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  • 08/12/13 05:44 AM
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    Five Common Mistakes in Game Usability Testing And How To Avoid Them

    Game Design and Theory

    Marko Nemberg
    A couple of weeks ago we held a massive game usability testing session at the Gamefounders game accelerator, the first of its kind in Europe. In this article I will share with you our experience from the testing sessions. We didn?t expect to have so many test subjects and moderating the tests was a real challenge as you can see in the picture below.
    The testing day consisted of two groups of twenty-five youngsters, average age about fifteen. What surprised us the most was their good verbal command of the English language (because they were Estonian and the tests were carried out in Estonia) and also their eagerness to let loose and just wreck the games completely. What we did notice however was a general lack of knowledge in how to moderate the testing sessions. One may think it doesn?t matter how you ask the questions, but it does matter a great deal. Even the same question will bring you different answers, depending on how and when you presented them.

    Without stalling too much, here are the most frequent testing errors and how to avoid them

    Too much guidance

    When you are moderating a testing session, try to talk about the game or app as little as possible. It is perfectly fine to be mute and not give the player any background information about the game at all.
    Let them figure it out by themselves. Players need to understand the mechanics of the game from the moment of installation to the very first moment of playing it. If they don?t, then you have some work to do.

    Assuming too much

    Don?t assume the player always understands your in-game menu. Before testing the game itself, try to get the test subjects to speak about the menus and items in the game. Do the players understand what each setting and button does? How do they think they can interact with the items in the game or even options in the menu? During the sessions I witnessed teams skipping past the start screen, which is a bad move. You might have usability errors in the system and not even know it. Do check if the options also include easy mode and differed handicapped modes for players with disabilities. The options might change the colour scheme for players with colour blindness, enable closed captions for players who can`t hear and change the game pace for players with cognitive or mobility problems.

    Testing with just one demographic

    If you are making casual games which should appeal to several different age and gender groups then you should test the games with all of them. With learning games aimed at small children you might want to test the game with their parents who actually buy the games. If they can?t understand the concept then chances are they won?t buy the game.

    Talking too much

    Don?t distract the players with too many questions and take them away from the game world. Instead, ask them to play the game and verbalise their experience. Ask them what they are feeling at the moment and try to make the questions as open-ended as possible. Is something frustrating them? Is something triggering a strong emotional response? The less you interrupt the player, the better. Try to limit the number of moderators to one per player. The player tends to get confused if suddenly somebody else starts asking the questions.
    Try to observe the body language - are they relaxed or tense, does their body react to certain actions in the game. When do they have that special glare in their eyes etc.

    Not recording the sessions

    Taking notes during the test sessions is a good thing, but do also record the actual tests. For games I suggest using a combination of a screen recorder (there`s a nifty app for iOS apps out which also records the face of the player with the inside camera) and a video camera aimed at the face of the test subject. Couple this setup with a skin response sensor and you will have a great way of validating your test results.

    Extra tip

    Use skin response sensors and eye tracking tools if possible. The sensor, which works like a lie detector, will show you what the player is feeling by measuring strong emotional responses. If you are testing video games for Xbox or PS then there is also a sensor available, which is built into the game controller itself, giving you a nice non-intrusive way to test your game. Should you need the maximum results then you can also use an eye tracking device for in-depth data.


    That`s it for now. I hope you got some good input on how to organize your own testing sessions and remember to always test your game even while you?re still in development mode. The sooner you get the real customer input, the higher the overall success rate will be!

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    User Feedback

    Very interesting article, this is a part of the development process that I have never really put much thought into.

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    It can't be stressed enough:


    Having feedback from people who didn't know your app/game previously is incredibly precious. You will be surprised how other people attempt to do things differently than you expected them to.

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