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Research in gaming: 5 reasons to outsource it

Many developers and self-publishers, especially young ones, seem to repeat the common mantra: „Why outsource the playtests (silent reviews, strategy, etc.) and pay other people if this is something we can do in-house, by ourselves?” This common belief that calls for a quick reality check.

Let me clarify things a bit and give doubters an overview of the benefits behind outsourcing the cross-checks of their games and the pitfalls it helps to avoid.

1.   Save your time and human resources

First off, let’s focus on playtests. If you have ever organized professional research of this type, including a set of carefully picked participants matching a game’s target group, you definitely know how laborious the process is. The first thing you have to take care of is the recruitment of participants –

players truly reflecting your target audience in terms of psychographics, gaming habits, and demographics. They have to be not only the right audience, but also the objective one.

This means you should definitely avoid your relatives and relatives’ relatives. Outsourcing this process to a specialized research company with an access to a database of perfectly described and readily available gamers can literally save you weeks.

The second heavily time-consuming part of the process is the appointment management.

Coordinating who comes when, handling cancellations and reschedulings will take time and consume your precious resources.

When conducting the research in-house you need to delegate some of your team to deal with the participants along with their „issues”. By outsourcing the process you’ll save your staff lots of time and frustration.

The third time- and resource-consuming issue is associated with participants’ need to be trained to play a game. The idea may seem ridiculous, but this process is crucial and, again, requires someone to take care of it. Especially if the game is in pre-alpha and you’d like to test only selected hypotheses.

You can’t just put the gamer right into a half-an-hour situation which is of interest to you before he or she gets used to the game interface, mechanics and logic.

And what about testing 1h+ of gameplay? When outsourcing the research process you don’t need to oversee the gameplay by yourself, or to delegate your staff to the lab to assist players. And such control and research assistance is crucial in obtaining reliable results. By outsourcing the process you’ll save tens of hours.

Finally, when outsourcing research, you don’t need to delegate your staff – no matter how effective they are – to invent the research plan, questionnaires, interviews, manage the recordings, etc. Again: you’ll typically save dozens of hours. Last but not least – you don’t need to delegate your staff to do the analyses of the data.

In qualitative research as playtests, analyses are particularly time-consuming and difficult.

This is why you’ll, again, save up to a hundred hours outsourcing it; not to mention that the analyses from the outside of the dev team are always less biased (see section 5 below to know why).

2.   Save the payroll, control the expenses

As you’ve either experienced by yourself or read above, to perform in-house research means to add, utilize and manage the resources. This may be the problem, especially if the developer or publisher is a public (joint-stock) company. Increasing the headcount is never welcome by investors. That is also why outsourcing is a good option not to increase fixed cost –

you don’t need to worry about adding to the payroll neither specialists in research nor any additional staff related to the process of research.

You’re also free of the hiring risks – bad candidates, sick leaves, maternity leaves, etc.

The second point is about the control of your expenses. Every manager knows the situation when it seems like people are running around with their noses to the grindstone. Everyone seems busy, but measurable results are nowhere to be seen. When outsourcing the research

you don’t need to worry about your „doubtful” running costs associated with the process.

You are in complete control of costs because you only pay strictly for what you get, and every action is transparent. No more guessing about what individual workers are actually doing.

3.   Access cutting-edge research tools

You know well that professional tools are very expensive. This is also the case of hardware and software for biofeedback and neuromarketing – players’ eyes movement trackers, emotion recognition soft, heartbeat sensors, galvanic-skin response indicators or electroencephalography.

For the dev studio or the publisher who needs to launch research from time to time, there is no point to invest in costly equipment.

On the other hand, for a professional research agency, performing several research projects a year is a must. Therefore outsourcing the research means accessing the up-to-date tools at a reasonable cost.

You would face the same cost-related problem when trying to access the professional data for example on sales, such as GfK panels, etc.

The data is expensive and there is no point in buying the whole bunch of them only to gain strategic insights for one title.

An external agency either has its own data-gathering system or has access to external panels.

Professional knowledge in market-consumer research is also the asset you may not necessarily want to invest in. When cooperating with a professional external research agency you have the access to well-organized knowledge and research experts – without any additional effort on your end. You don’t need to hire an in-house customer insights manager or a similar position anymore.

4.   Outsmart the psychology: get unbiased reports and information

The human psyche can be tricky. It is not only about the common truth that as a company insider you can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s true and of critical importance, because yes:

you may be so much engaged in the project – its history, specific visions and details – that you simply cannot see the bigger picture.

After working for months and being totally devoted to the project you may not see your game clearly anymore. It’s as plain as the nose on your face. Our perception of reality misleads us all the time.

In psychology, we know at least a few well-tested phenomena which suggest that it’s a bad idea to test the design, and the products (such as games), neither by their creators nor relatives. You have probably faced

the situation when a group of well-intentioned people makes irrational, misguided or non-optimal decisions.

Have you ever felt your team’s members were so cohesive and like-minded that they made poor decisions despite contrary information that might reasonably lead them to other options. If so, you may have experienced the so-called „groupthink phenomenon”.

The more cohesive the group is, the more crunch-time and pressure around, the strongest leader it has, the more disastrous groupthink can be.

Belief in the invulnerability of the team (and the game), rationalizing, stereotyping, self-censorship and illusions of morality – those are all symptoms of destructive groupthink. By externalizing check-points, such as research independent of the creative (marketing, dev) team, you significantly diminish the potential damages to the project and increase its business opportunities. But there is not only the groupthink that threat your project if you work on it only in-house.

In Polish psychology of creativity, we distinguished the „paternal effect”. It is

a biased tendency of authors to underestimate problems in their own creations (eg. games), an overattachment to own ideas and visions, fixation on own solutions and the resistance towards external critique.

All of this occurs just because someone is the author or co-author of the creation, e.g. a game or a marketing concept. There is also „cognitive inertia” – the psychological reluctance to alter or amend industry practices, accustomed habits, corporate routines, business goals, or staff procedures, despite their declinations or inaccuracies. Moreover, the „backfire effect” may occur –

when game designers, and other creatives, in-house marketing people and producers encounter evidence that should cause them to doubt their beliefs.

They will often reject this evidence, and strengthen their support for their original stance.

Today’s psychology knows more and more biases just as those. Let’s name a few. First, the „mere exposure effect” – the more you look at something, the more you like it (think about it next time sitting in front the game you see day by day for a year…). Second, „confirmation bias” – when your team would like a certain idea or concept to be true, they end up believing it to be true; they are motivated by wishful thinking. Third, „belief perseverance”

when insiders hold on tightly to their initial beliefs about the game even when new information directly contradicts it.

It happens most often when new information discredits the basis for forming the belief at all. Not to mention the idée fixe.

All of those fundamental problems and biases destructive to your game potential success may be significantly reduced by outsourcing the research, which may be either more fact-checking activity or a huge objective input to the information the team already has.

External agency’s goal is either to deliver raw facts and/or analyzed evidence to verify the hypotheses about the product/brand or to deliver a report from the exploration of gameplay, players’ pains, gains, etc. – no more, no less. Outsourced researchers are not biased by emotions towards the project, the brand, or a particular game. An external agency is free of insiders’ „politics”, hidden goals, agendas, motivations, KPI’s, etc.

Last, but not least: people being examined feel more comfortable and don’t feel the obvious pressure to behave in a particular way in front of game developers or publishers. In other words: people are more natural and honest when inquired by an external agency.

5.   Focus on what you love and do best: the game itself

People are stressed when facing tasks they don’t feel comfortable with. It occurs especially whet those tasks are added to their daily routines and standard duties already consuming all their time. It is by far better to assign your staff to do their jobs and the external agency’s people to do theirs.

Do not make your development or publishing team try to be someone they are not (and probably don’t want to be).

That is the last obvious reason to outsource non-core services. Specialist companies can do them better, quicker, more comprehensively and probably cheaper after all. So, do not kill your motivated and creative team making them swamped into the job they never applied for.

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If you’re also in doubt whether it’s reasonable to generally do the research in gaming, you’ll be satisfied reading my article on this topic here.

Want to cite this article? Do it in an elegant way:
Debek, M. (2019), Research in gaming: 5 reasons to outsource it, https://tryevidence.com/blog/research-in-gaming-5-reasons-to-outsource-it/