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An interview with Krista Parham – Senior User Researcher at Kabam

This month I’ve been talking to Krista Parham, User Researcher at Kabam Games about her experience working in games, and top tips for people looking to join the industry.

She shared what it’s like working on mobile games, how games mirror the film industry and why it’s important to be honest about the games you play.

What do you currently do at Kabam?

I’m a Senior User Researcher. I work on studio level research to help teams understand players and their needs to inform design, partner with project leadership to build out research programs to take their game from concept to live services to help make player’s experience of the game match their vision. Day to day that means meeting with devs, figuring out what’s coming and anticipating where they’re going to need research. I work across multiple titles so I have to hold many different timelines in my brain at once.

How did you get started in games user research?  

I first heard about Games User Research at an industry panel in one of my HCI classes and went “That’s a job?? I want to do that.” After I graduated I applied at EA for a Researcher position, got it, and the rest is history.

What is games user research like for mobile games? What type of questions do you help with?

I’ve worked on both mobile and HD titles and some of the major differences are: it’s easier to get and deliver builds, the UI is more important, and the games have longer and more iterative beta cycles. The questions are mostly the same, we try to understand what blocks players from progressing, how to help the game be more satisfying, and make sure the game is engaging in the long-term.

The divide between mobile and HD games is blurrier than ever, if there was a major difference before. With cross-platform titles, live service games, and higher quality graphics and responsiveness on mobile, they’re really all just… games. And the focus as a researcher is on understanding the game and the motivations of our players, less than the platform. Except that it is way easier to distribute games on mobile. 

What skills do you think have been important to work on as your career has developed?

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that you start out doing the job and then as time goes on you end up managing the job, either as people management or in project management. I still do the job, analysing the data, but the focus is more on building plans, making sure we’re doing the most useful work at the right time, and thinking about strategic work.

Has anything surprised you about working in the games industry?

I came into games thinking it was a software industry but it’s an entertainment industry. We have more in common with the film industry. We share similar job titles and structures. Games are often successful not because of being better or whatever ineffable thing makes something a hit. We’re also in the business of making something that is meaningful for people and that will stick with them when they aren’t engaging with it.

What do you think are the biggest challenges for people joining the industry now?

Roles are increasingly specialized, understanding those roles and figuring out which one is a match is a big challenge. Figuring out what you want to do day-to-day and then figuring out what that’s called in video games. Just choosing what jobs to apply for is a huge challenge, it’s not always easy to understand what the titles mean without experience.

Do you have any advice for others looking to work in games user research?

  1. Focus on research skills. When we’re looking at candidates, we can teach the business processes but we’re looking for someone who really understands the philosophy of research and is solid in their methods 
  2. Read up on design research (or take a course). Wider UXR has a lot to teach Games UR and coming in with even a basic understanding of what UX maturity is and what design research is will help someone acclimate to the industry and also help them communicate why research matters. 
  3. If you get asked if you play games, say yes and list the games. So many times I interview people who are like ‘I don’t play games’ and then thirty seconds later they’re talking about how many hours of Candy Crush or FIFA or Pokemon Go they’ve played. Those are games! 

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