So last night a fellow student, Alex, and I were participants in a focus group held by Delve, a marketing research company which basically works for a ton of different clients. They called me up like a week and a half ago and asked a bunch of questions:
- how many hours do you game per week? 10+ depends on schedule
- have you ever opened a computer to upgrade it specifically for games? yes
- how do you feel about these four companies (positive, neutral, negative)? Microsoft, Apple, Intel, Dell neutral for all (I like some of their products, I dislike their business practices)
- are you 27-36 years old? yes
- are you an expert gamer? yes
- are you an expert PC user? yes
- are you male? yes (apparently they had too many women already)
- do you work in marketing research or usability? no
That last one is quite amusing. I studied usability testing last quarter. I am in school studying computer games. I used to work for a marketing office. If I had mentioned these things, I probably would have been disqualified. But they made the mistake of mentioning that if I qualify and participate I get $100 before I had a chance to tell them…
Anyway, what was weird is that they said I needed to bring a friend who also met these criteria, so I scrambled around and found Alex who is in the games research group I’m in. I’m lucky he’s 27. Sooo… we went to their offices last night with much speculation as to what they would have us do.
Would they have us play games? take apart computers? what what? Was it for MS? kinda weird since MS has their own playtest group… Apple and Dell were kinda out of the picture… We figured it must have been for Intel, but weren’t positive on that. Made the most sense since they’re nearby and they do make graphic chips for their motherboards.
So, we get there and we have to fill out a questionnaire about each other. Questions like how many hours does he play a week? How many games does he own? What gaming websites does he go to? etc.
Then we basically ended up sitting around a table and introducing each other to the group (4 pairs total and one moderator) and answering questions like:
- If NVidia were a person, would you want him as a friend? would he be cool? what kind of car would he drive? he’s cool, drives a Ferrari or Mauserati, is young and hip
- how about Intel? Intel is the middle-aged guy who wears a suit and drives a Mercedes. He likes to throw parties and hit on the young women in a sleazy way.
- how about AMD? AMD is the guy who shows up at the party and everyone hangs out with. He doesn’t have a big head even though he is also successful in his own right. Drives an RX-7 (Mazdarati)
- what’s the most important component for games? video card
What’s interesting is that when we were making introductions, all the other guys kept saying how ashamed they were about how much time they spend playing games and how because of it they didn’t have lives. This was in contrast to how I feel about my game playing, that any activity can be productive so long as you critically think and reflect about your activity. Would these people have felt as bad if they watched TV for 40 hours a week? I suppose so, and I’d argue that if you watch the stuff that makes you think, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing (but I also know most TV sucks). But what are the alternatives? If they played sports 40 hours a week, how is that better? It would make them healthier, but would it make them better as people? more acceptable maybe… but that’s just societal norms speaking… would it make them as smart? It all depends on how they play computer games or how they play sports, right? To me, speaking from a New Literacy Studies point of view, all these different types of activities lend themselves to different ways of being or defining who you are, and to become an expert in any of these domains is to spend time in them. And each one has its own social network or community in which you participate. In fact, your participation is valuable to the community whether active or passive because it defines the community. The worth of any given activity over another is a personal decision about who you want to be, and, in most people’s cases, ultimately lies in what makes you happy.
But I digress… after introductions and these silly marketing questions, we tackled the meat of the focus group mission. We looked at mock-ups for 3 different ad campaigns which Intel was considering. Aha, we’re talking about Intel! The first one looked like newspaper headlines with a black and white image and a column of text. In fact the background was a little off-white like a newspaper. The text was pretty much propaganda filled with meaningless jargon and everyone agreed on that. The railing of Intel began.
The other two campaigns were better, but there was a fundamental difference between the way the marketing folks at Intel think and the way hardcore gamers think. It was also obvious that the researcher was not a gamer nor an Intel techie since she kept referring to various technical specs incorrectly and could not talk about games at our level. I think we all picked up on it, some with greater savvy than others. This goes back to the idea of participating in a community of discourse. We were all gamers and we were all in that domain, experts in that domain. We’ve chosen to lead our lives that way. The only way to sell something to us on that level is to also be from the gaming world.
Intel is trying to convince us through these campaigns that using their processors with hyperthreading technology would give us an edge in our game playing experiences. The campaigns got this idea across with various success. One of them focused on how your computer would be faster which is good, but the problem was that we didn’t believe the hype. Of the other two, one of the campaigns suggested that our actual game playing performance rather than our computers’ performance would be higher which is complete hogwash, and I was sure to point that out.
The problem is that Intel is trying to convince hardcore gamers who know a shitload about PCs that hyperthreading technology automatically makes their processors the ideal ones for gaming. Maaaybe some games work better with hyperthreading than without, but the only legitimate way of making that statement is by comparing Intel chips with Intel chips. Once you get AMD into the picture, hyperthreading means jack shit if AMD can make up for it by just putting out faster processors for the same amount of money, which is precisely what they do very well. Additionally, all of us said that if we were in the market to upgrade our computers, the processor is not what we would upgrade. Video card, video card, video card.
Each ad campaign had a little blurb about a URL for gaming and to optimize hardware. She had us look at mock-ups of what this website would be. It looked alright… but we were all skeptical if it was an Intel site bandying about Intel products. It would only be visited if it was objective and showed AMDs story as well, etc.
So my friend and I left the focus group study $100 richer and feeling even more so that Intel has no clue what is going on in the gaming hardware world. I still have no idea why we had to show up in pairs. Also, the only woman in the group freaked out (I guess she doesn’t perform well if people are watching her or asking her questions or is otherwise socially dysfunctional) and left five minutes into it. I’m guessing they wanted mostly male gamers anyway and fed us a line about them having too many women participants.