This month I’ve been talking to Hannah Murphy, User Researcher at Activision about her experience working in games, and top tips for people looking to join the industry.
She shared her own journey into user research, her experience running the Games User Research mentoring scheme, and how to develop your own games user research skills.
What do you currently do at Activision?
I’m a User Experience Researcher that focuses primarily on UI/UX, meaning the majority of my work is designing, executing, and reporting research as it relates to UI/UX, and I work closely with the many different subsidiary dev studios of Activision in that process. Before that, I built up our mobile research area.
How did you get started in games user research?
This starts with attending the gamesUR Summit since 2015 when I was in graduate school. A friend of mine had told me about the SiG and I thought I would check it out. Shortly after my first gamesUR Summit I decided I wanted to pursue a career in games user research so I did my best to gain relevant research experience on my own by working with local indie devs in Minneapolis.
My first formal UX Researcher role was actually not in games but in finance. While I was working at a financial institution I continued to gain relevant games user research experience on the side while still regularly attending the GamesUR Summit. I also managed to go to GDC and had Celia Hodent as my mentor for that week, which helped immensely.
Eventually, I got my first role in the games industry as a UX Lab Analyst at Epic Games in 2018 where I moderated user research studies at Epic. The rest is history.
You started studying games in graduate school. What did you learn from your time doing that?
My time studying games in graduate school was quite valuable, as it taught me about the differences between academic games research and industry games research and gave me the necessary tools to take my academic research and adapt it to industry work. I feel that my graduate studies of games gave me a solid foundational knowledge of research methodologies that I brought with me to industry.
Has anything surprised you about working in the games industry?
This may sound naive, but the lack of women! Maybe it was wishful thinking, but I’d really hoped that once I got into the gaming industry, I would see that there are plenty of us. Fortunately, that has been changing and I believe will continue to do so, for the better.
What do you think are the biggest challenges for people joining the industry now?
I think that, even though I imagine the games industry was always competitive, it feels like it has become so much more since I became involved with the GRUX SiG. I think people really need to strategize and take the steps necessary to stand out from everyone else. This challenge is unfortunately compounded by the current state of the world (COVID), as networking at the #gamesUR Summit and GDC can have a huge impact on career development.
You run the GRUX-SIG mentoring scheme for people interested in becoming a games user researcher. Why do you think mentoring is valuable for people?
That’s a great question! Mentoring, in my opinion, helps both the mentor and the mentee grow in ways that are incredibly valuable to their career. It not only is a method for mentees to gain feedback on their own work and knowledge, but it builds trust, communication, and problem-solving skills that are essential to career growth. Managing professional relationships and adapting to others’ unique needs and learning styles is a great experience for mentors that they can take and apply to their own career. It’s also a great way for mentees to get their feet wet in managing professional relationships and expectations in a way that helps prepare them for industry.
Do you have any advice for others looking to work in games user research?
Don’t give up. Think about how you can set yourself apart from other applicants. Some thoughts on how to do this: Build your own experience and don’t wait for someone to hand it to you. Taking responsibility for your own learning and putting yourself out there shows. Reach out to indie devs and ask if you can hone your research skills and provide feedback on their game (whether that’s in the form of a usability test, playtest, etc.). Create something you can show to someone in interviews.
My other piece of advice is to get involved in the community and attend the annual #gamesUR Summit (if you’re able). If you’re able to, volunteer for our annual Summit. It’s a great way to network and show work ethic. Being involved in the community and attending Summits has undoubtedly helped me break into the industry.