Devs Had to Demand Female Focus Testers for The Last of Us

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Devs Had to Demand Female Focus Testers for The Last of Us

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Naughty Dog refused to let The Last of Us be focus tested on only male players.

With the role of women in videogames coming under increasing scrutiny in recent years, it is more important now than ever before for developers to reexamine the perceived audience of their games. But while there are encouraging signs that the tide is beginning to turn - a strong-willed, sensibly rendered version of Lara Croft in the Tomb Raider reboot, for example - there are other aspects to game development that are less visible, and thus remain stuck in the past. As we learned from an interview with Naughty Dog's Neil Druckmann - which we'll be publishing more of shortly - the idea of focus testing remains firmly rooted in a "girls don't play videogames" mindset.

According to Druckmann, when the unnamed research firm that was handling the focus groups for The Last of Us began their work, the idea of polling female gamers was nowhere on the table. "Another aspect that influences how a game is promoted is focus-testing. Players are rounded up and are asked to view materials and answer some quantitative and qualitative questions about it," he explains. "My big surprise during this process is that the research group wasn't planning on focus-testing female gamers - it's something we had to specifically request. I hope this is a relic of the past that will soon go away."

Yes, you read that correctly. The research firm that was gathering opinions of a game about a man, Joel, and a teenage girl, Ellie, wasn't planning on seeing how actual living, breathing female gamers felt.

With this type of bias in place, it should come as no surprise that the marketing firm eventually decided that Ellie should be moved to the back of the box art. However, thanks to Naughty Dog, that advice fell on deaf ears and the company refused to put Ellie anywhere other than on the front where she belongs.

Kudos to Naughty Dog for standing strong for gamer equality, and refusing to let antiquated systems determine what is best for a game that is clearly designed to be thrilling for everyone, regardless of their sex.

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Developers of the year, all years. Three cheers for Naughty Dog!

Wow, I never thought about the demographics for focus testing, but I probably shouldn't be as surprised as I am that they wouldn't have female testers.

Also, the whole "let's only put the male lead character on the front of the box" concept is getting pretty annoying, so I'm glad Naughty Dog is fighting that as well as trying to get the female testers.

It's just sad that they had to request female testers specifically: Hey where the white geek women at?

Cheers for ND! Too bad that it's a PS3 exclusive :/

Honestly is this really that suprising? I mean considering that the gender ratio of people who buy any given game is probably something like 9:1 in favor of males, is it really surprising that a market research firm decided to go with the (vastly) larger audience? They're hired to gauge sales potential, after all, not uphold gender equality.

Wish I had a PS3 as I'm really interested in this game, it looks great. Kudos to Naughty Dog!!!

Female here, not sure I understand the problem. Why do they need to specifically find out what women think, they're not specifically finding out what men think of the game, are they?
Surely they were going to get a random sample of gamers to beta test the game and give feedback which, being from a random sample, would include female gamers views.

Shouldn't this be the normal?
Surely by now we should be at a point were play testers are randomly assigned, with no thought to gender and the like?

I love and respect you greatly for this Naughty Dog. In fact my love for you is unconditional and as strong as the love between two men. Two very gay men. What I'm saying here is that all over game devs should take a leaf out of your book... and learn to love.

If only Irrational had taken the same stance of their box art for Bioshock Infinite. Booker is nothing without Elizabeth.

While i am looking forward to this and like ND and very much support them trying to push the role of females in games, why does every news article to read about this game have a connection to the whole Women in gaming debate?

For people who claim that misogyny and white-washing are simply catering to what the market wants, this is a beautiful example that corporate processes can easily take small factors and without realizing that they're ever doing so, exaggerate them, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy.

As one gets older, one sees how often we take small correlations and do our best to turn them into "laws of nature". It's amazing how often "the median of group A is somewhat higher than group B" becomes "All A are higher than all B" in the minds of even well-educated people.

Good on Naughty Dog on fighting these things.

With everything I've heard about them having to fight for what they want, I hope they are rewarded with the success they deserve (provided the game itself is good - although it is Naughty Dog so I'm pretty sure it will be).

And maybe with the success of Tomb Raider and hopefully this and Remember Me, it signals a shift away from some of the more "traditional" attitudes in gaming.

come on!

this is getting ridiculous.

girls play videogames, too. deal with .

who are these testers who apparently refuse to have girls on the front of the cover of a game? Do they only test males 10-12?

Helen Jones:
Surely they were going to get a random sample of gamers to beta test the game and give feedback which, being from a random sample, would include female gamers views.

Actually, you choose a random sample from what you believe your target market to be. If you assume your target market is 14-39 year old male hard-core gamers, it's quite possible (since it's quite costly to find members and get useful feedback from them) that the polling firm would restrict itself to gamers in that demographic. No use polling Tetris players as to what they think if they're irrelevant to your actual buyers.

It's just an example of how prejudices self-reinforce without anyone realizing ("We've spent $100,000 on polling and we can prove that potential customers don't care about <whatever>").

zz_:
Honestly is this really that suprising? I mean considering that the gender ratio of people who buy any given game is probably something like 9:1 in favor of males, is it really surprising that a market research firm decided to go with the (vastly) larger audience? They're hired to gauge sales potential, after all, not uphold gender equality.

Is it surprising that gender disparity exists with the mentality of the people involved is rooted in this?

That box art thing just angers me.

Yeah, research and QA seems to be one of the lesser-developed portions of game development right now. It looks like VG research aims to gather way too much information in urban areas, and not in suburban or rural areas, leaving out a major portion of gamers as a result. And heaven forbid if you tried to gather information on gaming preferences and habits online!

AS for QA, as if it wasn't suffering enough, development teams has to assume that the QA team will represent what the fanbase wants and likes - And often that ends up not being the case. And with the bad rep floating around QA, do you think people are going to see it as a worthwhile way to get into the games industry? Indie gaming looks more plausible as an entry point than QA testing right now. However, if Steam's Early Access program works well enough, perhaps we'll see an upward trend in quality again because A)early access means that the people interested in your game can immediately share their suggestions and impressions, thus you don't have to blindly predict what they will like and won't like anymore, and B) with early access, people can buy into testing the game, which in turn means less need for a QA team and lesser costs in order to get the game running in a desirable final state that can meet player expectations.

zz_:
Honestly is this really that suprising? I mean considering that the gender ratio of people who buy any given game is probably something like 9:1 in favor of males, is it really surprising that a market research firm decided to go with the (vastly) larger audience? They're hired to gauge sales potential, after all, not uphold gender equality.

Chicken or the egg, man. Do marketers focus on men because they buy most of the games, or do men buy most of the games because the marketers focus on them? It's not a simple issue.

Naughty Dog seems to be doing everything right these days.

Helen Jones:
Female here, not sure I understand the problem. Why do they need to specifically find out what women think, they're not specifically finding out what men think of the game, are they?
Surely they were going to get a random sample of gamers to beta test the game and give feedback which, being from a random sample, would include female gamers views.

It's not that they specifically want to find out what women think, it's that they want to find out what women think along with what men think. Apparently they weren't going to ask women at all, only men.

Next thing Naughty Dog will be announcing through their PR department will be that a member of their development team successfully preformed the Heimlich Maneuver to save a female play-tester from choking. As the CEO of a major publisher stood back watched, while smoking a cigar made entirely out of rolled up hundred dollar bills and gold dust.

At this stage the bullshit is getting a little thick.

Helen Jones:
Female here, not sure I understand the problem. Why do they need to specifically find out what women think, they're not specifically finding out what men think of the game, are they?
Surely they were going to get a random sample of gamers to beta test the game and give feedback which, being from a random sample, would include female gamers views.

When you give a game only to male focus testers you are specifically finding out what men think. Naughty Dog had to request that they include females in the focus testing groups. Which is insane.

Sicram:
Cheers for ND! Too bad that it's a PS3 exclusive :/

Agreed. At this point, I'd buy it just to support a progressive developer.

However, one has to wonder at all this publicized conflict. Are these guys truly a group of crusaders championing a worthy cause for the good of all? Or are they super-savvy business-people correctly reading the political climate and cashing in on this wave of gender equality? Does it matter?

I think there is a broader story here-just how much do Focus Groups drive the artistic vision? I don't mean to say that it doesn't happen in other media, or that every developer is beholden to the marketing department, but it does seem to be the norm. This would be like if some marketing suit had walked up to Orson Welles and told him he needed to have a Musical Number in Citizen Kane.

Christ corporate America, do you not realize that women also have money to vacuum? I mean, the NFL realizes it, and from a business perspective, you want to be like them.

I find it outright bizarre that the idea of including some female gamers amidst the focus group is in any way groundbreaking. Good on naughty dog for ignoring some very silly traditions indeed.

Respect points to Naughty Dog for standing their ground and not giving a fuck. I'm glad that they didn't roll over, and I know it's really easy to.

Mahoshonen:
I think there is a broader story here-just how much do Focus Groups drive the artistic vision? I don't mean to say that it doesn't happen in other media, or that every developer is beholden to the marketing department, but it does seem to be the norm. This would be like if some marketing suit had walked up to Orson Welles and told him he needed to have a Musical Number in Citizen Kane.

These suits, their focus groups, and other such business school crap are huge drivers of what does, and does not, get made all over the media world - including video games. That's why we get so much "follow the leader" - someone saw Call of Duty sold 300 zepbillion copies, and decided that that is how you make money on video games, so we get a bunch of crappy knock-offs. In the movie business, the same thing happened. In 2002, Sam Raimi's Spider-Man became the first movie to make $100M in a single weekend. Between box office and other revenues, it made about $1B. For a movie in 2002, that shook out to be an absurd amount of money. So for the past 11 years, we've been getting follow the leader works - like the abominations that were Green Lantern, X3: Last Stand, Transformers, Transformers 2, Transformers 3. Now fortunately this trend actually resulted in an abnormally high number of good movies, but the stinkers were still there, still made money, and will keep coming until they don't (good or not, DC will be making a Justice League movie because dammit Avengers made like 30 trillion dollars and we have what's basically the same thing help what is moviemaking). Video games do the same thing - Riot Games makes 30 trillion dollars per second from League of Legends, so I'll be damned if I'm going to sit around not getting a piece of a pie that my crude, scientifically unfounded models show is there and is also huge and also also easy to take.

Basically I hate business people for not knowing how shit works (i.e. make something that doesn't suck).

What's the point of focus testing if you're curating your testing group?

Of course.. that makes so much sense. How else could Army of Two possibly exist other than a bunch of Dudebro shuffled into a room and queried on their bropinions.

Umm I'm going to make the base assumption they were looking for female QA testers. To which I have to say, not exactly the easiest job to get even if it is entry level, temp work. Also considering the people who apply for those jobs are usually either in or post high school students that have the wide eye aspirations to be part of the video game industry in the old fashioned work your way up from the bottom.

Not to mention that most QA tester positions contract out to temp agencies meaning that you don't even apply for the company directly, you need to actually find the temp agency that has the contract with that video game publisher/developer and also be lucky enough to actually be selected from a large pool of individuals that you are what they are looking for in a qualified QA candidate.

If we are talking about focus groups. I don't have much insight but I can sure as hell tell ya that if that is male dominated I'd like to know how people even get hired or selected to be part of a focus group. Only focus group opportunity I had was with Riot Games and I had a job interview on the same day so I couldn't attend.

This makes me glad I preordered it. I loved the Jak series and the Uncharted series and am glad to support such a positive dev group

And this research firm wasn't just sacked from their job in the first place was?

This is the second time i've heard news of naughty dog having to fight for women, it's getting ridiculaous. I feel i'll have to buy the game multiple times so that naughty dog can make such a profit that people realise women exist. Shouldn't be this hard to get female leads, we live in the future damnit!

Paradoxrifts:
Next thing Naughty Dog will be announcing through their PR department will be that a member of their development team successfully preformed the Heimlich Maneuver to save a female play-tester from choking. As the CEO of a major publisher stood back watched, while smoking a cigar made entirely out of rolled up hundred dollar bills and gold dust.

At this stage the bullshit is getting a little thick.

And the tears of third world children who made the box art covers with only a man in a sweat shop. Children tears hold the best cigars together.

2clueless:

Sicram:
Cheers for ND! Too bad that it's a PS3 exclusive :/

Agreed. At this point, I'd buy it just to support a progressive developer.

However, one has to wonder at all this publicized conflict. Are these guys truly a group of crusaders championing a worthy cause for the good of all? Or are they super-savvy business-people correctly reading the political climate and cashing in on this wave of gender equality? Does it matter?

See I read both of these comments and thought..... Hmmmmm is it really this bad? Are the people of the various development teams really this oppressed? Or is there some HELLACIOUS hype going on? If it were really this bad would we even have female DEVELOPERS? These guys make it sound like the publishers all smack a woman on the ass as she walks by because it will "improve her mood and make her feel good about herself"

If it really is this bad then how the fuck are these publishers still in business? And why are we not hearing about some major lawsuits yet?

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