Games User Research Review of 2011

2011 was a great year for games user research, not only for the industry as a whole and for me personally, having completed my Masters and moved on to a full time GUR job.

At the start of 2011, I made some predictions on what would be big in games user research over last year. 12 months on, I’d like to review these predictions, and review how games user research has changed.

Prediction 1: More user experience positions within games companies

“the demand for UX and Usability skills looks to be on the way up.”

2011 saw a large amount of jobs open up in the games user research sector. The jobs thread in the Games User Research Special Interest Group on Linkedin was busy throughout the year with many exciting opportunities across the globe.

The success and prominence of games user research has led to many studios looking to bring increased expertise in-house, which has the benefit of both reducing costs and retaining talent. I personally benefited from the increased interest in user research, starting a full time GUR position in 2011. This trend is not over, and it looks like there will be plenty of similar jobs opening up worldwide in 2012 – I’ll try and share some on twitter as I encounter them.

Prediction 2: End of eye tracking

“eye-tracking will move more into the position of one tool among many that can be used, but with caveats as to how you apply the findings”

I’ve heard of eye-tracking being used in game related usability studies over the last year, although this was in conjunction with other methods, rather than being the focus of the study. I still however have doubts over how useful this data can be. Although it can be interesting to see where people are looking, it seems to lack an applicable method of analyzing and reporting this data – unlike websites, games move around too much to draw consistent conclusions.

Instead, the use of eye tracking could be to placate viewers who are watching the sessions. It’s interesting to watch, and can help influence the client’s immediate conclusions – perhaps it’s much more useful to make user research look interesting, than to teach us results. And perhaps this means it has a future.

Prediction 3: The rise of biometrics

“the research into the wider biometrics field will really take off in 2011”

Vertical Slice have had some great successes with the application of biometrics over the last year, both for commercial application to games development, and with its popular application to finding the ‘scariest game’.

Pejman Mirza-Babaei has been working on the application of biometrics to pinpoint the exact moments in games where players react to in-game events, and then using alternate usability techniques to understand why these moments are important.

This idea has a huge amount of potential, and has been shared through Vertical Slice’s involvement in conferences during 2010 and 2011. It’ll be interesting to see how this work develops both academically and for commercial games development over 2012.

Prediction 4: Increased Organisation

“will become an increasingly organised community in 2011.”

The Games User Research group on LinkedIn has grown to over 350 members, and frequently has discussions on the hot topics in games research. In particular the group has been fantastic at sharing interesting articles and features on websites such as Gamasutra. Outside of the community, there’s been increased awareness of the field of user research, with GUR presentations (such as my one on Social Interaction) featuring in both social computing conferences (like Multi.Player) and Game-Dev conferences like Develop. This trend seems to be continuing into 2012, with games research workshops at high profile conferences like CHI and DIS.

Prediction 5: Understanding Social Interaction

“ I’ve been working heavily in the field of understanding group social interaction while playing games, and can see a lot of potential for this to evolve in 2011.”

Last of all, my personal project during the early half of 2011. I was involved in defining and measuring the forms of social interaction noted in cooperative and competitive play, and was happy with the progress of this, the work having featured at Develop, Multi.Player and in an upcoming Gamasutra article. Although I’m no longer working with Relentless, there is definitely potential for similar work to continue throughout 2012, especially with the new forms of interaction created by motion controls, or mobile gaming.

That’s it for 2011 – Whats next for 2012? Leave me a comment, or message me on twitter with your thoughts, and I’ll share them!

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1 Comment
  • Steve, interesting post. I don’t quite share some of your conclusions. Let me elaborate with a little feedback on each of your predictions.

    Prediction 1: More user experience positions within games companies

    I agree on this one. GUR is starting to be its own recognized field and I have seen a couple of students I have worked with in the last year getting GUR jobs last year. And you got a job, too. So, yay. 🙂

    Prediction 2: End of eye tracking

    I think, we might not quite disagree on this one. Eye tracking in games has a visualization problem. In the past, I have worked with several students on improving techniques to make it more useful for gaming, however, all of these include custom alterations of game code and there is no quick-fix solution for the entire industry (yet), but this does not mean that the method itself is useless for game user research. I still believe in its potential, just give it a bit more time.

    Prediction 3: The rise of biometrics

    I find it a bit scary that you attribute the rise of biometrics to your former company and Pejman. First of all, biometric (or preferably the better term: psychophysiological) methods have been around for a while now and their use in industry is still debated, so if anything, I considered the last year more of a plateau of this GUR method and definitely not the glorious rise you might have predicted.

    Prediction 4: Increased Organisation

    Again, this prediction is looking inward too much for my taste (then again, this is your personal blog, so touché I guess). But overall, you are right. GUR has become more organised in the last year (but largely due to efforts from people like Bill Fulton).

    Prediction 5: Understanding Social Interaction

    I am not going to disagree here as well, social interaction in games has been important in the last 5-10 years and will continue to be important as we see more mobile and connected devices being used for playing games.

    That’s my 50 cents 😉 – have another awesome GUR year.

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