Advent Calendar 2009

21 - Game User Research: Making Games Better

Today, we have more of a slide col­lec­tion. But the main fea­tured pre­sen­ta­tion is the one from Graham McAllister, who is a researcher in video game usabil­i­ty at the University of Sussex in the UK and also runs the com­pa­ny Vertical Slice that spe­cial­izes in User Experience (UX; human per­spec­tive, not qual­i­ty assur­ance) test­ing for games. Most of what I have been research­ing in the past 4 years is already start­ing to be employed in prac­tice by them (quite fas­ci­nat­ing, real­ly).

First, he explains the dif­fer­ent mean­ings of UX jar­gon, such as usabil­i­ty (can I do it?), user expe­ri­ence (do I like it?), user inter­face (how does it look?), inter­ac­tion design (how is the inter­face used?). Then he men­tions that UX is a key fac­tor dri­ving review scores of games (not the tech­ni­cal func­tion­al­i­ty alone), which then dri­ve the sales. He backs up his claims with sales data. However, some games with good reviews may still fail finan­cial­ly. On the oth­er hand, games with bad reviews are not very like­ly to sell well. He then dis­cuss­es two case stud­ies (Assassin’s creed and Bioshock) in terms of suc­cess­ful design intent or game­play flaws. The rise of episod­ic gam­ing demands a high­er lev­el of qual­i­ty even for ver­ti­cal slices of games. He goes on to ana­lyze UX flaws of games defaced by gam­ing mag­a­zine reviews.

Slide 89 gives an excel­lent overview of the prof­it dis­tri­b­u­tion of a reg­u­lar dig­i­tal game (slide 92 does the same for an iPhone app) and clear­ly states the ben­e­fi­cial return on invest­ment for iPhone devel­op­ers. He then describes a local case study of an iPhone game called “Launchball.” Interestingly, the test­ing is pre­sent­ed with dif­fer­ent tar­get per­sonas that are like­ly to be inter­est­ed in such a game. A com­mon approach from reg­u­lar UX, which is start­ing to gain momen­tum in game user research. As a take­away, from his pre­sen­ta­tion (and the oth­ers that I will be list­ing below), game devel­op­ers and pub­lish­ers should become more aware of human fac­tors in playtest­ing and how this will dri­ve the iden­ti­ty and sales of their gam­ing prod­uct. On to the slides...

Bonus Presentations

Usability Testing for Console Games is a short (but very styl­ish) pre­sen­ta­tion from Andy Budd, Director of User Experience at Clearleft.

Next Generation Testing: Biometric Analysis of Player Experience is a talk I gave at last year’s GDC Canada, where I am dis­cussing tra­di­tion­al and next-gen­er­a­tion (i.e., bio­met­ric or psy­chophys­i­o­log­i­cal) test­ing meth­ods for games.

Playability and Player Experience Research was a pan­el that I chaired at this year’s DiGRA 2009 con­fer­ence in London. We had a num­ber of spe­cial­ists talk­ing about all kinds of playa­bil­i­ty assess­ment and play­er expe­ri­ence research.

More Links

When Pundits Attack: Game Sales vs Game Quality

Vertical Slice

Gareth White’s Blog: Game Player Interaction


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