based on my reading of Game Usability: Advancing the Player Experience (Ch. 3)
Chapter three of Game Usability: Advancing the Player Experience contains an interesting interview between Tobi Saulnier, founder and CEO of 1st Playable Productions and Kathrine Ibister, User Researcher and author of the aforementioned book.
The result of the dialog surfaces some very interesting and practical reasons for the implementation of user research. To start, Tobi Saulnier, take the perspective of the small game development agency. 1st Playable Productions specialized in kids games, and has integrated play testing into all phases of development.
Tobi Saulnier, makes it pretty clear that, “to me it is such a waste of one’s time to make something your intended audience doesn’t enjoy, or can’t use.” (Isbister, 2008, Chapter 3, para. 4) Although developers may base many of their design decision on intuition, they still need to put their games in front of players to understand what they really want. The data collect in these play tests, could be leveraged to make more informed decisions going forward.
1st Playable Productions uses several approaches to usability.
- Logging user game behavior to anticipate what a player needs and develop heuristics.
- Doing usability testing with other similar games, when theirs is not ready.
- One player testing and one designer in an observation (not coaching role).
- Take play testing video that a designer could refer to later.
Tobi mentions how usability testing always effects the design of a game. The results could range from simple user interface changes, to completely starting from scratch. She mentioned to examples during her interview. First when play testing a gesture based game mechanic on a hand held working with 4-year old’s it was made pretty clear that it is difficult to explain to them what they should or shouldn’t do in a game. 4 year old’s opted to free-play and make sparkles everywhere, totally ignoring the gestures. Another one of her studies showed how challenging situations that gamers found motivating frustrated non-gaming females 27 and over. This type of information is invaluable, and could lead to the success or failure of any game.
As a smaller shop, Tobi Saulnier and 1st Playable Productions tend to stay away from large scale statistical studies that measures percentages of user testing for various aspects of a game. The reason for avoiding this is because, it is expensive and is only effective if done right.
Another type of user research that she does not use is focus groups, because it is subject to many biases. “You get a wildly different result based on the interplay of personalities.”
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