Test with real users – not your team

‘Free pizza and coke! Just play our game for an hour’. Sounds like a good deal right? And pretty easy to organise, just pulling kids of the street. It can even be done in the pub, for mobile devices. Even this ‘free pizza’ recruitment is better than testing your game (or website, or application) with people from within your office. But why?

Game development teams need a constant supply of fresh users to test the ‘new user’ experience with. I’ve seen teams keep their project secret from their colleagues, not for official reasons, but so their colleagues can be tested as ‘new users’. Other teams test their games with their HR and secretarial staff, since they are unlikely to have had much exposure to the game.

However it’s a good guideline to never test with your team (unless of course you are building something for them). It’s understandable why this situation arises – often budgets are too tight for intensive user testing, forcing teams to perform ad-hoc tests with their colleagues; however this often causes problems further down the line:

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Dont test with your team

  • Your team are not your users – Unless you are in a very specialist field, or are developing an internal project like an intranet, it’s unlikely that your team are the same people as your users. And they are very unlikely to act in the same way a typical user would.
  • Your team know things users wouldn’t – It’s likely your team will have had prior exposure to your game or application that a new user wouldn’t, and will be bringing prior knowledge to the testing session. This also applies to people who do not work directly on your team. To get a true outside perspective, you need to seek outside users.
  • Your team know you – Unlike a stranger, your team are already know you, and (hopefully) like you. Their answers, and interactions will be biased to please you, and tell you what you want to hear based on what they know about your job, the project your working on, or your beliefs (for example, attempting to validate your design choices).

Advantages of testing with real users.

How people act can often be surprising. If this wasn’t the case, there would be little point in user testing. That’s why it’s extremely important to gather real data, from the people who will actually be using your product. Only real users will approach your product from an authentic ‘new user’ angle, and give an insight into how your product will be perceived and used.

Getting real users involved with product development will get them engaged with the product. Asking their opinions, and being interested in their experience will make the user feel positive about you, and your product, and will mean they will be more likely to purchase it when it’s ready. In newsrooms, this has been widely known for years – hence the proliferation of lists of names in local papers.

Most importantly, involving users will get them talking about your product, generating true grass roots ‘word of mouth’ promotion (hopefully without breaking any NDA’s!). Giving customers an early exposure to your product can build excitement, and market your product for free!


saving millions on megaphones


Finding real users can be cheaper than you think. Not only is it possible to pull people off the street, using the methods suggested above, but new usability testing methods such as remote user testing allow you to find and test real users from the comfort of your office, for very low cost. These days there’s almost no excuse not to test with real users, and it can be just as easy as testing with your team, with much more rewarding returns.

150 150 Steve Bromley
  • Thanks for the great post – this is really good information to get out there.

    Interesting that you mention remote research, because that’s exactly what I was thinking about when I started reading the article.

    We actually run our own remote testing tool at http://intuitionhq.com – it’s a really simple way to test UIs, site designs, redesigns and wireframes, but I’d never though of it for testing games before. I think for the UI and HUD it would be a pretty neat way to test, and I’d be really curious to some results.

    If you’d like to try out IntuitionHQ flick me an email or check us out on twitter @intuitionhq

    Thanks for sharing!

  • That sounds interesting Jacob, and I agree that it could be useful with the HUD.
    The racing game Split/Second had an innovative position for the HUD behind the car, rather than the typical ‘corners of the screen’ position. A comparitive study would be interesting.
    If no-one else does it, maybe I’ll have to get in touch! 🙂

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