Gathering information throughout the product development cycle and knowing what to do with it is the trait of a great designer and producer.
Designers should research their subject matter and evaluate outside suggestions and opinions. The audience demands and expects films and books to seem realistic and accurate. The computer and video game audience should accept nothing less.
When undertaking the development of a sports game (e.g., baseball), a designer may feel that he knows the sport from playing it and viewing it on TV. However, much more research must be undertaken to create an immersive experience for consumers. Whether the game genre is sports, RPG, adventure, or simulation, the first step is to research similar titles in that game’s genre. You can do this by surfing the Internet, visiting the local store and purchasing competitive games, reading reviews of similar genre titles, collecting marketing materials and advertisements from other publishers’ web sites, and so on. This information is invaluable when you are designing a new product.
If you are the producer of an upcoming baseball game, you ought to know the common elements found in other baseball titles, as well as special features that differentiate each product from its competitors. You should read reviews of similar titles and the competing titles’ list of features. From this freely collected information, a designer can understand the features and gameplay customers expect, special features that the competition offers, and the criteria upon which the reviewers will base their critiques.
As the designer and/or producer, you must ask yourself:
Does your game suffer the same poor or awkward design flaw as a previously released title or similar genre titles? The design of the game needs to address how to be better than its competitors. The design must be able to handle flaws, difficulties, and problems that reviewers and customers have complained about in previous versions of this product or in other similar genre titles. As the decision maker, you must listen to your development team, your marketing and sales team, retailers, and your game-playing audience.
Do the ideas of the game designer and team outweigh those of the reviewer(s)? The ideas that are formed must have a good foundation. All reviewers try to accurately explain and criticize the product to the public. There’s a real difference between discarding a reviewer’s opinion and listing the problems and how your design addresses each one.
Does the design consideration include comments from previous or potential customers? Customers enjoy great products. My experience (in producing sports, gambling, and trivia/puzzle titles) indicates that customers (fans) will buy any product in the genre they enjoy. Their expectations are that your product will teach them something new about the activity, they will gain experience and be able to brag to their friends and associates, and/or they’ll be able to someday beat the game. I’ve received a great deal of fan mail in which consumers have cited the aspects of my games that they enjoyed. These letters also tell me what additions to the game they would like to see in future releases. Magazines publish readers’ letters that praise and criticize the products. Market research and beta test groups of potential and previous customers can be worthwhile in the final design stages to tweak the product before its release.
Are the team’s ideas and opinions seriously evaluated in the design of the product? See Principle #3 for more information about this.
Can the addition of a feature expand the customer base and get more publicity? In Villa Crespo Software’s Flicks, a product that reviewed 30,000 films, a field for “close-caption” was added during the development, instantly adding four million members of the hearing-impaired and non-English speaking audiences to the product’s customer base. Newsletters reaching this consumer sector gave the product free, positive reviews because the product included information vital to their readership.
The producer should collect information from team members about improvements that can be made to the product and relay this information to the designer. The producer must be able to recognize a good idea when he hears it and implement that idea in the game to make it a better product.
Designers should be adaptable and open-minded to ideas that can make their games better. Producers need to be managers, leaders, and diplomats who are able to take information from others and incorporate good suggestions in the final product. These new ideas must then be communicated by the producer and understood by all involved.