At Player Research we’re often asked “how can I get started in games user research?” – so we wrote a blog post to help!
Games user research is a hugely exciting and dynamic domain the the games industry, working to apply our deep understanding of player psychology to the process of video game development.
Games User Researchers almost always have a background in related academic subjects: Bachelors, Masters or PhDs in Psychology, Interaction Design, Neuroscience, Computer Science or related fields. There is huge demand for experienced Games User Researchers, so if you’re already qualified and keen, you can set about gaining experience for yourself in your free time, meeting other researchers, contributing to knowledge in the GamesUR space.
As Games User Research finds its place and voice in game development, different specialisms and nomenclature has arisen to describe our contribution – you might find reference to ‘player insight’ or ‘games user experience’ (UX), and there are many related domains such as data science and game analytics. We all share the same philosophy: that game studios can make better decisions and better games by including playtesting and knowledge of player psychology throughout development.
Playtesting is perhaps the best-known tool of Games User Researchers. There are many types of playtesting that offer different lenses on the player experience. Observing players at play, commissioning carefully-written surveys and conducting interviews with players – many data-gathering techniques can be employed to gain a better understanding of players and inform development choices. It is our responsibility to guide Developers through the research process; understand their questions, design robust research, gather unbiased feedback, and present findings that action change in a positive way.
If you’re interested in the games user research space it also helps to have an understanding of what it doesn’t do. For example, games user researchers aren’t Designers; while there is a voice for UX in the design of games and interfaces, games user researchers’ role is mainly in assessment rather than creation. There are exceptions, such as in suggesting a well-accepted best practice, or perhaps in identifying potential opportunities to solve issues identified, in order to spur conversation or inspire ideas in the development team.
There are many ways to get started in the field if you have these backgrounds (and maybe even if you don’t). Reading about the domain and ensuring you’re familiar with the many foundational academic texts in the domain is a good starting point for the theory. For the practice you can begin writing usability reviews on all types of games, posting blogs, asking questions, helping local developers, and generally gathering a feel for the GamesUR domain.
For more on the topic, here is a talk from Player Research’s Seb Long:
Here are a few more resources you might find useful:
- The Player Research Blog has links to many of our own posts from across the web, including EDGE, GamesIndustry.biz, PocketGamer and so on
- This blogpost from former Sony Researcher Steve Bromley about getting into Games User Research with tips from the experts
- The Games User Research Special Interest Group (GURSIG) have 2 conferences every year
- All the previous years’ videos from GamesUR conferences are on YouTube, for free
- The GURSIG Twitter account shares Games User Research-related articles and blogs; you should be reading and also contributing to these with hashtag #GamesUR
- The GURSIG Mendeley Library has a large number of academic texts related to the field
- Lastly, the GURSIG has a mentoring scheme to link you up with an experienced GamesUR mentor
Lastly, you can find details of open opportunities at Player Research on our hiring page.