What is Games User Research?
Games User Research focuses on players’ psychology and their behaviour via techniques such as playtesting, analytics, expert analysis, and others. Game User Researchers aim to help game developers deliver players the best gaming experience possible.
Games User Research in Game Development
Games user research (sometimes called “user testing for games”, “player research” or “Games UX”/”Games User Experience”) is a core part of game development, which helps games reach their design goals by observing and understanding players. The practice of playtesting is probably the most well-known. In playtesting players are observed while playing a prototype or pre-release game, with detailed notes taken on their behaviour, both in and out of the game, which are compared against the designers’ intended behavioural responses. This can often be combined with follow up interviews or questionnaires to access more subjective data about players motivations, emotions, and thought processes to add additional depth to the behavioural data.
While playtesting is the best known method, there are other ways to understand players. These include analytics (tracking player behaviour via data hooks in games), long term engagement diaries (where players report on game play experiences in naturalistic settings via a diary), biometrics (where player physiological data is recorded along with their behavioural and subjective data), and many others.
Games User Research in Academia
Games User Research is also an academic area which seeks to better understand what motivates players, how their actions can be explained or predicted, or even just to find new ways to capture and use data about players to help with game design. Games User Research relates to psychology, human factors and ergonomics, user experience design, interaction design, computer science, and many other fields. Games User Researchers in all of these fields, inside and outside of academia, come together around a love of gaming, players, and making awesome games.
A Short History of Games User Research
Pioneered by Atari in the early 1970s, games user research came of age in the 1990s at Sony with titles including Crash Bandicoot 2, and later at Microsoft Studios in the United States, where playtesting on the Age of Empires series was conducted. Now there are hundreds of Games User Researchers working worldwide, particularly at larger studios and publishers like Sony, Microsoft, Valve and Ubisoft, as well as a number of
smaller studios, in addition to several external playtesting consultancies. Since 2009 the IGDA ‘GURSIG’ group has been instrumental in helping researchers around the world network and share ideas.
The IGDA GURSIG Community
The Games User Research SIG of the IGDA is the games user research professional body, and has held an annual conference in San Francisco every year since 2010, following the foundation of the group in 2009. The first European conference was held in London in 2015. The GURSIG LinkedIn group is comprised of more than 1000 professional researchers, game developers, and academics, all aiming to understand players and help developers create the experiences that they aim to deliver.
To learn more about Games User Research, take a look at the following resources:
- Official website of the IGDA GURSIG group
- Polygon’s article on playtesting Halo at Microsoft Studios in the United States
- The Gamasutra post Introduction to Games User Research by Ben Lewis-Evans
- Understanding User Research: It’s Not QA or Marketing! a Gamasutra post by Maurice Tan on behalf of the IGDA GUR SIG
- The Twitter account @GamesUR, which shares games user research-related articles weekly
- This series of videos from Games User Researchers describing what Games User Research is