Thursday, February 21, 2008

Beyond Usability: Exploring Distributed Play

Looking at game UX ...

"... Introduction
Video game companies have now integrated the need to deploy user-centered design and evaluation methods to enhance players experiences. This has led them to hire cognitive psychology researchers, human-computer interface specialists, develop in-house usability labs or subcontract tests and research to companies or academic labs. Although, very often, methods has been directly translated form classic HCI and usability, this game experience analysis started to gain weights through publications. This situation acknowledges the importance of setting a proper method for user-centered game design, as opposed to the one applied for “productivity applications” or web services. The Microsoft Game User Research Group for example has been very productive on that line of research (see for example [5]) with detailed methods such as usability tests, Rapid Iterative Test and Evaluation [4] or consumer playtests [1]. Usability test is definitely the most common method currently given its relevance to identify interfaces flaws as well as factors that lower the fun to play through behavioral analysis.

That said, most of the methods deployed by the industry seem to rely heavily on quantitative and experimental paradigms inherited from the cognitive sciences tradition in human-computer interaction (see [2]). Studies are often conducted in corporate laboratory settings in which myriads of players come visit and spend hours playing new products. Survey, ratings, logfile analysis, brief interviews (and sometimes experimental studies) are employed to apprehend users’ experiences and implications for game or level designers are fed back into game development processes.

While these approaches proves to be fruitful (as reported by the aforementioned papers which describe some case studies), this situation only accounts for a limited portion of what HCI and user-centered design could bring to table in terms of game user research. Too often, the “almost-clinical” laboratory usability test is deployed without any further thoughts regarding how players might experience the product “in the wild”. For example, this kind of studies does not take into account how the activity of gaming is organized, and how the physical and social context can be important to support playful activities.

What we propose is to step back for a while and consider a complementary approach to gain a more holistic view of how a game product is experienced. To do so, we will describe two examples from our research carried out in partnership with a game studio."    (Continued via Pasta&Vinegar)    [Usability Resources]

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