When I first came to GDC, I didn’t know what to expect. I was delightfully surprised to use my first gender neutral restroom. The restroom had urinals and toilet seats. There was no fuss other than others who were standing to take a picture of the sign above. It felt surreal using the restroom next to a stranger who was not the same gender as I. The idea is a positive new way of thinking and fits perfectly with one of the themes of the conference: diversity.
In my last games user research round table, one of the topics we spent a lot of time on was sexism and how we could do our part to include underrepresented groups in our testing. One researcher began with a story about a female contractor he worked with to perform a market test on a new game. One screener question surprised him the most:
What gender do you identify as?
Male [Next question]
Female [Thank her for her time. Dismiss]
O-M-G. The team went back and forth with the contractor for 4 iterations before she agreed to change that question in the screener. Her reasoning were:
- Females are not representative of his game’s audience. Wrong, females made up half of his previous game’s total audience.
- Females are distracting. The males will flirt with the females during testing. Solution, have one day to test all female testers and another day to test all male testers.
- Females don’t like competitive shooting games. Wrong, see first bullet point. As of March 2016, female preference for competitive games overlap with male preference 85%.
If your group of testers are all randomly chosen, but are all straight white males, is that a truly random sample? To build a game that is successful, it is important to test with a diverse group of people. Make sure that most if not all groups of your audience is represented in the sample. This will yield more diverse and insightful findings. You may have to change the language of your recruitment email to target different types of users.
For example, another researcher wanted a diverse pool gamers with little experience. His only screener was that they play games on a console for at least 6 hours a week. No genre of games were specified. He got a 60 year old grandma who played Uno over Xbox Live with her grandkids for 6–8 hours Saturday and Sunday. She took hours to get past level one, but because she was so meticulous and wanted to explore every aspect of the demo, she pointed out trouble spots in the game that most testers speeding through would miss!
Recently on our own screeners at The AppsLab, we ask participants what gender they identify with instead of bucketing them in male or female. It’s small, but a big step in the right direction toward equality.
The presence of UX
The presence of UX and user research has grown since last year. Developers and publishers recognize the importance of iteratively testing early and often. In the “Design of Everyday Games” talk with Christina Wodke the other day, she told the packed room that there was just 8 people in the same talk just the year before. From 8 to a packed room of hundred is a huge growth and a win for the user and for the industry!
Epic Games spoke about product misconceptions that makes it difficult to incorporate user experience into the pipeline. UX practitioners are like hedgehogs. We want to help by giving the extra hug it needs, but our quills aren’t perceived as soft enough. Our goal is to deliver the experience intended to the targeted audience, not change the design intent.
- Misconception #1: UX is common sense. Actually, the human brain is filled with perception, cognitive and social biases that affect both the developers and the users.
- Misconception #2: UX is another opinion. UX experts don’t give opinions. We provide an analysis based on our knowledge of the brain, past experience and available test data.
- Misconception #3: There’s not enough resources for UX. We have resources for QA testing to ensure there are no technical bugs. Can we afford not to test for critical UX issues before shipping?
To incorporate UX into the pipeline, address product misconceptions. Don’t be afraid of each other, just talk. Open communication is the key to creativity and collaboration. Start with small wins to show your value by working with those who show some interest in the process. Don’t be a UX police and jump on every UX issue to start a test pipeline. Work together and measure the process.
Overall, I loved the conference. The week flew by quickly and I was able to get great insights from industry thought leaders. The GDC activity feed was bursting with notes from parallel talks. I fell in love with the community and am in awe that a conference of this size grew from a meeting in a basement 30 years go. I sure hope there is a UX track next year! I decided to end my week with a scary VR experience, Paranormal Activity VR. The focused on music and sound to drive the suspenseful narrative. Needless to say, I screamed and fell on my knees. It beats paying to go to a haunted maze every halloween.