Games User Research in 2013

As we dive into 2013, I was interested in what this year may hold for the games user research field. I’ve asked a number of researchers, representing commercial research and academia, what they are excited about for the industry in 2013, and what they think the big themes of the next year will be for games user research. Here’s what they said:

2013 looks to be an interesting year for some long-awaited interaction technologies to break into the consumer space proper. Some are driven by significant technology advances, such as the Leap Motion, or head-mounted VR headsets like the Oculus Rift; others by a shift in focus from academic/industrial applications such as the move of eye-tracking technologies into the consumer space from Tobii. Each of these new interaction methods present huge uncertainties from the perspective of games development, many of which fall into our domain as User Researchers. While I’m sure this new tech won’t define 2013 in the grand scheme of video-gaming (Steam Box and next-gen, anyone?), they’re sure to present some interesting questions and opportunities this year.

Seb Long – Player Research


In the next year (and beyond), I’m very interested in seeing how our discipline evolves to expand beyond assessing initial, and even extended, gameplay. More and more, I’m seeing a need to understand the entire customer journey with a product, or even a franchise. That is, if we truly want to evaluate the user experience of a game, we need to examine not just the usability and the desirability of the game, but the experience as a whole. How do customers hear about the game? What factors push them to, or drive them away from, purchasing the game? What’s their very first experience with the game – those first moments that set the stage for how they’ll perceive their subsequent experiences? What’s their first play experience like? What does that play experience look and feel like at a later point in time? How do consumers adopt the game into their gaming routine? When and why does the game lose its luster, and fall into the stack of games that a consumer no longer plays? And what determines whether that consumer will pick up the next game in the series, or abandon the franchise altogether? These are just some of the questions that I think we are, or should be, equipped to answer. I’m excited that answers to these questions will provide valuable input to the business. And more importantly, I’m looking forward to improving more aspects of the user experience than we currently touch.

JJ Guajardo – Microsoft Games User Research

More established than before: The GUR-SIG community has been running for 4 years and with yearly summit in conjunction with GDC, the event is growing fast aiming to double its size in 2013. In academia GUR is also growing fast, in 2012 we had our first GUR workshop at CHI conference (a major venue for HCI research). Also there will be GUR workshop at CHI 2013 in Paris.

Iteration and optimisation: video game industry is changing very fast which means GURs have to adapt themselves and their approaches/methods based on new requests from game development. This is very exciting as this usually involve a creation of novel combination of exciting methods which better suit the job’s requirements. I believe this is essential to be a successful GUR.

Big data: Did I just say that 🙂 I think this is this year’s hot topic not only in GUR. The approaches for collecting massive data are getting more affordable, the challenge will be making meaningful deliveries of these data and in particular making actionable suggestions for game designers. I am excited and expecting to see more research in this area.

And lastly my wish for 2013: I don’t think it will happen during 2013 but I am hoping sometime in near future it will be essential for game developers to have GUR certificate before they can release their game.


Pejman Mirza-Babaei – Biometric Storyboards

This year, 2013, is going to be very exciting for GUR. I say that partly because many events lead by the IGDA GUR SIG are shaping up, such as the CHI 2013 Games User Research workshop in Paris or the annual GUR Summit in San Francisco. We can also see game analytics rise in importance in GUR this year, since new technologies are becoming available for analysis and big data is a generally a hot topic in recent years. We will also see a book on this topic written by members of the IGDA GUR SIG and published by Springer early this year. Together with big data game analytics, we will start seeing smaller scale GUR solutions for little studios, the ever-popular design heuristics and player types will remain popular in this area. Smaller and homegrown analytics solutions or outsourced GUR services will also be a popular player for this market segment. With gameful services and gamification (although many dislike the term) being more popular than ever, we will also see many UX folks pick up playful design and evaluation as part of their user research agenda. I would not call it the year of the small studios, but I am sure, we will see a lot of grassroots movement in GUR in 2013. Finally, on a personal note, I am also very excited for my Ph.D. student Pejman, who will (hopefully) be graduating this year and his Biometric Storyboards work, some of which he will also be presenting at CHI 2013 in Paris will likely have some impact on the GUR community.

Lennart Nacke – UOIT


Some interesting ideas arise from all of the researchers, with lots of convergence on some major themes.

The potential for a new console generation, new devices and new interaction methods means that the next year will bring new challenges, and it sounds like researchers are enthusiastic about facing them.

As the games user research field matures, both in its methodology and in its focus, this creates the potential to interpret a much wider range of data in faster and more effective ways, and branch out into understanding the holistic player experience. Events, such as the CHI Workshop and GUR Summit will help researchers in sharing their methods, and drive the industry forward.

Disagree with these opinions? Feel something has been missed? Or are they spot on? Please leave a comment and let us know!

150 150 Steve Bromley
  • “And lastly my wish for 2013: I don’t think it will happen during 2013 but I am hoping sometime in near future it will be essential for game developers to have GUR certificate before they can release their game.”

    A GUR certificate? What does that mean? What is the purpose of requiring developers to have one before releasing their game?

    I mean surely the player response to the game is what is important?
    getting a certificate (if i understand it correctly at midnight on a Wednesday) is just red tape and doesn’t guarantee anything. It’s not like the developer has proven that their game is good because it has gone through god knows what kind of ‘testing’ and ‘research’.

  • I assume the wish is for all games to have to go through user research, increased standardisation of methodologies and for researchers to have increased influence over the final product. Feel free to correct me if I’ve interpreted it incorrectly though Pejman!

  • From a bird’s eye perspective, I’m grateful that more companies are integrating (user) research into product R&D. It’s going to be a good day when “user researcher” is a staple position at tech companies.

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