How to break into Games User Research – The Expert Opinions (Updated!)

Recently I posted my thoughts on what’s required to get started in games user research . I’ve also reached out to some members of the game UX community, and asked them “what would be the one piece of advice you’d give to people wanting to break into games user research?”

Read on for their top advice on how to get started as a games user researcher:

“The best way to get started in games user research is to start doing it.  Review a commercial product, highlight both its shortcomings and correct decisions, and walk through how different testing methodologies may or may not have revealed these findings.  Perform your own user tests on products and write up the results.  Apply novel statistical techniques to gameplay data.  Find an indie developer who’s currently making a game and volunteer your services.  Do anything possible to acquire skill at evaluating product—practice writing surveys, perform as many direct observation tests as you can, evaluate question and answer sessions and try to identify biases, and so forth. Skill at user research, as with all disciplines, stems from experience and critical analysis of process. Acquire both.”

Mike Ambinder, Valve Software


“My one key piece of advice is ‘keep plugging away’. People won’t hire you without experience, and you can’t get experience without being hired. It’s the classic catch 22, and especially prevalent in the games industry where game UX is a relatively new thing. So show people you can do the work any way you can. Analyse any game you play, write up thoughts, and basically develop a portfolio. At the same time keep a blog or a twitter feed, anything that ensures your profile gets known. It’ll take time to convince people to take the risk. So don’t give up.”

Alaistar Gray, Game Usability Thoughts


Tell people you want to be a Games User Researcher, don’t be afraid to ask people in the field if you can work with them. If possible ask if you can go and observe user test sessions and get involved in the discussion. Read and write about Games User Research, having a blog/portfolio is always good, even if no one asks you, you  can review any game (based on usability/UX stuff) and write about it.

Pejman Mirza-Babaei, Biometric Storyboards


“There’s lots of skills that are helpful – knowing about theories of game design, having experience with a lot of games for comparison, the ability to put yourself into other people’s shoes. But the key to getting into this field is similar to lots of others – just start doing something! Whatever you can muster, if it’s a blog, or a lively discussion in a forum somewhere, or even a simple Twitter account. The more you can share and talk intelligently on the topic, the stronger your skills will be, and the better equipped you’ll be for the future. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and your career isn’t going to start itself, so start small and keep at it. If you can do *something* every day, even a single tweet, you’re moving in the right direction.”

Mark DeHate, That Game’s UX


“There are many tasks involved in the user research lifecycle, so gaining an understanding of the whole process would be invaluable. You don’t have to work on a game in development, chose a game from your collection and plan your study. Start by identifying a research question, then recruit your users, conduct the playtests, analyse the data, and produce a report. Approaching any interview armed with this knowledge should serve you well.
There’s enormous scope for improvement at each stage in this process, having the ability to identify ways of improving results should make you invaluable to any potential employer.”

Graham McAllister, Player Research

The best piece of advice I can give to anyone trying to get into industrial GUR is this: be humble, but persuasive. The first thing you need to realize is that the creative people (e.g. the designers, directors, level artists, etc) are all highly talented and intelligent individuals who have worked hard to become great at what they do; they know it, and they are told so often. As someone working in game usabilty and user research your job will be to point out their mistakes, and while some may appreciate what you are doing, many will not. The ability to tactfully persuade someone to see what you see will be your greatest tool as a Games User Researcher. Work on your soft skills, and don’t be a dick.

Ian Livingston,

A theme emerges from all these expert opinions about how to get started in games user research. The key message seems to be “just do it”, encouraging you to start analysing the games you are playing, even if no-one is asking you too! Secondly, you need to publicise the work you’re doing, whether that’s through twitter, blogs or forums.

So what do you think? Please comment below if you think that there is any other key aspect of getting started with games user research that’s been missed!

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  • Hello. I am a UX Designer and I am trying to get into game user research. I know you said just do it. I agree, but how should you start if you are just reviewing games you already own?

  • Hi!

    I think there are two ways reviewing games at home can help.
    Primarily, it gets you into the practise of thinking analytically about games, and is good practise for the skills you would need to demonstrate in an interview or portfolio.
    You can also publish them online, and this would be a nice way of drawing attention to your work, and also demonstrate to potential employers that you are passionate about games user research.

    A good start would be looking at the games you own, and performing an expert review. What usability issues do you anticipate people would encounter? What causes these issues, and what is the impact of these issues?

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