Research, like any other business practice, needs a distinct vision to succeed. While you won't know what the data is going to tell you before the fact, you need to know what you're going to do with the data. Research requires a purpose.
Before we get into it, I have something to admit. I am a video game nerd — big time. I currently own a PlayStation 4, an Xbox One, an Xbox One X, and a Nintendo Switch, and I play all of them regularly (Battlefield 4, The Division 2, and Super Smash Bros are all my current jam).
I read a fantastic article on Kotaku, a video-gaming website, yesterday. The report was directly related to the importance of vision in the multi-billion dollar ($134.9bn in 2018, actually) video-game industry and I found it to be directly analogous to marketing research.
The focus of the article was a recently-released game, Anthem. Development of this game started seven years ago, and the marketing execs touted Anthem as the next big thing in gaming - a unique multiplayer RPG that could take on and outsell Destiny.
In the summer of 2017, the game demoed at E3 to much applause. The long development time, plus an outstanding gameplay demo guaranteed a sure-fire hit — all aboard the Anthem hype-train.
However, behind the scenes, the project was a complete and utter shit-show.
Although the game had spent years in development, there wasn't a vision for Anthem. The story hadn't been fleshed out, and the game mechanics were not confirmed. In fact, in early 2018 only one gameplay mission had been written - and this was a game that had officially been in development since 2012.
For years, the dev team was working on nothing but proofs-of-concept. The team had nothing to work toward because nothing was defined. It's like engaging a research project without a specific reason or goal. It's doomed!
Anthem, now seven (!) years in development, had a concrete release date of February 2019 - not because the game was ready to be launched, but that's when the publisher (Electronic Arts) had to get the project off the books. By all accounts, the gameplay, story, and structure of the game were thrown together in 2018.
Anthem launched a month and a half ago to a predictably lukewarm reception. The PS4 version secured only a 55 rating on Metacritic (far below the bleh target of the high 70s) - a genuinely dismal score for a AAA title. It's a pretty game, but with a broken story, frustrating mechanics, and a generally unbalanced feel. Oh, I haven't even mentioned the toll this project took on the mental health of those involved.
Lessons LearnedThe point of my retelling of the BioWare story is to drive home some research-based truths.
Lack of direction is a killer. Just like a lack of vision "killed" Anthem, not knowing what you want to do with marketing research can be a kiss of death, too. Do you want to measure awareness, test marketing messages, or understand how to change behavior? You don't need to be spot-on with your objectives as any decent research company will help you refine those, but you certainly need to have an idea of what you're going to do with the information.
Pay attention to the market. BioWare was proud. They didn't like their developers comparing Anthem to other existing IPs - most notably the massively successful Destiny 2. Developers were not allowed to reference or even talk about Destiny 2. How dumb is that? Why wouldn't you want to learn from a top competitor? After all, much of marketing is building upon the success of others. Look at Apple. They didn't invent the computer or the touch-screen phone, but they certainly know how to improve and market it. In research, comparing yourself to competitors can be a great learning experience. Understanding why people gravitate to a product or service, even if it is not your own, will allow you to understand competitive advantage and ultimately leverage it.
Market-test your product. Nowhere in the article did I see evidence of Anthem being market-tested. Trapped in a cycle of idea-bouncing, Anthem didn't receive any kind of confirmation that the game would be a success. They had a sketchy "beta" phase a few weeks before launch, but at that point, the game was a foregone conclusion. Research is there to test ideas and confirm or reject hypotheses. Marketing research is the thing that's going to stop you from making expensive mistakes. Anthem was a costly mistake.
Empower the people who work with you. Not having a common goal to work toward is massively demoralizing, After investing so much time, and physical and emotional energy on a project that they can't get behind, staff suffered. Mental health was an issue. Employees left the company. The project seriously jacked people up. Research is an excellent way to understand your greatest asset - the people with whom you work. It can identify potential issues and allow you to damn the river before it overflows. Research is liberating, it is a tool to enable your employees to shine.
The Kotaku article left me depressed on many levels. What an absolute wasted opportunity. However, what a great way to promote the importance of the work my team does! If any of this seems even vaguely familiar...you know what to do.
Oh, if you fancy protecting a post-apocalyptic Washington from armed gangs, shoot me a friend request. See you on the battlefield.
Posted by EvolveKev
Kevin is all about research. Qualitative, quantitative, UX, you name it. When he's not researching, he's to be found laying down beats in his studio and hanging out with his dogs (and wife). Woof.