However, many, many books have been written on research methodologyand I cannot cover everything. Therefore these two articles cannotbe taken as completely comprehensive. In the first of the articles I will be covering a few generalpoints about Games User Research and then discussing three methods,focus groups, heuristic evaluation and questionnaires in somedetail. What is Games User Research? So, before getting really started, what is games user research inthe first place? Well, let’s start by comparing it with QualityAssurance (QA).
QA is a well-established part of softwaredevelopment, and is often carried out by professionals within adevelopment team. These folks are, generally speaking, aimed atfinding bugs and making sure the game runs smoothly. However, because those working on a project usually carry out QA,it means they have an investment in it, and are familiar with it.This can cause problems when it comes to evaluating the usabilityand experience of a game. What seems obvious and fun to someonethat has been working on a project may be completely alien andfrustrating to a new user. This is where games user research methods come in, a field that isall about the user and their experience of the game — inparticular, the big question, “is it fun?” To really (over) simplify things, it could be said that QA and testis about the software , and how it functions when dealing with users, and game userresearch is about the user and how they function when dealing with the software.
Notice I sayjust it is about how the user functions when dealing with thesoftware, and that it is NOT about testing the user (more on that later). So how is this done? And what is fun, anyway? Well, there has beenplenty written on fun already, so let us just say that fun hasquite a few dimensions. Fun can be something that is easy to use,but it can also come along with a struggle and a challenge. It canarise from an engaging experience, a compelling experience, or arelaxing one. All this means fun is a subjective variable, which changes fromperson to person, and situation to situation. Aluminium Composite Panels
However, due to theemotional component of fun, what can be said is that if yourplayers are having fun, then it is likely they can tell you aboutit — if only you know how to ask. So How Do We Ask? Okay — I’ll get to that. But before I get into the fine details,please bear with me as I outline some general principles to keep inmind: Get the right players Whatever methods you choose, make sure you get the right sample.For most methods, this means getting representative users, aka thepeople that you expect will play your game. If you have the time, perhaps there is some advantage to getting aswide and large a user group as possible (if you really think thateveryone will want to play your game), but given that you arelikely to be constrained by time (and money) it is generally bestto concentrate on getting as close a sample of the target type ofplayer you are after as possible. Aluminum Corrugated Panels Manufacturer
The game is being tested, NOT the user Secondly whenever doing this type of research make sure it is clearto the user that they are not being tested. The research is aboutimproving the game, not the user, so the user shouldn’t be made tofeel inadequate if they can or cannot do something. In principle itis all valuable information. This can be hard to do sometimes, as you are the ones designing thegame, and it can be uncomfortable to hear others criticising it.But try your best to not be defensive or judgemental (i.e. avoidthinking the problem exists between the keyboard and chair.) What do you want to know? Whenever doing research, you should be clear about what you want toknow. China Aluminum Embossed Sheet
You will be playing the game yourselves as you work on it,and you should have design documents, so you know how things aresupposed to work. So don’t just plonk people down with the game andcome up with questions on the fly. Work out what areas you thinkmight be problems and know what you want to ask about before it’stime to test. Please note: I am not saying you go out there with preconceptionsand already “know” the answers you want; rather I am just makingthe point that you should be at prepared and know what you’relooking for.
Otherwise, you get a mass of data that may not be ofany use to you at all. At the same time, be open to surprises. Younever know what might pop up. Test early and test often The next point is considered one of the most important by userresearchers, and that is to test as early as you feel it ispossible to do so. This can be difficult, as it feels bad lettingyour baby out into the hands of users before it is 100 percentcompete.
But really, the sooner you can test the better — testwith paper prototypes , for instance! The primary reason for this is that it is much easier to change thegame if you find an issue early in development rather than late.Once you have made the changes, you should test again. That said,it is also a good idea to make sure that the product isn’t toobuggy; you want to test the experience of playing the game, not theexperience of crashing due to bugs. One extreme example of this approach is the Rapid Iterative Testingand Evaluation ( RITE ) method, developed by games user researchers at Microsoft. In thismethod a test is run (usually via behavioural observation — whichwill be covered in the second article in this series), and changesare made to the game as soon as problems or issues are detected,before the next participant arrives. This can occur perhaps evenafter just one user has been tested.
Listen to and act on problems, but not necessarily the solutions When dealing with your users, you should be open, and listen to theproblems they are raising. You can also listen to the solutionsthey give to those problems — but they are likely to be lessuseful to you. You are the game developers, and you know what ispossible with the technology, time, and resources you have. Theusers won’t. So observe, do the research, and treat it seriouslywhen it reveals issues, but take suggestions from users as to howto solve the issues with a grain of salt.
Games user research is just another source of data Often when articles such as this appear online, there is muchgashing of teeth and angst about taking the art out of game designand instituting “design by committee”. I can understand this worry;however, much like QA, user research is just another tool toimprove your game. It shouldn’t dominate your design or suppressyour artistic talent; rather, if done correctly, it should augmentyour talent and give you new insight.