Game User Research Summit (GUR)

April 24, 2010 at 9:48 am (Conferences - Events) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

San Francisco, CA, USA – The 1st Game User Research (GUR) Summit was on March 10th 2010, and it was awesome. The objective of this summit was to gather user-research professionals who work in the games industry, and share experience, knowledge and techniques.

GUR summit started with an update of the group by David Tisserand and Bill Fulton. The Games User Research Special Interest Group (SIG) has been created as part of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA), there is a provisional board and the group is taking shape and organization.

GUR

There were presentations covering current practices:

Graham McAllister talked about ‘Promoting UX: Educating the Video Game Industry on User Research’, he nicely tackled an array of common statements and misunderstandings when people in the game industry are faced to user research, for example from “We don’t need it”, passing through “Our game isn’t ready”, to “We do this”.

Bill Fulton’s ‘From 0 to 35 in 7 years: scaling up a games user-research group’ was a neat presentation on his experience at Microsoft Game Studios and how he managed to get an user research team growing. Once upon a time (circa 1997), there was only Bill as a contractor at Microsoft Game Studios. He highlighted three aspects for growth:
1) Focus user research resources to maximize product improvement: how to impact the return-on-investment (ROI), to recognize limits, to be efficient, to have visible success.
2) Do UR in a way that generates more demand for UR: deliver high-quality, acknowledge and optimize the time of the development team, and stay in communication with them.
3) Have the right people :) by rigorous hiring process, and investing in your people.

Dmitri Williams from the University of Southern California presented his work on online games and how he harvests information. A lot of the analysis is done with a tool called Katana Analytics Engine.

Bruce Phillips showed us the amazing work he’s been doing on player experience using behavioral data at Microsoft Game Studios. The fascinating idea of keeping track of what people do with their XBox live games while players are comfy at their homes. They remotely track data to understand better what happen with the game after is shipped.

I presented the work that we, Veronica Zammitto, Magy Seif El-Nasr and Paul Newton, are doing at Electronic Arts. We are looking at game user experience on sports games by employing psychophysiological techniques and telemetry data. We used eye tracking, EMG, HR, GSC to identify the emotional profile of the player.

Ben Weedon talked about the work done at Playable Games. First, he showed us how fun and challenging getting feedback from kids can be. Later, he explained the process of international user research and how many things have to be taken into account in order to run smooth sessions for collecting data, for instance just to mentioned a few, the cultural differences and legislation about recording information, power supplies, local translators/facilitators even if you speak the same language, having local assistants.

Carla Fisher also works with kids. She shared a chart that leads the comments and annotation when kids try her hand-held device games.

Heather Desurvire is a consultant at Behavioristics and faculty at the University of Southern California. She explained game accessibility principles (GAP), a way of evaluating and designing games, and how that can be applied to game tutorials.

GUR summit was a great event that strengthened the game industry user research community.

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Sports and HCI

April 12, 2010 at 8:35 am (Conferences - Events) (, , , , , , , , )

Little did we know about sport from the human computer interaction field. Actually, we know very little.
Genevieve Bell, Director of the User Experience Group at Intel and keynote speaker at CHI 2010, points out the lack of research about sports and technology.
It seems that it’s a really good timing to be doing work in game user experience on sports game :)

Excerpts from her talk:
“Sports is a huge money maker, it’s a huge driver of new technology adoption.

40% of Americans when asked why they upgraded to HD, the answer was that sports look better on it.

Sports drive new technologies of production in video capture, in dealing with multiple streams of content, and now is one of the drivers of 3D.

Yet there are less than 40 papers written over the last 20 years in HCI about sports. And most of them are written about things that are not really sports, they are written about roller coasters, about going on around on motocross in Scandinavia and there is one about going to a Canadian stadium, and that’s it.

[Sports] is a critical domain of human activity, it schedules time and space and we are not writing about it.”

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Co-Ops, Where are you?

December 13, 2009 at 5:14 pm (Game Session) (, , , , , , , , , , , )

We are in the golden chase for a fun, cool co-op game. We’ve been trying a bunch of games that claimed themselves as co-op. There is a mix of positive and negative experiences.

Our list includes: Resident Evil 5, Halo 3, Lego Start Wars II: The Original Trilogy, Fable 2, Beautiful Katamari, Tales of Vesperia.



One of the feature decisions with co-ops games is to split or not split the screen.  In Resident Evil 5 and Halo 3 the screen is split so each player gets a part from their own view. Although you have full mobility and camera control, the sub-screen is small and it’s harder to see things around. Even if your console is hook-upped to a big screen, if you want to play comfy from the couch it doesn’t feel really good. In Lego Start Wars II, Fable 2 and Tales of Vesperia, you shared the screen with the other avatar, so coordinating where you’re heading is important. Specially in Lego Start Wars II where you can accidentally push your partner to a pit and kill him over and over again. In Beautiful Katamari, both players simultaneously control the katamari, as you imagine a lot of coordination is required.

I’m concerned about how publishers stamp ‘co-op’ on their games just because is a buzz word but zero support in the gameplay. In some games it seems to be not distinction between a ‘multiplayer’ and a ‘co-op’. It’s like just the mere presence of a second player allows them to say ‘co-op’. This is rather disturbing and a source of frustration because they offer an gaming experience of cooperation between players that is not fulfill. For instance in Resident Evil 5, the glimpse of cooperation is that if your buddy is grabbed by a zombie you press a button to help him and then just keep shooting around. Now (with your best sarcastic voice) that is co-op :P

In Fable 2, a game that has a lot of (other) good features, player 2 instead of embodying the older sister gets into a second kid. Ok, I understand that Rose might need to say and do things that would be too much for putting that baggage to the player. But there is no adaptation in the ‘co-op’ version for this second Hero! He is never acknowledged in the dialogues. Please, just say children instead of kid. Please, use a plural noun instead of singular. On top of that, the second player is pretty much a ghost, it’s not possible to interact with the objects, like knocking on a door. Player 1 has to do everything. Player 2 comes to live when it’s time to fight. What a bummer for player 2! For such rich character driven game, not recognizing the second player makes the whole experience dreadful.  This is pretty much the same that happens in Tales of Vesperia as well.

Simpler games like Beautiful Katamari and Lego Start Wars II have done a better job for playing together. In Beautiful Katamari you need to talk to your partner to optimize rolling up your katamari, you need to agree to keep moving in a certain direction otherwise you can’t control smoothly. It does indeed create synergy between the players and promotes cooperation. When they say co-op they do mean co-op.

Lego Star Wars II is pretty good in the co-op mode. Since you share the screen you have to agree about where to go, you also need your partner to stand strategically for instance to give enough space for a jump or for avoiding to accidentally push you to your death in a pit. What’s further supporting cooperation is that each avatar that the player controls has different abilities and can resolve specific parts to keep going, for example Obi-Wan can use the force to move blocks and build a bridge, R2-D2 can hack doors.

The social factor in games is really important. It can promote people to play a game, it’s also investing time with your friend, you’ll recall when you were playing together the other day, and what a good time with your buddy you had. If developers are looking into this, they need to be more careful about what they promise and what kind of experiences they want to promote. Not because a second player can log in means that they cooperating or playing together. I’d love to see more co-op games out there, and have fun with them.

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Pure Game

October 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm (Game Session) (, , , , , , , , , , )

We tried Pure on the Xbox 360, produced by Black Rock Studio and published by Disney Interactive Studios. Pure is an off-road racing ATV video game where you do a lot of tricks.

Pure

The tutorial is pretty short and straight forward. You have to proof that you can do four things:

  • Complete a lap
  • Preload, prepare yourself to make a jump.
  • Trick
  • Boost, get speed for getting more room for longer tricks.

The voice-off tells you what to press, waits for you, and if you fail it’ll repeat the instructions again. If you suck, it’ll start annoying you by pausing the pausing the game. In fact this will happen a lot during the game as well, you know what you have to do, you’re working on that but that voice is going to drill your head.

A really nice detail is the aesthetic for depicting the controller when showing the buttons, it is covered with dirt, as if you’d been riding on it.

You can build your own ATV, selecting the parts that you want, getting one for speeding or other for tricks. The customization is pretty good. The in-game advertising is in full here, you have a lot of brands to choose from, for instance Elka, Fox, Ohlins, Maxxis, DG, ITP, just to name a few. You can put decals of them when stylising your vehicle. After all those decisions, the tougher one is to name your ATV.

Although you have a lot of choices for your ATV, it doesn’t happen the same when choosing your avatar. You can’t be you, you have to choose from a predefine selection that points to generic populations, a California boy and girl, a latino/a, UK, Japanese. I believe that the stronger connection that you can get is through the ATV rather than the avatar but, only Lord knows why, your avatar is quite intrusive will riding. S/he will turn back to yell something to you, I’ve found that pretty disruptive, breaking my immersion. I prefer when it just cheers or says something when facing forward, and ideally less often.

The sweet part of this game is doing tricks. That’s the game element that makes it different from just a racing game. You’re going fast on those versatile vehicles, you hit slopes to jump and while in the air you show up your awesome skills by doing trick, such as from stretching a leg to the side to a sequence of contortions in a dance with your ATV. This is the challenge. When you do tricks, you get “Thrill”, more thrill you get, cooler trick you can do. As you fill up the thrill bar, it enables from basic jumps (A button) to intermediate (B) and expert (Y). Expert tricks require more time hence your jump has to leave enough space for kicking around.

Time is another element that takes place, your ‘thrill bar’ will start going down if you don’t keep doing tricks. Another way of consuming ‘thrill’ is by boosting to get more speed and consequently higher jumps, so it makes a balance of boost-jumps.

Performing different tricks is better but is not clear which tricks you’ve done so far, the system could offer a way of remembering what’s been done or prompting for certain tricks to do. Since the tricks are related to the left stick position, I try to do the mental note of going clockwise.

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