This month I’ve been talking to Patrick Tan, User Researcher at Hothead Games about his journey into games user research, and getting his first role in the games industry.
He shared his experience applying for roles, getting the experience necessary to work in games and top tips for finding entry level games jobs.
To keep up with Patrick, find him on Discord (Pat#4036) or LinkedIn
Working in games user research
I am a User Researcher at Hothead Games, a mobile game studio. I primarily work with game teams through early concept testing all the way to a worldwide release!
I’m relatively new to working in UXR so my background isn’t too lengthy! But before working in games I did UX research at a creative agency named FCB/SIX and also the Royal Bank of Canada. Both were awesome experiences that let me contribute to some pretty cool products and work with other amazing researchers. Then before working at FCB/SIX and RBC, I was finishing my last year of undergrad studying computer science, psychology and communications technology.
Discovering games user research as a career
It was not until early this year I learned about Games User Research and its possibility as a career. I guess I always knew subconsciously that games user research existed, just by playing in betas and participating in player feedback surveys while growing up. But it never really clicked for me that it was usually user research that facilitated these moments.
When applying for jobs, I always noticed UXR opportunities at the different game companies but I always just assumed it was just the same as any UXR in tech. That was until I was able to connect with Phil Keck from WB Games and I was able to learn a whole new side of user research that I completely fell in love with! It was a super insightful chat, getting a quick crash course on how user research works in games and its differences/similarities to tech. But the most important takeaway was the introduction to the GRUX discord and other resources like Game Makers Toolkit. This put me in a never-ending rabbit hole learning everything about GRUX and how to break in. Which led me to buying the famous “Games User Research” book and funny enough “How to be a games user researcher“!
After taking some time to read through the books and scrounging the web for GUR related topics. I figured I very much enjoy playing video games and I like to do UX research as a job. I mind as well combine the two and look for something in the games industry!
(Shoutout to Phil Keck for getting me in touch with GUR and sharing your awesome resources! and Esther Santos for connecting me to Hothead Games!)
Preparing for a first games user research role
I was very fortunate to have the experience from both FCB/SIX and RBC as a UX researcher, which helped me practise research methods and tools in a practical setting. But because I was in between jobs at the time, I decided to use my time productively and continue to practice my skills by volunteering at Hack4LA. This was a great opportunity to continue to work on my research skills like interviewing and creating actionable insights, while also contributing to some fantastic civic tech projects.
Unironically, I was playing more games during my job hunt. In preparation for interviews, I usually played one of their games that the company developed (In my case it was mostly mobile games). This was more so to get an understanding of the types of games I could be expected to work on, and to demonstrate my interest in the company I was applying to. I love talking about anything games, and it definitely feels better if it is relevant towards the company!
(There are a bunch of volunteer platforms that you can use and gain experience from like Code for America, Code for Canada, Tech Fleet, and UX Rescue! (I’m sure there’s more))
Applying for games user research jobs
Applying was long and challenging but definitely rewarding when it was finished! Like many others it was a lot of applications through LinkedIn Jobs submitting your resume, cover letter and portfolio. But I think one of the key things is knowing there is a lot of support out there. I truly believe that networking is a very important skill and a lot of researchers are happy to give advice and their experiences with interviews.
I found it also important to utilize different UX channels like Mixed Methods, Leaners (Previously UXRC), ResearchOps and of course the GRUX discord. These slack groups alongside the GRUX discord were a fantastic resource for not only job listings but also general questions and mentoring/advice.
The most difficult part of getting your first role in the games industry
I believe this applies to all industries but the most difficult thing is understanding the industry you will be working in. GUR is still a relatively new field so getting to know the differences and similarities between GUR and UXR in software development (Where I was coming from) was important. It helped me distinguish transferrable skills and read up on new ones. Meeting with researchers already in games helped me gain insight on what to expect from GUR and a list of resources to read up on, which evidently prepared me for future interviews in games.
Understanding game development
Although I am still very new to the industry, game development as a whole has been surprising. It’s been really interesting to see the entire process in developing a game and seeing all the different iterations a game goes through. Especially coming from a player’s perspective always thinking it must be so easy to make a game! haha
On a side note, it is pretty awesome that I can do research across all the different game teams. You really get exposure to all the different types of games and watch it grow from a small concept to a playable game! …Kinda crazy to think about it
Advice for others looking to work in games user research
1. Start playing games to get an understanding of different game designs, mechanics and terminology.
Since you will be working with games day-to-day, it is important to understand them as well. I found that having a basic understanding of how games are played will help with conversations down the road (especially when playtesting with users).
2. Play or research the games of the company you are interviewing for!
Not only do you learn more about the company, but you prepare yourself for any questions directly tied to one of their games (It happens!). I think most importantly, it shows genuine interest in taking the time and playing their games. People are passionate about games in this field.
3. Network and join different UX communities!
Can definitely say I have learned a lot from so many different researchers and I wouldn’t be in this field without the mentors I’ve met. It can be daunting at first but people do genuinely want to help eachother out! At the end, we are all trying to improve and grow the practice 😄
I am always open to chat about anything related to games (upcoming games, recommendations, whatever!) and of course I would be more than happy to chat about UXR related stuff (especially mobile!). I am still new to GUR so I am always looking to learn and would be more than happy to share my experiences so far! You can reach me over on discord Pat#4036 or LinkedIn
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