Cole Davis is a recent graduate from Arizona State University, on his way to a career in the games industry. Last year he got his first game credit through self-guided experience.
I spoke to him about his approach, how getting credited for your work will help career prospects, and advice for others looking to get games user research experience.
We started by discussing why he was attracted to the games industry.
I play games so that’s a big reason I want to work with them – everyone wants to work with what they’re passionate about. I was always interested in psychology and design so it’s just a good way to mix it all together.
I learned from How To Be A Games User Researcher that working with an indie developer was the best way to get experience before landing your first position so that was naturally the first place to start.
I’ve now worked on two and it’s interesting to see the difference between someone that is open to feedback and the other that wasn’t quite so receptive. I think in that instance they thought of me more of a tester because that’s what they were looking for.
I got a lot of practical experience about what the position would look like which is something you don’t really get in school. There aren’t many schools programmes focused on gaming user research.
I asked him about how he found a game developer to work with on a portfolio project.
r/playtesters was the first place I went. I followed the subreddit and whenever I see a game that looks like it could be receptive to testing I get in touch. I’m looking for something that isn’t super finished and a genre I have some experience with.
To try and avoid confusion based on previous experience, the first thing I do when I talk to developers is to mention my background, that I have recently graduated with a masters; I’m looking to get into the industry and build some experience so I am offering them my services for free and try and sell them on it you know. I want to make it seem like they’re getting some free work (which they are!)
Cole recently partnered with the developer of Chorus Of The Night to run an expert review and playtest
The game is a bit like vampire survivors but a little more active than that. You control where you’re aiming and using abilities rather than just walking around and having it all happen passively.
I saw the request for feedback, and sent him an email, mentioned my background and what I wanted to do and if it would be helpful for him if I ran a moderated playtest on the game.
I started with the expert review. I talked to the developer about what he wanted to learn, what kind of feedback and what changes he was looking to make just to figure out what I was looking for and where to focus my attention. Then I sat down and played it for a couple of hours, just taking notes of the side.
I focused on things that could be pain points for me, as an average player who hasn’t played too many of these types of games. I basically went through everything, because there is a range of weapons and he had objectives around the progression of the game.
I presented my notes and offered recommendations if he wanted them. He is the developer and knows more about game design than I do, but if they want recommendations I’m happy to give them. He was really receptive and a couple of days later he sent me a new version with a bunch of changes based on what we’d talked about.
Then I set up the playtest with my friend. We did this over discord and set up a time that worked. We went through like an hour and a half, just playing it like he would if he just bought it and he talked out about what he was thinking. I recorded it just in case I missed anything but I was taking notes by hand too while I was watching.
Then I returned to the developer with more notes based on these observations and then a couple of days later he sent me another version with more changes. He was making changes really quick and was really receptive to everything that I mentioned.
It led to 20+ changes. Not only for the user interface but gameplay, difficulty, all of that stuff.
Cole said the experience helped him learn about the potential impact from user research studies.
I learnt about the logistics of running this type of study and how helpful an expert review can be.
It also helped the developer – I told him a lot of things that he hadn’t heard from other playtesters. I think getting feedback from a more trained eye can be very helpful which is maybe something that I’d underestimated before seeing the results of it.
If I had been involved earlier I would have liked to have run 5 people through this and run a diary study focused on the progression specifically. That was one thing I couldn’t do as much because the progression is supposed to be spread out over days. So I think I also came away with an understanding of how all these different research methods come together.
After running the study, Cole was credited in the final game
It was nice to be credited, so I can put the experience on my resume and share it on linkedIn and things like that. Anything to show future employers that I’m putting in the work.
If you’ve got the time, it’s definitely worth doing.
Cole is continuing to work with indie developers while applying to games industry roles. If you’re interested in getting in touch with Cole about his experience (or a games user research role), contact Cole on LinkedIn or visit his website.
If you’re interested in following Cole’s process and getting real games experience, read my blog post on how to get experience in games user research (before you have a job!).
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