15 Lessons from #gamesUR conference

It’s been more than 1 year since last Games User Research conference that I’ve attended in London. I was looking forward to this year’s edition! Last Friday, 30th September 2016, was a very special day. During the GUR conference we had the opportunity to meet professionals and academics from the games user research industry and academia. The conference was in the same place in London, near Holborn station. I had to wake up at 4h in the morning to be there on time! :)

The conference was organised in several sessions that addressed different aspects of Games User Research. I think that the best thing this year is that they brought more aspects from the industry, as for example, communications within teams and how to build your career as a GUR professional. On the other side, we had talks about including games user research in the University as a module of games design and the differences between GUR in the industry and in the academia. Different methods, such as the use of eye-tracking and diary studies for games user research were also discussed. We also had topics around accessibility and cutting-edge technologies like virtual reality.

In this post I will try to briefly explore, explain and mention the 15 main points and lessons that I’ve taken from this conference.
1. Eye tracking is a window to attention dynamic. We have different ways to process information in time. Shape, size, colour, motion, and emotional content are attractive factors and the position of these elements also influence attention. We need to think strategically while analysing eye tracking data in games user research, particularly because each visual element transmits a message.

2. “Is the player looking at how the designer expected?”. By using eye tracking in games user research we could try to map these dynamics. This is very similar to the lesson number 1. The research question here is about expectations, positioning and design.
3. Games User Research as a module in BA education. With a module that explores theory and research, it is possible to include GUR at Universities in the Undergraduation level. Theories like fun and flow, engagement, challenge and difficulty are a few examples. Students can learn research tools so they can test their own games.


4. Transferable skills are crucial for GUR. Yes, students and professionals should have good transferable skills as, for example, communication, cooperation and interpersonal skills. Empathy, leadership, collaboration and oral and written communication are also a few skills in this list.
5. What makes a good games user researcher? When looking for a career in GUR, it is crucial that you know that games user research means and what it really means to be a good games user researcher. You should be able to review games, use the right vocabulary and communicate a clear message to your audience.
6. Communicating with everyone is crucial. Communication is definitely a key aspect in GUR. For example, stakeholders need to be aligned in order to avoid invalid research questions.
7. Write clear and concise reports. Think about your audience. Developers could misinterpret the reports and take the wrong actions, due to the lack of consideration of the whole report, including the solutions and suggestions.
8. Academic GUR vs. Industry GUR. In the academic world, games user research usually summarise the findings and it utilises “finished” games, whereas in the Industry is more “formative”, influencing the development stage.


9. Indie studios need training to be able to do games user research by themselves. Indie studios could playtest their games in their own houses as one way to address GUR in a more viable way.
10. Never underestimate diary studies! You need time to analyse and write your report. Giving support to players is also necessary.


11. Need for haptics! Clothing, hardware, lights, vibration – make use of haptics to replace or reinforce the audio cues that gamers depend on, while designing for deaf audiences.
12. “Designing for a specific group doesn’t mean that it only has benefits for that group”. Look at your core audiences when you’re testing your game.


13. There is a need for a new grammar for interaction design in virtual reality. This could be undertaken by creating conventions and affordances.
14. Cyber sickness and comfort play are the main concerns in terms of VR. Make sure to recognise the symptoms of sickness in VR: opening mouth, heaving breathing, replacing chair, doing nothing in the game, moving at slow pace.


15. Network. Doing networking and playing games after the conference was great. I really had the opportunity to know more the people involved in the conference. Always make sure to network. :)

I believe that the main points from this day just highlighted the importance and the role of Games User Research as an activity and as a mindset. GUR is not about finding bugs. GUR is about people. GUR is about understanding what people do in games and why they do this – and how the games (developers and designers) provide such interactions. GUR is about a conversation. It is about communication and it does not happen in a vacuum! We need to know how to communicate the research findings in a quick and easy way.

I will definitely share my notes from each talk in further posts. See you all in 2017!

For the full conference, please watch:

And if you want to know more about GamesUR, here is a nice video:

#1 [usability review] Lost Maze

https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lost-maze/id1130186793?mt=8
Copyright: ZHIPENG WANG

Recently, I’ve been playing and testing a few apps and games for fun. This week, I’ve tested the mobile game “LOST MAZE”, from the developer ZHIPENG WANG. While playing the game I was looking at elements that were good and easy to use and elements that could be improved. The structure of this post is composed of a small description of the mobile game, followed by good and bad points and a few recommendations. I’ve played this one in the iPad. Hope you enjoy it! :)

Description
The game is a 3D mobile game in which you have different levels of a maze to decide the best way to your home. The narrative is about collecting items that were stolen by “darkness” (represented by black and white interface). You start as a girl and during the game you can buy new characters. The maze is 3D and you can drag the best “way” for your character to pass. This maze is like a “cryptex” and you have to choose the best combination for your character to pass safely. The character walks through the maze automatically. You have the option to “stop” the character and then choose the best way in the maze. You win each time you pass a level. There are many ways for you to lose: you can be eaten by a flower or jump in a wrong way. This changes according to each level.

Good points

The points that I’ve enjoyed in the game were actually the animation and the little story. I think when darkness goes and steals things from the girl’s place it’s quite interesting. When you have to collect the items to put them back to the “map” is quite unusual as well for a mobile game (this one was played in iPad). The music is good too.

IMG_0629

Not so good points

a) In-app purchase surprise

My first comment was: “Why do I need to buy more energy?”. It is not clear what this energy is about. I didn’t realise the moves were related to energy and it took me 4 levels to find this out.

b) Font, typography quality

The button “stop” has a very poor quality, which could give an impression that the game has poor graphics. The same happens in the screen when you click in the red stone to buy more energy. I understand it was a way to create a shade because of the background, but it didn’t look nice.

c) Timing to stop and change the way

Around level 3, when you start having the “jump” I took a long time to stop the character and move the bits to the right position. It could be a bug or something, but it made me feel very frustrated.

d) Win scene

The win scene does not fit the overall style of the game. The graphics look very different and distorted. The idea is good, but the integration was not well executed. I’ve showed other people and their comments were: “the graphics are not good, right?”. You can also see how many steps you’ve taken in this screen, which doesn’t mean anything in terms of the game.

e) IAP icons and red stone

What are the red stones? I think the screen for the IAP is problematic and the icons do not fit the 3D style of the game.

IMG_0630

Recommendations

a) Evidence of energy

As a player, you want to know the consequences of your actions in the game. You could show to the player that when you stop and walk you lose energy. This is not clear in the whole game. Maybe in the first level, when you do the first challenge, it could be evident that you lose energy. Maybe the steps that you’ve taken could show how much energy you lost.

b) Integration of the graphics

The stones and the other icons don’t look 3D. You could redesign those icons for a 3D style. The stones could also have a purpose and integration with the narrative.

c) Stop and walk

This action is not consistent as sometimes you can’t stop and the game forces you to lose. It is important to solve this type of bug very quick!

Conclusion

I would say that it was a good game, but the IAP integration was very frustrating and the bugs made me feel without motivation to continue playing it. In sum, it is possible that those games might need a kind of heuristics of usability related to IAP. For example, as the game as IAP structures, the user should be aware of that. I strongly suggest that UX designers and researchers could come up with ideas to analyse and measure the effectiveness of IAP in games like that.

Game link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/lost-maze/id1130186793?mt=8 / Played in 28th August 2016