regards to how some publishers go about it.
The Biggest Problems with Focus Testing
- The biggest problem with using focus groups for marketing research in the gaming sphere is that some of the greedier publishers will use that data to chase popular trends for the sake of maximizing profit rather than quality products.
- This is the main reason why Insomniac's Fuse underwent such a drastic shift from its original concept, then known as Overstrike, though is wasn't Insomniac's own doing in this case.
- The use of focus groups allows certain publishers to force their own will onto the developers, rather than let them make the game they want. If the project doesn't align with the publisher's own vision, then the project may be scrapped entirely, or worse, the studio may be shut down. This act ultimately was the final nail in Visceral Games' coffin.
- Often, focus testing can be used to pander to a certain demographic. Going back to Fuse, the demographic that Electronic Arts selected for focus testing consisted of 12 year olds that called the game's original design "too childish" (the irony in that comment!), which led the game's overall gameplay, design, and aesthetic to become soulless, bland and indistinguishable from similar games on the market at the time.
- Electronic Arts is unsurprisingly the most notorious user of focus testing when designing their games. They used "tracking fundamental shifts in the market" as the main reason for scrapping Project Ragtag, and shutting down Visceral Games; because it was to be an Uncharted-style Star Wars game without "Live Service" elements in it, further proof of trend chasing.
- The over reliance on focus testing leads to stale repetitive games that do the same thing over and over with no innovation due to all of them just copying what focus testing claims will be successful.
- Sometimes, it can lead to "experimenter bias", where test results are/can be influenced by the examiner, and data can even be cherry picked so the examiner can reach the conclusion they want. Though not proven, it is highly likely that EA has mandated "live service" elements in their games due to their own disdain towards story driven single player titles, and their firm belief that gamers "don't enjoy those types of games as much as they did 5-10 years ago". This belief has been frequently proven to be false largely thanks to Sony and Nintendo's first party offerings.
- The results of focus testing are often incorrect, as they're based on calculated data from small samples rather than listening to the opinions and feedback of consumers. Many times publishers ignore the feedback of those who buy their games in favor of continuously following focus tested data.