How to create data-driven personas in UX design (Acagamic Tip Tuesday #24)

the acagamic tip tuesday Jul 26, 2022
The image shows a screenshot from the game God of War and then a penciled-in version of a player persona.aa

In today’s issue, we’ll learn how you can create data-driven personas to enhance the UX design of your game. We discuss one of my favourite UX apps, Notion, and present an older paper that investigates how metrics reveal patterns of play (play-personas) for character-based games.

Game UX Tip of the Week

Use Data-Driven Personas: If you are using personas to envision your users, they must be based on data you've collected.

How to Use Data-Driven Personas

Today, I will explain how you can create data-driven personas to enhance the UX design of your game.

Personas in UX design work when your stakeholders buy into them. They are representations of players/users, who represent the goals, behaviours, and motivations of our real users/players. They allow designers to focus on an individual rather than a group. You want them to be a powerful tool to create empathy for an envisioned player (representing a group). Instead of customers or user groups, you focus on real people (and their needs and circumstances) through our brain's person-positivity bias. The benefits of learning to base your persona on data are:

  • Create empathy for the persona based on their context of use, motivations, and behaviours
  • Helping stakeholders understand why the persona exists
  • Feeling safe that you are not just making things up
  • Representing accurately how we understand individuals inside our design systems

You can expect to enhance your credibility in your company as a designer if you base your personas on data.

Unfortunately, many UX designers take a shortcut to personas and just create something visually appealing or based on stakeholder suggestions. (Famously, many stakeholders will claim they know what their consumers want.) Don't fall prey to this.

Your persona is only as credible as the data you base them on

Many designers are either never taught to design their personas based on data (→ so many Behance templates out there to make personas look pretty), or simply don't know how to do it.

Personas that are purely aesthetic and not tied to a market segment or user data fail for the following reasons:

  • They don't represent your players
  • Stakeholders that feel they only reflect what they originally thought do not find them useful
  • If they lead to scenarios and design requirements later, they might prompt development in the wrong direction

You can avoid all of these problems by building your personas based on:

  • internal interviews,
  • market research reviews,
  • asking people about the existing users’ beliefs and target audiences,
  • conducting one-on-one interviews with
    • stakeholders,
    • experts, and
    • an established client base.

Here's how to build data-driven personas, step by step:

Get user research data

Personas are fabrications based on research. So, you have to do the research to find out what your actual or envisioned users (engaged with a competitor) are doing.

For example, you could conduct some user interviews and focus on who your target users are, what behaviours they have that drive them to want to play your game (or need your product solution), what their motivations and circumstances are, and what their contexts of use are.

You could do this by inviting several players of a competing game in for an interview. Many researchers do field studies in the homes of players or embed themselves in player communities to get a feeling of what your target demographic is excited about. This will help you get a better idea of what the desired game or product features are.

Create a minimal persona sheet

Many UX designers dive right into a high-fidelity persona when you can start with a minimal profile. Core demographic details like a photo (ideally in a play setting), name, age, gender, occupation, location, core traits should be present. Think about their primary goals and what they are hoping to achieve with your game. Because games are not productivity-oriented, this often boils down to what thematic setting or genre you are going for.

Also, think about people's general behaviours and the interaction chain that your game fits into. What are they doing before they start gameplay and what do they do once they finish playing your game? How does your game fit into their weekly or daily routine?

Knowing that you need to answer these questions now, will help you ask them earlier in your interviews or field studies of your target users. Avoid creating too much of a narrative and focus on answering these core questions first.

Create an extended persona sheet

When creating extended personas, you might want to add information about their lifestyle, interests, and hobbies, as these apply to the persona's motivations.

Don't just add these for completeness or flavour of your persona, but think about how these details have an impact on your game or the solution you are developing. You should know about this possible impact.

In the end, the goal of your personas is to present relevant solutions to your design problem. Not to distract your development team with too many details. Focus on your data and keep personas believable and likable without doubtful habits. Keep changing the name, photo, and details until your whole team is comfortable with them.

All these efforts lead to the goal that everyone can empathize with the persona. If your persona is concise, problem-oriented and based on data, you already have a crucial advantage now.

UX Research App of the Week: Notion

Notion is a little bit of everything. At first, I thought it was a bit of a wiki with hints of what I was doing back then with a web app called Coda. It had really powerful database elements (similar to Airtable) but also a lot of delightful customization options. Then, I found many tutorials online on how to turn it into anything from a data tracker, to-do list, and personal productivity system.

It is quite powerful for user research because it lets you keep track of your data but also allows you to create reports right in the application. I highly recommend checking it out.

Games Research Find of the Week

In this classic paper from my colleagues Anders Drachen and Alessandro Canossa, they discuss using "metrics to define patterns of play, or more precisely play-personas and evaluating whether a game design facilitates these patterns, are discussed in the specific case of character-based games." They break down metrics in character-based games into 4 categories:

  1. Mechanics. Powers, abilities, skills, statistics for physical properties.
  2. Physical behaviour (like movement modifiers like running, crouching, special attacks, sneaking and stealth)
    • Movement
    • Location
  3. Personality (like psychology, motivations, moral alignment and emotions and goals can be mechanical or personal, simple or complex)
    • Psyche
    • Goals
  4. Game-world integration (social networks, character classes, narrative aspects, and aesthetic appearance)
    • Associations
    • Category
    • Background
    • Appearance.

Finally, they distinguish between play mode, play style, and play persona. Play mode is the behaviour of a player concerning one or a few discrete metrics. Play style is a composite of different play modes. Play personas are larger-order data patterns user researchers can create when a player uses one or more play styles consistently in a gaming session. They apply their model in a case study of Hitman: Blood Money.

Read the full study: Tychsen (Drachen), A., & Canossa, A. (2008, November). Defining personas in games using metrics. In Proceedings of the 2008 conference on future play: Research, play, share (pp. 73-80).

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