Rapport and participant interaction in games user research

Every microinteraction between research staff and playtesters sets a tone. This starts right from recruitment, and evolves throughout their playtest experience, as a result of things like lab design, briefing script, interpersonal conduct, and questionnaire phrasing. Research teams must be deliberate about the tone they set, since left unchecked it can cause meaningful and unpredictable biases in their data, and restrict their ability to draw inferences with confidence. This talk will dig deep into the importance of establishing and managing rapport with participants in games user research, with a view to ensuring valid player insights, and building mutual trust to adhere to NDA requirements.

The speaker will draw on research findings from psychology and the humanities, as well as their 8+ years of experience of running human subjects research in academic psychology, and in user experience settings – both in and out of the games industry.

To start, the overall aims of games user research will be set out in short. This will be followed by a consideration of relevant effects that might impact a researcher’s ability to achieve these goals, particularly social psychological effects and demand characteristics. The speaker will outline a broad operational definition of rapport as an advantageous relationship between research team and participants that coalesces from every small interaction touchpoint between the two. A participant-centred perspective will be adopted to illustrate how even small interactions can affect the climate of rapport, the participant’s impression of the research practice as a whole, and in turn, the integrity of the research. Examples will be given to highlight how mismanaged rapport can lead to biases in data, and might even reduce a participant’s willingness to maintain discretion after leaving the lab.

Next, the speaker will detail practical methods for establishing and managing rapport with participants throughout the research process. Most importantly, this will center around strategies for verbal and nonverbal interaction in real-time, in-person scenarios, such as verbal tone, phrasing, body language, and lab design for one-on-one and large-lab playtests. It will also extend to discussion of communication strategy and tone of voice in written communication, such as recruitment emails and questionnaires.

Primarily, this talk aims to give early-career researchers a deep foundation in the importance of rapport, factors to be aware of, and techniques for managing it. It also has direct practical relevance for research team support staff who manage, recruit, and communicate with participants. Moreover, it’s intended as an opportunity to surface the topic among more senior research staff who may not have gone so far as to implement a formal, end-to-end participant interaction strategy.

  • Category: Talk
Bob Tilford

Bob Tilford has spent over 8 years running human subjects research in academic psychology, and in user research, both in and out of the games industry. He is currently at Player Research, where he has conducted user research on more than 80 games.