It Takes Two to Tango: Integrating UX Research and Production at EA

Posted in Conferences - Events, Game Session, Research on March 10th, 2017 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

Here are the slides and delivery from my talk at GDC 2017 on UX Research and Production integration at Electronic Arts.

 

I use dancing tango as the metaphor through out this presentation.  It’s about the relationship between production and research. I describe how we learnt to dance together.

 

When you start learning how to dance, you are not good at it. You step into toes, one goes to one side the other to another side. The two dancers are going to make mistakes.

Like in dancing, you are constantly moving when developing games. There is not time to stop, things keep coming. It takes practice to get good at it.

You might be wondering how these dancers met.

 

User Experience has been gaining a lot of traction over the last years within the game industry, we could say it is one of the newest aspects within game development. For instance, it was only at GDC’s 29th iteration when there was for the first time a dedicated UX Summit. That alone is very telling.

Yet, UX as a concept was coined in the 90’s, and actually the beginning of usability evaluation goes all the way back to the 40’s. So, there has been a long history on measuring and assessing users experience on a variety of products.

Particularly for games, ‘playtesting’ has been done for a long time, however such concept has been used in a variety of ways and generally without the framework of research. I’ll dive more in depth about this distinction later on.

Nowadays every major developer has dedicated UX Research employees. I surveyed these numbers mid-2016 and sort them out alphabetically. Notice some of them are quite sizable, it could be the equivalent to development team in itself!

Moreover, as the understanding of players matures related disciplines are consolidated within larger departments; as it is in the case of Electronic Arts, Riot, and Ubisoft where games user research, market research, analytics, and data science are part of an internal larger organization.

However, during the advent of UX research into the game development, production might have been seen research as a disruption to their already established process, while UX researchers were still adapting methods and vocabulary for game development context.

That disruption took many shapes, from production not seeing the need for research to production wanted to have it but not knowing how to action on findings.

Mind you it was also on research learning how to convey UX findings in a timely manner for production and how to communicate such findings to be meaningful and actionable. This is part of the story that I’m going to tell you today.

When UX research and Design are not fully synchronized, it leads to missing key UX opportunities. Opportunities doesn’t mean that we have to do a major overhaul, opportunities are within production’s limitations (of time, of budget, of scope, or technology).

Over my last 7 years at EA that I’ve had the opportunity of working on fantastic games in our portfolio. What follows is sharing the stories on how we have tackled UX Research and Production integration at Electronic Arts.

A small spoiler alert, after the whole story, this is where UX Research is now at EA:

We are sizeable team. Geographically distributed across 8 locations world wide.

At EA we have three prototypical roles within the UX Research team: Researcher, Recruiters, and Lab techs.

Depending on the size of the company, all of these roles can be carried out by different people or all of them by a single person. The latter happens more often in smaller companies, or in early stages of UX research teams.

That was actually my case, back in the day when starting UX Research at EA, I had to do the recruitment for my own sessions, while designing the study AND setting up the lab. Lots of juggling! Imagine that each task was a time suck for doing the other. And it’s not that these tasks have to go in a hard sequential order. It was very exhausting and not efficient.

Across EA we have some guiding philosophies, the most important piece is the player. Everyhing we do has players at the forefront.

We  also aspire to work as One Team.  Across studios, across team, between research and production, it’s one

All this might sound great, but it was not always like that, nor it was without bumps on the road and misalignments first. So, how did we get there?

Well, first and foremost, we didn’t get there overnight. It was a multiyear journey, and sincerely is a path that will never end 🙂 As the UX practice, the industry, and products evolve, we will evolve as part of it.

This is the journey with key milestone we went through, with examples and lessons learnt on the main aspects that shaped thriving an integrated UX practice

It starts rough. It starts with the “Wake Up Call”

Back in in 2009, NBA Elite was being developed. Improving UX was a huge driver for that team, there were high expectations for this game. Introducing brand new controls and mechanics to innovate the genre. It was meant to reboot the NBA Live franchise.

Consequently the team was rather self-critical about the quality of the UX data and how actionable it was. At the time ‘playtesting’ was a part the development process however it was led by designers/producers who self taught themselves usability testing, and even though they had the best good intentions, they could ‘smell’ their research could be different and better J and that was the seed for starting to transform ‘playtesting’ to ‘UX Research’.

In 2010, we started initiatives for new approaches to evaluate NBA with players, bringing that edge of science.

For this, I went super tech and brought “more advanced” techniques than what it was being done at the time for playtesting: eye tracking, biometrics and telemetry all at once! I assessed players’ visual attention, their emotional valence, and tracked their in-game behaviors. It was awesome 🙂  The idea behind it was to tap into insights that the surveys being used couldn’t get. The efforts was to give the most we could to NBA for understanding the player experience.

A particular fascinating finding was that all players consistently looked at the coach after making a basket. Bear in mind that the coach did nothing on screen, there was not special animation, no voice over, or anything that could lead to him. This was an unexpected result which pointed out a missed opportunity for positive reinforcement for making a basket. This insight never appeared on other techniques.

I was getting insights that were completely new and were supporting the needed deep assessment of players experience. But all this ‘marvelous’ type of work was new which meant the process for data collection, analysis, and feedback was very slow. Any action items for those findings had to be left for the next installment.

Time was passing by and the team needed to focus on finishing the game. NBA Elite was coming hot.

As it is common, there was a demo scheduled and released to the public. During this talked I showed a some snippets from a viral video from a player playing the demo.

There were friction points related to the UI, to the core mechanics. There was also the infamous Jesus Bynum glitch.

This demo was a nail in the coffin. NBA Elite never ended up being released.

It was deemed that it didn’t reach the desired quality, that players would be disappointed and that the best decision (even after the game was fully ‘done’) was to not release it. It was an extremely hard decision. I can’t stress enough how much of a shock this was for everyone.

It was a wake up call.

As a video game company, it was very clear that quality process needed to be better.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that better UX research would have been the silver bullet to all problems, but definitely clearer and more iterative UX check points needed to be there. With that the new UX research initiatives were a business case to bring it to the next level. Yet the price for that wake up call was extremely high.

There was work to be done. We needed to improve the research practice from its foundations. Even though biometric techniques proved to be very insightful, we needed to change focus from advancing methodologies to establishing a UX process.

We needed quality research in an iterative process where production and research are fully synchronized. That means having a plan, knowing your steps.

We tackled this problem from three different angles:

  • Strengthening Good Research Practice
  • Macro Level of Research & Production Framework
  • Micro Level of Research & Production Integration

Regarding the basic good research practice, there were immediate aspects to address. Such as data quality, things like ensuring wording of questions in surveys are clean and not leading. These efforts were towards researchers’ skills. The goal was to have quality data, so we can be certain on the research findings and also to have trust. Trust from Production that they don’t need to double check data, they don’t need to go over data point themselves. Trust is a corner stone for any relationship.

Ultimately we do research to communicate its findings. Like in tango communication has to be clear and timely, because we are constantly moving. You don’t want your partner to go into one direction and you to the other. Or accidentally stepping on toes.

I’ll share one example on this topic. You all have seen research data coming in the form of the typical question answered in a scale from 1 to 5. All players data is aggregated and presented in a bar chart like this, which is ok to know how good or bad things are going. However, it is not sufficient when you want to prioritize resources in production.

Particularly in cases when you have more than just one or two comparison. In games like PvZ Garden Warfare, where there are more than 40 characters to choose from. Production wants to make sure that all of them are hitting the mark, and if not to focus on those first. This was exactly one of the questions the production team had.

Looking into how to communicate findings, we did some tables like this to see the spread of responses. Even though the game team was happy because there was the needed piece of information, it can get hard to read.

That’s why confidence intervals are part of our good research practice for communicating findings. Confidence intervals is one way of representing variability in players’ responses which allows to spot meaningful differences. It keeps the simplicity yet adds a richer insight.

In this case with a target score of 3.5, the orange option is reaching the mark tightly, however, the blue option at first seemed as a strong was actually inconsistent with polarized answers, being a bigger risk, and gaining the prioritization from production.

Confidence intervals became part of the basic good practice of doing research.

Now at a macro level, at EA we have a game development framework which all games developed at EA have to follow. In a simplified way, it is pretty much the default stages of development that are common across the industry (pre-pro, production, release), which is applicable to everyone in this room.

The value of stopping and getting intimately familiar with the dev process framework is for UX research to really understand where their efforts are at the different stages, what the biggest challenges are, what the dev team is asked by execs to keep advancing. This information brings clarity on common misconceptions like readiness of production and how they prioritize. And vice versa, how research activities are aligned to best impact UX efforts. I added a few prototypical task in the chart.

Ultimately, the framework serves as a map for production and UX to navigate together what is needed, when it’s needed, and what the impact is.

Sharing a framework is also a common language

For UX Research at EA, in order to be part of the development process, we needed to articulate how and what value we were bring to the table. So we worked out an extension of that development framework to laid out all prototypical research endeavors at each of those stages.

From there we were able to work with production to further tailor UX questions based on specific game characteristics and design intentions.

For example, in Battelfield 1 a key design intention was being Epic. We make explicit what was supporting that feeling of epicness throughout development: Being a FPS in World War 1, weapons had to feel ‘old school’ and authentic yet not to the detriment of slowing down players actions. Another example was the introduction of large vehicles, like the zeppelin. We answered questions related to the impact of introducing these behemoths vehicles during a full match.

Having that UX Roadmap where both production and UX are aligned for what needs to happen is key. But then, we need to execute it. So, let’s look at the micro level and with this I‘m referring to what needs to happen for each study. A default test can be divided into four steps: preparation, execution, analysis, and reporting. It informs production, action on findings, and on to the next iteration.

We were doing fairly well having production on kick off meetings for each test and they will come to the observation room for the tests. But between analysis and reporting, we experienced a couple errors until landing onto our current standards.

At first, we were so eager to provide them with the best analysis possible that it took up to 2 weeks to deliver a report. By that time production had already make changes to the game and most of the findings were not applicable any more. It was a mistake forgetting production keeps moving, they will not pause to wait for your results. It was also generating anxiety to production not knowing what happened for so long.

Even more production started taking their own notes from what they saw in the test and start auctioning on that. Which is a high risk of running with no representative data.

We needed to fix this! We did try as well super turn around of a report within 2 days, but that ended up being more of a ‘data dump’ than analysis.

The middle ground agreement was adding to the UX research process the 1-day turn around for top liner, which contains the high level analysis from the test, with a final report 2-4 days later depending on scope. This helped greatly on our communication, in providing timely information to production to keep moving. It help the relationship as well by addressing their needs.

At EA a default study takes in average 2 weeks from kick off to final report. We found that this turn around fit best based on how fast content advances.

Pro tip: ideally that 2 weeks window for research aligns well with production sprints!

Now that the UX Process is laid out, I want to focus on ‘organizational structure for UX Research’. With this I’m referring to “where within the company should UX Researchers live”.

Organizational structures have implications on relationship among individuals, the visibility those individuals have on products, and allocation of effort which impacts prioritization.

At EA we had a centralized UX research organizational structure. We engaged with multiple game teams across all of EA, and as you know they EA portfolio is pretty large. In other words, a single team with a handful of researchers carried out all the research activities across the whole organization was. This means that the researcher was not part of the game team and that the researcher supported multiple teams. For example, a researcher worked on FIFA as well as on UFC and NHL.

This type of organizational model was great for us at the time. Remember that we had that ‘wake up’ call? That we needed to set good processes? This org model is great for that.

There are four positive aspects of having UX research centralized:

  1. this organizational model forges a strong, tight hub of experts.  This allows for easier sharing of best practices ensuring research quality. This was the most important aspect for us at that time to mature our practice.
  2. the range of projects and tasks tends to be more varied. This is more refreshing for researchers in the long term and can assist in retaining talent.
  3. the accumulation of knowledge across multiple projects and multiple researchers is a great situation that allows leverage learnings from one project to another. Identifying meta-insights that can answer bigger business questions. [For example, beyond Battlefield we can look at Battlefront and aim to answer questions for shooters games that are more complex.]
  4. the economic benefits of centralized teams primarily manifest though shared resources. Why? Because eliminates duplication of effort and equipment. For example, lab space, internal recruiter, or software licenses

For us with a focus on better processes and consistency was a structure that made a lot of sense.

We were also just handful of people on UX research and we needed to cover a lot of games. With that there are also some challenges in central teams.

  1. the rationalization of effort among all projects. One researcher covering 3 different games is still only one person.
  2. this leads to a permanent re-prioritization exercise. You don’t need to have a huge portfolio for facing this challenge. I’m sure all of you can relate to that. Even within a single game the same logic applies, for example the need to prioritize features and modes within a game. This is a delicate overall topic that leadership in any company needs to address because it has direct implications on the vision for the products and the morale of the teams.
  3. another shortcoming of a centralized structure is that the relationship with production tends to be more at arm’s length. The development team can perceive the researcher as an external agent or even the researcher feeling outside of the project. A factors that contributes to this effect is the rapid development cycles where a project can radically change over the course of a week. It emphasizes being ‘out’ of the loop, being outside of the team. Of course an experienced researcher leverages on relationship and can stay on top of projects but this does not fully overcome the absence of further engagement or attention.

At EA, research efforts were paying off and had great supporters. It enabled growing the size of the team, allowing researchers to focus on one project at a time for most cases. For example, one researcher has his full time for FIFA, another her full dedication to Battlefront, and so on.

This was fantastic for us to have more bandwidth, but getting more headcount for more researchers is not a light task, as in any organization it’s not something that just growths on trees.

We evaluated a decentralized model where researchers are independent from each other, they are part of a development team and they can fully dedicate their efforts to that one project.

However, we concluded that slower pacing for improving UX processes, an increased cost of resources, and more critical the risk of lacking comparable results was not worth it.

The researcher’s output would be overseen by team members in production who are likely to lack research expertise to properly monitor quality. That’s almost like asking for another wake up call.  Plus it would increase the workload to production to do research instead of advancing design.

We wanted quality. We wanted people to know how to dance properly, not just shaking your body in some way.

By now we had established better, stronger relationships between production and research. We had identified our champions within the teams, worked with them to iron processes, UX roadmaps. Things had improved since that Wake Up Call.

One day, one of our key PoC for NHL decided to move on to another project which left a void into our syncs. Instead of waiting for the NHL team to backfill that role. We took that as an opportunity to step up our game and propose to the team to go ‘embedded’ with them.

In other words, that the UX Researcher working with NHL would now sit in with the rest of the dev team and be reintroduced as a team member rather than a partner. Even though, the researcher would remain as part of the UX Research team as well, therefore it wouldn’t be for NHL to manage the research or having to provide any extra support (no extra overhead, no extra costs)

The NHL team was very supportive of the proposal and gladly assigned the ‘desk space’ on their floor to the researcher. It sounds silly how something so little as the location of a desk could have a huge impact on mindset, but it really help to have deeper relationship with production. It’s a bit like “out sight, out of mind”, and now were where right with them 24/7. Communication got to a new level, those ‘snags’ were less and less often. Designers asked more questions to the researcher, more continues discussions on actioning on findings.

The fact that we had a researcher embedded also meant better adjustment of research questions while running at full steam during development, and the researcher has more opportunities to expand on different research skillsets. For example, for NHL there was a lot of work being done on updating the user interface, on top of making it usable, it was tested for color blind players.

Because we had by know a strong foundation and process, we are now able to ‘go back’ and start advancing on more advanced methodologies.

A challenge that we are dealing with is maintaining the relationship between central and embedded researchers, and supporting tailored strategies while still keeping alignment with general processes. Which is where we are now at EA with a large number of researchers scatter across multiple locations. We aim to have synchronous and asynchronous communication, from video conferencing, to mailing list, to slack, and IMs.

We went from the emphasis on solid research, to deeper relationship, and now it’s how do we keep the balance between the two.

An approach we are employing now is to encourage internal projects to foment dialog among researchers. For instance, critically review the best questions to ask for weapon variety across all shooters. Or, new and effective ways to assess narrative which can cross multiple game genres.

Such internal projects are great for meta-insights and to ensure our practices is updated. If anyone has been facing similar challenges, I’d love to talk to you on how you’ve been tackling in your organization.

What I’ve told you so far was related to ‘grass root’ efforts. A lot of change for UX from the bottom up. But for really changing a culture you also need to approach it from the top down. There needs to be management buy in into UX.

At EA we were all doing our dancing steps, but you truly dance when you go with the music. The director of the orchestra is a key piece pull us all together. You need leaders in your organization who also believe in UX who will support those efforts. For instance from providing more resources to including UX insights into the bigger picture of the business.

In 2013, Andrew Wilson became the CEO of EA. As the new leader of the Company, he set a series of pillars for guiding EA. His most important pillar is: Players First. Bringing gamers to the forefront of making games is a commitment to user-centered design. It’s pretty much saying UX First!

The whole company was excited about this. I personally was thrilled! It was the natural harmonization of the grassroots and top down efforts. Nowadays, there is no discussion about how good a game is without taking about players insights.

And that has been our journey about UX at EA. Recapping the lessons learnt that I shared here:

  • Shared framework
    • You need good research practice that is effective and communicates clearly
    • Set a common map and know each others’ steps at a macro and micro alignment
    • Always make sure your findings are actionable and timely
  • Constant improvement
    • Feel where your partner is, and adjust accordingly, leverage on opportunities
    • Find a organization model that fits your company needs
    • Continue reviewing and evolve your deliverables and technology supporting your work
  • UX culture
    • It needs both dancers and music for the UX culture to truly thrive
    • Identify work with both those in the grassroots and executive champions

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Reversed Accessibility FAIL!

Posted in Game Session on October 24th, 2012 by Veronica Zammitto – 2 Comments

With Halloween just around the corner and my needed gaming quota, I was playing Double Fine‘s Costume Quest on my computer. Boy, what a combination! I really enjoy Halloween: the spooky decoration, eating candies, carving pumpkins, drinking seasonal pumpkin beer. And, Double Fine is one of my favorite game development studios in the world. You can imagine I was having a blast playing Costume Quest.

However, my user experience flow was suddenly interrupted and my engagement droppped to the floor:

I was in a battle wearing my “French Fries” costume. It was my turn for an attack. For maximizing your attack power, you have to perform an action. For instance, to press E within a small timeframe, or press a WASD combination, or as in the case for the French Fries’ attack: Pressing Shift repeatedly. As portrayed in the following screenshot:

Press Shift repeadtily!

For maximizing your attack you have to press the shift key repeatedly.

Do you know what happens when you press the shift key repeatedly on your computer running Windows while playing Costume Quest?

The game suddenly stops, the game screen minimizes by itself, you see your computer desktop, and a message pops up asking you about changing your accessibility settings. That’s what happens.

 

Windows detects your super powerful attack as a request to stop the game and change your accessibility settings.

Result: Reversed Accessibility FAIL!

Seriously, Team-that-ported-Costume-Quest-to-PC. Of all the keys, did you really have to pick shift?!?!?! Didn’t you test that?!?!?!

I ended up having to let go of my attacks with that costume. Then, I avoided the French Fries costume for the rest of the game.

Usability, people, usability.

Other than that, I <3 the game.

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GDC 12: Recap

Posted in Conferences - Events on April 24th, 2012 by Veronica Zammitto – 1 Comment

Another great year at GDC. It took me a week to recover from it and more to write about it 🙂 This post is about GDC 12 through my lens which is tinted with Games User Research and I’ll cover the top talks for this field.

There were several interesting highlights throughout the week. I’ll go in chronological order. The Game Developers Conference 2012 took placed on March 5-9 in San Francisco, USA.

Usability Boot Camp by Veronica Zammitto and Paul Newton

We were very pleased with the workshop! We delivered a full-day workshop on games user research (GUR). We divided the activities into 4 main sections: starting with an introduction to usability and games user research plus explaining different methods and how all these are part of the whole development process. Which set the foundations for the rest of the workshop into GUR for pre-production, production, and post-production. We had a balanced between theoretical content on how to employ the different techniques and why, and hands-on exercises were attendees tried out the techniques themselves.

The workshop had a maximum capacity of 100 people and there was pre-registration. The workshop was sold out a couple of weeks before GDC. People kept coming the day of but due to room capacity they couldn’t get a spot. We should deliver another workshop next year, there is a high level of interest and need for know-how on usability and user experience for games.

Hands-on exercises during the Usability Boot Camp at GDC2012

On Tuesday March 6th, I actually “sneaked out” from GDC to attend the Games User Research Summit on Tuesday. This was a full-day event by the IGDA GUR SIG; there were great presentations with a lot of presence from the industry, including Valve, Bungie, Microsoft Games Studios, Sony, Disney, and Electronic Arts. I truly believe that the level of camaraderie in this discipline is the highest in the whole game industry. I think that a big component of that spirit is the strong academic background where sharing of knowledge is common practice. If you look at the profile from Microsoft Games Studios‘ people, they have MSc, MA, and PhD next to their names, or the like Mike Ambinder from Valve, or like yours truly at EA🙂   This had been the 3rd GUR Annual Summit and the community keeps growing. I’ll write a post on this event.

GUR Summit 2012

From left to right, Bill Fulton (Ronin UX), Mike Ambinder (Valve), and John Hopson (Bungie)

 

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Player Motivation: Implications for Design and Player Retention by Scott Rigby (Immersyve)

  • Rigby pointed out that intrinsic motivation is a stronger predictor of sustained engagement.
  • Intrinsic motivation is autotelic, which is self-driven; whereas extrinsic motivation is instrumental, which serves to get something. However, a motivation model has more nuances than a being good or bad, more exactly the model is a continuum:

Continuum of Motivation

  • This internalization of motivation is what gives strength to engagement.
  • Needs: Three basic human needs have been identified across cultures, fulfilling these needs will tap into the deeper layers of motivation.
    • Competence relates to mastery, which is how effective you are on your performance. Competence is developed through grow, and this links to game achievements and character development. But bear in mind that this growth has to be meaningful.
    • Relatedness taps into our gregarious self. It’s about connecting with others. In games it can be to both other players and NPCs.
    • Autonomy is about empowerment through new opportunities that make player wonder what to do next. The choices have to be meaningful to allow satisfaction.
  • Satisfying these three basic needs enables the internalization process of motivation.
  • External rewards can undermine intrinsic value, unless they support people’s goals.

Attention, Not Immersion: Making Your Games Better with Psychology and Playtesting, the Uncharted way by Richard Lemarchand

  • To me, this was the best talk of GDC 2012
  • Lemarchand’s message was that immersion and engagement are concepts defined with difficulty, and therefore vague as a framework for discussing video game experience.
    • I agree that such concepts posses multiple definitions according to different authors, which stirs muddy waters. For instance, immersion has defined as a factor of presence, the ‘being there’ which is closer to how Lemarchand referred to it during the talk. But also immersion has been identified as Csikszentmihalyi’s flow, closer to an effortless interaction with reduced sense of time and concern for self.
  • Lemarchand proposed using the concept of attention instead of immersion. He argued that it is more concrete, it can be measured during playtesting sessions, and therefore more useful to game designers to action on.
  • In video games, the trick resides in getting attention first, and then holding attention.
    • Attention is also a game component, for instance micromanagement harassment in RTS games to make the opponent loose attention, or presenting information to the player in a way that it tracks attention.
  • Maintaining attention requires pacing. Periods of vigilance should be followed by a restoration period. Such restoration can be achieved, for instance, by looking at nature landscapes or switching to another activity.
  • Lemarchand pointed out to three aspects of games for grabbing and holding attention:
    • Beauty: which refers mostly to aesthetics from an art perspective, such as astonishing images, , but also layout, harmony, and composition.  Beauty is great for grabbing attention but weak at holding it.
    • Story: narratives have a social aspect that taps our attention. We are touched by recounting shared experiences or witnessing someone’s else fears, such us in games with rich characters. Story does a decent job at both getting and holding attention.
    • Gameplay: as through the lens of the MDA framework, which understands games having Mechanics (rules), dynamics (interactions), and aesthetics (emotional responses). In more general terms, what happens with the system during the act of playing. Gameplay falls short at getting attention, but does an outstanding job at holding attention.

Lemarchand’s game component for getting and holding attention

  • Lemarchand explained how at Naughty Dog they deal with attention. When playing Uncharted players tend to look mainly around the center of the screen, secondarily to the bottom, and lastly to the top of the screen. Their knowledge on players’ visual attention comes from observing participants, however Lemarchand would like to use eye tracking. During playtesting, their participants focus on playing, they don’t talk, telemetry data is recorded. At the end of the session, they fill out surveys or have an exit interview.

The 5 Domains of Play: Applying Psychology’s Big 5 Motivation Domains to Games by Jason VandenBerghe

This great talk covered a topic the same topic that my master thesis: personality traits according to the Big 5 theory and how it informs us about what gamers enjoy playing. My approach was more focused on game mechanics whereas Jason’s is more on ‘domains of play’.

The Big 5 is a widely known personality framework defined by the following 5 traits, each of them is treated as a continuum:

  1. Openness to new experiences: an imaginative person who embraces new ideas, as opposed to a more conventional person who prefers known situations.
  2. Consciousness: relates to self-control, ranging from being well-organized and strong will to difficulty achieving goals.
  3. Extraversion: social style, an extroverted  person enjoys large groups, being talkative. A more introverted person is not unfriendly but reserved and independent.
  4. Agreeableness: an altruist trail, ranging from empathy and being helpful to a more suspicious and competitive angle.
  5. Neuroticism: emotional stability, a person with higher neuroticism is prone to experience negative states, such as fear, stress, guilt, anger.

Now that you have a sense of them, check out the VandenBerghe’s slide which powerfully summaries each trait with a character (btw, I strongly believe this slide should be included in psychology books from now on):

Big 5 traits and representative characters

VandenBerghe elaborated 5 domains of play which mapped onto the personality traits:

  1. Novelty (related to Openness): such as Madden NFL on the one hand, and Minecraft on the other.
  2. Challenge (related to Consciousness): for instance, Lego Star Wars versus Splinter Cell.
  3. Stimulation (related to Extraversion): like Flower against Just Dance.
  4. Harmony (related to Agreeableness): from Street Fighter to Little Big Planet.
  5. Threat (related to Neuroticism): starting inPeggle and finishing on Call of Duty.

As you noticed, each game taps on particular personality traits. The lesson is that depending on who or how many people you want to satisfy with your game you will have to enable gameplay components that taps on those traits.

VandenBerghe and colleagues continue researching to better understand how personality profiles shape what games we prefer to play. They employ a qualitative approach by conducting interviews.

What You Don’t Know IS Hurting You: How Aggressive User-Research Improved Resistance 3 by Drew Murray

Murray did an awesome job presenting a case study on Resistance 3 which covers how Insomniac Games is dealing on the Games User Research field.

It started by identifying 4 key questions when you’re going to do GUR:

  1. Who are you testing? (differentiate between internal and external testing)
  2. What aspect of the experience are you measuring? (Affect, behavior, or cognition)
  3. What type of data are you dealing with? (quantitative or qualitative)
  4. How are you collecting the data? (observation, metrics, self-report)

Murray also made a distinction between usability and playtesting sessions. Where the former were done to collect behavioral and cognitive data, and the latter to collect behavioral and affective data.

One of the dev team’s goals during for usability sessions of Resistance 3 was improving the shooting controls. They collected quantitative data on impact location of the shooting target, then visualized it to steer adjustments.

Lot of data from playtesting sessions was analyzed as metrics. For example, to review how popular the different weapons were or how difficult the missions were. Comparing results of sessions through time also provided with great insight about how successful (or not) the fine-tuning efforts were coming.

Murray underlined the invaluable information coming from usability and playtesting sessions and therefore how GUR activities have been done more often at Insomniac. One of his pieces of advice was to automate as much as possible the collection and analysis of data, but without forgetting to double-check results manually.

Finally, I really enjoyed his visualization on the progression of GUR work at his studio:

Visualization of GUR activity at Insomniac Games

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Usability Boot Camp @ GDC 2012

Posted in Conferences - Events on February 14th, 2012 by Veronica Zammitto – 1 Comment

It’s that time of the year again!

I’ll be delivering a full-day tutorial on games user experience,  usability at the Game Developers Conference 2012

Here is the description:

Speaker/s: Veronica Zammitto (Electronic Arts) and Paul Newton (Electronic Arts Canada)
Day / Time / Location: Monday 10:00- 6:00 Room 3024, West Hall, 3rd Fl
Track / Duration / Format / Audience Level: Game Design / Full-Day / Tutorial / All

Description:

This full-day workshop will focus on one of the most critical components of game production: the applied practice of game usability research. Using widely-established stages of game development, attendees will be exposed to hands-on exercises, group discussion, and practical analysis of user experience methods which are intrinsic to effective game design. After building a foundation of usability discipline, attendees will be taken from pre-production through post-production and presented with a wide variety of potential usability techniques such as think-aloud, heuristics, cognitive walkthroughs, direct observation, questionnaires and metrics.

In order to understand and create the ultimate user experience we must collect relevant data. This requires defining clear usability study goals and selecting the appropriate techniques through the different stages of development. During the workshop, we will discuss the pros and cons of different testing techniques and demonstrate how they fit best in relevant usability scenarios, continuously emphasizing how all these factors play a role in shaping a successful user study design. Working in groups, participants will embody many roles in the usability process. Through concrete exercises, attendees will explore in-depth responsibilities and tasks conducted by game user researchers, facilitators and observers.

Intended Audience: The knowledge gained in this workshop will empower attendees to carry-out their own usability studies and add appreciable value to the game design process. With this understanding, designers and game user researchers alike will be able to acquire actionable user experience data through rigorous procedures to ensure better informed decisions during the game development process.
Eligible Passes:  All Access PassSummits & Tutorials Pass

Permanent link to the description: http://schedule.gdconf.com/session/6712/Usability_Boot_Camp

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Game AIs

Posted in Uncategorized on January 15th, 2012 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

I’ve been reading XKCD for a long time and every delivered comic is always a refreshing pleasure. XKCD (A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language) often touches on video games and this is the latest one:

Game AIs

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Canadian Game Development Talent Awards

Posted in Conferences - Events on August 31st, 2011 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

It was about time to start recognizing the prolific individuals behind the games.

You have the chance to nominate your favorite, talented Canadian game developers.

 

http://www.talentawards.ca/

Who’s got talent in the Canadian video game industry?

Nominate your peers (or yourself!) for excellence in game development.
Submit who you think should be recognized as the best of the best from the West to the East coast of Canada.

Nomination deadline is this Friday, September 2nd.

Everyone in the industry is encouraged to nominate their peers for a Talent Award in one of the following categories:
– Animator of the Year
– Audio Professional of the Year
– Designer of the Year
– Programmer of the Year
– Producer of the Year
– Visual Artist of the Year
– Emerging Talent

Nominations are free and you can nominate as many people as you like.

The full rules, instructions and the nomination form are available via:

http://www.talentawards.ca/site/en/categories/nominations

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IGDA Vancouver – Meeting coming up

Posted in Uncategorized on August 23rd, 2011 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

IGDA Vancouver meeting coming up! Mark your calendars for August 30th 2011

Excellent talks and time to network with your peers.

See you there!

—————–

When: Tuesday August 30th, 6:30pm to 9.00pm
Where: Vancouver Film School (VFS), 88 East Pender St, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Why:  – Social Mixer  6:30-7:30pm  &  Two Talks starting at 7:30pm

 

Talk 1: “Shifting the Focus”
As video games continue to mature both audience demands and game productions are becoming more complex. This talk will propose a shift in our definition of design to become more oriented towards user experience. In doing so we can better understand our design motives, encouraging holistic design practices. It will discuss what these practices are, and how they can help us to create more meaningful experiences.

Speaker: Mitchell Lagran is a passionate game developer whose career has taken him through everything from casual to indie to AAA development. During his time in the industry he has held numerous positions, including Environment and Effects Artist, Level Designer, Game Designer and Scripter. He is particularly interested in the future of Interactive Design and feels that video games are just beginning to show their true potential.  He is currently working as a Designer at Relic Entertainment on Warhammer 40,000: Space Marine.

 

Talk 2: “How to Make Your Team Ten Times More Effective: Twenty Years of Monkey Juggling”
Building software is like juggling monkeys; and not highly trained circus monkeys either. These are vicious, wild monkeys – and they
don’t like being juggled. After twenty years, Philip Harris has more than his fair share of bites and scratches. These are the lessons he’s learned along the way as he’s fought to build effective teams and great games.
The best development teams are ten times more productive than the worst. In this talk, Philip Harris has condensed twenty years of
development experience into a series of rules to help you make sure your team is one of the best and unlock that extra potential. As a
special bonus, the talk will end with a foolproof recipe for creating a great game, every time.

Speaker: Philip Harris
has been developing software for more than twenty years and has worked on over thirty products. Most of that time has been spent leading game teams at companies like Codemasters and Electronic Arts, as well as several years running his own development studio. As a freelance journalist, he has written for such enigmatic magazines as EXE, CGI and WTJ. Philip is currently a Group Technical Director at Electronic Arts in Burnaby, Canada where he is responsible for the technology used to build such titles as NHL, Fight Night and SSX. He has also worked as security for Darth Vader.

 

RSVP: On Facebook:  http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=263704016976112

On LinkedIn: http://events.linkedin.com/IGDA-Vancouver-Meeting/pub/756654

 

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ICIDS 2011- Call for Workshops

Posted in Conferences - Events on July 9th, 2011 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

The Fourth International Conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling

Workshops: November 28, 2011

Vancouver, Canada

Proposal Submission Deadline Extended: July 25, 2011

ICIDS is the premier international conference on Interactive Digital Storytelling (IDS), bringing together researchers and practitioners from a wide variety of fields to share novel techniques, present recent results, and exchange new ideas.  ICIDS 2011 will be held in Vancouver, Canada from Tuesday, November 29 to Thursday December 1, 2011.

Enabled by the advent of interactive digital media, Interactive Digital Storytelling redefines the experience of narrative by allowing its audience to actively participate in the story. As such, IDS offers interesting new possibilities for games, training, and learning, through the enriching of virtual characters with intelligent behavior, the collaboration of humans and machines in the creative process, and the combination of narrative knowledge and user activity into novel, interactive artifacts.

Within the ICIDS 2011 framework, researchers and practitioners are invited to participate in affiliated workshops/tutorials, which will be held on Monday November 28, 2011.

Workshops

We invite proposals for practical, hands-on workshops from practitioners, professionals, and academics in the interactive digital storytelling field. We particularly welcome workshops which encourage interaction between participants, or provide insight into professional practices. All workshops must be conducted in English.

Proposal Format

All workshops proposals must consist of two documents: an extended abstract (two pages maximum in LNCS format) and an information sheet (plain text).  Proposals must be in English.

 

a) Extended Abstract: This component of the submission must follow the Lecture Notes in Computer Science format, and be a maximum of two pages long. Extended abstracts of accepted workshops will be included in the conference proceedings. Ensure that the following sections are included:

  • Workshop objectives:
    • Think in terms of knowledge gain, expected outcome, and take away.
  • Complete workshop description:
    • Elaborate on the foundations of the workshop and the main activities planned.
  • References

b) Information Sheet: This document should contain more information about the organization and rationale of the workshop. No LNCS format is required for the information sheet (plain text is fine), but it should cover the following sections:

  • Intended participants:
    • Who is your main intended audience? Mention what skills or background (if any) the attendees should have to fully benefit from your workshop.
    • If appropriate, indicate maximum number of participants that will be required to effectively deliver the workshop.
    • Include a 250-words call for participation that would be used for promoting the workshop.
  • Workshop time:
    • Indicate how much time you would need to effectively deliver the workshop, from a minimum of 2 hours to a maximum of 6 hours. You can also think in terms of half or full day workshops. Include a tentative program with your activities.
  • Materials needed:
    • Indicate if you would need supplies, equipment, AV, or specific furniture to run your workshop; we will do our best to obtain the supplies that you need.
  • Workshop Organizers:
    • Include a short bio for each workshop organizer (250 words max), and their contact information.
  • Any other relevant information:
    • As needed.

Submission

Send both the extended abstract and the information sheet to: vzammitto@ea.com

Important Dates:

  • Proposal Submission Deadline: July 25, 2011
  • Notification of Acceptance: August 12, 2011
  • Camera-ready Copies Due: September 12, 2011
  • ICIDS 2011 Workshops:  November 28, 2011

Questions? Contact the Workshops Chair: Veronica Zammitto, vzammitto@ea.com

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The Science of Playtesting – GDC 2011 – Game UX talk coming up!

Posted in Conferences - Events on February 26th, 2011 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

GDC ’11 is just one day away!

This year I’ll be giving a talk at GDC on Game User Experience.

Here is the description:

The Science of Play Testing: EA’s Methods for User Research

Speaker: Veronica Zammitto (Electronic Arts)
Day / Time / Location: Thursday 9:00-10:00 Room 3006, West Hall 3rd Fl.
Track / Format: Game Design / Lecture

Description: Playtesting is an aspect of the game development process that is gaining more recognition. It contributes to a better understanding of gamers, and provides information to developers that in turn are transformed into design decisions. This talk focuses on the newest methods for identifying gamers’ emotions, attention, and in-game behavior. From the broad array of techniques in the User eXperience (UX) field, we will address scientific methods that have been employed at Electronic Arts for assessing player experience in a more objective, reliable, and continuous way, such as employing eye-tracking, psychophysiology, and telemetry.
Takeaway: Attendees will gain knowledge on: new game user experience techniques (eye-tracking, biometrics, telemetry), identifying the concrete information these techniques provide, assessing the suitability of these methods according to their needs, and how to capture an emotional profile and engagement level of players.
Intended Audience: This talk is intended to people involved or interested in gaming user experience and playtesting. There is no mandatory pre-requisite, but previous knowledge on playstesting techniques would be beneficial.
Eligible Passes: Main Conference PassAll Access Pass of the Game Developers Conference.

Post Event Update: Here is link to the GDC’s Vault where you can find the presentation slide-deck:

http://www.gdcvault.com/play/1014552/The-Science-of-Play-Testing

Enjoy!

 

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MIGS 2010

Posted in Conferences - Events on December 21st, 2010 by Veronica Zammitto – Be the first to comment

In November 2010 it took place another edition of the Montreal International Game Summit, and it was a great event.

There was a good variation of talks covering different aspects of gaming:

  • The first keynote was Ed Fries who gave a very inspiring, motivating talk on the beauty achieved through constrains. He started with a metaphor between the evolution of ancient base crafting and the game industry, he pointed out how the limitations in the crafting were setting the foundation of styles in the production of such beautiful pieces. The key point is that for creating beauty it is necessary to understand the limitations of the medium. In order to exemplify how comprehending limitations are critical for producing games, he showed his own work “Halo 2600”(click on the link to play it). It’s a version of Halo that he wrote for running on an Atari 2600.
  • Greg Boyd is an attorney who specializes in the digital media field. He gave a presentation on intellectual property, trademarks, and copyrights; neat content about how to protect your content, when to use and not to use others’ material. He even condensed the info into a chart, and he would smack anyone who would yawn during the lecture. Even after such announcement, someone yawn :-O
  • I’m an avid RTS player, and there is an upcoming game that promises to challenge how RTSs are played: Achron. The new aspect that this game brings is time travelling, yes, time travel in an RTS game. That’s twisted!  Chris Hazard gave a talk on mathematical aspects on balancing games while keeping in mind that the game still have to be fun.
  • Andrée-Anne Boisvert from Ubisoft Quebec on gave a talk on playtesting. She explained the importance of in-house playtesting, and quick turn-around to the development team. They employed the concept of persona to define a fictional end user, and rapid playtest with only 1 or 2 objectives; this approach helps to keep the focus on the most urgent matters, and refresh updates with the new data. Playtesting is done by the usability people themselves or others (developers, tester, end users), the number of ‘testers’ is kept low for fast data processing, and because for usability purposes 5 participants are enough  for identifying usability problems (see Nielsen). The problems identified are hypothesis that are confirmed or rejected.
  • With all the buzz around Kinect, Ryan Challinor from Harmonix presented the UI adventure they went through for the game “Dance Central”. It was really interesting to hear how UI designers working on Kinect products need to change the way they assumed people interact with devices. The gestural input changes a lot of the assumed rules. “Pushing air doesn’t feel good”. The UI work at Harmonix dealt with menu navigation, list of song, and selections. They also have the challenge of working with a new device that was still under development, thus glichty.  Ryan showed different prototypes of the UI, pointing out to strength and weaknesses of each iteration.

Ryan Challinor

  • Todd Northcutt from Gamespy talked about leaderboards and (pretty much) how you feel about you position on the leaderboards 😉  He covered how ‘high scores’ were actually a local competition, for instance at the arcades or your family early consoles. At home you would know and recognize whose those three letters were, and that was an incentive to beat your brother, your cousin or the neighbour. With the pass of time and the millions of gamers, some leaderboards became absurd: you’re # 3,526,489! :-/  So, the point is how leaderboards are changing to be meaningful again, which is going back to its origins. For instance, in StarCraft your rank is segmented into small clusters with people or similar skills, you can make your way through the ladder. Other strategies involve to track multiple aspect of the player, for instance areas explored, guns own, skills levels, pets collected, etc, the idea is that then you can have multiple leaderboards on multiple aspects, and users have more chances of being first at something. It sounds a little bit cruel but it’s the true. We want to be number one, at something, at anything! So, it’s a way of giving recognition to players on diverse aspects of the game.  Another leaderboard trend is to provide context, such as a leaderboard of only your friends, or of those in your same physical location (this is again going back to the origins), those who you know, which increases your interest on the leaderboard, and your desire to beat them! Lastly, Todd mentioned that leaderboards shouldn’t be kept forever, they need to be flushed out to keep the competition fresh.
  • I presented the work done at Electronic Arts on user experience using psychophysiological techniques. Using sensors that measure facial muscle activity and galvanic skin response, it is possible to translate the data into emotions. Plus, by employing eye tracking, you can see where players look at on the screen.

As you’ve read the summit had different interesting talks, there was also an expo floor.

MIGS 2010 Expo Floor

Montreal is an outstanding city. It’s amazing from multiple points of view: culturally alive, great public transport, friendly locals, excellent food, and a motivated game industry.  You can’t go wrong with Montreal!

Montreal

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