Tips for new games user researchers

It can be hard to be a new user researcher, particularly in organisations which haven’t had much experience of running structured playtests. Read some tips for new games user researchers that should help avoid some common mistakes!

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It can be hard to be a new user researcher, particularly in organisations which haven’t had much experience of running structured playtests. Read some tips for new games user researchers that should help avoid some common mistakes!


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Tips for new games user researchers 

In this section, we’ve covered a lot of the tasks a games user researcher does. As we’ve seen, being a user researcher can be hard. As well as being able to plan, run, analyse and debrief studies, they also need to work closely with a lot of other disciplines to prove the value of their work.

There are some mistakes that new user researchers sometimes make when working with other disciplines. To finish this section, I want to expose some of them, to allow a new researcher to avoid them and make new, more interesting, mistakes instead. 

Be humble

Be humble. If you find yourself thinking you are smarter than your users, or your colleagues, it’s likely you haven’t understood the situation correctly. Users haven’t had the same exposure to the development of the game that you have, and it’s entirely normal that they will encounter usability issues. Colleagues are experts in what they do, and there’s likely a good reason for why the obvious fix hasn’t been made. Assume everyone is doing their best, and recognise that compromise is necessary. Start by understanding the constraints people are working on, and why decisions have been made, before dismissing people as ignorant or shortsighted.

This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t question decisions. As a user researcher, you will have been exposed to some information about player behaviour that colleagues won’t have. Make sure that you are sharing the relevant information you have, so that everyone is making fully informed design decisions. Everyone is trying to make the best game possible, so help them get the information they need to do so.

Be proactive

It takes work to get people to listen to user research findings. As covered previously, building trust is a long term project, but it is necessary to avoid research reports being put in a drawer and forgotten about. If you just send out research reports without following up with the team, half of the findings will be misunderstood and the other half will be ignored. Instead, being proactive with colleagues and pushing for research to happen, making sure colleagues understand the findings and encouraging them to retest are all parts of the job too. 

Be specific

Avoid vagueness. When presenting findings, make sure that you understand why they happened, and that you have fully explained this. Don’t just say something is clear or unclear, explain what it is about the implementation of it that makes it clear. I see vagueness particularly with studies describing user behaviour, such as creating personas that describe ‘types’ of players. A goal of ‘have a fun time’ isn’t specific enough to be useful, and isn’t exclusive enough to differentiate this persona from anyone else. 

Make sure you are giving enough detail for your colleagues to make good decisions.

Be open

Do good-quality work – make sure that you can justify the conclusions made based on appropriate study designs and appropriate tasks. 

We need colleagues to trust research findings are safe, and unbiased. To achieve this might also require explaining what bits of your findings are unsafe. A common example of this is game teams not understanding why what looks like a higher score for a game or level found in a study may not actually represent a significant difference – we cover more on the specifics of this in the next section of the book. 

Being honest about what the limitations of a study are will help build faith in the accuracy of the findings that you do endorse. It also requires researchers to be very clear when they are presenting their own opinion, versus what is a reliable finding based on evidence. 

Be a games user researcher

As we’ve seen in this chapter, being a games user researcher requires a combination of the ability to run research studies, being able to work well with colleagues and an understanding of how this fits into a wider games development process. A challenge for new researchers is being able to demonstrate this in order to get a job, which is what we’ll cover in the last section of this book.

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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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