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OPINION29 October 2009

Gunning for market research

Those creatives are at it again – regaling us with another tale of how artistic bravery and uniqueness of vision prevailed over market research studies intent on forcing a company to play it safe; to stick with the tried and tested and balk at the new.

It’s a tale heard many times, but delivered on this occasion by Infinity Ward, developers of one of the best selling video games of all time, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

With sales topping 14 million units a sequel was all but guaranteed – but it might not have been this way had market research had its say, according to studio boss Vince Zampella.

With Modern Warfare 2 due to be launched next month, Zampella gave an interview to Official Playstation Magazine explaining how Infinity Ward had to fight publisher Activision to allow them to move the Call of Duty series to a modern setting, when market research showed consumers wanted the games to remain in the World War Two time period.

“Activision did not want Modern Warfare,” said Zampella. “They thought working on a modern game was risky and [thought], ‘oh my god you can’t do that, it’s crazy!’ They were doing market research to show us we were wrong the whole time.”

In our jobs we come across stories like this far too often; they are essentially rehashes of the old Henry Ford quote about faster horses, which readers should be more than familiar with.

The thing is, in this instance, Activision’s market research wasn’t wrong – the next installment of the Call of Duty franchise after Modern Warfare was World At War, which returned to the World War Two setting and again sold bucketloads.

No-one should dispute that taking risks can lead to unprecedented success, and likewise researchers would not argue that market research does not set out to minimise risk. But more often than not, risk taking ends in failure, and decisions based on market research have led to many a successful product launch.

It’s just a shame that those stories of successful creative gambles are more widely told than those of insight-driven triumphs.