Conducting Focus Groups

The Importance of Conducting Focus Groups Before Game Development Begins

I can’t talk enough about the importance of conducting focus groups with your target audience before delving into game design and development.

As part of the play2PREVENT team at Yale, I’ve been conducting focus groups with youth and young adults aged anywhere from 5 to 25 over the past nine years. Input from focus groups have served to inform the development of all of our games, including the risk reduction videogame, PlayForward: Elm City Stories, the humorous, sexual risk reduction card game, One Night Stan, the math game, Knowledge Battle, and our tobacco prevention videogame, smokeSCREEN. It only makes sense to me that we would continue this essential practice at the play4REAL Lab to inform the development of our VR game, smokeSCREEN VR.

During the month of November, we conducted three focus groups with adolescents from the New Haven area. We asked questions to get at their attitudes and perceptions of e-cigarette use and social pressure. We asked about their opinions on teens that use e-cigarettes, what they knew/didn’t know about vaping, why they believed teens vaped, and what the consequences were to getting caught for vaping at school (or by their parents!).   To better understand social pressure, we asked teens what it might feel like to be pressured into doing something they didn’t want to do, how they would respond to get out of situations, and what they believed the consequences and/or rewards to giving in to social pressure.

From the focus group transcripts, we created a short report on the responses we heard and themes that emerged from our discussions with teens. We also included quotes and a list of common terms or phrases the teens used, which will be used to inform the content and narrative in the game. The report we generated was given to our game development team, PreviewLabs, and was reviewed during our initial brainstorm meeting last week. As we move forward in our game development, we will continue to bring our story ideas, use of mechanics, and the language we use to teens for feedback. Our ultimate goal is create a game for teens, about teens. And we can’t do this without constant feedback and input from teens!

Another bit of advice I would give to those interested in conducting focus groups to inform your game design (aside from bringing pizza), is to try to think of creative ways for teens (or anyone really) to express their ideas to you. For example, we know teens spend A LOT of their time on social media and communicate mostly via text messaging. As a way to capture what social pressure might look like in the form of text messages, we asked teens to create text conversation examples using a template we provided.

To read more about focus groups can inform the process of developing a videogame intervention, read here.

In our next blog, we will talk about our first brainstorm session with PreviewLabs, and our development of the project’s Game Playbook, which will help guide the development of the game with a focus on learning/transformational goals and our research outcomes.

ForAGirl Event

The play4REAL lab and our Fall ForAGirl Event! 

Our team spent most of last week putting together the lab space and common area so that we could host our ForAGirl Fall event. Cindy and Cindi at Oculus pushed hard to make sure we had our Gear VR, Samsung phones, and Oculus Rift for the event – I really can’t thank them enough for all their efforts!  In all, the day was nearly perfect.  Here were the main takeaways that my team and I took from the event:

The Oculus Rift was easy to set up and use.  This was my first time setting up the Rift on my own, and it was quite simple and straight forward.  Initially, we tried to set up the Rift to use with Steam VR, but couldn’t get that to work – we kept getting the same error (error 400: Compositor not available).  Given the time constraints, we ended up giving up on Steam VR and using the Rift through the Oculus library.  We will revisit the Steam VR issue at some point in the near future.

The setup for the Gear VR was straightforward, but a bit time consuming.  We had six Gear VRs and six Samsung Galaxy 8 phones in total.  The hand controllers for the Gear VR were the biggest issue.  They wouldn’t stay calibrated, which became an issue later when we had kids play using them.  In the end, we ditched the hand controllers and had the kids use the touch pads instead. This is something we will need to think about as we move into the development of smokeSCREEN VR, which we will be developing for both the Gear VR and the Rift.  I am also interested to see how the Oculus Go will work in terms of set up and implementation into schools for our pilot study this spring.


It was such an amazing experience to watch kids experience VR, most for the very first time.  I had the best job, giving each kid a turn on the Rift. I was impressed with how quickly they picked up on how to play Job Simulator with little to no instruction on how to use the hand controllers or how to navigate the VR space.  Kids grabbed, threw, and picked up virtual items with ease. They bent down to look into cabinets on the floor level and put their hands (and heads) into into pots of virtual boiling water.  Most of them tested the limits of the game, while others stuck to playing by the “rules”.   Kids preferred the Rift over the Gear VR hands down.  In terms of setup and ease of use, I also preferred the Rift. This is something to think about moving forward as we try to optimize the experience for smokeSCREEN VR on the Gear VR (or Oculus Go) when we go into schools.


We also had a projection set up in the lab where kids could watch others play on the Rift.  There was a lot of coaching and interaction from those that were watching and not playing – this is interesting to think about as we consider how to create the feeling of social pressure in the game (or perhaps outside the game as well?)

In total, we had about 23 kids at the ForAGirl event. We initially capped it at 20 (with a sign up sheet for 25 in case some didn’t come) to ensure we were able to provide kids with enough hands-on experience of VR.   Our team got some invaluable hands-on experience with VR hardware and software set up and trouble shooting, which will undoubtedly prepare us for the spring pilot with kids at schools.  Watching the kids interact with both the Rift and the Gear VR (as well as their interaction of watching each other play) has given us a lot to think about moving forward with the development of smokeSCREEN VR.

Next steps?  Focus groups with teens in the community next week.  We want to learn more from the experts (teens) about vaping and social pressure.  Stay tuned!