Make a games user research portfolio

Discover whether a portfolio is required for games user research, and how to make one.

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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.

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Create a games user 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! 

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Meet the author

Steve Bromley is an expert user researcher, who works with studios of all sizes to run playtests, and integrate user research into the game development process.

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