More funology: games

XI.5 September + October 2004
Page: 70
Digital Citation

Beyond usability in games


Authors:
Randy Pagulayan, Keith Steury

Video games are an art form that combines traditional artistic endeavors such as the visual arts, story-telling, and music, with more modern technical and engineering achievements. At the center of this effort is the game designer who drives the creative vision and who decides what needs to be accomplished in the design and creation of the video game. At some level, we, as user researchers, can provide input at nearly every stage of the development process that is useful for design, but in the end, it is not up to us to design a game. Our role is to assist the designer in the facilitation of their game vision, then provide feedback to help shape that vision into something that users enjoy.

Beyond previous statements made in the literature regarding the limitations of the traditional concept of usability for enjoyment or pleasure, there are certain concepts that we believe are important to address in the design of video games. These include, but are not limited to, fun, challenge, pace, learning curve, engagement, and so on [2, 3]. One of the biggest challenges for video games is taking these global concepts and deconstructing them into a real gameplay experience. However, this is where we make a clear delineation between the creation of the experience and the facilitation of the experience, by endorsing the view of Overbeek et al. that design should be left to designers, "For too long psychologists have led designers to make overly cognitive designs. We repeat: Design should be left to designers!" [1].

To further clarify, let’s take an example of one of the concepts listed above—pace. We’ve defined pace in the past as "the rate at which players experience new challenges and novel game details."[2]. This is a very high-level definition, but spans across most, if not all, game genres. The way that a game designer will address pace is going to vary widely depending on the genre, their vision, and the experience they want to create. Let’s look at two examples.

 

1. A tennis game. Pace can manifest itself in a number of ways, including the length and number of the cut scenes (or short movie clips or replays) that occur between points and between games. Pace can also manifest itself with ball and player movement speed or the mechanics for hitting the ball. Commercially successful tennis games have varied the pace on both of these dimensions. Therefore, before we know which aspect of pace to focus on, we need to understand the vision of the game designer. If the vision is a frenetic, high-action packed game (as opposed to a simulation), then we may focus on usability and gameplay issues that help speed up the action. Can users get right in and start playing? Do users really want to see a replay after every point? Do users want to see animations of their players walking back and forth between the sides of the court (as in real tennis)?

 

2. A First-Person-Shooter game (FPS). Pace can be affected in several ways in an FPS, such as the amount of chaotic action in the game or amount of tension that may be experienced. If the designer wants to create a gameplay experience that is pure adrenaline-driving action, pace will be affected if the intended chaotic action was actually perceived as being chaotic, or if the behavior that triggers the chaos is not achievable because the game objectives were not clear. Alternatively, if the design intention was more about stealth and tension, then pace will be affected very differently.

So what methods do we use to begin to address these kinds of issues? It depends on what exactly we are trying to achieve. A think-out-loud usability technique will be very useful to determine whether or not users are able to figure out how to skip scenes in the tennis game. Large sample surveys would be good for measuring the perceived "chaos" in a shooter game. The point is, we must define the problem before we can discuss the appropriate methodologies, and that starting point, the identification of objectives, most often comes from the vision of the game designer.

References

1. Overbeeke, K., Djajadiningrat, T., Hummels, C., Wensveen, S., and Frens, J. (2003). Let’s make things Engaging. In M. Blythe, A. Monk, K. Overbeeke, and P. Wright (eds.), Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment (pp. 7-17). Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

2. Pagulayan, R. J., Keeker, K., Wixon, D., Romero, R. L., & Fuller, T. (2003). User-centered design in games. In J. A. Jacko & A. Sears (Eds.), The Human-Computer Interaction Handbook: Fundamentals, Evolving Technologies and Emerging Applications (pp. 883-906). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

3. Pagulayan, R., Steury, K., Fulton, B., and Romero, R. (2003). Designing for Fun: User-Testing Case Studies. In M. Blythe, A. Monk, K. Overbeeke, and P. Wright (eds.), Funology: From Usability to Enjoyment (pp. 137-150). Netherlands, Kluwer Academic Publishers.

Authors

Randy Pagulayan
randypag@microsoft.com

Keith Steury
keithste@microsoft.com

©2004 ACM  1072-5220/04/0900  $5.00

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