We’ve all seen how the development cycle of an online game works. First, there are years of programming and design. Then there is a brief period of beta testing before the game is cast into the wild.
NetDevil is taking a decidedly different approach for their upcoming MMO, LEGO Universe. Instead of waiting until the end of development to start dealing with focus groups, they’ve been consulting with LEGO fans since day one. According to an interview with the lead producer, Ryan Seabury, the team has been working with the same group of kids and families from the beginning of the project and using their input to help shape the game world.
In addition, NetDevil has also been getting help from The LEGO Universe Partners Program. This group is made of truly hardcore adults who, “spend inordinate amounts of time building amazing things.” The Partners Program currently has 68 members with plans to increase that number further.
Seabury warns that it’s a fine line to walk and that one has to be careful not to misinterpret feedback from a testing group so early in the process. Obviously, it can’t work for all projects and NetDevil has the benefit of a massive product loved the world over as a license. Still, the benefits of having your target audience telling you what they want as early as possible seem like a no-brainer.