The GUR Book: Topics and Contents

We have structured the GUR book into a couple of sections each focused on a specific theme. Within each theme are several chapters that deal with particular topics, or taking the same topics and treating them from different angles.

In chapter 1, the editors, Anders Drachen, Pejman Mirza-Babaei, and Lennart Nacke introduce the book and the Games User Research field as well as provide the following overview.

SECTION 1: Games user research in production focuses on the practical context of GUR in game development, meaning how we work with our players in practice to test and evaluate games, and with our colleagues to put the knowledge gained into action. It contains the following chapters:

In chapter 2, Veronica Zammitto discusses the implementation of GUR in the production pipeline. It concerns itself with two aspects. First, it discusses the challenges and pitfalls involved in the execution of GUR. Second, it outlines best practices for applying GUR in industry.

David Tisserand outlines the benefits of designing a GUR process adequately in chapter 3. Chief among its contributions is that it addresses the necessary steps of designing, running, and analyzing a testing method. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the proper maintenance of documentation for the optimization of research efficiency.

Chapter 4 presents Ian Livingston’s discussion of the potential benefits of post-launch GUR. Sources of post-launch data such as live data and benchmark studies are considered. The chapter takes an in-depth look at a powerful benchmark study method: RVA, a review analysis method that can be used only after your game has been released.

In chapter 5, Graham McAllister presents the different maturity levels that GUR can take depending on the studio. Given the wide variety of reactions to UX, it is essential to understand where one is on that maturity scale. This understanding has the potential to help developers and user researchers focus on players.

In chapter 6, Sebastian Long contributes processes for setting up functional lab environments. It outlines the process used by play-testing lab Player Research to set up their labs. In so doing it provides a range of elements to consider including testing strategies, materials selection, and floor plans. Critical lessons learned by Player Research along the way are discussed.

SECTION 2: Methods: testing things you play: focuses on the myriad of methods used in GUR. From interviews to analytics, GUR professionals have a big toolbox of methods and techniques that are useful in various situations. Some of these, like think-aloud testing and observation, are time-honoured, flexible methods that can be picked up an used with little training and applied in a variety of scenarios. Others, such as psychophysiological measures, are more specialized and have a narrower focus, but are incredibly powerful for driving particular types of insights. This section contains the following chapters:

Chapter 7 functions as an index of common Games User Research methods. Michael C. Medlock gives small summaries of the methods and then discusses considerations for constructing and combining them. The chapter concludes with an exploration of how to match methods to the questions they can answer.

In chapter 8, Graham McAllister and Sebastian Long give an in-depth description of the eight most used methods in player research. Information is given about time frame, execution, and result delivery. Strengths and weaknesses of each method are discussed.

Chapter 9 presented by Florian Brühlmann and Elisa D. Mekler is about surveys. It describes the qualitative method and presents practice-oriented guidance about when to use it. How to alleviate bias and make good questionnaires is also covered, with an emphasis on maintaining data quality.

Steve Bromley discusses player interviews in chapter 10. Interview tips are provided as well as an exploration of the preparation of an interview as well as methods used in GUR such as interviews during the session and final interviews. The chapter ends with a discussion of data capture analysis and thoughts on the future of interview methods.

In chapter 11, Mirweis Sangin talks about the player experience. It discusses methods applied in observing player behaviour to uncover usability problems. Furthermore, it provides an overview of how to capturing usability events. Guidelines on tools and processes used to document and analyze observations are provided.

Tom Knoll describes the think-aloud protocol and its application to player experience in chapter 12. It covers what the protocol is, when to apply it, how to conduct it, it’s pros and cons, and its variations. The chapter concludes with a discussion about the think-aloud protocol with children and the considerations necessary when using child participants.

Chapter 13 by Michael C. Medlock outlines the Rapid Iterative Test and Evaluation (RITE) method. At the heart of this method is the idea that if an issue is found it should be fixed before the next tester plays the build. The chapter outlines the benefits and practical methodology of running RITE tests. It concludes with a discussion of the original 2002 case study which documented the method; Age of Empires 2.

In chapter 14, Heather Desurvire and Dennis Wixon present PLAY and GAP heuristics for game design. It discusses the history of heuristics in games including the research demonstrating its effectiveness as well as describing the use of these heuristics. The benefits of heuristics, such as revealing problems, fixes, possible enhancements, and practical current aspects are discussed. Overall heuristics have been found to be more effective than informal reviews.

Janne Paavilainen, Hannu Korhonen, Elina Koskinen, and Kati Alha talk about the heuristic evaluation method with updated playability heuristics in chapter 15. It presents example studies identifying playability problems in social network games. Benefits such as its cost-effectiveness and flexibility are also discussed. Finally, new heuristics for evaluating free-to-play games are proposed.

Chapter 16 summarizes a decade of Lennart Nacke’s work on the use of biometrics for GUR, with attention given not only to the physiological justification for the different types of biometric data that are possible to capture, but also some use-cases and caveats to be aware of.

In chapter 17, Pierre Chalfoun and Jonathan Dankoff describe biometric procedures, particularly eye tracking, for GUR in production teams. It is divided into four sections and describes the ongoing efforts to incorporate biometrics into video game production. The challenges and benefits of these procedures are discussed. The chapter aims to make biometric data an accessible option in the toolbox of user researchers.

Pejman Mirza-Babaei talks about GUR reports in chapter 18. It details the requirements of a GUR report such as communicating the results accurately and motivating the team to make changes that increase quality. Its central message is that reporting findings is just as important as the finding themselves, and goes into the pitfalls that arise when the reporting is inadequate.

Chapter 19 discusses game analytics. Anders Drachen and Shawn Connor describe what it is and how it can counteract weaknesses in traditional approaches. Game analytics can be deployed in any study size and is compatible with the various methodologies of GUR, making for a powerful method.

SECTION 3: Case studies and focus topics: This section presents a range of chapters that cover topics which are specific to particular types of games or situations or present case studies of GUR work in specific games, and show well the breadth and depth of GUR work. From how to leverage analytics in indie studios, to dealing with the problem of bias imposed by lab settings, evaluating user experience in Dragon Age™, running user testing on a budget, involving players with special needs, GUR in virtual reality and beyond, these chapters characterize many of the current frontlines of user research. The chapters included are as follows:

Chapter 20 is aimed at small to medium sized studios wanting to introduce analytics into their development process. Lysiane Charest focuses on concepts and techniques that are most useful for smaller studios, and that require minimal skills. While money is always an issue, plenty of free analytics tools exist whether they’re third-party tools or simple in-house solutions. The chapter details how the most critical factor is the availability of human resources.

In chapter 21, Pejman Mirza-Babaei and Thomas Galati focus on user testing for indie studios. It describes how user testing often requires significant resources and expertise but can be conducted affordably. The chapter explores the contributions of analytic techniques to existing GUR methods.

Guillaume Louvel talks about ecological validity in chapter 22. It recognizes the biases inherent in user-testing in lab conditions and prescribes remedies to increase validity. The duality between experimental conditions and ecological validity is discussed. Validity being most useful as it makes results meaningful.

Chapter 23 is a case study. James Berg describes the use of GUR in the development of Dragon Age: Inquisition. Challenges arising from the size of the game world, combat mechanics, and player classes and playstyles are discussed. The chapter analyzes the contributions of GUR to the game design.

In chapter 24, Julien Huguenin discusses GUR on a budget. It provides a road map from testing your game on the side with almost no resources to creating a dedicated lab space. Lessons are discussed.

Johan Dorell and Björn Berg Marklund continue the discussion about GUR on a budget in chapter 25. Even when resources and prior GUR experience is low, small starts can be expanded to impact significantly the developer’s working processes. Guidelines are provided for beginning to use GUR processes, including a step-by-step guide.

In chapter 26, Steven Schirra and Brooke White present GUR for mobile games. It considers the context of gameplay for these types of games and prescribes methods which fit its mobile and touch-screen nature accordingly. This chapter discusses the constraints of lab-based research in this context and explores field study methods such as diary studies.

In chapter 27, Kathrin Gerling, Conor Linehan, and Regan Mandryk deal with the challenges involved in testing with special needs audiences. It describes three cases, focusing on young children, people with disabilities, and older adults. For each, playtesting challenges and user involvement in early design stages is discussed. Strategies to establish respectful and empowering methodologies with diverse audiences are explored.

Nick Yee and Nicolas Ducheneaut talk about the differences among gamers in chapter 28. The model of gaming motivations is an empirically validated and accepted bridge between player preferences and in-game behaviours. Most importantly, engagement and retention outcomes can be calculated with the model.

In chapter 29, Johanna Pirker discusses social network analysis. In the context of player and in-game data, network analysis can help researchers understand player behaviour in a social context. Key elements of network analysis and their benefits to user research are discussed.

Ben Lewis-Evans outlines GUR for virtual reality in chapter 30. Recent interest in VR has led to studies and development around the game design issues unique to VR. Simulation sickness, for example, is a significant issue to be addressed. This chapter discusses the challenges for GUR posed by VR and makes practical considerations to minimize risks.

Finally, in chapter 31, the editors Anders Drachen, Pejman Mirza-Babaei, and Lennart Nacke discuss the rapid changes GUR has gone through as a domain of inquiry and as a community. Here, key areas of current work are identified and their potential and future are discussed. Some areas of discussion include behavioural and physiological tracking, virtual reality, efforts to broaden target audiences and so on. Challenges and opportunities for industry and academia are discussed.

The book would not have happened without our advisory board, a band of luminaries who have championed GUR forward for over a decade, some of them long-time friends, advisors and mentors of the editors. We would like to thank, for their incredible support to helping us write a book with a strong focus on games user research: Michael Medlock, David Tisserand, Ben Medler, Graham McAllister, Gareth R. White, Ian Livingston, Regan Mandryk, Dennis Wixon, Mirweis Sangin, Randy Pagulayan, Regina Bernhaupt, Christian Bauckhage, Veronica Zammitto. Without this incredible team, this book would not have been possible. Thank you.

The book has also been helped immensely by a fantastic group of GUR students from the Saskatchewan-Waterloo Games User Research (SWaGUR) Network, the HCI Games Group, and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology’s UXR Lab, who supported the editors with the myriad practical details that goes into collecting and editing material from dozens of people working across different fields, production sizes and contexts: Colin Whaley, Giovanni Ribeiro, Karina Arrambide, Samantha Stahlke, Brianne Stephenson, Marim Ganaba, Melissa Stocco, Rylan Koroluk, Nelly Hamid, Alberto Mora, Gustavo Tondello, and Katja Rogers. Thank you.

Finally, we would like to acknowledge and thank the wider GUR community as represented by the International Game Developers Association Special Interest Group on Games User Research. This great community of over 1000 people across industry and academia forms a network for anyone interested in GUR and has developed several initiatives towards supporting the field, including the yearly Games User Research Summits, online knowledge repositories and a highly active online form.