Haters gonna hate, players gonna play: why you should take everything with a grain of salt
Jun 25 2015
We talked to more people than ever this week, which is an encouraging sign of progress on our work and our idea. But it presented us with an interesting problem: everyone liked our idea, but they all wanted us to do something different with it. The college students we talked to thought our game would be great for a middle or high school classroom. The professors thought it would be a fun party game. The game expert wanted to see a game with more strategy and less direct debate. This led to a few confusing team meetings, as we back-pedaled on some of our decisions and tried to determine whose opinions we should give the most weight.
Now that we’re more than halfway through our internships with the Lab, our basic plan for the rest of the summer is becoming clearer. We have made a lot of very important decisions, and we have a more refined vision of our product than ever before. However, I sometimes question whether we’re going in the right direction. When we have so many options before us, there is no way to be sure we’re making the right choices at any junction. What if a seemingly minor opportunity that we choose to ignore is the one thing that keeps our product from greatness?
This fear actually keeps me up at night, and it gets both better and worse with each new person we talk to. On the one hand, we get positive feedback from everyone we talk to, which is very comforting. Most people would at least try our debate game themselves, and all of them have said they see where it would fit in a classroom setting. But that is where the feedback diverges, because everyone has a different recommendation for who we should be targeting, what features we should build in and how we should sell the product. With so many different and compelling responses from a wide variety of experts in different fields, it’s tough to filter out what we don’t need and focus on the feedback that’s going to get us to the best possible product.
A recent example of feedback that sent me into a panic was a recent conversation with a board game expert from Dartmouth College. The game designer we spoke with works at Tiltfactor, creating, testing and marketing games for social change. We were excited for this conversation because we thought his insight into our game’s structure and mechanics would be incredibly helpful in making the game fun for students. When we finally got a chance to talk to him, I was ready to run with whatever he said, no matter what. Tiltfactor is one of the most respected game publishing companies that isn’t Hasbro, so anyone who worked for them would have the kind of knowledge that we couldn’t get by just studying the theory of games for a few weeks.
In the 45 minutes we spent in our call, we discussed how we could add more strategy to the game, and how we could make it more effective both inside and outside of the classroom. What we found was that kids learn best when they don’t realize what they’re being taught. If, for example, you’re trying to teach a kid not to hold gender biases, you shouldn’t make your game directly about gender biases. This advice immediately made me question our direction, because our game is not discreet at all in its aim to facilitate class discussions. Based on this feedback, I was ready to change the entire game to be a more subtle tool to get students to discuss things in group in a more natural way. I threw out a half-baked idea for a game which would require students to haggle for what they wanted while an auctioneer was trying to sell them something they didn’t want. It was difficult to think of ways the game would function, and we still couldn’t be sure it would be fun for students. My team and I talked through the new idea, and when we had to decide that it wasn’t the right direction, I spent a while wondering whether we might be missing an opportunity to make a truly dynamite product.
This was a valuable lesson in how to prioritize information. In this instance, we had to consider that our Tiltfactor contact’s experience designing games for a wider commercial audience might make some of his feedback less relevant to us, since we were designing for different contexts. Since his suggestions came mainly from his experience, we had to thoughtfully consider how much our product was going to look like what he was used to seeing. This was something we had to keep top of mind for the past two weeks, after speaking with nearly a dozen people in rapid succession and receiving widely-varying responses. When we heard something that diverged dramatically from past responses, we had to temper that information with the knowledge that these respondents, in many cases, had different ideas of who we were targeting, what our final product would look like and how we were going to make progress based on their different experiences.
If I’m being honest, I’m still not convinced that it was right to abandon the new game idea completely. I even struggled for a minute with feeling like my ideas weren’t being taken seriously. But I was suggesting a very dramatic shift in our product, and one interview out of 20 was just not enough to justify it, even if the interview was with a superstar. We all had to learn to prioritize advice from different sources, which has become easier as we’ve defined more about our product. My goal when I started at Reese was to know on pitch day that I had worked with my team to exhaust every possibility and arrive at the best possible solution to our challenge. And I know we’ll get there, even if it means we don’t get to chase every single opportunity that presents itself.
*These play testers asked not to be named, but did not mind having their pictures taken!