Career Advice

17 Games UX Research Job Interview Questions To Prepare For

Preparing for interviews is an emotional rollercoaster. 

First there is the elation of finally hearing back from a games studio, and getting the interview.

Then the dread sets in – what are they going to ask, what do I need to do to prepare, and how can I make sure I don’t miss this chance to work at the company of my dreams?

In this post we’ll look at what questions you might be asked, and the themes interviewers will explore. Being ready for these will help youy to ace the interview.

(Having difficulty getting interviews? Read my previous post on networking to increase your chances of getting an interview).

If you’ve got the interview and you’re preparing for it – read on! 

Games UX Research Job INterview Questions

Interviewers want you to do your best

Interviews aren’t meant to be a trick. The interviewer wants you to be able to share all of your experience fully.Good interviewers will ask follow-up questions rather than letting your experience get missed or misunderstood accidentally. 

If you can get into the right mindset, treating the interview as a friendly conversation between peers, rather than an exam where you are being tested, will hopefully reduce nerves! 

What will the interview be like?

Sometimes there is a first screening round with a HR person, who will check that your background is vaguely appropriate. Any sort of industry or academic UX or research experience should be enough to proceed. 

The real test is the interview with the team – usually one or more senior researchers. 

At a junior level, their questions might be more hypothetical (“how would you do this”). At a senior level, they might be asking about specific times you have encountered these challenges and what you did. If you can give concrete examples, using something like the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, Result), that will help give comprehensive answers and build confidence in your ability to do to the role.

Every games company is unique, and their approach and exact questions will differ. Here are some themes and example questions to prepare for…

Scenario based interview questions

A very common format for interview questions is to ask “what would you do”. These will be looking into how you approach problems. The interview is usually expecting you to ask more questions about the context, rather than diving straight into answering. Here are some examples: 

  1. A team have made a prototype for a new multiplayer party game, and would like to know if players enjoy it, to decide whether it’s worth taking further. What would you do?
  1. How would you handle a designer telling you they didn’t believe the research work you are presenting?
  1. A team has asked you to increase the sample size for your usability test. What do you do?
  1. Your team would like to know how to improve retention on their free-to-play mobile game. How would you approach this?
  1. What would you measure on a survey to see if players would buy a game on release?
  1. A PM asks you to soften the interpretation of data for an important review and says it’s on the plan to fix, how do you handle it? (Thanks @VidyaResearcher)

Knowledge based interview questions

Successful candidates will need to build confidence that they understand how to run research, how this intersects with game design, and that they are able to talk about games in an appropriate way with other game developers. Some questions ask directly about your game or research experience to explore those topics.

  1. How does games user research differ from other types of user research? 
  1. What is statistical significance, and when is it important?
  1. What’s a game you’ve played recently that has good usability?
  1. What can you do to minimise leaks from a playtest?
  1. When in game development should you be running user research, and what studies would you recommend? 

Opinions based interview questions

Some questions don’t have ‘correct’ answers, and are used to understand how you think. A good approach is to show you understand multiple perspectives on the topic, commit to an answer, and justify why you have committed to that answer. 

  1. What do you think is the hardest bit of being a UX researcher?
  1. What are your thoughts on personas?
  1. How do you make sure research findings are understood by the whole development team?
  1. How many playtesters do you need to test a game?
  1. What are your strengths and weaknesses as a researcher?
  1. What is a game you like, why do you like it? What is a game you don’t like, why do others like it? (Thanks @VidyaResearcher)

What comes after the interview

Email the interviewer to say thank you – it takes no time, and won’t hurt your chances. 

If you’re lucky enough to get through to another round, this can either be similar interviews with other domain experts (like an interview with non-researchers), or can be a take-home task, such as reviewing a game or designing a study. I cover more about what the process can look like in How To Be A Games User Researcher

Every month my free newsletter shares games user research job opportunities and advice for getting your first job in games, as well as exploring how to answer interview questions like these. Sign up and get the free e-book of career tips below.

Get my free ebook of career tips from researchers at top game studios such as EA, Blizzard, PlayStation, Ubisoft, Activision and more. Based on exclusive interviews, they reveal ten essential tips to kick-start your GUR career today.

Plus receive a monthly email with free games user research lessons and curated Games UX and UR jobs.

Sign up now to get the free e-book (no spam, just a nice email from me each month!)

Ten essential tips for new and aspiring games user reseachers ebook
Career Advice Newsletter

Make a games user research portfolio

Many disciplines in games development demand portfolios. For artists, or UX Designers, they are almost essential. But how does that translate for games user researchers?

Making a portfolio can take a huge amount of time – and it’s difficult to know whether it’s going to have an impact on impressing employers, or getting your first games user research role.

In this issue we explore whether it’s worth making a games user research portfolio, and what a portfolio should include.

Get future games user research lessons direct to your inbox

Create a games user research portfolio

Build a games research portfolio

Do I need a games user research portfolio?

Need? No. Only once in my career have I been asked for a portfolio, and it was for a role where none of the people hiring me were researchers. When hiring researchers, I don’t ask for a portfolio.

I asked other hiring managers whether a portfolio was expected on Twitter, and the answer was broadly similar to my experience. Only 31% of hiring managers said they expected a portfolio.

Making a portfolio for games user research can be difficult for many experienced researchers – due to the secrecy around what we work on, and because our work can be less visual than other games disciplines where portfolios are more common.

However this doesn’t mean that it’s always a bad idea to make one. 

Should I make a portfolio anyway?

If you are already an established researcher, I wouldn’t recommend making a portfolio as a good use of your time. However for people looking to get their first games user research job, it can be very beneficial – even if it’s not required for applying for roles.

When advertising roles, hundreds of irrelevant applications get sent in (as they are for any ‘games’ job). Having a portfolio quickly establishes you as a sensible, realistic candidate who is someone genuinely applying to be a games user researcher, rather than just someone applying to every job in the games industry.

A challenge for hiring managers is differentiating between candidates when a lot of people apply with the same general experience and background. That’s even harder hiring for a junior role where there’s limited evidence available for them to assess your previous work. 

A portfolio is evidence that you care, and can help you stand out from the crowd.

Seb Long, from Player Research, described the benefit here:

What should my games user research portfolio include?

An ideal games user research candidate would show the following skills, so try and touch on all of them at some point in your portfolio:

  • Qualitative Research: Any experience designing and moderating qualitative research methods, such as interviews, usability testing, observation
  • Quantitative Research: Any experience with lighter quantitative research methods, such as survey design
  • Analysis: Note taking + data analysis experience
  • Presenting: Any experience presenting results to people
  • Collaboration: An ability to work with non-researchers + other disciplines
  • Understanding Games: An understanding of how games are made and what other game roles are
  • Defining participants: Any work on participant recruitment, screening and making sure you are testing with the right people
  • Community: Any involvement in the research community.

Obviously not all of this is possible without pre-existing experience, but a lot of it can be demonstrated through academia or personal projects (I covered a bit on this in my talk ‘how to get games user research experience without a job’)

How to make a games user research portfolio?

When deciding how to create a portfolio, prioritise making it low maintenance. Anything that takes a lot of time or effort to maintain will just not get done. A games user research portfolio could be as simple as some google slides or a powerpoint exported as a PDF. A wordpress blog can also be a suitable base for a portfolio (and has a lot of pre-existing themes that can be used)

There seems to be no consensus on what a research portfolio should look like.  My ideal format would include:

  • A paragraph on the situation
  • Details on the approach you took, and crucially why you took that approach
  • Evidence of impact – did anyone listen or do anything with what you learned? 

Here’s what one page from mine looked like many years back (with the text obscured, unfortunately). It picks one big example, and goes through the situation, approach and impact. Then it adds two smaller examples to show variety. I had similar pages for each of the bullet points listed above (qualitative research, quantitative research, presenting, etc…). 

An example portfolio. The header says 'qualitative research', and then a section for 'the problem', 'my approach', 'the big insights', and 'the outcome'. The text is obscured.

This approach was very text-heavy, and I would consider something more visual these days! 

Remember, a key skill for researchers is communication (because otherwise everyone ignores our findings). Make sure whichever format you chose is doing a good job of clearly communicating your experience. It doesn’t have to be pretty, but it does have to be clear. It will be an advert for you, and should build confidence that you are able to present information in a compelling way.

Keep in mind that you will be judged by the worse thing in your portfolio. A poor method choice, an unreliable conclusion or a research faux pas will be considered a warning sign. Some red flags could include choosing focus groups as a method (which might be appropriate for the right research objective, but would require some explaining) or too much emphasis on the design + development part of a project, rather than explaining the research.

To reduce the risk of including things in a portfolio that reflect poorly on you :

  • Find a peer to review it, don’t be defensive about negative feedback, and take time to understand why people got that impression from your portfolio.
  • Include less things in your portfolio. Your goal from the portfolio is to show ‘I am a UX researcher’, and that can be achieved with only two or three projects.
  • Make sure you explain your decisions. It’s ok to make ‘pragmatic’ rather than ‘perfect’ choices, but show that you did that consciously for good reasons.

Blogging is an alternative approach to a portfolio

Many established researchers don’t have portfolios, and never have. Instead, they used blog posts to demonstrate their interest and involvement in games user research. I believe this is just as effective as creating a portfolio for demonstrating user research experience. 

Some researchers kindly shared the blogs they worked on before they were in industry. Like my own blog, many of these posts no longer represent their opinions or ability – but are still helpful to show what evidence is appropriate for getting a first game in jobs. Many had stories that their blog posts were what got them the job. So consider blogging! 

Example games user research portfolios & blogs

Thanks to everyone who shared their current, or old portfolios + blogs. 

Whether it’s a formal portfolio, or a blog showing your thoughts on games usability, publicly sharing your work in games will help stand out from other applicants for games UX + user research roles.

Do you have a games user research blog, or have you made a portfolio? Send a link to me on twitter and I’ll include it in a future newsletter! 

More games user research career advice

Get my free ebook of career tips from researchers at top game studios such as EA, Blizzard, PlayStation, Ubisoft, Activision and more. Based on exclusive interviews, they reveal ten essential tips to kick-start your GUR career today.

Plus receive a monthly email with free games user research lessons and curated Games UX and UR jobs.

Sign up now to get the free e-book (no spam, just a nice email from me each month!)

Ten essential tips for new and aspiring games user reseachers ebook

Don’t miss the next issue

Career Advice Newsletter

Networking to your first games user research job

Applying to your first games user research job is difficult. Despite putting hours into a CV or cover letter, you often don’t even get an interview, and never hear back. 

This is disheartening, and eventually leads to disillusionment, and giving up on your dreams to work in video games. 

The odds are stacked against you

I once read that 70% of jobs don’t make it to job sites – so most of the available opportunities you’re not even hearing about. 

And 80% of jobs are filled via personal and professional connections – again making it very hard to get your anonymous CV to be read.

This occurs not because hiring managers are bad people, or intentionally trying to give jobs to their friends. They are receiving hundreds of job applications every day, and that quickly becomes unmanageable. There are endless people out there who apply to every games job, regardless of their suitability for the role – and so hiring managers have a lot of noise to get through. 

This makes it very hard to quickly identify ‘this is a suitable person to interview’ vs ‘this is just someone who applies to all games jobs’ (or even ‘this is just someone who applies to all user research jobs’). 

Even very strong candidates will often be mis-identified, and not make it to interviews.

Increase the odds by making hiring managers’ jobs easier. 

Wouldn’t it be good if hiring managers always identified your relevance correctly, understood your expertise, and at least gave you an interview? 

In this article we’re going to look at effective networking. By the end of this article, you will understand how to get recognition in the industry (without awkward handshakes), in order to get more interviews.

Networking into your first games user research job

Networking doesn’t have to be awkward

People assume networking is going to conferences, interrupting a group of hiring managers talking together, and handing out your business cards. So awkward, intrusive and intimidating! 

Especially in an industry where a lot of people identify as introverted (👋) I couldn’t imagine anything worse – and I have often been in the situation where I don’t have anyone to talk to, don’t feel brave enough to approach strangers and so drink endless free coffee and wait…

These days, it is possible to build genuine connections virtually. We’ll look at some techniques for doing that, and some mistakes to avoid.

Getting the basics sorted

You need to create the impression that you want to work in games user research. LinkedIn is the most appropriate for professional contexts, but Twitter is where a lot of professional conversations happen already. You should consider having accounts for both.  

🚀 Do this now: Update or create your LinkedIn and Twitter profile, so that it reflects your interest in games user research

Be professional online

The industry is extremely small, and so always being professional and friendly is very important. This doesn’t mean you necessarily have to be stuffy + business focused in how you communicate online, but do look out for red flag behaviours such as abuse or discrimination.

Especially in shared spaces, like conferences or the GRUX discord – a lot of very experienced industry people are lurking, and unprofessional conduct will be noticed. 

🚀 Do this now: Review your previous interactions on Twitter or LinkedIn, and identify whether your online presence is professionally appropriate. Change how you conduct yourself online if not! 

Join in with existing conversations

Every week, there are discussions on the Games Research + UX Discord, aimed to encourage contributions at all levels.

As well as the GRUX discord, games user research conversations are happening elsewhere online – the GamesUR twitter account does a great job at collating some of them

You can find more people talking about games user research by searching on the hashtags #gamesUR or #GRUX, and join in the conversations. Reply to other people’s threads and ask questions. Interactions grow familiarity, and will help people recognise you as a person interested in the industry. 

If you need a list of people to follow, I put together a quick list of people who tweet about games user research here. (I will add more when the spam limit calms down…)

Don’t hold back on asking questions. I believe that questions reflect well on the person asking them (it’s better to ask than to remain ignorant), and a lot of researchers active on social media have time to explain their points better online!

🚀 Do this now: Join the GRUX discord, and look at what is being talked about. Join in with a conversation

Make genuine connections on the internet

At it’s heart, networking is making friends. Or at least – making acquaintences. Treating making friends as a transaction is transparent and icky. I’ve seen juniors act in this predatory way at conferences, very consciously seeking out the people who work at big companies, and rejecting those who are not. It’s not subtle, and not good, and will set you back….

You’ll need to reframe your goal as ‘making genuine connections with games user researchers on the internet’. That may eventually create new opportunities, or reduce the number of times accidental rejections occur, but those are side benefits rather than our main objective.

The easiest place to start is with your immediate peers – other people looking to start their own career in games user research. The people who were learning GUR when I started are still some of my most trusted and most closest industry friends, who I can (and have) asked to support me at different times in my career. That network will grow with you, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Connections don’t even have to be about career things. Why not make a smaller community inside the games user research community for those people who are interested in roguelikes? Or cosy games? Or baking?

Making connections, first with your immediate peers, and then with the wider community is a long term investment in your future.

🚀 Do this now: Make a list of the people you identify as your peers, and send one of them a nice message! 

Doing useful things to create an ‘open’

The first approach to talk to a stranger can be very difficult. That’s the kind of awkward interaction that I want to avoid. If you are doing something useful, or involved in an activity together that approach becomes much easier. It gives you a reason to be talking and something to talk about.

People new to the Games Research and UX community assume you have to be on the steering committee to start a new initiative or to help out. This is not the case – the conferences need volunteers, and the community welcomes new initiatives being led by anyone, regardless of experience. I started the mentoring scheme and jobs board, and both of these can always do with more support. As can the other initiatives that people have started, such as the reading club.

Join the discord, see what is going on, and then volunteer to help out or start something new. They don’t just help your CV, but also start to create genuine connections by working together with other researchers. As an added benefit people will start to come to you and open conversations, so you no longer need to make approaches yourself – people will approach you! 

Doing useful things doesn’t have to be a ‘big initiative’. It could just be writing an article about a topic that will interest the community, or something you have tried and how it went – again it gives people a prompt to talk to you, and will lead to discussions. Lots of small efforts build up over time, and start to build a strong network of people you know, and who know you. 

🚀 Do this now: Think about your interests, and consider what initiative you could start, or help with – or what article you could write. Share your thoughts publicly to create the opportunity for people to engage.

Ask genuine questions

I have found the games research community to be very friendly, and willing to give up their time to people interested in understanding the discipline better. This has been evident through events like the office-hours initiative in the GRUX community. If you are not already part of the mentoring scheme, sign up for the opportunity to meet someone in the industry and learn about it. Many researchers respond positively to  LinkedIn messages, to answer questions.

Meet existing researchers, ask them about their role, how they got into the industry and show a genuine interest. It’s often very obvious if you’re just interested in a job, rather than treating every conversation as a learning opportunity. Leave everyone you speak to with a positive impression about you and your enthusiasm for games user research – It’s a very small industry, and so you will bump into the same people again and again.

To stand out even further – show you’ve done your homework. Find something you think will be interesting or relevant to them, and be helpful by sharing it with them. Particularly for researchers who are active on social media, there are a lot of clues about what aspects of research they focus on, or find interesting, and being genuinely helpful is a great way to start a relationship.

Overall, your goal is to not be a burden. People who start by asking me for an hour long meeting know that it’ll take me months to schedule that – whereas emails usually get a much quicker response. Make your ask proportional to how well you know each other! 

This will start to make connections with people outside of the job application process, and can inspire some great ideas about what you can do to get into the industry. This interview with Tyler Sterle shows how he approached these exact challenges as a student hoping to work in games. 

🚀 Do this now: Add me on Twitter, and start a conversation. I like to hear people’s perspectives on “what are the hardest bits of the journey to becoming a games user researcher”, if a prompt is helpful!

Networking reduces the chance that you’ll get missed

You won’t get your first job by networking. But by making genuine connections with other members of the industry, you will increase the chance that your application will be recognised and not accidentally rejected too early in the application process.

That’ll give you the chance to get an interview, and impress them with your deep research experience and understanding. 

Starting networking as an ‘in’ for any specific role is much too late – you need to start making friends in the industry well before any roles are advertised. But that’s ok. As you’re really making friends, and the benefits of making friends go well beyond just applying for jobs. 

What skills do you need to show with your interview? I asked a bunch of people who work in the industry already for their career tips. If you haven’t read this already, sign up to get it.👇

More career advice for getting started in games user research

Get my free ebook of career tips from researchers at top game studios such as EA, Blizzard, PlayStation, Ubisoft, Activision and more. Based on exclusive interviews, they reveal ten essential tips to kick-start your GUR career today.

Plus receive a monthly email with free games user research lessons and curated Games UX and UR jobs.

Sign up now to get the free e-book (no spam, just a nice email from me each month!)

Ten essential tips for new and aspiring games user reseachers ebook
Career Advice Newsletter

Move from academia into games user research

Moving from a post-graduate degree into the games industry can be challenging. You feel like a research expert, and are ready to combine your expertise with your passion playing games. 

But then – why are you getting ghosted and not getting interviews?

Your research skills are very important. That’s why, in a previous games user research salary survey, over 70% of people in the field had a post-graduate degree. But research skills are not the only thing you will be assessed on.

Getting the opportunity to make the leap from academic study to the games industry can be difficult, and many people end up frustrated – even with years of academic research experience, they get rejected from roles without even getting an interview. 

What’s going wrong? In this post we’ll look at how to make the most of your academic experience when applying, some of the traps to avoid, and how to get your first role in games.

Get future issues direct to your inbox

Move from academia into games user research

Too much academic experience can be a trap

Intuitively, it feels like doing a PhD should qualify you for senior games user research roles. You’ve spent years becoming a research expert, and are ready to apply that expertise to running games user research studies. 

Unfortunately too much academic experience can be a problem for getting senior roles. Here’s why.

An equal balance between
Research Expertise
Game Development Experience
Experience working with others

The perfect candidate for a research role is well balanced across multiple competencies. 

Three that I believe are important, and often assessed during applications are:

  • Research expertise – the ability to make sensible methodological decisions, and execute on them
  • Experience with game development – being able to identify appropriate research objectives throughout a production process, and do studies at the right time. 
  • Experience working with teams – being able to position your work and conclusions so that they are understood and seen as relevant by decision-makers in other disciplines. 

A PhD can leave you lopsided, and looking like this:

An unbalanced candidate, with too much research experience and not enough game development expeirence
(Oh hey – while we’re here. Don’t do these kind of graphs on your resume. They don’t help!)

An expert in experiment design and research skills (far beyond the expectations of a junior level), but without appropriate experience to work at a senior level in other categories. This means you can’t hit the ground running, and teams pass you over. 

Even if you do have appropriate experience in these other areas, the assumption will often be that you do not – and you will have to make a special effort to overcome those assumptions.

Too much of a research expert for a junior role, and too inexperienced in games for a senior role. 

You are stuck.

The experience to show to break out of the trap

Let’s return to these three areas, and look at what employers want to see.

Research Experience

This is hopefully the easiest one to tick off, because academic experience does often create the potential to develop excellent research skills. But you still need to make the relevance explicit. 

You need to show that you are comfortable with some of the most common methods found in games user research. Make explicit that you are comfortable with as many of the following methods as you can:

  • 1:1 usability studies
  • Unmoderated usability studies
  • Interviews
  • Diary studies
  • Field research
  • Survey-led playtests

Make it explicit that you can do this with industry-appropriate timeframes, and deliverables will make your experience seem relevant.

Game development experience

You need to demonstrate that you understand the game development process, and understand what it is like to work in a game studio. This should include:

  • Understanding the game production process, the stages and timelines 
  • Understanding the roles that exist within game development
  • Understand the terms used by game developers

Then you should consider how your research objectives would differ for the different stages and teams you might work with, and what some typical studies might include. (I’m writing a new post on this soon…).

Some disciplines are introduced in my book How To Be A Games User Researcher. I’ve also found the book A Playful Production Process to be a fantastic overview of a game development process. 

A lot of this experience can be difficult to get before you work in the industry (particularly the more technical things – like how to download and install a build), and you should be aware this is where you are weakest. Being ready to explain what you are doing to overcome this weakness will help show willingness – for example with self-guided projects. Here’s my guide on how to get experience working on games.

This can (and should) be supplemented by time spent understanding other disciplines, for example watching industry talks, or joining their communities. 

Team experience

Games user researchers spend a lot of their time speaking to other disciplines. Producers, designers, programmers, and artists are the people who actually need to make decisions based on our conclusions.

These conversations can sometimes be difficult, and political. Friction between disciplines comes up when finalising research objectives, or sharing research findings, as each discipline’s language and priorities are different. Having the social skills and diplomacy to understand and be understood is key to having impact with our studies.

You need to show you have worked with other disciplines (not necessarily in games). 

Many application processes test this by involving designers or producers in their interviews. When speaking to other disciplines, showing humility and a willingness to understand and learn from the environment (rather than playing the role of ‘the research expert’) can help create trust that you are able to work well with other teams. 

How to get your application noticed

As we’ve discussed before, none of this will help if your application is accidentally dismissed prematurely. 
Most game development roles advertised get hundreds of potentially qualified applications, and you need to even the odds that your application gets considered. Read the guide on networking to make sure you are getting a fair chance at an interview.

Tips from the community

From my own personal experience, using the opportunities that universities offer to get some experience in running in-person research is one of the biggest potential benefits of postgraduate study. We covered this in more depth in the HTBAGUR book. Jessica Tompkins, PhD and UX researcher at EA, help on this chapter was invaluable.

I also asked this question on twitter and LinkedIn, and Jessica gave some additional great points on LinkedIn:

Jess's comment about games user research. Linked above

Jess also later shared this fantastic advice thread on Twitter

Irena Pavlovic also raised the importance of pragmatism when performing research in industry.

Irena's comment about games user research. Linked above

On twitter, Natali, working as a user researcher at Ubisoft, raised the difference in pace between academia and industry, and that one of the challenges is adapting research methods, analysis and debriefing so that it finds answers when it’s still relevant. 

Natali's tweet about games user research - linked below

Link to Natali’s original tweet

Blake is a UX Researcher at XBox. He also highlighted how the change of environment impacts the goal of quantitative studies, and what we would consider an appropriate conclusion.

Blakes Tweet about Games User Research - linked below

Link to Blake’s original tweet  

Lots of great tips there from the community, and the need for speed comes up multiple times. In industry a study that provides findings too late is pointless, as the decision will have been made. The development team have already moved on to the next topic.

One way of speeding up analysis is through preparing templates for note-taking and analysis, and using mindmaps as a way to speed up analysis, as I covered in the Games User Research Summer Camp event in 2020.  We also explore this, and other aspects of moving from academia to industry in the book – but it’s a popular topic, so I know we’ll cover different aspects of the transition in more depth in the future.

How have others found it?

Last year I interviewed Blizzard’s Adam Lobel, with a deep focus on his transition from a PhD to games user research. Learn more about his experience and what surprised him in the full interview.

Continue your journey into games user research

Get my free ebook of career tips from researchers at top game studios such as EA, Blizzard, PlayStation, Ubisoft, Activision and more. Based on exclusive interviews, they reveal ten essential tips to kick-start your GUR career today.

Plus receive a monthly email with free games user research lessons and curated Games UX and UR jobs.

Sign up now to get the free e-book (no spam, just a nice email from me each month!)

Ten essential tips for new and aspiring games user reseachers ebook
Career Advice Newsletter

Moving into games user research from other UX jobs

You spend eight hours of each day at work. And after many years of working as a user researcher, that can start to fill like a drain – what is the next career step? 

Some choose management and advance into mentoring or growing the next generation of user researchers. 

Others look to move industry – into a domain they feel passionate about. And everyone love games! 

This move into the games industry can be more challenging than expected, and questions emerge such as “how do I retain my seniority”, or “why am I not getting interviews from my application”.

In this updated article, we’ll look at how your existing user research experience can help put you ahead of other candidates, and reveal the gaps in your experience that you will have to address to be taken seriously.

Get future issues direct into your mailbox:

Break into games user research from other industries

Recognise your transferable experience

A whole bunch of your experience will be transferable, and will help indicate that you are suitable for a games user research role. Here are some of the things to emphasise.

Many of the basic research methods are common to games

Many of the most common research methods from any user research role are hugely applicable to a games UX role, and your experience of running real research studies should be the central point of your resume and application. 

Some of the most common methods used across both industries are:

  • Usability testing 
  • Interviewing users
  • Unmoderated testing
  • Survey design

Emphasise any experience of these methods in your application to build confidence that you have the raw research skills required.

In your resume and interviews be ready to show that applying these methods led to real changes in the products you’ve worked on – impact is very important!

🚀 Do this now: Add a list of the research methods you are comfortable with to your resume

Working with other disciplines is also a huge part of the role

Being able to run studies is only one part of a user research role. Our studies our pointless if our peers don’t discover, understand or believe our findings. Because of this, relationship building, creating consensus, getting buy-in, convincing stakeholders, and leading without official power is incredibly important. 

To paraphrase Lou Downe, 10% of the job is running user research, 90% is creating the environment where user research matters. 

This isn’t unique to games, and if you’ve worked as a user researcher in other industries, this is a very important skill to emphasise – it will help you stand out from recent graduates who haven’t had the opportunity to demonstrate these ‘soft’ skills.

When applying, especially for more senior roles, emphasise your experience at bringing others along on the research journey, rather than just your ability to deliver studies. 

🚀 Do this now: Prepare some examples of working with other disciplines to increase their engagement and understanding of research, ready for an interview question

Be aware of your gaps and overcome them

If you have never worked in games before, you will have some gaps in your experience. 

Especially as you start to apply for mid-level or senior level position, these become increasingly important, and it can be very difficult to convince teams that you will be able to operate at a senior level in games. This includes being prepared for the unique nuances of games user research, and being able to operate in a professional game development environment.

Look at the nuances below, and make sure you are prepared to address them in your resume or interviews.

Be prepared to measure emotional goals

Games are entertainment, and are trying to create specific emotional or experiential goals. Often your game team want to know some variation of ‘is this fun?’. 

This is different to much of traditional user research, which is often focused on discovering and meeting the functional needs of users. 

Handling emotional objectives has some implications. For usability issues, this is fine – we can frame usability problems as ‘barriers to fun’. 

However it also means working out a reliable method of measuring enjoyment or fun. One approach is using a combination of quant measures, benchmarking and qualitative data to explain any quant scores. 

To prepare for a transition into games user research, think about how you might tackle research objectives based around emotional goals.

🚀 Do this now: Think about the challenges of measuring fun, and how to explain the limitations of measuring fun to a game team who will want to equate it with a review score. This will be excellent preparation for a researcher joining the games industry.

Think about the nuance of difficulty

In most other types of software, ‘difficulty’ is to be avoided. No-one wants it to be hard to order a book from an online shop. However for games, a game without difficulty isn’t (usually) fun. Theory like Raph Koster’s A Theory Of Fun For Game Design and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s Flow both put ‘overcoming challenges that were previously unachievable’ as a key part of creating compelling experiences. Games need friction.

Games user researchers need to be nuanced and put in more upfront work to understand the thing being tested. They have to understand the game well enough to dinstiguish intended difficulty from accidental difficulty. 

This usually involves a lot of time working with designers to identify what the difficulty is meant to be and what players are meant to understand or be able to do before they should be allowed to progress. They need to moderate the session and capture notes in a way that recognises ‘intended’ challenge (that has been designed) and separates this from ‘unintended’ challenge (that is accidental). 

This also means that some of the typical things a user research team working outside of games (like ‘time to complete’), are not appropriate for games. These measures are not able to separate intended and unintended challenges.

🚀 Do this now: Consider how you would handle unintentional and accidental difficulty as part of an analysis process, and be prepared to talk about it.

Adapt your methods to minimise leaks

Many games have big marketing budgets, and excited fans who care deeply about the games being made. This puts them at high risk of leaks, and the consequences of leaks can be very expensive for the studio. So, secrecy is extremely important.

This includes asking participants to sign non-disclosure agreements and finding ways of actively preventing recording, such as removing their phones.

This need for secrecy has a big impact on the methods available to us. For extremely secretive games, there is a lot of pressure to run research in a controlled environment, a research lab. 

This is particularly difficult for quant research.  Other types of software can be distributed to users to use at their home, with unmoderated tools, surveys and analytics to capture their behaviour. With games, the huge risk of leaks means we can’t allow players to participate at home, and we need to bring them into a research lab. This leads to the need to build labs which can hold 10-40 players playing simultaneously. 

For a researcher coming from other industries, this requires them to adapt their study designs so that it works as a mass playtest and adapt their moderation so that they can control a room of many players simultaneously.

🚀 Do this now: Read more about minimising leaks in user research studies, and consider which adaptions would be appropriate for qualitative and quantitative studies. 

Understand how games get made

Understanding game development is important to be an effective games user researcher.

Market pressures push game development towards ‘big-bang’ launches, with one big software launch, often using a waterfall methodology. The process that game development follows is a-typical, and not like many other types of software.

We frequently work with other disciplines, and we need to understand their approach to game development, and their roles. This will help build credibility, but also work out who we should be sharing our conclusions with to get them actioned. 

User research is also a relatively new discipline in games, and we’ll frequently work with teams who don’t understand the full range of ways we can help de-risk game design decisions. This means game user researchers can’t sit back and wait for requests to come to them, instead we need to proactively jump in and tell design teams when we should be running studies. 

Understanding how game development works, the roles within game development, and where we can have an impact is crucial for identifying those opportunities when we should step in.

🚀 Do this now: Subscribe to my newsletter to get the upcoming free lesson on game development for games user researchers.

What’s it like working in games?

I asked the community what some of the differences between working in games and other industries. See their replies in this thread:

Last thoughts on applying for roles

When applying, use a covering letter to highlight your strengths and also show that you’re aware of the gaps and what you have done to address them. 

When you are applying with a pre-existing user research background, your experience of planning and running studies is extremely valuable. Strongly emphasise this in your resume, including the methods are you comfortable with. Leave off focus groups though! 😉  

Supplementing your experience with an understanding of how games are different to other software design projects, will make you a very strong candidate. 

Last of all – mention you like games, so they can tell you are applying specifically to this games UX role, rather than just sending blanket CVs to every open user research role available! 

Tom Lorusso is a games user research veteran and also had some advice

(Tom’s original tweet)

I think Tom’s point, about the implications of games being art, is important. There is not only the impact on ‘how much people care’ about what they are making. It also affects how user researchers describe their work. 

In other fields, it’s common to talk about how user research uncovers and fulfills the needs of it’s users. In games, we often describe that our role is to ensure the game design vision is being experienced correctly. We frame this around the vision of the designer, not the needs of the user. 

As Tom says, it’s definitely a high-passion environment, which creates different dynamics to working in many corporate environments. Demonstrating that passion when applying for roles will help you stand out from other applicants.

Start your career in games

Get my free ebook of career tips from researchers at top game studios such as EA, Blizzard, PlayStation, Ubisoft, Activision and more. Based on exclusive interviews, they reveal ten essential tips to kick-start your GUR career today.

Plus receive a monthly email with free games user research lessons and curated Games UX and UR jobs.

Sign up now to get the free e-book (no spam, just a nice email from me each month!)

Ten essential tips for new and aspiring games user reseachers ebook