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

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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.

I'm in the same boat as you; I don't understand why including female testers in the focus group is that big of a deal or why the lack thereof would be such a problem (aside from maybe a research standpoint, to see if the game does have broader appeal).

The game isn't even about gender, it's about a fungal-zombie apocalypse, with a male protagonist to boot. If they really wanted fine-tune it to appeal to their target audience they'd only demand fans of the genre, not a forced ratio based on sex.

nathan-dts:
That box art thing just angers me.

But at least they didn't give in like they did with Bioshock Infinite.

I find it rather appalling that this "no women in the focus testing or on the cover" thing isn't just an oversight, but an active and systematic endeavor by publishers. I suppose it makes sense that none of this is an accident, but still. It's rather disturbing. Or "creepy," as I believe Jim Sterling worded it.

I realize these actions stem from a desire to make money rather than actual misogyny, but I still can't help but feel this way when I hear of devs fighting tooth and nail for things that I never realized was even a problem. If I'd realized my gender was going to be such a problem for the games industry, I would have avoided the mistake of not being a white, heterosexual male between the ages of 18 and 30.

Naughty Dog is a pretty cool guy.
And I can't think of any way to frame the rest of that so they're just cool guys.

Lilani:

nathan-dts:
That box art thing just angers me.

But at least they didn't give in like they did with Bioshock Infinite.

To be fair, they did include and advertise the fact that there's the reversible cover. That's better than a lot of companies, and even when not dealing with gender politics I'd like to see that kind of stuff more often, variety never hurts.

UberPubert:
I'm in the same boat as you; I don't understand why including female testers in the focus group is that big of a deal or why the lack thereof would be such a problem (aside from maybe a research standpoint, to see if the game does have broader appeal).

The game isn't even about gender, it's about a fungal-zombie apocalypse, with a male protagonist to boot. If they really wanted fine-tune it to appeal to their target audience they'd only demand fans of the genre, not a forced ratio based on sex.

The idea of focus testing is to present your work to a group of people who accurately represent portions of your customer base, so that you can gain perceptive on how the public at large will react to it. When you're making something, you are too close to it in order to be able to determine what the audience is going to think of what is put in front of them, so focus groups give you an unbiased way to critique your work.

In theory, one should poll at least a few different groups of people in order to get the broadest range of perspectives. Believe it or not, men and women do react to things differently at times, so if you're going to sell something that is for either gender getting both sides is important. However, the exclusion of women from this process means they aren't interested in that demographic. It basically is about forcing demographic ratios, because you want the broadest range of opinions so you aren't testing your game in a vacuum. When designing a game it is important to know what fans of that genre will think of it, but it's also equally useful to know what people who aren't familiar with the genre think of it. And men, and women, and everybody else who might play the game, even outside the demographic they are aiming for. Again, the game shouldn't be designed in a vacuum.

It's this blind following of very limited groups of focus testers that lead to Elizabeth not being on the cover of Bioshock Infinite. Apparently their panels of exclusively male focus testers didn't like Elizabeth being equally portrayed on the cover, so they booted her to the back, even though she is by all accounts the most prevalent protagonist in the game.

hazabaza1:
To be fair, they did include and advertise the fact that there's the reversible cover. That's better than a lot of companies, and even when not dealing with gender politics I'd like to see that kind of stuff more often, variety never hurts.

But it still wasn't their top priority. While I agree it is a good step that they took the initiative to do that, and we should tell them in big bold letters "THIS IS GOOD, KEEP DOING THIS," they've still made it clear they value the opinions of those focus groups more than anything else. So really, what I would like to tell them in big bold letters is "THIS IS GOOD, BUT WE BOTH KNOW YOU CAN BE GREAT."

What strikes me as odd isn't the fact that the focus group didn't include males (for all I know they could be all random and it just so happened that it was all males) but that they did not even TRY to incorporate females in the first place. Maybe this is the reason that games are the way they are.

Captcha: the tribe has spoken. Yes, captcha, the tribe of the escapist has spoken. Naughty Dog is an awesome developer.

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

He started it!

Musette:
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.

I always felt that Focus testing was a horrible idea for a number of reasons, good to see Naughty Dog said, "fuck that!"

Lilani:

hazabaza1:
To be fair, they did include and advertise the fact that there's the reversible cover. That's better than a lot of companies, and even when not dealing with gender politics I'd like to see that kind of stuff more often, variety never hurts.

But it still wasn't their top priority. While I agree it is a good step that they took the initiative to do that, and we should tell them in big bold letters "THIS IS GOOD, KEEP DOING THIS," they've still made it clear they value the opinions of those focus groups more than anything else. So really, what I would like to tell them in big bold letters is "THIS IS GOOD, BUT WE BOTH KNOW YOU CAN BE GREAT."

Well yeah. I never said it was the best thing to focus on but it's progress. To be honest I'd like to see more covers emphasizing environment or antagonists rather than just the protagonists.

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.

Actually, this is not true. Frequent purchasers are 48% female.

This is really simple. Right now there is a real sense that the video game market has more interest from women than ever before and what has been keeping women out if it is the old school attitude within the industry. This IS changing.

The focus group should be addressing Naughty Dogs entire potential customer base by including women, Naughty Dog probably realise they can sell more copies and reach more potential fans of the game by trying to appeal to both genders. The developer that nails that aspect of marketing stands to potentially make a lot of money (well for a PS3 exclusive anyway).

I really, really need to buy a PS3 just to buy this game (and some more), I always respected Naughty Dog ever since the Crash Bandicoot days, but now, I feel like I owe it to myself to support them for having such balls to do this.

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.

thats the thing, evidently the focus groups were entirely guys, they had to request girl gamers to be a part of it.

OT: kind of sad that this happened, so lets assume what other games could of been if more female gamers had been a major part of the focus groups.

surely Warhammer 40k: Space Marine would of been a better game.

I'm glad that Naughty Dog insisted that they test on female gamers as well. They no doubt want to make a game that appeals to as wide an audience as possible, which clearly will include females. The suggestion to move the girl to the back of the box is completely idiotic because the guy looks like a complete and total hick and isn't gonna sell a game to anyone who lives outside Iowa. Also, to not put the TWO Equally important main characters on the cover is idiotic. People should

I don't, however, see this as such a big deal. In the end the firm was doing a lousy job on not testing it on anything but some guys. It's like saying they think that men are the only audience for games, which isn't sexist or anything like it, it's just a not knowing anything about what you were fired to focus test. I do love how all these companies are coming out of the woodwork and whining about this now that it's literally the cool thing to do because it's instant headlines. I'm guessing that this is the marketing firm they always use and already have a relationship with, and they probably never tested on women before for any of their other projects. But, "hey look, we haven't seen anything about this game in a while, now it's all freshly back in our psyche that this game is a thing."

Also, people seem to think that beta testing and focus group testing are the same thing, but it's not at all. This isn't about girls beta testing the game, this is about seeing how to viably market the game to a female audience, which everyone should be interested in, strictly from a business standpoint.

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.

So, being 1/9 of something means you should be ruled out entirely?

Yes, that sentiment IS surprising, and honestly it's quite stupid.

slash2x:

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.

I really hope those third world orphans aren't crying on company time. I wouldn't want to see them have their pay docked. :P

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.

I understand that, but the almost refusal to have female testers and the desire to have the female character pushed out of the main view, to me goes further than simple business sense.

I'm sure it's not deliberate prejudice, but it still makes me uneasy. If anything it's just backwards.

It's important to remember that we don't have the researchers side of the story here. It could have been a mix up, could have been that Naughty Dog are making it out to be more spectacular than it is (instead of demanding, they might have just asked."Hey, you gonna have women in there?" "Well, we weren't gonna but sure, why not." type of thing).

But no matter what, the researchers did a poor job by not including women of different ages in the first place. It's bad marketing. That's if they definitely didn't. They might release a statement that says they did but ND misread the memo or something. I'm just saying we don't really have both sides.

Isn't that a self-fulfilling prophecy? I mean, of COURSE girls aren't going to play games if you go out of your way to design and market them exclusively with men in mind.

Anyway, fuck yeah, Naughty Dog. This is honestly the only game coming out in the foreseeable future that I really give a shit about.

It's times like there I wish Anita Sarkeesian actually focused on facts for her tropes vs female game characters, and not her POV on the situation...

Also, I would like to point out that the Developers of Remember Me kept getting DENIED by PUBLISHERS because the protagonist was female. Thank you Capcom for stepping up to the plate.

I think gamers and developers should shame these backward thinking idiots for their childish perceptions. Maybe things will change.

TheKasp:

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.

Actually, this is not true. Frequent purchasers are 48% female.

48% of AAA purchases?

48% of genre-specific purchases?

48% of everything that can be called a game, including mobile, casual, whatever?

This distinction is kinda important. Game industry has no obligation to perform social engineering - they do, however, have an obligation to provide a product that satisfy customers *they* are targeting. Assuming they are conscious enough to target someone.

At some point companies that are not swimming in dollars can simply say "Oh, screw it, we are not spending additional money, time, then more resources on revamps, then even more money so we can have a *chance* of getting more than our present audience".

Of course there can also be a company that goes batshit insane with their budget and then struggles to find broader audience. So they add more features. Then they need more money. So they add Gears of Duty flavor. Then they realize they need to sell 10M+ copies.

Or a company that spends a pile of money on features only minuscule players bother with. Then even bigger pile of money on features that result in a "mirrored game" - and yet, despite all that, still end up with 18% instead of, let's say 48%. But they apparently still have money to burn and 18% is at least better than numbers related to eg. some classes.

teebeeohh:
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?

Because they know it's a "hot button" issue that is being discussed around all these blogs and whatnot and they are going to get extra exposure that way. It's a basic marketing strategy they are going for supposed to gain them brownie points and make people interested in their game. Similar to how EA bangs on about how their games are "LGBT friendly" all the time.

That said, I'm going to laugh hard when this backfires, the game sells like a million tops, remains below expectation and they have to can the whole series (similar with Remember Me). These marketing firms have cold hard numbers from shops and surveys to back them up as to what kind of demographic buys what kind of game, they are thinking about marketability and increasing profitability through sales and not about "Will nobody think of the women?!".

Lilani:

The idea of focus testing is to present your work to a group of people who accurately represent portions of your customer base, so that you can gain perceptive on how the public at large will react to it. When you're making something, you are too close to it in order to be able to determine what the audience is going to think of what is put in front of them, so focus groups give you an unbiased way to critique your work.

In theory, one should poll at least a few different groups of people in order to get the broadest range of perspectives. Believe it or not, men and women do react to things differently at times, so if you're going to sell something that is for either gender getting both sides is important. However, the exclusion of women from this process means they aren't interested in that demographic. It basically is about forcing demographic ratios, because you want the broadest range of opinions so you aren't testing your game in a vacuum. When designing a game it is important to know what fans of that genre will think of it, but it's also equally useful to know what people who aren't familiar with the genre think of it. And men, and women, and everybody else who might play the game, even outside the demographic they are aiming for. Again, the game shouldn't be designed in a vacuum.

It's this blind following of very limited groups of focus testers that lead to Elizabeth not being on the cover of Bioshock Infinite. Apparently their panels of exclusively male focus testers didn't like Elizabeth being equally portrayed on the cover, so they booted her to the back, even though she is by all accounts the most prevalent protagonist in the game.

But what if their consumer base isn't "males" and "females", and it's "people who wanted to test this game and are looking forward to it" and "people who aren't"? You're just getting negative opinions from people who are part of a demographic who would have never bought it anyway. ("Let's see what moms think about Dead Space 2.")

In theory every game should test to have universal appeal in order to reach the broadest audience possible to maximize sales and increase profits. But that's unrealistic, especially when it comes to AAA gaming, whose foundation is built upon a loyal consumer base purchasing the same or similar game types year after year. The only reason I could imagine The Last of Us is getting focus testing at all is because it's a new IP (I doubt Naughty Dog was demanding female focus testers for Uncharted 3).

zz_:
They're hired to gauge sales potential, after all, not uphold gender equality.

Yeah, and marketing doesn't work the way you seem to think it does. They don't just study the majority, as a rule. That sort of research is bad in and of itself. Even other male-focused entertainment doesn't do marketing research solely on men. I'm betting that NASCAR has women in such situations. If they do research, which I bet they do.

...Or we could complain about the PC bogeyman instead.

Helen Jones:
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?

From the looks of things, they kind of are. And that's the problem.

UberPubert:
But what if their consumer base isn't "males" and "females", and it's "people who wanted to test this game and are looking forward to it" and "people who aren't"? You're just getting negative opinions from people who are part of a demographic who would have never bought it anyway. ("Let's see what moms think about Dead Space 2.")

In theory every game should test to have universal appeal in order to reach the broadest audience possible to maximize sales and increase profits. But that's unrealistic, especially when it comes to AAA gaming, whose foundation is built upon a loyal consumer base purchasing the same or similar game types year after year. The only reason I could imagine The Last of Us is getting focus testing at all is because it's a new IP (I doubt Naughty Dog was demanding female focus testers for Uncharted 3).

All criticism is important when it comes to figuring out your game's audience. If you don't figure out how people who aren't initially interested in your game think of it, you run the risk of making it so focused on one group it isn't open to any others. AAA games are trying to cast the largest nets these days in order to meet the massive numbers of sales they need so that they don't flop. If you're trying to make a game that casts a large net, then it only stands to reason you test a wide range of people so that you know you where your game stands with all of them. If you're trying to appeal to lots of people yet quite a few groups are turned off, that could be an indication something needs to change. Or at the very least, it's useful to predict how successful your game will be, and for what reasons certain groups might find it lacking when it hits the market.

Only testing the game with your target demographic is folly, and we've seen it lead to terrible industry "wisdom" and habits such as females can't be lead protagonists, or females can't be on the cover of a game even when they are an integral part of it, or that gamers love white, brown-haired males with a bit of stubble. Testing with a strictly limited audience isn't a proper test, it's an echo chamber, and completely destroys the point of playtesting in the first place.

And please don't try to strawman me, at this point in the conversation. I'm not saying they should spend all their time testing the game on 80 year olds. However, if they aren't even testing females at any age or in any situation, that is a problem. There is a diversity in testing that is wider than the net they currently cast, but not as ridiculous as as spending the time to test the game on 500 grandmothers.

Lilani:

-snip-

How can all criticism be important and yet your five hundred grandmothers not be important test subjects? I have it on good authority they have lots of spending money and free time for hobbies, so why not let them test for the Last of us? How can the opinions of people outside of the target audience always be valid until they're the ones that have dictated the trends we currently see in gaming? Why - specifically - do females of any age have to be tested, why not just let gamers who may be of whatever gender do it?

Play-testing a genre game with your target audience is just to make sure the people you're relying on to buy your product actually like it. If other demographics also enjoy it that's fine, but you can't expect them to buy it if they aren't interested in the first place and if you change it to appeal to them you run the risk of alienating the audience you originally made and marketed the game for with the projected sales figures turning into a big question mark. When AAA publishers say they're "branching" out into other demographics with their next game, they mean they want the next dead space to draw in the gears of war crowd, not to appeal more to general audiences everywhere.

Ew! Eeeeew! Girls germs all over my game! That is just, like, SO gross!

(Ew!)

UberPubert:
How can all criticism be important and yet your five hundred grandmothers not be important test subjects? I have it on good authority they have lots of spending money and free time for hobbies, so why not let them test for the Last of us? How can the opinions of people outside of the target audience always be valid until they're the ones that have dictated the trends we currently see in gaming? Why - specifically - do females of any age have to be tested, why not just let gamers who may be of whatever gender do it?

Everything comes with a point of reasonability. Unless you're going to argue there is literally no middle ground between ONLY testing white heterosexual males between the ages of 18-30 and ONLY testing 500 grandmothers, I think you know full well what I'm getting at here. And unless you're going to argue there is absolutely no potential for difference between how a male might react to something and how a female might, I think you also know full well there is a value in it.

And I think there is evidence of this that already exists. If 2K Games had tested male and female focus groups on the Bioshock Infinite cover, do you really think the females would have so unanimously preferred relegating Elizabeth to the back cover? Do you really think both males and females are equally enamored with playing as only a white 30-something male with brown hair and stubble?

Play-testing a genre game with your target audience is just to make sure the people you're relying on to buy your product actually like it. If other demographics also enjoy it that's fine, but you can't expect them to buy it if they aren't interested in the first place and if you change it to appeal to them you run the risk of alienating the audience you originally made and marketed the game for with the projected sales figures turning into a big question mark. When AAA publishers say they're "branching" out into other demographics with their next game, they mean they want the next dead space to draw in the gears of war crowd, not to appeal more to general audiences everywhere.

Don't you think there's a paradox going on when it's very clear the goal of AAA games as of late has been to cast the widest net to get the most money, yet the net they're aiming for with demographics is actually very limited? Women are becoming a larger and larger portion of the market, and while men may still make up the majority they're going to have to learn to deal with us one way or another. If they haven't learned how to make a game that can't appeal to both at once (which shouldn't really be that hard, it's been done so many times now), then they'd better start figuring out how because we aren't going anywhere and the more they pretend we don't exist the more money they're losing out on.

I see only playtesting males as a self-perpetuating problem. You only playtest with males, so the changes you make are geared toward male sensibilities and are completely unchecked by any other opinions, which limits the game's appeal even more. If you've got a specific demographic in mind then fine, but AAA publishers want big sales, and systematically shutting out 30-40% of the gaming population is only shooting themselves in the foot.

Way to go Naughty Dog! Screw these publishers and research firms that still cater to the "girls have cooties, gaming is just for boyz" mentality. What are we in 4th grade? I can't wait for this game and it'll more than likely be my last console game so I hope and expect it to be damn good.

That box art thing...it sounds like they're describing Bioshock Infinite's. Seriously, Elizabeth is on the back.

Good on Naughty Dog for trying to ensure that their focus groups represent the demographics they're selling to so they can improve their game, but this isn't about equality. The Last of Us is a game females might enjoy. Not every game should be focus tested using 50/50 males and females out of principle whether or not it is marketed to one demographic rather than the other.

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.

http://www.onlineeducation.net/videogame

Actually it's a ratio of 6:4 not 9:1 but that's a nice, if revealing, guess.

slash2x:
...smack a woman on the ass as she walks by because it will "improve her mood and make her feel good about herself"

I've got to remember that one. Might help in court :D

OT:
Naughty Dog appear to be the game industry's own paragon of virtue at this point. I wonder if they actually are as well, and not just keeping up appearances.

Naughty Dog just keep proving how awesome they are. Even when the story in Uncharted 3 wasn't better than 2...it was still more fun than the second (Only mired by lack of better story).

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