Audience Testing: Why, when and what to test

By Lucy Gill, Opinion

Whether you’re creating a game or product of any kind, getting it right for the target audience(s) is critical. The difference between a good and an exceptional experience is so often an implementation that uses a creative approach to not just meet the audience needs, but truly delight and engage them. However, in most cases the audience does not have a representative sitting at the table alongside other stakeholders.

That’s where we do things differently at Preloaded. We recognise how vital it is to keep the audience perspective at the heart of design, and assign an Audience Advocate to make sure their voice remains heard throughout.

What is the role of an Audience Advocate?

Every project is different, but our AA will ensure that Audience Testing (often referred to as user testing or play testing) is strategically timed to inspire and steer our game design and development and optimise the final solution. They are also responsible for bringing in best practice examples or insights to help inspire the creative process from the outset, and act as an audience-focused sounding board or creative voice throughout.

Why is Qualitative* Audience Testing so valuable?

Qualitative Audience Testing has been shown to reduce both creative and financial risk whilst optimising the final outcome. How?

  • A better game: Qualitative testing with the target audience informs and validates each design iteration. With this refined feedback loop, the design team can continue to improve and optimise, ultimately leading to a better game.
  • A more innovative solution: Bringing insight into the team early in the process helps inspire the creative juices! The better the team’s understanding of the audience, the more able they are to come up with a solution that really lands. Regular user testing allows the team to try new approaches that would be too risky without validation.
  • A happy audience: Imagine launching a new product without consulting internal stakeholders – how satisfied do you think the business would be in the end? The same is true of your audience. Taking time to understand your audience’s perspective/behaviours/needs allows the team to create a product that engages and delights them, and so helps to drive your customer satisfaction.
  • Financial savings: Whilst qualitative audience testing appears to add cost to the development process, in reality it often saves money in the long term. Taking the wrong path in development can be a costly mistake, but one that’s mitigated by testing with real target users ‘little and often’ throughout development. 

 

Our key principles for when and what to test

1. Start testing as early as possible
Involving your audience from the outset is critical. There’s a strong temptation, with limited budgets, to leave the testing as a validation and fine-tuning step towards the end, at which stage it’s too late to avoid significant mistakes.

2. Test ‘little and often’
There is no single point at which all the key questions can be asked, meaning a ‘little and often’ approach, as opposed to a one-off,  is far more cost effective.

3. ‘Fake it’ prototype philosophy
Spending hours, not weeks, putting a couple of concept options together on paper or a couple of mocked-up screenshots can be enough to test the ideas and inform those fundamental early decisions. All you need is a realistic facade, so fake anything you can get away with, get quick feedback from your audience, then move on.

4. Strategically time and adapt it depending on the stage in the process:

  • Pre-concept development: Sessions observing and interviewing the target audience are valuable prior to any work kicking off. Observing the user playing similar games or those popular with the target audience provides deep insight into their behaviours, needs and priorities which, when combined with discussion, can build a more detailed picture to inspire the creative team. If budget doesn’t allow testing at this stage, bringing in an audience expert to share best practice insights and analysing any previous, relevant audience research your company may have done also helps keep the audience perspective in focus.
  • Early concept/prototype: Early testing is particularly effective to try out innovative ideas, compare options and validate general concepts. At this early stage careful session design and moderation is needed to ensure it is the concept and not the design itself under scrutiny. With the right moderator this works really well, even with children.
  • Prototype testing: Once the general concept is agreed and higher fidelity prototypes are available, testing them helps to optimise the user experience, highlight areas for improvement and validate the functionality. This can often be scheduled for the end of an agile sprint and turned around quickly to inform later sprints.
  • Pre-launch fine tuning: Whilst by no means the most important time to test, it is valuable to test the complete pre-launch version so long as time is scheduled to respond to the findings. If testing has been carried out ‘little and often’, at this stage feedback will largely be fine tuning the end-to-end experience, aspects of the UI etc. Feedback may also help inform marketing materials and provide input to the future roadmap.
  • Post-launch product testing: Testing at this stage can be done for a range of reasons: to fine tune or inform the future roadmap; to address consumer feedback or analytics; to inform ongoing development; to benchmark for future or cross-product comparison; to support marketing activities.

For more information on our Audience Testing, and putting this into practice on your project, get in touch: hi@preloaded.com.

* A brief word on quantitative testing…This article focuses on qualitative Audience Testing as it is the most common and generally the most critical method during development. However, questions certainly do arise that need a larger sample size to answer, for example, confirming the statistically most popular opinion. It is well worth understanding the wide range of quantitative techniques available and when they’re appropriate.

Lucy is an Audience Advocate at Preloaded. Expert in children’s apps, digital toys, user testing and UX design, Lucy co-created the Good App Guide and Fundamentally Children. She is passionate about making technology a positive influence on children.

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