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Levine: Developers should avoid focus groups

Levine: Developers should avoid focus groups

Ken Levine worked as a designer on System Shock, Thief and BioShock.

Ken Levine, lead designer on last year's BioShock has warned fellow developers against the issues presented by early focus group testing as part of a speech given at the Develop conference this morning in Brighton.

Speaking at the conference, Levine said that focus groups often struggle to see the whole view of a game at the early stages and that there had been issues with groups testing BioShock as nobody wanted to play a game in an underwater objectivist utopia.

Levine also drew on examples from his time spent with Looking Glass Studios, where he helped design the first Thief games - famous for flying in the face of traditional gaming conventions.

"Here was a game where you had a sword and a bow and arrow, and you had to hide under a dresser for half an hour... It's not exactly saying, rev up the focus group, they're going to love this," said Levine.

"We had people going to focus test groups and asking, 'Would you like more weapons or less weapons?'" - the answer was obvious, of course, yet the entire point of the game was to provide a sense of vulnerability.

"Marketing people have really improved their methods, and it's much more sophisticated now, but you can still get some really bad data out of these things."

If you could have changed BioShock then what would you have done to make the game more enjoyable? Let us know in the forums.

22 Comments

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Bauul 31st July 2008, 12:01 Quote
I was at that conference on Tuesday...

Didn't get to see anyone nearly as cool as the Bioshock crew though. :'(

Either way, he's probably right. Without having something to actually play with, many people would struggle to know what they liked/disliked about a game.
Timmy_the_tortoise 31st July 2008, 12:09 Quote
Changes to Bioshock?

Remove all the Cockneys.
CardJoe 31st July 2008, 12:16 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmy_the_tortoise
Changes to Bioshock?

Remove all the Cockneys.

Lol.
Omnituens 31st July 2008, 12:30 Quote
Improve Bioshock?

No consolification.
Gunsmith 31st July 2008, 13:15 Quote
Improve Bioshock?

make system shock 3!
Silver51 31st July 2008, 13:39 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gunsmith
Improve Bioshock?

make system shock 3!

Agreed.
Risky 31st July 2008, 13:49 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gunsmith
Improve Bioshock?

make system shock 3!

Definitely
badders 31st July 2008, 13:55 Quote
Cockneys?
kenco_uk 31st July 2008, 13:58 Quote
Levine looks serious there, so a proper, sensible, well-thought out answer is needed.

I think a visit here may well open his eyes.
Timmy_the_tortoise 31st July 2008, 14:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by badders
Cockneys?

Cockneys, Working Class Londoners with a very distinct Accent and Dialect.
Veles 31st July 2008, 14:19 Quote
No plumbing
Timmy_the_tortoise 31st July 2008, 14:29 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Veles
No plumbing

Yeah, that was dumb.. Not much fun.
Narishma 31st July 2008, 14:31 Quote
No vita chambers.
Cthippo 31st July 2008, 14:48 Quote
The problem is you need to get some sort of feedback at the early stages before you commit a ton of expensive resources to a project that nobody may like.

On the other hand, Valve's willingness to toss whole portions of an already developed gamed into the beta stage shows that this may be what it takes to deliver a good product.
salesman 31st July 2008, 14:53 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
Levine looks serious there, so a proper, sensible, well-thought out answer is needed.

I think a visit here may well open his eyes.

They make delicious cheesecake which we sell at the place I work; one day a police officer asked me where we get our cheesecake from i told him the cheesecake factory and he thought i was being a smartass but i told him there exists such a place.
thEcat 31st July 2008, 15:01 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Cthippo
The problem is you need to get some sort of feedback at the early stages before you commit a ton of expensive resources to a project that nobody may like.

... Or have the courage of you convictions and produce a game that fulfils your vision.
Timmy_the_tortoise 31st July 2008, 15:22 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by salesman
Quote:
Originally Posted by kenco_uk
Levine looks serious there, so a proper, sensible, well-thought out answer is needed.

I think a visit here may well open his eyes.

They make delicious cheesecake which we sell at the place I work; one day a police officer asked me where we get our cheesecake from i told him the cheesecake factory and he thought i was being a smartass but i told him there exists such a place.

I gotta get me some cheesecake...
badders 31st July 2008, 16:12 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmy_the_tortoise
Cockneys, Working Class Londoners with a very distinct Accent and Dialect.

I know that - I was born within the sound of Bow Bells myself - I just didn't happen to notice any in the game!
Timmy_the_tortoise 31st July 2008, 17:05 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by badders
Quote:
Originally Posted by Timmy_the_tortoise
Cockneys, Working Class Londoners with a very distinct Accent and Dialect.

I know that - I was born within the sound of Bow Bells myself - I just didn't happen to notice any in the game!

Well, plenty of other people did. :D
Tyrmot 31st July 2008, 17:19 Quote
Quote:
Originally Posted by Gunsmith
Improve Bioshock?

make system shock 3!

+1!
SimoomiZ 31st July 2008, 17:35 Quote
They should have made each Big Daddy more unique, both in terms of appearance and actions :A flame throwing big Daddy ,an Ice blasting one, forcing you to use the correct plasmid just to stay alive. Once you have dealt with one, at each further encounter the game felt just too generic.
LordPyrinc 31st July 2008, 23:57 Quote
A focus group is only as good as the people in it. Sometimes you get a bunch of Homer Simpsons who help design the game of tomorrow that nobody else would buy.
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