The worldwide video game industry is poised to exceed $70.1 billion by 2015, thanks to the combined growth of console, portable, PC, and online video games, according to market researcher DFC Intelligence. The games market reported global revenue forecasts for 2011 of $65 billion, up from $62.7 billion in 2010. Analysts are predicting that Video games will be the fastest-growing and most exciting form of mass media over the coming decade.


  • As an example in November 2010 “Call of Duty: Black Ops” was released; the publishers, Activision, notched up worldwide sales of $650m in the first five days. For comparison, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2”, the current record-holder for the fastest selling film at the box office, clocked up just $169m of ticket sales on its first weekend. With such rapid growth the margins for error become more tight, and game success will be driven more and more by offering a superior and differentiated user experience.


In most cases when users make comments in game reviews, blogs, or forums, it it very rare for a technical reason to be mentioned as a key reason for a bad review, usability / user experience is almost always the most significant factor. Why is it so important to get good reviews? Reviews drive sales and build brand identity / loyalty, which is important to drive repeat sales.


The business model of the established game industry is changing, episodic (DLC) game content is becoming relevant. In a micro-payment model, games like Bioshock and Assassin’s Creed could have been financial failures, as both had serious usability / UX errors early in the game which drove poor reviews, and could have resulted in less sales of downloadable content had this been the business modal at the time.


The result is that it is even more important for the game industry to understand their users and what makes a game successful, and in particular how to achieve the best user experience, key to that is testing the game design early and often in the development process, and including this testing as an integral part of the games design process. This has implications for the testing methodology to be effective, flexible, and with relevance to the games design.


The application of traditional User Experience Human Computer Interaction (HCI) testing methods such as Heuristic Evaluation, Think-aloud protocol, interviews & focus groups, eye-tracking, and work-based task analysis metrics are not fully effective with video games testing. They vary from productivity applications in that the core product itself, the video game, is the focus of recreational and not functional interaction. In contrast to information appliances such as commercial web sites or productivity software, video game software does not operate solely according to the general usability principles of task efficiency or ease of use. While productivity software is primarily created with functionality in mind, video games are designed for creating pleasurable and ‘fun’ experiences, which can stimulate cognitive and emotional processing. Gameplay requires goals that are difficult rather than easy to achieve. Testing to make something as simple as possible removes the very things that characterize a good game experience. A user experience target with 100% success rate eliminates some of the aspects that makes a game fun and immerse.


How do game designers play test games?

Observation; This involves watching the player interact with the game and picking up cues from their facial expressions and body language. A major benefit to using observation sessions is that they are relatively easy to conduct, and can potentially provide a rich source of data. However, whilst analysis can be performed ‘live’, understanding behavior requires precise interpretation and, unless the video data is captured and reviewed, important events can be missed by researchers.


Interviews and questionnaires; are frequently used to analyze player experience. They are generalizable, convenient, and amenable to rapid statistical analysis, yet they only generate data when a question is asked, and interrupting gameplay to ask a question is disruptive. When users provide information after the playtest, rather than continuously throughout its course, their responses reflect the finished experience and therefore important issues may not be identified.


Game Metrics; BioWare is one of many developers who in their testing have utilized a metrics-based technique called “time-spent” which reports how much time playtesters spend on each type of activity in a game level. The technique is more closely associated with traditional HCI testing in measuring task completion times, and as such provides a reliable and well understood method to collect the data. However as it is purely quantitative data.


Reviews, forums, and walk-throughs; is a popular website that takes reviews from many sources and normalizes the rating from each into a 100 point scale, for example if one reviewer uses a 4-star scale and another a 10-point scale, the ratings from each are translated into a uniform 100-point scale (where in this case 3 stars would equate to 75, and 6 points to 60). Looking at games based on Metacritic scores reveals an (unsurprising) relationship between a high “metascore” and high sales volume. Some analysts have suggested that each 5-point increase in “metascore” is equivalent to approximately 50% increase in sales.


Psychophysiological Techniques; In the past ten years new techniques with origins in psychological analysis have been introduced to shed more light on the experience dynamics of gaming, where the user feedback is more at an emotional level, rather than the task-based efficiency of most HCI testing. Several studies have concentrated on quantitative measurement of these emotional aspects in gaming, in particular the concept of measuring ‘Fun in gaming’, along with identifying player ‘immersion’’ and ‘flow’ during the game experience.



It is clear that video games are a rapidly growing industry, and that market success relies heavily on the gaming experience. Current usability testing techniques and methodologies have been shown to exhibit limitations in providing the right clues and insight to designers and developers as to what makes a video game fun and successful. The introduction of psychophysiological techniques through research over the past decade has suggested they may provide the key to unlocking the video game players mind to understanding what works and what does not work. Research and testing to date has been inconclusive in coming forward with a single commonly accepted theory on how video game experience arises, that could be used in psychophysiological game research. However the seed that has grown out of the exploration is that bio feedback techniques, and the results they present, can provide the missing emotional jigsaw piece to an overall broader picture of games user research. Most research presents the view that a combined psychophysiological and standard user testing methodology offers a pragmatic and effective way to achieve reliable results sufficient to understand what makes video games fun to play and how this can be influenced in the design.











I am passionate about innovative design and creating user experiences at the intersection of art, science and technology.



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03. August 2013

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