What You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Games User Research but Were Too Afraid to Ask
No idea where to start with games user research? You're not alone – we've all been there. Maybe you’ve heard whispers around the water cooler that playtesting can help to improve the player experience, clarify game mechanics, or even contribute to making your game more fun? Sound familiar?
Well, yes – all true. But still, that alone isn't enough of an answer, and it doesn't answer the biggest question of all, so let's go ahead and ask...
What's games user research all about anyway?
Games user research (GUR) is a newer subset of software user research, which itself is quite new (computers aren't that old after all). GUR is not as widely discussed on most social media platforms or blogs as some of the other big tech hot topics; for example, UX design or game design. Game studios and indie developers do have intellectual property (IP) to think about too, meaning it’s not always possible for game user researchers to speak openly about what they have worked on or what they are working on now even if they wanted to.
Importantly, this means that some of the biggest GUR victories might never be revealed publically, making it difficult to assess for those on the outside looking in.
Microsoft was one of the first companies to embrace games user research in a big way, and – luckily for us, Microsoft also has a website dedicated to some of their work in games user research.
Another excellent overview of the basics of games user research comes from this video series by the Games User Research SIG:
We've even done our own enquires: In a recent interview with games user researcher, Heather Desurvire, we asked about the basics of games user research, including questions about common misconceptions, and where to look for resources:
Where should people new to playtesting look for resources?
There's a few. I would recommend checking out Games User Research SIG. There's a lot of resources on our website, User Behavioristics, and there are also some books I recommend on game usability and game methods, those are also on the User Behavioristics website.
I want to mention Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach, by Katherine Isbister, her work is amazing. Characters by Design is focused on designing characters and narratives in games in a way that connects us emotionally. Her work is so specific and actionable. I'm a big fan of this and her other work that also seems to have this common thread.
Last, but not least, is this awesome four-part introduction to GUR series on Gamasutra by Ben Lewis-Evans, a User Experience Researcher at Epic Games.
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