“Fail Early and Often to Succeed Sooner” is one of my favorite IDEOisms. Just today, IDEO London’s Design Director, Tom Hulme was featured in a video in the Harvard Business Review. Tom briefly explains this theory and updates it to reflect the current state of the industry. Take a look here:
Here are some of my thoughts on Tom’s theory and how I believe it pertains to the social games industry:
#1 Skip the Focus Group
While Tom does have a point for products like soda, in the case of mass market social games, I don’t agree with skipping focus groups all together. Depending on the circumstances, I find getting my ideas, the artwork or the prototypes in front of people as early as possible helps me to empathize with them and see things I would have missed otherwise. Also, in mobile games it’s easy to put people in the ‘real’ environment since people play mobile games anywhere anyways. The problem however, is making sure to not skew people’s judgement and to get enough of the right people to take a look. That’s a finesse skill – see my post on feedback to get some pointers.
#2 Test it’s Appeal Online
I love that the example he uses to demonstrate this point is from Zynga. I’ve actually posted about one of Zynga’s click-tests in another blog post (TBD) – they tested a roller coaster themed game through Facebook ads. I agree with this approach wholeheartedly and think it is immensely important in the development of new game IP. Luckily for Zynga, they can easily target their audience through Facebook ads – there are numerous different demographic criteria available to them to get incredibly useful data. For games outside of Facebook like mobile games, there is no service quite as useful as this.
Through my experience, I’ve learned it’s very hard to judge what the mass market will like by using my own intuition or by asking a sample of people. In fact, in doing tests like these I have been proved very wrong before! Imagine if I went with my gut instinct in those cases… yikes!
#3 Launch a Mock Version
This sounds like an excellent idea for certain scenarios. However in social games, the trend has been to launch a ‘minimum viable product’ and to perform rigorous testing before investing any further into the game. Social games don’t typically take too long to build, and the important details are usually worked out while building them anyways. It wouldn’t make sense to launch a game that isn’t representative of the final product. But that’s not to say a MVP can’t be changed if data from it’s beta test reveals problems. For best results, test in a small market like Canada before launching worldwide.
Finding success can be like the roll of a dice. For the best chance of success, use tried and true strategies and plan for ways in which you can fail safely and learn from it. This is the approach I personally use to determine a game to make:
- Start with feedback from a small sample of people – this will be qualitative data which can be used to uncover insights and opportunities and point out any major disasters.
- Then, get data from a wider audience through internet ad tests - this will be quantitative data which can be used to validate the mass market appeal.
- Finally, launch a minimally viable product in a small market to prevent spending any extra time in case the game does not work out as intended.