Games User Research Blog


An Iron Triangle

Before I continue with my discussion of game accessibility I wanted to share an idea I’ve been kicking around about a game design iron triangle.

In software development there is a concept known as the iron triangle. The concept is based on the principle that to develop a quality product three points must be balanced. The three points are: scope, resources, and schedule. Scope refers to size or feature set of a product, schedule refers to the time constraints, and resources are the costs or budget associated with the product. The basic idea is that it’s easy to balance two of the three points, but to balance all three requires careful management.

The iron triangle also applies to game development; a game is just another software product after all. However, what about game design? Design is different from development. The design of a game is only a single part of the overall development process. Personally, I’m not convinced that the standard points of scope, resources, and schedule are sufficient when we start talking about game design.

A game design iron triangle, made up of business, science, and creativity.

So I’ve been kicking around is the concept of a game design iron triangle. Where the three points are: business, creativity, and science. Business refers to design considerations like brand and marketing, creativity refers to the appeal of the design, and the science is our understanding of the design. Like the traditional iron triangle a balance between the three sides results in quality, however it’s design quality rather than product quality.

I need to flesh it out a bit more, but I feel the idea is interesting and might have some legs. I think it's a topic for future discussion.


Accessibility (Part 1): First Impressions

This was going to be a single post, but it has grown to be something much larger. I’ve decided that it would be better presented as multiple posts. The first post will explore the meaning of accessibility and it’s relation to a player’s first impression of a game. I’ll begin by elaborating on what I mean by ‘accessibility’.

Commercially, no matter what is discussed, accessibility is paramount. Do consumers have access to your product? Can they use it? Does it reach the largest market possible? The term ‘accessibility’ is overloaded, so in these posts I’m referring to the level of accessibility offered by a product to a consumer (player). However, this interpretation still contains many nuances. These nuances – and their relationship to the success of a game – will be the topics of these posts.

There has been much talk about the success of casual games over the past couple of years. We’ve seen the rise of Farmville, Angry Birds, and a host of other successful games. The initial success of the Wii also demonstrates the strength of the new entertainment age – games have reached a mass market. But why have we seen such an impressive rise? Simply put, these games are accessible.  As I mentioned, there are many facets of accessibility. I want to begin my discussion of accessibility and first impressions.

First impressions

First impressions are important. From social situations to consumer electronics, the first contact between a player and a game will be used as a basis for evaluating all future experiences. Do they like it? Do they play it? The first impression will bias their overall opinion of the game, and what they expect when a game is first loaded.

In the context of first impressions, accessibility refers to the ease of which a player is able reach their expected experience. There is a complex dance of cognitive and physiological affects – a mix of expectation, desires, and bias – that combine to form an expectation. A game that facilitates a player in reaching their expected experience is accessible – it facilitates access to the expected experience.

Anything that inhibits the access of a player’s desired experience will produce a negative effect; it’s not what the player expected. Devices such as long cut scenes, slow load screens, or excessive menu navigation may be contradictory to what the player expected, and thus make the game significantly less accessible to the player.

The importance of a player’s first impression and expectation cannot be overstated. A player expecting a racing game when they load Dragon Age is going to be disappointed; their experience will not match their expectation despite Dragon Age being a great game. The game would fail to provide the player with a way to access the experience they expected based on their first impression.

While the above example is clearly contrived it does illustrate the importance of an accessible first impression, a matching between what the player wants/expects and what the game provides. Matching what the player wants to what is provided by the game will increase the overall accessibility of the game, making the experience more enjoyable.

That’s it for now. In the next post I will dive into the importance and meaning of accessible gameplay.


Netflix ErrorCode: 2105

I got this error today while trying to watch Netflix on my Macbook pro. It's not a very helpful message but the fix is simple. Go to this page and install the newest version of Microsoft's Silverlight. You may then need to restart your browser.

That's all you should need to do. It would be nice if Netflix just said this, but instead you're forced to jump through some hoops. Regardless, I hope this little post is helpful to some who find the same problem.


2010 Wrapped Up

While I have a metric ton of useful and insightful things that I would like to post, I really haven't had the time to do it. Since October I've been trying, heavily, to prioritize work that requires attention and work that does not. I do consider updating my website to be work, valuable work, but currently it falls below a horde of other activities.

Since today is the last day of 2010 I thought that it would be prudent to explore what I was able to accomplish this year.

  1. I married the most beautiful woman in the world
  2. I was an author on 4 articles: 2 conference papers, 1 workshop, and 1 journal article
  3. I visited 4 game companies: Value, EA, Radical (twice), and Next Level
  4. I visited Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver (twice), and Seattle (thanks to an amazing boss)
  5. I worked on the amazing Indie title Capsized with some very talented folks
  6. I learned the ins-and-outs of physiological measures, and discovered statistics aren't that hard.

I'm actually very happy with that list, I think its been a good year. However, there have been a few things that should have been finished, but just didn't make the above list.

  1. Didn't quite finish all my class work (still have one outstanding class project to finish)
  2. Didn't finish my thesis. (that's kind of a big deal)
  3. Didn't get my paper accepted to CHI (which is really my fault for doing sloppy framing)
  4. Didn't go on a honeymoon (was waiting until I finished the thesis)

These 4 are kind of major... especially the thesis thing. Honestly, the thesis is really the limiting factor for the other other 3. Regardless, the plan for 2011 is very simple. Publish the final work for my thesis, graduate, go on a honeymoon, and find gainful employment at an awesome company that makes games. By this time next year this blog won't been the bland ramblings of a graduate student, but rather the insightful remarks of an industry insider. :)


Being a Game Usability Consultant

I know things – useful things – about games and game design. I also know things about traditional usability and user experience, but none of these things guarantee – even remotely – that I could make a better game than someone with more experience, and I’m fine with that fact. In truth, what I know – what I’m good at – is best used in combination with the skills and talents of others.

As a games user researcher my job is two fold:

  1. I need to understand the visions and goals of the designer(s).
  2. And I need to apply my knowledge in a manner that fully supports what the designer(s) are trying to accomplish.

Optimally, every game will provide a player with a unique and memorable experience. That experience is defined by the designer’s vision. However, precisely because games are unique from one another, it would be naive of me to believe that there is a game usability silver-bullet. Each game must be approached differently.

If there were one statement that I could make that sums up my role it would be this:

My job is to streamline all elements of a game in a manner that best supports and showcases the goals, visions, and experiences of a specific game.

If I’m successfully in achieving that goal then everyone involved would get exactly what he or she wants, and most importantly the player gets a great game.