Games user researchers don’t just run studies, and there are other activities which can increase the impact of our work. Learn what user researchers do when they are not running studies.
This is a section from the book ‘How to be a Games User Researcher’. Get the full book here.
What else do games user researchers do?
Running high-quality studies is important, but it is not the only skill a games user researcher needs. For impactful studies, user researchers need to be trusted and have colleagues who are ready to accept evidence to inform their decision making.
This doesn’t necessarily happen by itself, and a user researcher will also need to be an evangelist for evidence-based decision making, and educate their colleagues about the potential of research.
Earning your colleagues’ trust is never complete. Trust atrophies over time, as new people join the studio, and as priorities change. Researchers always need to be working on improving their relationship with their team.
The key to earning trust is to do high-quality work. High-quality work includes:
- Define the scope of studies appropriately so that they are relevant to what the team needs to know
- Avoiding introducing your own subjective opinion and basing all findings on reliable, well sourced data
- Avoiding over reaching with the conclusions, caveating and being open about the limitations of studies
- Delivering on time and ensuring that deadlines are met. The process for user research studies is reasonably structured and repeatable, and so there is no reason why the dates agreed in a kick-off can’t be met.
- Being a nice person to work with, helping out colleagues and not being thought of as a barrier to progress. Clearly explaining why you are saying no helps with this when necessary.
Being trusted creates more opportunities for running studies and will increase the impact that researchers can have. Running studies isn’t free – beyond just the financial cost of running studies, there is also the time cost of reacting to the findings, and a production cost of preparing appropriate builds – so there will be resistance. Being trusted, and having colleagues invested in research will create more opportunities to run research earlier in the development process, and have time dedicated to reacting to the findings. This will make games better!
Studios often start with little experience of user research. Even those studios who are well versed with evaluative studies, such as usability testing, may be unfamiliar with running other types of studies to understand their players better and make better quality design decisions earlier.
This unfamiliarity means that some potential studies might be missed. Because the game team isn’t aware where studies can help them, they might not actively seek out their researcher and ask about it. If a researcher isn’t close to decision making, they will be unaware of the opportunity, and the study won’t happen. This will lead to worse quality decisions being made.
To overcome this, active education of colleagues is needed. This can include:
- Presenting to colleagues about the types of research studies that exist, and how they can be relevant for the design decisions they make.
- Writing blog posts and sharing case studies publicly, or via internal newsletters
- Creating internal team sites to share research reports and information on research
- Running fun research-related activities
- Actively talking about the studies that have been run, posting executive summaries prominently on walls and in virtual collaboration environments, such as Slack.
Be an advocate for user research
Proactive research propaganda can also help, as the UK’s Government Digital Service have had tremendous success with. Their posters and stickers describing research and design principles have had a huge impact, such as ‘Two hours every six weeks’, promoting observing user research sessions, and ‘Understand Context’, describing the need to understand users’ situation before designing for them.
Publicly posting information about user research and creating posters and stickers to push research concepts could help create a positive buzz and interest in user research studies.
Over time, education can help change people’s understanding, from research being considered a one-off activity at the end of development, to recognising the value that iterative studies throughout development can bring. Game design decisions happen throughout development, and as covered in the first section of the book, there is potential for research to help improve the quality of those decisions at every stage.