NetDevil tests early and tests often with focus groups.
In a lengthy discussion about NetDevil's focus group testing strategy for Lego Universe, we find out about the extent of the process and how it differs from the normal focus group testing:
"NetDevil's bucking the trend -- it's been focus testing the online world for two and a half years, using the same group of 19 kids and families from day one."
That seems extreme and costly. Of course with Lego in the picture, NetDevil appears to be pulling out all the stops to make this game hit the mark. In addition to the families mentioned above, NetDevil works with true Lego hobbyists:
"We've been working with about 50 of them -- and now up to 68, and it's only going to keep expanding. We've brought them out to Denver twice... the first time, it was more about getting them up to speed on the concept and what was going on and hearing a lot of feedback and opening a dialogue, and the next time we brought them back out, they actually got hands-on with the tools and the technology."
"Conceptually, we think of them as developers helping us build the game"
This may seem like overkill, but Lead Producer Ryan Seabury explains how NetDevil is not making the same mistake they did with Auto Assault:
"We wanted it really badly... it just never happened, so we did a really informal test." Close to the end of development, he says, about 20 friends and family of the developers came in to check out Auto Assault -- "Mostly, we saw that it was a pretty painful experience to start playing the game," he says.
Coming out of that experience, Seabury says NetDevil was up front with LEGO about needing committed quality support -- and LEGO responded by providing its own consumer testing group to support LEGO Universe's development the same way it would with its toy products.
Read the rest of the interview about real focus group testing at Gamasutra.