Quality assurance testers are concerned with quantitative information, identifying and recording bugs in a game’s programming. Usability researchers, on the other hand, aim to track the qualitative response of a player, measuring the enjoyment factor when interacting with the game.
A common practice in software development, usability research in game design requires the gathering of information related to maximizing effectiveness of a game’s user interface, the efficiency of the game mechanics and systems, and the satisfaction of the player. To this end, the usability researcher is delegated the task of creating a test plan that addresses the goals and objectives of the game design team and senior stakeholders. The goal is to pinpoint the aspects of the game that are unintentionally frustrating, too difficult, or otherwise not enjoyable for the player, so that changes can be made before the game is shipped.
The researcher recruits a sample of local or remote test subjects to participate in the research study and facilitates monitored test programs, such as in-person play tests of the game, remote sessions, or in-home downloads. The researcher records information concerning player feedback and responses through several means, they include video recording and written or verbal interview with the test subject. At the conclusion of the test program, he or she analyzes and documents all test results and then produces a clear and concise report that offers statistical information that provides actionable insights for game designers.
Skills & Education
A bachelor’s degree is necessary for this career, with applicable areas of study including psychology, computer science, statistics, human-computer interface design, and market research. Experience in game design is beneficial but not required. The usability researcher must be knowledgeable about designing and executing test plans, as well as analyzing statistical data to draw conclusions. Strong math, written, and verbal communication skills are necessary. This position requires an individual that is proficient in the use of Office applications such as Word and Excel. Excellent interpersonal skills are essential.
What to Expect
Employment opportunities are available in full-time positions with large video game development studios and publishers and with third-party firms that specialize in consumer research and software usability testing. Similar positions exist within the software engineering industry. From concept to completion, a test cycle may take several months and require some travel. Though hours are typically nine to five, schedules will vary depending on the testing program. The usability researcher should be experienced in software testing and understand the game development process, including quality assurance.
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