Background and Client Objectives
A top global children’s game manufacturer and entertainment brand wanted to understand how young consumers actually played their game. Particularly, they wanted to know if young consumers understood game rules, to what extent they followed them, and whether there were untapped opportunities in the distance between formal and actual gameplay.
If consumers were indeed playing the game “off label” or outside the established (and somewhat complex) rules, they needed to learn how these informal rules developed and how everyday people engaged their brand. This would allow them to better align future product iterations and marketing campaigns with the reality on the ground.
Program Development and Methodology
TrendSource determined that Focus Groups and PlayAlongs provided the best opportunity to observe young consumers’ gameplay modalities and set about establishing sampling parameters. TrendSource determined that both groups should be composed of male children (the game’s most ardent players) between the ages of 6-8 and 8-11, following established literature about stages of psychological development.
In Focus Groups, 2-4 participants were invited to sit in a 45- minute group where observers and moderators could observe them playing the game in a controlled environment. This fostered an environment in which variables could be controlled, probing questions could be asked by moderators, and in which all game pieces could be provided for participants. The last point was of particular importance: with different cards each having a unique value and purpose, TrendSource moderators were able to balance the cards ahead of time and isolate the difference each had on social behavior. Additionally, the participant sample itself could be manipulated to include a group of friends, a group of strangers, or a mix of the two, tinkering with the social aspects of gameplay. This setting would provide the flexibility and penetrating depth to text out hypothesis and observe match play in a controlled location.
Whereas Focus Groups seek to control as many variables as possible, PlayAlongs offered the chance to observe organic gameplay in a natural setting—participants’ homes. TrendSource incentivized parents of regular game players to open their homes to moderators, and invite their child’s gaming companions as well. This gave insight into how, in a familiar environment entirely under their control, surrounded by familiar gaming partners, children actually went about playing this game. How, in situations that naturally arise in everyday life, do established groups of friends and family observe, ignore, subvert, or reinvent the established rules.
Combining these two methodologies provided a singular lens with which to view children in both controlled and organic environments; comparing their results would yield a complete portrait of the different ways children play.
In Focus Groups and particularly in PlayAlongs, children displayed myriad ways to play. They regularly skirted and/or entirely ignored more complex rules, often playing a “jungle ball” version of the game. Interestingly, in groups composed of mixed skill levels, children consistently played down to the lowest common denominator, not taking advantage of those who didn’t know as much about the rules, but instead meeting them at the bottom. These results challenged several of the client’s key assumptions about how real world gameplay unfolds, providing them invaluable information to deploy in future product and marketing changes.
Recommendations and Analysis
Children are creative little creatures. They adapt the rules of the adult world to their own purposes all the time, and, according to TrendSource data and analytics, it is no different with gameplay. Expanding the game and its entertainment universe requires its products and messaging to align with how consumers experience it. Thus, establishing a more user-friendly rule system would give the manufacturer more control over how children engage their brand, and also bridge the distance between the established order and the actual reality.
Companies often operate on long-standing assumptions so engrained that they become corporate mythology. Allowing this mythology to go untested and therefore unchallenged potentially leaves money on the table and makes conditions ripe for competitors. Deploying market research methodologies like focus groups ensure a connection between product, marketing, and consumers, dealing a winning hand.