NORDIC: Children badly served by games, says Lego Star Wars boss

Jonathan Smith reveals how player feedback is crucial to the design process at TT Games

Jonathan Smith, head of TT Games, has said that videogames haven't served the younger audience well in the past, and a desire to give children better games spurred the developer to create the Lego Star Wars titles.

The franchise, which Smith revealed has sold over 18 million games to date, has helped the group to become one of the leading developers of titles catering to a younger gamer, and was part of the reason why Warner Bros acquired the team last year.

"We believed that children were very badly served by the games they were being given," said Jonathan Smith, during his keynote speech at Nordic Game in Malmo, Sweden.

"As parents at the time with children ourselves we knew that children were looking for things in games that they were rarely getting. We identified a market opportunity."

Remaining focused on the younger market is still key for the developer, and feedback from gamers often proves invaluable and straight to the point.

Smith even suggested that younger players can inspire games designers who have become blunted by years of playing poor games and having their expectations let down by mediocre titles.

"They know exactly what they want from a game, they can completely imagine it," he said. "The distinction between what children say and what designers and professionals say in similar discussions, is that designers and professionals have played all the games that disappoint, they have all those experiences let down time after time.

"Expectations of what a game can be become dampened down and you censor your own feelings about what you want for a game. Whereas for an eight-year-old who's come in to all of this with so much energy, so fresh, so impatient and so unselfconscious, they will tell you the second they are bored or if the game is annoying them in any way.

"We continue to find that by a thousand miles they are the best people to judge whether the work that we are putting into the game is the right work," he said.

TT Games is also keen to put the game into young players hands during the development process to see how they play it, rather than simply ask them what they think.

"When people say focus testing I reach for my revolver, because it involves asking a variety of people what they think of an idea, which is a waste of time," offered Smith.

"What we do is get people to play the game and sit behind them as they play the game and take those lessons directly to influence the level designs."

The Nordic Game Conference and Careers Expo is taking place across May 14-15 in Malmo, Sweden.

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Latest comments (1)

Smith makes some good points about scenarios in which video game research can succeed - primarily that the developers / publishers which value consumer input build time into the development schedule to allow this feedback to effect changes in gameplay and design. I must disagree with his comments on the value of focus groups for a two reasons: 1) for his games' target demographic (young children) one-on-one research will always trump groups because of their attention spans. 2) properly run focus group research doesn't stop at "what" but spends the most time using group dynamics to explore "why." Insights on "why" can be applied to entire projects and media campaigns.

Research methodologies are proven tools - but they must be used appropriately. For single-player games, a one-on-one playtest is often best. If a game supports two players (e.g., Lego Stars Wars), dyads can expose issues in player interaction. Groups work well for MMORPGs, and so on. But dismissing focus groups is like saying "this hammer doesn't turn this screw very well." Unfortunately, focus groups are a commonly misapplied/poorly executed research technique.
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