I’ve spent a lot of time in the past couple weeks focus testing a new game. Testing with kids is a touchy subject; we need to be careful that we’re getting accurate feedback from kids, that kids understand what we are asking them, and that parents and schools also understand what and why we’re testing. I thought I’d share some of my insights from my recent focus tests:
Handshakes – Kids who are participating in a playtest are doing a HUGE service for the company and game. They are giving opinions and information that us grownups can only speculate on, no matter how well we remember elementary school. They should be treated like they are a super integral part of the development process, because they are! I’ve started giving kids formal handshakes before they start the testing, and another handshake to thank them when they are done. This kind of “thank you for your time” gesture might seem a little odd to do with a 9 year old, but I’m finding that it helps the kids understand how important they are to the design process, and then they really step up to give great feedback.
Introductions – I’ve started asking kids who they are, what they like to do in and out of school, and how they describe their own personality before we start the testing. Not only is this helping make kids feel comfortable during the session, but it also lets me think about who they are as gamers before they start playing. A kid who loves shooters might give different feedback than a kid who loves playing Angry Birds on a cellphone. Once the kids talk about who they are, sometimes they start giving feedback through that lens too, saying things like, “Well, since I love sports, I like scoring points in the game.”
Repeating – When I taught ESL in schools, I tried my best not to repeat what my students said, letting the kids speak for themselves. When filming a focus testing session, however, I find that repeating their feedback really helps. Kids can get really into playing a game and they might start speaking to the game and not to the tester. If I repeat what they said for confirmation, I have the benefit of hearing the kid’s ideas clearly when I review the footage. Ideally, you’d have multiple people testing with excellent cameras and mics. But, realistically, it might just be you and your camera phone.
Groups – I’ve mostly been conducting focus interviews one on one. Having a kid answer questions individually is good because there is no confirmation bias; they say what they are thinking without being influenced by their peers. However, I’ve also tested in pairs to see how kids play a single-player game together (which happens all the time in the real world!), and in a large group to see how a bunch of kids in a classroom environment would react to the game. I’ve gotten useful and different information from testing in each of these settings.
Another note, if you’re ever testing games for learning, check out the book Game Usability first. It’s full of tips and proven methods!