The lights are on
Veteran Member - Level 11
Focus groups are like zombies-the only way to stop the spread of stupidity is a bullet to the brain.
today to talk about the "f" word. No, this is not an allusion to
swearing-what I am talking about is the scourge of all things
creative-the FOCUS GROUP.
originally, the focus group had some possibilities...in theory. The
reason? It's the Capitalist Holy Grail, only watered down a bit.
Basically, a focus group exists to tell the people who are looking to
sell a product how it will be received...only, and this is the genius in
it, the focus group is supposed to be a way to tell companies how good
something will eventually sell long before the final product is mass
produced and ready to be released.
Now, when it
comes to stuff like the usefulness of a new stapler or the taste of a
new fast food burger, there's some wiggle room for what makes people go
"yay" or "NAY!"
Where the hell do they get these people?!
But when it
comes to an experience-like a movie, or a story, (and this includes
games to a huge extent as they are basically interactive universes that
the gamer can tap into through a console interface), things become
When I come
out of a movie, what I take away as the main message or feeling is
largely subjective. I've had arguments about what various movies were
"actually about," and I am of the opinion that pretty much any romantic
comedy can be turned into a creepy stalker thriller with a simple change
of music and lighting.
"Oh, the hills are alive and they're EATING CHILDREN! Let's pray that you'll be eaten first!"
about focus groups is that they leech that creativity right out of a
movie. Entertainment companies are in the business of finding a formula
for entertainment-be it music, movies, games, or fashion. They're
looking for a way to "one size fits all" these artistic endeavors
because it maximizes profit and minimizes the amount of money they have
to spend on developing their product. If that doesn't sound soulless
enough for you, you might be pretty dang jaded, but if you have been
noticing that all of the "Big and Popular Things" are looking, sounding
and playing pretty dang "samey" lately, it's not just a figment of your
If only it were that simple...
(American) focus group. A focus group is basically the opposite of an
empirical scientific study. It seeks to find some mythical group of
"average" Americans (in the range of ages and genders that have the most
money and the most likelihood of buying the product), and put them in a
room with a bunch of subjective tests. The hopeful outcome of all
these shenanigans is to get the opinions of a small room of people and
apply it to the millions of other Americans in the whole of the USA.
Ostensibly, they offer somewhat crappy rewards, like vouchers for
something that no one actually buys or a coupon for the eventual
product. And generally, the highest number of people in focus groups
are the exact sorts of people you really don't want making decisions for
the industry-namely retirees, jobless losers, housewives, homeless
people, and basically anyone else who has a high amount of time on their
hands and basically nothing else to do.
Like this guy. He's the reason why Spiderman 3 even exists.
There's a (sad but true) running gag that pretty much ever movie
based on an Issac Azimov book is doomed to failure because of the
meddling of focus groups and "test audiences." If you actually read his
stuff, you'll know why. While the movie adaptation of "Do Androids
Dream of Electric Sheep" (IE: Blade Runner) didn't totally suck, there
were huge problematic parts that completely changed the actual plot and
story because test audiences were "confused" about what was happening in
the movie (hint: it's not just about blowing things up and
boobie-and-butt-shots-there's an actual lesson that's being imparted
here), so they cut out the actual reasoning behind the story, and turned
it into a straight-up sci-fi action movie with some artsy
philosophizing that didn't really come full circle to an actual point.
Unfortunately, most of his other movies suffer from the same "guts and
glamor" action movie makeover, which, while it makes the rednecks go
crazy with excitement, leaves much to be desired in actual content.
not just a comforting lie we tell our ugly cousins. What's inside is
just as important as what's on the outside- a vapid hot moron lady may
look pretty, but in 5 minutes you're going to be bored and looking
Azimov was famous for saying, "Science fiction is not really about
what it is about." To some extent this is true with a lot of games.
While early incarnations of gaming were very straightforward, gamers
could use imagination to extrapolate on the stories behind the
characters and in modern games, the capacity to create intelligent,
dynamic, story lines are very prevalent in games such as Mass Effect and
Both of these games respectively gained the adoration of the vast
majority of video gaming enthusiasts from all walks of life, even many
of those who don't enjoy sci-fi. But when the second installment of
these games came out, it was fairly obvious that many things had
changed, and not all of them were good. In fact, there was a lot of
critical boo-hooing about some of the changes that made the game feel
more like a mainstream FPS with some story than a heavily story-based
RPG with shooting elements in it. And there was a huge amount of
brouhaha about multiplayer-which seemed to be the hot item that all game
developers seemed to want to tack onto every game even if it was
totally broken and laggy, just so they could brag that multiplayer was
Why did these things happen?
If it ain't broke, don't "fix" it. Seriously, guys.
Two words: focus groups. Guess what their demographics wanted more
of? They wanted shootie-shootie bang-bang with fwends and the game
developers answered with a hearty YES. Instead of doing the game
justice, they decided that it would be a much better idea to ask a small
group of people exactly what THEY wanted, and then changed it for
everyone, even the huge mass of people who really liked what they had
done before and wanted a similar formula with different story, and just a
Cashing in on the mainstream wants and desires of a small group of
people, while ignoring the demographics that like your games, is almost
certainly a recipe for backlash and generally, more mediocre sales.
While "shinifying" things and making them more formulaic might be
easier, it leads to a very real decrease in quality. And while it is
true that there is a very real demographic of people who will buy the
thing that has the biggest explosions and the biggest guns, there are
quite a lot of people who want more than that and will tell you so-with
Mainstream Normality-horrifying, ain't it?
everything similar and simple is the main reason why FPS market is
basically saturated, and because of this, people are being picky about
what games they buy, even if they hit all the "talking points" that
focus groups are so fond of. Plus, on top of that, there's the simple
fact that even after using these methods of feedback, they're still not
getting the whole picture, and oftentimes, this ends up meaning that
there's a huge variable that's being left unaccounted for in their
careful calculations of what ending to use or what elements to emphasize
or what portions to cut out.
FPS Killed the Survival Horror Video Game Star
also singlehandedly kill awesome games for development or localization.
In the case of the critically acclaimed survival-horror title Nanashi
no Game, also known as "the Nameless Game"-a focus group outright killed
any hopes for localization because they (and I quote):
"[The basic synopsis of the game is] With only days left to live, you have to solve the mystery in the
real world and the eerie 8-bit RPG. Similar to a point and click
adventure game, actions, like inspecting an object in the real world,
may open a path in the video game world. Since Asian horror movies
(well, at least remakes) are popular in North America, I asked Tokita if
he considered releasing Nanashi no Game overseas.
talked to a focus group and they thought it wasn’t good for the market,
so we didn’t do it," Tokita replied. "Maybe as a downloadable title
it’s possible." I was surprised since Japanese and Korean horror movies
were on the rise, so I asked Tokita to elaborate. "The opinion was you
couldn’t shoot anything. Maybe we shouldn’t have been too concerned
WHAT. THE. FFFFFF-OCUS GROUP!?
conclusion, I must say that there will always be people who don't like a
genre. Some people will always hate puzzle games, while others give
FPS games the stink-eye. But when a game designer focuses on focus
groups instead of focusing on quality and awesomeness while making their
game, they're going to end up losing their focus on making the game
you have any questions, comments or ranty-type things in regards to the
focus group fiasco that seems to be eradicating the uniqueness and
quality of games, movies, music and media in general?
See ya later, alligators! :D