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

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Paradoxrifts:
If I were to draw a comparison between Irrational Games and Naughty Dog it would be to point out that so far Naughty Dog has concentrated more on shooting their mouths off about sexism than showing gaming "journalists" that they're developing a high quality gaming experience.

Care to explain why in your world saying "Hey this PR firm was only going to focus test on men, we had to ask them not to do that, this type of thing could be problematic for the industry" is "shooting their mouths off"? Escapist also just posted one of their developer diaries, I'm unclear as to why you think this one small article means they haven't been demonstrating what the game will be like for the last year or so.

I don't understand how a team of focus testers can be comprised of only men. Where are these focus testers pulled from? Is it something like a closed alpha? Is it voluntary?

Anyone in their right mind would first POLL to check how many female gamers were interested, and the odds of not a single female not putting her hand up are extremely slim.

E.g. in a team of 20 focus testers, I would ensure that at least 3-5 of them are women. Their perspective is needed.

It's always a good idea to put in a request to the research firm if the desired target audience is supposed to include something outside of a default range. If someone comes up and tells them to market test for X game and doesn't give instructions as to what the desired target audience is, what else are they supposed to do besides take their best guess based on previous testing for the demographic?

MpSai:

A character like that could work, if handled well, but let's face it game writing right now isn't exactly as sophisticated as it has the potential to be. And how annoying would gamers find her if all she did was cry and go running back to her captors? Lastly, we just so often see 1-dimensional, stereotypical women in gaming, it's nice to see game writers, you know, actually putting in thought and effort?

That's just the thing: She doesn't have to be a one dimensional character just because she's not one people would aspire to be, and pushing for easier or simpler to write characters that people don't find at all offensive is not how video game writing is going to evolve.

MpSai:

I think a huge barrier in this discussion is when someone points out a sexist/racist/etc. theme, character, or writing in a game, some people automatically jump to the conclusion that the person pointing it out is saying there's malicious intent or a purposeful agenda behind it. I hardly think most people seek out a sexist theme in their writing. It by and large happens inadvertently, but it does tend to happen because of laziness, thoughtlessness, and an author's own prejudices, which they might not even be aware they have generally because they're so ingrained in their culture, seeping in. Identifying and discussing these things is just that.

But then the conversation just changes from "This person is actively trying to be ___ist." into "They're being ___ist and they don't even know it (but I do).", which is no less insulting to them and the people that enjoy their work. And the issue only becomes exacerbated when the ____ism becomes less clear, which it often does because the writer's intentions are almost never spelled out for the audience.

Two things:

1: Requesting is not demanding. It's telling the marketing company a specific desire they had. It isn't like the marketing company was refusing to do what their employers wanted and so they put their foot down. This wasn't some heroic act of defiance. It's just them establishing that they want to market to women also. This is what's called a red market strategy (trying to enter a new market that currently isn't being served).
2: The hardcore gaming audience does not follow standard demographics. I know the most recent ESA study put women at 47% of gamers but what it doesn't break down is the type of games they play. For example, in 2009 it was revealed 80% of female console players played the Wii (at that time). This means that even though the number of women gamers has significantly increased to about half of all gamers, it doesn't mean that they're anywhere close to half of all hardcore gamers and developers know this. It may be telling that the number of women gamers have shot up in proportion with the rapid adoption of smartphone technology since 2009. It's a scary thought to think that our studies aren't accounting for significant variables that business may desperately need to rely on.

http://www.onlineeducation.net/videogame (really brings back memories, remember when Wii sports topped all the charts because it came with every single wii and was actually fun?)

Now, this could be a chicken/egg thing where they don't play these kinds of games because they're poorly represented in them, it could be something culturally based (just as races and ethnicities have cultures, so too may female subsections of those demographics have a culture that is distinct from their male counterparts, in fact, they usually do) or it could be a genuine difference between the way sexes typically think. I know my wife certainly enjoys a good FPS so that certainly wouldn't be everyone and I imagine the number of non-wii playing females have probably increased in those few years.

But either way, the target market of a hardcore video game is still males. The marketing company was actually being correct and not sexist to survey males. The developers demanding female gamers is them not understanding what market research is for. That being said, developers like this may pave the way to encourage females to migrate to hardcore games in the coming years and it's not like I don't already want to play this game so they certainly aren't alienating guys by having a female character in the game. So it's a win/win here, I think. I just hope this doesn't backfire on some companies and end up setting us back a few years (failing to serve the majority of your market in a significant way WILL impact your bottom line).

Handy how they're declaring publicly these internal disputes and getting huge media coverage and reputation increase isn't it? Hmmmmm. I've already seen 5 pages of people vowing to buy the game just to support these actions. Seems lie very good PR to me.

MpSai:

Paradoxrifts:
If I were to draw a comparison between Irrational Games and Naughty Dog it would be to point out that so far Naughty Dog has concentrated more on shooting their mouths off about sexism than showing gaming "journalists" that they're developing a high quality gaming experience.

Care to explain why in your world saying "Hey this PR firm was only going to focus test on men, we had to ask them not to do that, this type of thing could be problematic for the industry" is "shooting their mouths off"? Escapist also just posted one of their developer diaries, I'm unclear as to why you think this one small article means they haven't been demonstrating what the game will be like for the last year or so.

Being the news story is one hundred percent free advertising, and this is not the first time that the folks over at Naughty Dog have made themselves the story in order to better promote their upcoming title. I now know more about what they've said they've done to 'confront sexism in the video game industry', then I know about whether or not their game is actually worth playing or not.

That's a bad sign so far as I'm concerned.

Wolf In A Bear Suit:
Handy how they're declaring publicly these internal disputes and getting huge media coverage and reputation increase isn't it? Hmmmmm. I've already seen 5 pages of people vowing to buy the game just to support these actions. Seems lie very good PR to me.

Yeah, but only because the PR team demanded that a third party marketing firm include women in their market research to make sure that women would support a PR move in which they claimed to be speaking up for the little guy girl... [/joke]

But again, I'm not seeing the conflict. It looks like they just asked the marketing company they employed to include women in the focus groups. I'm not seeing any foot stomping or demanding.

It'd be like having a soda company stock an office soda machine with sodas only to find out that they weren't stocking any diet drinks. Then I say, "Hey Soda company, can you please stock diet drinks." Then they're like, "Anything you say, boss, you sign my pay checks".

The marketing company also wasn't necessarily doing anything bad. I'll explain in the next paragraph in response to a particular sentence from the article that caught my eye when I looked over it again.

Back to the OP:

"the idea of focus testing remains firmly rooted in a "girls don't play videogames" mindset."

The argument isn't that girls don't play games. We know that 47% of all gamers are girls. The question is whether or not girls play "these" games in large enough numbers to matter to companies who are in business to profit. There's no telling how many of that 47% only play on Wii's, cell phones or tablets and only typical iOS-type games. The fact that 80% of them only played on the Wii when they were only 40% of the market in 2009 and the fact smart phones have changed a lot since then, enough to explain the jump in female gamers in relation to smart phones makes the question stronger. AAA dev companies aren't out to get people who only play $5 games like angry birds and texas hold'em on their phones. Those aren't their target market and they'll likely lose money trying to rope them in on games like this. These people may not even have a system to play them on. 80% of women playin the Wii meant 80% of women didn't have a console powerful enough to play all the games the Wii couldn't play. They're out to get people who play these large and immersive games that require significant time, money and energy.

If you know the answer to what the actual market demographic is per platform and game genre the please let us know. These marketing companies aren't being dumb. They understand their target market and they know that the vast majority is males. Adding a significant number of women in the focus group could potentially skew the results of the data since the focus group would be an invalid sample of their target market. If the demographic of female gamers who play hardcore games is 20% of the overall market, then 20% of the focus group for hardcore games should be female.

That being said, if there is a pent up demand for AAA hardcore games more catered to women that people aren't aware of, this could be a brilliant move. Let's hope there is, gaming could use a nice influx of money from an expanded market base.

Paradoxrifts:
Being the news story is one hundred percent free advertising

And gaming sites posting their developer diaries, showing screenshots, and other things related to development isn't?

and this is not the first time that the folks over at Naughty Dog have made themselves the story in order to better promote their upcoming title. I now know more about what they've said they've done to 'confront sexism in the video game industry', then I know about whether or not their game is actually worth playing or not.

So if I'm understanding you correctly, if a game company decides they want to be more socially aware and more inclusive and representative of demographics besides 18-30 year old straight white males, you think this lowers the worth of a game.

UberPubert:
That's just the thing: She doesn't have to be a one dimensional character just because she's not one people would aspire to be

You generally want your protagonist and deuteragonist to be likable, though. I have a hard time thinking a constantly weepy, weak-willed Elizabeth would be.

and pushing for easier or simpler to write characters that people don't find at all offensive is not how video game writing is going to evolve.

I don't think it's necessarily easier to write a fleshed out character that doesn't rely on narrative short-hand and stereotypes.

But then the conversation just changes from "This person is actively trying to be ___ist." into "They're being ___ist and they don't even know it (but I do).", which is no less insulting to them and the people that enjoy their work. And the issue only becomes exacerbated when the ____ism becomes less clear, which it often does because the writer's intentions are almost never spelled out for the audience.

Here again comes a problem: you're taking it personally. You're interpreting it as an insult. But it really does happen accidentally alot of time. Take tokenism for example, it usually happens with the best of intentions. I'll dramatize what is most likely the thought process behind creating a mediocre kids show or Burger King Kids Club or what have you:

Alright! We've got our white male main character, he's a natural born leader and goes on tons of adventures. Now he needs some friends, lets make them diverse! How about a Latino kid? Let's see he could... use Spanish words and phrases alot and loves to play soccer! Okay! The next friend could be a black kid. Lets have him wear a gold medallion and call our white hero his "boy", he'll be totally hip and cool. We could have him rap the theme song! Awesome! How about an Asian? Oh we need at least one girl too. Okay, an Asian girl. She'll be really good at math! And she can always offer wise Chinese sayings her grandmother once told her and speak with a heavy accent even though she's at least 2nd generation Chinese-American. Everyone will see how progressive we are!

Mr.Squishy:

SteewpidZombie:

Here is a general idea of how a guy might design a game (Also about 99% of all fantasy games):

Guy 1: "Okay, we need to design a male character for this game".

Guy 2: "How about a 7'foot tall badass viking, wielding a broadsword and wearing full armor?".

Guy 1: "FANTASTIC IDEA! Now how about a female character?"

Guy 2: "We could try a strong and smart female knight who carries a sword and shield!"

Guy 3: "Or...we could make her into a cheap stripper who wears nothing but a leather thong and bra, coupled with over-the-top acrobatics and arming her with a BDSM whip?"

Guy 1: "STRIPPER IT IS!"

First off, lemme say I agree with your post. However, I feel the need to nitpick something. More specifically, the bolded part.
Now, I'm not saying smart and strong characters don't happen, and that they should't. But every time I hear about making female characters, I always - ALWAYS - hear the words 'smart and strong' in the same breath. Now, of course we shouldn't blindly latch onto stereotypes, like 'big strong person is also dumb', but I find it kind of disconcerting how women, unlike men, aren't allowed to be strong and dumb - a bit like, say, the Hulk or your hypothetical badass viking. It's like women can't be allowed to have flaws or something. Which I find to be a stupid idea, because flawless characters are also pretty damn boring and, to me, kind of creepy.

Oh I totally understand what you mean. But what I meant was more of: "Tee-Hee, I'm holding a sword and wearing a thong" kinda character, and less of a "I say we bash down the door". I would be fine with a strong-headed female character who is all muscle and no brain, at least it shows a character based out of personality and not gender sterotypes. Which is one reason I really like the character Brienne of Tarth from Game of Thrones, since she could've easily been replaced with a male character but instead her being a female ADDS to her backstory and doesn't serve as a flaw or a way to support sterotypes. She is basically one of those characters that does have her own gender-related aspects that appear now and again, but aren't used as a way to make her seem weak or fragile (or as a sex-symbol).

MpSai:

You generally want your protagonist and deuteragonist to be likable, though. I have a hard time thinking a constantly weepy, weak-willed Elizabeth would be.

The only thing a character needs to be likable is a redeeming factor, which could be almost anything. Even villains can be cast as fan favorites due to character traits like their ambition or faith in that what they are doing is right. Most real people aren't even that lucky and others can still be sympathetic towards them. It all comes back to writing a more complex character and giving the audience a little more credit than having knee-jerk reactions about surface level details, and shutting down ideas before they are fully realized is not going to make things better.

MpSai:

I don't think it's necessarily easier to write a fleshed out character that doesn't rely on narrative short-hand and stereotypes.

But even positive characters that can serve as role models consistently fall into cliched archetypes; a likeable character is no more deep than one that can be despised. If a character actually manages to portray a demographic in a negative light that can't be readily dismissed as blatantly inaccurate and ____ist, it says more about the viewer and their world view than it does about the game or the writers behind it.

MpSai:

Here again comes a problem: you're taking it personally. You're interpreting it as an insult. But it really does happen accidentally alot of time. Take tokenism for example, it usually happens with the best of intentions. I'll dramatize what is most likely the thought process behind creating a mediocre kids show or Burger King Kids Club

But we're not talking about a mediocre kids show or a burger king kids club, we're talking about things that adults put thought and effort into and other adults paid good money to enjoy and you're calling it ____ist, intentional or otherwise. How is that not an insult? How can you dismiss the creative ideas of a writer as simply being accidentally ignorant or perverted by their subconsciousness and societal norms and not expect people to get peeved?

UberPubert:
Even villains can be cast as fan favorites due to character traits like their ambition or faith in that what they are doing is right.

I don't think that's why people usually like villains. People like villains that are compelling, or delightfully slimy, they don't necessary like them because the character thinks they're right. Although the hilarity of a villain like Handsome Jack from Borderlands plays on the idea that from his point of view he's the hero and you're the villain.

Most real people aren't even that lucky and others can still be sympathetic towards them. It all comes back to writing a more complex character and giving the audience a little more credit than having knee-jerk reactions about surface level details, and shutting down ideas before they are fully realized is not going to make things better.

Still, pity and sympathy aren't exactly the same thing. And a pitiable Elizabeth wouldn't necessarily be a well-written character.

If a character actually manages to portray a demographic in a negative light that can't be readily dismissed as blatantly inaccurate and ____ist, it says more about the viewer and their world view than it does about the game or the writers behind it.

I'm not sure I'm understanding this sentence, if something is subtly sexist/racist/homophobic or what have you rather than overtly so, it's the viewers fault?

How can you dismiss the creative ideas of a writer as simply being accidentally ignorant or perverted by their subconsciousness and societal norms and not expect people to get peeved?

It's always interesting to me that defenses of this nature are almost never brought up when it's something rather overt, such as Metroid Other M. And the scary part there is Sakamoto thought he WAS writing a strong female character.

But my "thought process of the people behind mediocre kid's entertainment" wasn't about the entertainment itself, more as to demonstrate how even genuine attempts at progressiveness can be colored by the limited mental library of someone with ingrained cultural biases.

MpSai:

I don't think that's why people usually like villains. People like villains that are compelling, or delightfully slimy, they don't necessary like them because the character thinks they're right. Although the hilarity of a villain like Handsome Jack from Borderlands plays on the idea that from his point of view he's the hero and you're the villain.

I understand there's many reasons why people can like villains, I only meant to demonstrate that there's lots of different reasons people can like characters, the main point being that the scope does not have to be limited to ultimately positive people; they can be likeable even if they're not "good".

MpSai:

Still, pity and sympathy aren't exactly the same thing. And a pitiable Elizabeth wouldn't necessarily be a well-written character.

But why can't she be? A heroic or proactive Elizabeth doesn't necessarily have to be a well-written character either, she could be just as bland and stereotypical as the next male hero. She wasn't, but why is one option on the table and not the other?

MpSai:
I'm not sure I'm understanding this sentence, if something is subtly sexist/racist/homophobic or what have you rather than overtly so, it's the viewers fault?

If a viewer contrives ____ist connotations from a harmless portrayal of a tired stereotype, they're making something out of nothing. If a woman is ever portrayed as weak, an ethnic minority as being inferior (or even superior), or a gay as being really flamboyant when the writer isn't being intentionally ____ist (Women have to be stronger than men? Ethnic minorities have to be better? Gay men aren't allowed to speak a couple octaves higher?) and the viewer still takes offense, they're choosing to believe these demographics are still being bullied with these archaic stereotypes rather than recognizing these situations for what they are (either nothing or just lazy writing).

MpSai:

But my "thought process of the people behind mediocre kid's entertainment" wasn't about the entertainment itself, more as to demonstrate how even genuine attempts at progressiveness can be colored by the limited mental library of someone with ingrained cultural biases.

But you're still saying the writers have a limited mental library, which is long way to spell ignorance and it assumes you know better than the cultural biases that have affected them. It is to say that you are above the influence of society's customs and can see them for what they truly are, and that they cannot.

There is no positive outcome to saying you can see the inherent bias in someone's thinking but they can't, and continuing to raise the point even when we can be sure they know that bias exists implies they either will not change and are bigots, or cannot change because they lack the mental capacity to do so on their own.

UberPubert:

But why can't she be? A heroic or proactive Elizabeth doesn't necessarily have to be a well-written character either, she could be just as bland and stereotypical as the next male hero. She wasn't, but why is one option on the table and not the other?

I did say a character who is weak and pitiable and acts like a battered housewife could work, I don't think judging from what I saw in the demo that she WAS working. They did change her after all, and it did work.

If a viewer contrives ____ist connotations from a harmless portrayal of a tired stereotype, they're making something out of nothing. If a woman is ever portrayed as weak, an ethnic minority as being inferior (or even superior), or a gay as being really flamboyant when the writer isn't being intentionally ____ist (Women have to be stronger than men? Ethnic minorities have to be better? Gay men aren't allowed to speak a couple octaves higher?) and the viewer still takes offense, they're choosing to believe these demographics are still being bullied with these archaic stereotypes rather than recognizing these situations for what they are (either nothing or just lazy writing).

It seems to me you're saying if you personally believe it's harmless then any criticism of a stereotype is automatically contrived. Physical strength isn't really what we're talking about, portraying women as emotionally and mentally weak as if that's an inherently feminine trait is the danger. Like the Extra Credits episode on True Female Characters said (and I'm paraphrasing): Don't mistake things we think of as being related to being female as inherent to being female.

Lazy writing can also lead to bad messages and terrible implications. Not intending it isn't really an excuse for it. I don't see what's wrong with pointing out these things when they happen to encourage mindfulness.

But you're still saying the writers have a limited mental library

I'm saying you can tell when a writer is drawing from a limited mental library. You can see in artists too. There's a difference between artists when asked to draw a tree and one draws a straight brown base with a green bush on top, and the other draws a gnarled, grey, multi-facted base with the impression of dispersed leaf growths. The former is working from a limited mental library. This is something that can be increased and refined.

which is long way to spell ignorance and it assumes you know better than the cultural biases that have affected them.

Is it so hard to believe a member of a social group may have valuable insight into the portrayal of that group?

It is to say that you are above the influence of society's customs and can see them for what they truly are, and that they cannot. There is no positive outcome to saying you can see the inherent bias in someone's thinking but they can't, and continuing to raise the point even when we can be sure they know that bias exists implies they either will not change and are bigots, or cannot change because they lack the mental capacity to do so on their own.

It's extremely easy to overlook a bias when your culture takes it as common sense, or if you're attempting to write from a perspective that isn't your own. I think I already linked this here, but give it a read: http://dgaider.tumblr.com/post/36214913229/the-female-perspective-in-game-development

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 think it's more that the random selection process isn't as random as one would think. Since they had to request females getting it, it would seem like they didn't get to test games at all before, which is the issue here.

I'd like to suggest maybe planning to have males test the game was more of a decision based on this market, where males predominantly play the hardcore video games.
Yes females do too of course, i just haven't seen any during my life so far as opposed to the many thousands of males i've come into contact with through games.

These companies need money to survive, businessmen might not care about what is good for games, but they do keep these companies floating.

If I ever see someone from Naughty Dog, I'm gonna buy them a stiff drink for this, or if not, at least buy The Last of Us and use a friends PS3 to play it.

Well Naughty Dog is certainly cashing in on the "what about the women" craze.

Crono1973:
Well Naughty Dog is certainly cashing in on the "what about the women" craze.

Yes, because treating both genders with equal respect is ~just a fad~. It's not like it's common and basic decency or anything.

Burninator:

Crono1973:
Well Naughty Dog is certainly cashing in on the "what about the women" craze.

Yes, because treating both genders with equal respect is ~just a fad~. It's not like it's common and basic decency or anything.

You know what, 2 years ago Naughty Dog wouldn't have publicized this.

"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."

So simply asking now equals demanding?

I guess for lunch I DEMANDED a Big Mac.

Mr.Squishy:
Now, I'm not saying smart and strong characters don't happen, and that they should't. But every time I hear about making female characters, I always - ALWAYS - hear the words 'smart and strong' in the same breath. Now, of course we shouldn't blindly latch onto stereotypes, like 'big strong person is also dumb', but I find it kind of disconcerting how women, unlike men, aren't allowed to be strong and dumb - a bit like, say, the Hulk or your hypothetical badass viking. It's like women can't be allowed to have flaws or something. Which I find to be a stupid idea, because flawless characters are also pretty damn boring and, to me, kind of creepy.

It's bad enough when women are sexualized, but when they (or any other character, for that matter) are "flawless," it's pretty bad in it's own right. Any good character is going to be imperfect. Ironically, for a character to be flawless is in and of itself a flaw.

I am an actual researcher (though not a market "researcher", happily) and on a basic scientific level, a study where you cherry pick your participants like most market "research" does is completely useless. If your objective is to find out anything of real substance, any kind of "truth", you cannot design your studies with this kind of extreme bias. You might as well just drop the study completely and make up the results yourself.

Stocastic sampling from a large and diverse cohort is the only way to get any idea of the thoughts of a large audience. Using a small focus group to stand in for large groups of people only works if the group is representative, and it cannot be if you select it based on your own bias. All you are doing is transfering your bias about the game onto the focus group, which defeats the purpose of the entire study.

Of course, market "researh" is mostly a quasi-scientific mess, no more reliable than astrology or asking a medium for help. In fact, that might be more useful in this case.

Naughty Dog have done a lot to earn my respect as a company.

While I was never the hugest fan of them, and I was never quite interested in Crash Bandicoot being the mascot for Sony. Nor was I a huge fan of the games as many people in general. There's no denying that Crash Bandicoot games were incredibly solid system sellers that influenced the industry.

I miss the days when platformers we an industry norm. By the way, Naughty Dog certainly aren't perfect, and the Crash Bandicoot games contained the Damsels in Distress trope(also Crash Bandicoot is guilty for having terrible looking American box art that will forever haunt my dreams. Don't put creepy psychopathic grins on your heroes!).

But that isn't to say they don't deserve praise for being different in an industry that has problems. Their stance on The Last of Us is pretty terrific.

Hmm ...

Lets hope the game is from the ground up designed to appeal to both sexes, else having female testers is a waste of time and could be detrimental to the product.

You test against your target audience and no one else.

I mean you don't ask for a male test audience for a show like "Twilight".

That tears it!

I wasn't gonna get this game at first (I don't even like Zombie horror), but now I am.

While I applaud NG for fighting this BS, the fact that said BS exists at all is embarrassing.

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