GDC 2014 Highlights

This year I was lucky enough to go to the Games Developer Conference for the first time. It was a great opportunity to meet in person with many of the researchers I’d only spoken to online, and I also was able to see some great talks while out there. In this post, I wanted to share two of my favourite talks from the event, and also some other highlights from GDC and the GUR Summit.

Ian Livingston – Where are the Sharks? User Research in the Far Cry Production Pipeline

Ian gave a presentation on user research at Ubisoft during the production of Far Cry 3 and Blood Dragon. There were some really nice examples of how user research had been integrated throughout the production of the game – from early mock-ups using PowerPoint to emulate the menus, through to the full playtests lasting up to a week.

It was also really interesting to see how the iterative testing integrated with the development team’s sprints, so that the team would have one sprint to resolve the issues, and then the code would be retested during the sprint after that. This adds a number of advantages, not only does it ensure regular testing, but it means that the team gets results at an appropriate time, and that fixes can be evaluated promptly.

We also saw the advantages of using a dedicated telemetry tool to provide more data points when understanding issues, and also of integrating issues with the team’s existing bug tracking database, so that the whole development team have visibility of the issues, and the steps taken to resolve them.

The talk will be available on the GDCVault in the near future, or you can check Ian’s site here for possible updates on where it is available.

Gareth Griffiths – Child’s Play: Playtesting with Children in the World of Skylanders

I also really enjoyed this talk, by Gareth Griffiths – the user research lead for Skylanders. He shared how they tested the recent Swap Force game, which had an amazing 65 tests – from initial character studies right through to full playtests over five days.

What I particularly liked was the variety of studies discussed – not just full playtests, but also in depth studies of each of the new characters, to evaluate how children’s impressions from the character design matched the designer’s intention. This was followed by iterative testing on how each character and each level plays individually, and playthroughs of the full game.

The presentation also shared lots of moderation techniques for working with kids, and highlighted that a small age difference makes a huge amount of difference when working with kids – a child of 7 has completely different cognitive and physical abilities to a child of 10. Gareth also looked at best practises for questionnaires and interviews with kids, and how to observe and interpret issues from children.

Overall this was a really interesting insight into the creation of a popular game. The talk will also be up on the GDC vault soon.

I also enjoyed…

Before GDC I also attended the GUR Summit. This year there were lots of really interesting talks, and it was a great opportunity to meet many other researchers – I especially enjoyed the social events in the evening. The videos from the day will presumably soon be up on the vimeo page.

At GDC I also had the opportunity to see the post-mortem for Puppeteer. This was one of the games I worked on at Sony, and so it was really interesting to see the creative director’s insight into its development, and he said some nice things about the results of the user tests from this game.

I haven’t had an opportunity to see it yet (the GDC Vault of videos is not live yet), but I was also surprised to hear this blog was mentioned in the “Setting Up and Running a Games User Research Class” talk – which was very kind of the presenter. Thanks!

Overall, GDC was a great opportunity to meet everyone, and I saw some really interesting talks – I hope I get the chance to attend next year!

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