Once I made a kid cry. It was awesome.

Alright, before you go calling CPS or Jack Bauer or something, let me tell you the whole story.

It all started like this:

A group of game developers (henceforth known as an array of game developers – thank you Alex Chatfield) assembled to make a video game with guns and robots and loud noises and BOOM/YEAH! You know-guy stuff. But there was a twist. This game of explosions had to appeal to the same demographic as NERF dart guns. In fact, it had to STAR the Nerf guns because Hasbro was partnering with us on this project. (Oh boy, there’s another blog post – working with two sets of invested stake holders, EA and Hasbro.  That’s all kinds of nightmare.)

Shane with Maverick Rev 6 by Xavier Garcia

Anyway, this array of diverse minds planned and schemed for a few months. We modeled up some cool, yet not too threatening robots, and spent months getting that orange arching dart to behave correctly. We argued about first–vs- third person perspective. We studied parent purchasing intent. We consulted with Hasbro’s child psychologist about play patterns and the aspirational desires of 9-12 year old boys. We played our new creation in the office until our fingers, or more accurately finger (it was a one button Wii game), ached. You name it. We smarted the HECK out of this project.

We also put it together in record time. This little array of developers hit it out of the park. I was, and still am, very proud of this team.

And the good news – both our EA execs and our partners at Hasbro were happy with the results. Or at least for the purpose of this blog post, we’ll go ahead and say they were happy.  Everything was going great!

Then it happened. We stuffed the office with 2 liter bottles of sugary drinks and pizza, spread bean bags on the floors, and open the doors to about 100 lucky gamers between the ages of 9 and 12.

Let me back up just a bit.

Nerf N Strike

The design team for this game had a combined 1 billion years of experience. Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration, but it was a killer team. We’d launched games on every platform since the NES. We knew what we were doing. We tested the game until we had it memorized (another blog post btw). We aged it down until we could play it drunk, left handed, while French braiding each other’s hair. Okay, not me, I don’t drink, but to this day I can do a mean French braid. We did not overlook that this game neededto be simple, but we still felt it was important for our gamers to play something that had depth. It was a massive challenge – much more complex than just firing orange foam sausages at flying garbage cans.

Okay, back to the soda (or pop as we call it in Utah), pizza and bean bags. We set our overly excited blind play test group up and let them have at it. Lots of WOAHs and OH YEAHs and NO WAYs were crowed, and the array of developers were generally thrilled with the results. Kids were digging our game! How cool is that? But all the hooting and hollering and sticky wiiMotes aside, there were problems.

Concept art by Xavier Garcia

Most of the older kids did okay and most of the younger kids were just happy enough to see something new, drink soda and eat free pizza. However, a few of them tried hard to enjoy the game ,but found it impossible. One of the boys even cried out of frustration.

Now there are myriad reasons why they struggled, but the number one reason was physical. Hand dexterity, the weight of the WiiController after 15 minutes of play, and motor skills development all played a huge part. No joke. I’m not saying the game wasn’t too difficult, it was. But the #1 reason for failure was that there was no way we, as an array of muscle-bound game developers, could simulate the effect the controller would have on gameplay. Well, could have been ways, but let’s stick to the point, which is…

Who is evaluating your product (book, game, artwork, album)? We all know the roles of critique partners, professional agent suggestions, editors, copy editors, reviewers, but how much time do you spend seeking out the advice from those who you intend to consume  your media?

I’ve heard more times than I can count, ‘get involved with a great critique group’, and I don’t want to diminish this. In the story above, my fellow designers were my critique group. They are critical to the process. But how often have you been told by a fellow writer or publishing pro – get your work in front of your target market?

Here are my questions for you:

Do you have readers in your target audience reading your material? And if not – why not? And if so – how much stock do you put in their feedback?  

As for the array of Nerf Elite game developers – we took it as gospel. It didn’t matter to us if execs thought the game was too easy, we had seen a kid cry in a play test. Try to get that out of your mind. I know I never will.

IF YOU’D LIKE TO SEE MORE STUNNING ARTWORK BY XAVIER GARCIA – GO ===> http://www.ragingspaniard.com/