Originally posted on the Chromed blog here.
Focus testing is an important part of game development. Once a team has spent a lot of time on a project, they start to grok the game in a way that people who have never played it simply won’t, and can at times lose perspective. Focus testing is a way to regain that perspective.
I’ve been on both sides of focus testing. As a focus tester without industry experience, it’s a lot of fun. You get to play a game before it comes out, you get to be at the studio with the people making the game, and the customary pay is pizza and beer. It’s a great way for a college student to avoid doing homework for an afternoon.
Once I entered the game industry, focus testing took on a different character. The largest change was that I started finding myself as the tester. It is an eye opening experience. Things about the game that I as a designer on the project took for granted were completely lost on the first batch of focus testers.
It took tremendous effort on my part, when I saw the testers having a hard time, to resist the urge to hint to them, or tell them outright, what the “correct” course of action was. To do so would have been to taint the results of the test.
The second focus test on that project went a lot better, as I’d been able to integrate what I’d learned from watching the uninitiated, people who did not grok the project that was the primary focus of my life, interact with it for the first time.
Recently, I had the chance to participate in a focus test being run by a friend at Fugazo. Once again, I was the unfamiliar player, being observed by the grokking developers. This time, however, I had a different perspective.
With industry experience of my own, I knew what they were experiencing performing the test. Additionally, my perspective on playing games has been changed by my experience as a designer.
It is a rare pleasure to be able to get an immediate answer, straight from the developers, when I have a question about the design choices on a game. In asking the question, I exposed an area of interest in the game to my friend. In answering, he shared his experience with me, helping me grow as a designer.
For a game designer, focus testing is crucial when developing games, but it is also valuable to be in the hot seat for other developers. Being able to have a dialog between designers, with an in-development game immediately present, strengthens the skills of both designers, leading to better games for everyone.