Focus Groups are Driving us into Oblivion

No, not that Oblivion.

I have to wonder how “marketing” efforts from 100 years ago would have stood up to today’s. People made things they thought people would like, they marketed them in ways they thought would appeal, and everyone went on their merry way. Today, we have focus groups, market research, and all sorts of other data aimed squarely at allowing us to craft the most precise, effective marketing campaigns ever. Market research is an iterative process–each generation of marketing is more effective than the previous. But wait–this isn’t an anti-capitalist rant! It’s an anti-people rant. Bear with me…

Given the choice between instant and deferred gratification, people always lean toward the former. Broccoli will make you full and healthier in the long run, but deep fried chicken parts taste better, even if they will make you fat and disgusting. Guess what McDonald’s serves?

I often joke about creating the ultimate snack. I’d call it Buttersalt Cheesy Chips. There would be numerous flavors–you would never find Original Recipe Buttersalt Cheesy Chips. Store shelves would be stocked with Nacho Taco Buttersalt Cheesy Chips, Creamy Ranch Butter Salt Cheesy Chips, Blue Cheese Pizza Buttersalt Cheesy Chips, and so on. They would be the brightest, greasiest, most disgusting chips ever, and I think they’d sell like mad, because given the amount of time it will take to get the product to market, America will have graduated another generation of focus group-induced fattening, and be totally ready for my brand new heart attack in a bag.

I get frustrated by game reviews because I get the sense that reviewers are really just looking for more Buttersalt Cheesy Chips in videogame form. I kind of feel for the guys–you can’t really hope for any deferred gratification when you’ve got deadlines, a stack of games to review, and a fast fading attention span. Still, reviewers adore Buttersalt Cheesy Chips moments, so savvy developers are keen to deliver. Set pieces make great Buttersalt Cheesy Chips–great at first, but no lasting game play value.

This isn’t to say that big games have no game play–it’s usually quite the contrary. But when more focus is placed on the Buttersalt Cheesy Chips aspects of the game than the Broccoli and Rice aspects, you end up feeling empty inside with a bit of heartburn.

Going back to that Oblivion: it is, quite contrary to the title of this post, a Broccoli and Rice game.

July 24, 2008 posted by James

Filed under: Games,Reviews

1 Comment Comment away!

  • 1. yojimb0  |  July 27, 2008 at 2:16 AM

    At the same time, though, you can’t fault your audience for wanting butter and salt: the audience has the right to want what they like. The best games, to me, are the ones that assiduously hold my appeal while drawing me into the gameplay meat. I think the designer’s job is to put melted cheddar on broccoli, as it were, to make complex gameplay palatable and accessible.

    I think the problem with marketing is that it hasn’t integrated itself with game development enough. It seems rare to find a marketing message for a game that matches the intents of the game itself: I feel like the situation would improve for everyone if marketers and designers collaborated and synergized their respective crafts.

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