Cross-Functional Collaboration in Games User Research
The ability to deliver great user research within an organization is a team effort. Finding allies of support beyond the research discipline will elevate a good practice to an outstanding one. This article points out:
- Who to start talking to
- How to ask for help and kickstart working together
- What kinds of help research can offer back
An obvious way to get teammates across the company involved is to ask for help in observing or note-taking during playtest sessions. While help with these tasks is important, healthy cross-functional collaboration can be much more. It involves working with other disciplines in the design and implementation of the backstage aspects of research programs. Backstage functionality includes participant sign-ups, legal design, and research budgets. For example:
- With new privacy laws in effect, considerations for privacy in different regions will require consultations with the legal team.
- You may need to involve coworkers from community management when thinking about ways to recruit current players to participate in user research.
- Getting advice from finance on budgeting and approvals for new tools can help speed up the process.
It truly takes a village to build a fully functioning user research program. Building these functions is not a trivial amount of work and finding help to do so will be critical to success. Asking busy colleagues in other departments to offer their time can be daunting. Here are some ways to kick off collaboration with each of these teams. Knowing how to start the conversation and including talking points on why the collaboration will be mutually beneficial will help.
Legal Team Conversation Starters
Ask your legal team:
The example above is a question you could bring to anyone working within the legal team. Although user research tends to laud itself for being a human-centered discipline, lawyers also think about human needs but in a very specific context. Working through the participant’s sign-up journey with your legal team is just as important of a user experience exercise as one that you might do on your own to understand a player’s journey to or within your game. This exercise will help inform how sign-up landing pages are formed and what legal clauses will cover the various types of participant experiences and access points. Thinking through the systems and processes needed for sign up through the lens of legal will help bring considerations forth that the research team might not think of on their own.
Offer back to your legal team:
Community Management Conversation Starters
Ask your community management team:
User researchers and community managers have a lot in common. They both have the customer in mind and aim to do right by them. Make community management a regular partner. If there are forums for users to engage with or channels for users to provide feedback in, community managers will have a pulse not only on the day-to-day frustrations users might have but also the terminology players use to describe content and features in the game.
Consider working with community management to keep a pulse on what users are saying:
- Is there some way you can scrape forum replies or forum threads to get additional qualitative data for a research project?
- Are there ways you can work with the community manager to understand the most engaged player base?
- Does the community manager have tools that might be a unique solution for diary study or playtest recruitment?
For example, running a recruitment survey pop-up in a game is one way to have people fill out their information to join a research study or research panel. The problem is that surveys tend to push players out of the game, thus forcing an end to their session. Another approach could be working with the community manager to figure out how to automate a pre-populated help ticket that allows players to sign up for research on a rolling basis. You can still use a pop-up to connect the user to the helpdesk area of the game, but this solution will not terminate their session outright.
Offer back to your community management team:
For the help community management provides, research can offer back event planning support. On days that fans get to visit the game studio, consider designing focus group-style feedback sessions. If your company runs special parties (on-site or virtual) for the biggest fans, consider offering to both design and run a session so that the community managers don’t have to do all the work themselves. These sessions are a lot of fun and a way to connect with players. Fan events can span multiple days and community managers are often responsible for the entirety of the schedule so any activity that they don’t have to plan will be a huge win.
Finance Conversation Starters
Ask your finance team:
As a research service grows, tools will be needed to scale. The process for getting budget approvals for new tools isn’t always clear. Taking the initiative and finding out how to get approvals on your own can help build bridges with the finance team. The approval process at different companies can vary widely. The size of the company is one of the major factors that impacts what might be needed to get a tool approved. Evidence that shows hours saved or evidence on how it might support collaboration can help. Your partners in finance will have a lot of experience working with other teams on approvals and can give you advice on how to make a case for new tools and how to get the budget needed for them.
Offer back to your finance team:
Your finance team members are like researchers too. Many of them might be doing forecasting or digging into the broader revenue streams if the games you are working on are free to play. While finance teams are mostly tasked with digging into the “what” (e.g. revenue and profits), they rarely get the opportunity to triangulate on the “why” (e.g. feedback from spenders, behavioral trends). Ask your finance teams what kinds of reports they might be working on. Perhaps some previously acquired data from completed research projects could help them to tell a better story. You may be surprised what kinds of collaborations will emerge by working together. You might even learn how you can tell better stories as well.
Towards a Long-Term Collaborative Culture
We have outlined here that cross-functional collaboration builds bridges and lifts up the participating functions in both directions beyond the typical “ask for observation help”. Cross-functional allies push researchers to build empathy with research participants. With this in mind, asking your work peers to observe playtests is still an excellent way to connect. Think first about how to make connections that will be mutually beneficial. Building relationships with other functions will hopefully lay a foundation that sparks curiosity. A few months down the road and with the strong relationships you have built, you will have many willing partners well beyond the development team excited to observe remote playtest sessions or participate in affinity mapping. Doing this collaborative work permeates the values of being user-focused across the company and in every function rather than just the functions that are directly responsible for building experiences.