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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