Player Research Blog

25
Dec

Player Research Games of the Year 2016

2016baubles

2016 has been a big year for Player Research. This is a run down of the games we’ve enjoyed playing most during the year.

As before, we’re not going to name an overall Game of the Year because of the tiny sample size and huge range of games. That said, it’s clear that Inside and Uncharted 4 have been particularly appreciated ;)

There really was only one rule – that the games you nominated were from 2016. Our staff – innovators and risk takers as they are – showed a cavalier disregard for this rule, naming a bunch of games from 2015. So, here’s the thing. We get super busy in the last few months of the year, and it’s a struggle to get around to playing the deluge of games that arrive in that period. In light of this, I’m going to count as fair games that came out in the final quarter of the preceding year.

Enough jabber. ON WITH THE LIST.

UGO

Game of the Year:
Clash Royale (Supercell, iOS)

Oh boy little did I know when I first downloaded Clash Royale that I would sink so much time playing it, on a windy (but sunny) Brightonian end-of-work day. ”I just want to give it a try”. “It’s not for me anyway, I’m not really into card games”. “Not really into tower defence either”. Oh. Boy. First put off by the uncommon restrictions keeping you from playing “too much” at once, I was very impressed by the carefully crafted UX of every little aspect, and quickly learned to play the game as intended and made those restrictions my routine. The gameplay is great, always feels fair (even for non-spenders), and caused too many “one last game”, far too late at night. I’m still playing the Hog Rider + Freeze deck, please don’t judge me.

2nd Place:
Steep (Ubisoft Annecy, PS4)

I’ve only played the closed Alpha and Beta so far, but I’m already in love with Steep. Screw anyone still asking if it’s “as good as SSX”. This is not for you. Please, please, go away. This is a game designed by riders, for riders. There’s not much to do, the various challenges have been seen and played in a billion other games already, you won’t unlock more powerful gear making you jump higher or spin faster, and you can’t even create your own character. But that’s not what Steep is about. Steep is about gently shredding virgin powder snow off-piste, slaloming between pines, lulled only by the sound of your board against the snow, clashing against the silence of nature, and reflecting on your own loneliness and insignificance in this majestic world. Steep will help you go through all that, and will make you be reborn as your inner spirit animal (in my case, a chamois mixed with a flying-squirrel).

3rd Place:
Firewatch (Campo Santo, PS4)
Great, heartbreaking story. Great visuals. Great voice acting (I’m this close to re-watching all Mad Men). One of the most “human” games I’ve ever played. Only one question: what the hell happened to Turt Reynolds?

Honourable Mentions:
Pokemon Go (Niantic, iOS) I FINALLY found a Pikachu literally two days ago. Why am I still playing this game again?

SEB

Game of the Year:
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, PS4)

It was A Thief’s End, and what an ending it turned out to be. Uncharted 4 was everything I wanted to bring the series to a close. The gameplay and storyline found the perfect balance between the fresh and familiar; the sappy retrospectives and fast-paced narrative. Adding in the incredible attention to detail, the stunning vistas, the music… Naughty Dog are truly masters of their art. The Last of Us Part II can’t come quickly enough.

2nd Place:
Overcooked (Ghost Town Games, PS4/PC) Who knew that making mushroom soup could be so much fun?! Overcooked’s recipe is simple, stuffed with whimsey and seasoned with a heaped-teaspoon of chaos. It is just about accessible enough for non-gamer family and friends, and with a fairly generous serving of content on-disk (with third-helpings coming before Christmas) it is already a firm family favourite. Yum!

3rd Place:
Oculus Touch (PC)

Can a hardware peripheral be game of the year? Probably not, but rules be damned. The Oculus Touch controllers are an ergonomic and technical masterpiece. They’re unquestionably the most exciting innovation in the consumer VR space (after VR itself I guess). Oculus’ demo app ‘First Contact’ is an absolute joy, and I couldn’t be more excited about a future of interaction design in games which takes full advantage of tracked fingers. I cannot wait to see what Valve have up their sleeve as a competitor controller.

Editor: Seriously? Oculus Touch? That’s not a game! You’re lucky I didn’t substitute it for one of your honourable mentions.

Honourable Mentions:
Star Wars Battlefront (EA DICE, PS4) Combining Frostbite’s stunning visuals and the Star Wars franchise meant Battlefront was always going to be visually awesome, but the DICE team surpassed all my expectations with Battlefront. Not only visually stunning, the audio design is simply superb; the scream of the Tie Fighter and shock of blaster fire are so immersive. It suffered from many of the same frustrations I’ve had with Battlefield since 3, not least the over-reliance on the indistinguishable weapon silhouettes and model numbers in the loadouts, but so much can be forgiven when you’re swinging a lightsaber through the Forests of Endor…

Broforce (Free Lives, PS4) Rip-roaring over the top action for Bros (and she-Bros). Despite being far from perfect, Broforce was a huge hit for office lunchtime play, and a great little title to pick-up-and-Bro.

Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture (The Chinese Room, PS4) Ignoring that the game was technically released last year, Rapture is a triumph for narrative, visual and audio design. An absolutely spectacular achievement fully deserving of the critical praise.

SARA

Game of the Year:
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, PS4)

Love love love the glamorous destinations, pirate-y puzzles, and Nathan Drake. Swoon. Nice touch how the game stopped you at certain points to admire the view of a sunset or awesome ruin.

2nd Place:
Skyrim: Special Edition (Bethesda Game Studios, PS4)

The gift that keeps on giving. I once cast a Daedra on a flying dragon. I want everyone to know that.

3rd Place:
Inside (Playdead, PC)

Albeit loudly whinging to my colleagues (who had completed the game) every time I got stuck, I managed to complete Inside without cheating. The ending still hurts my brain.

Honourable Mentions:

Firewatch (Campo Santo, PS4) Firewatch made me feel pretty spooked at certain parts, I didn’t know where it was going. Much immersed.

Overcooked (Ghost Town Games, PS4) Overcooked brings out a usually unseen competitive side in me, I obviously play the correct way and the people I play with are in the wrong. I’m a ‘three stars or get out my house’ kinda gal.

HARVEY

Game of the Year:
Skyrim: Special Edition (Bethesda Game Studios, PC)

There really was no other option for my top game of 2016. The special edition lived up to my rose-tinted memories of the original version, and it looked better than ever. Plus, mods! I played the first on PS3, so playing this on PC was a completely different experience.

2nd Place:
Inside (Playdead, PC)

A game that I had been looking forward to playing for a while after shining recommendations from others in the office. It was an incredibly atmospheric experience, with so much story conveyed through its world building.

3rd Place:
Reigns (Nerial, iOS)

A slightly left-field choice, but I felt I should include it because of how consistently I played it, even if I’ve not put dozens of hours in. It’s a fantastic game with a great core mechanics that leads to some great moments. Like the time the third heir of my kingdom made the mistake of trusting a witch doctor and ended up getting fed to the pigs.

Honourable Mentions:
Firewatch, Destiny: Rise of Iron, Jotun (even though it was a 2015 game, I played it a lot this year).

GRAHAM

Game of the Year:
Inside (Playdead, Xbox One)

Above any other this year, this game made me feel. It wasn’t only that it did so that was unusual, it’s that it continually did so throughout the entire journey. Beautiful, intriguing, and affecting, it’s been crafted with the utmost of precision. Don’t read reviews, just play it.

2nd Place:
Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End (Naughty Dog, PS4)

The best in the series. I approve of the decision to have smaller, but more frequent, set pieces, this brings better pacing to the game. And it’s so pretty, I would regularly stop just to take a photo, any excuse really just to spend time looking around this incredible world.

3rd place:
Shenzhen IO (Zachtronics, PC)

Following on from last year’s assembly language programming game TIS-100, Zach Barth increases the difficulty even further in Shenzhen IO. Your role is that of an embedded software engineer in China, so now you have hardware to control with your assembly code. Just as before, you need to study the accompanying hardware manual to understand the specs of each component. A brutally tough challenge in precise thinking. Perfect.

Honourable Mentions:
BoxBoxBoy! (HAL Laboratory, 3DS) A great platform puzzler.
Firewatch (Campo Santo, PS4) The first ‘walking sim’ I truly enjoyed.

DEB

Game of the Year:
Kingdom Hearts Unchained X (Square Enix, iOS)

One of my favourite series finally came onto mobile and I wasn’t disappointed! Finally a good JRPG on mobile with countless levels and customisation options. And they did such a good job at keeping the Kingdom Hearts spirit alive! My supposed to be 5 minutes sessions often turned up to be 2 hours sessions, and honestly it was worth it! I am so ready to play the next Kingdom Hearts on PS4 in 2017!

2nd Place:
Firewatch (Campo Santo, PS4)

I enjoyed everything about Firewatch, from the slow pace to the complete sense of immersion if you choose to play with no map indicator. I liked the unresolved ending, the depth of the characters, the suspense, the feeling of sometimes watching a movie and having no control over what was going to happen next, the beautiful environments, everything was so lovely!

3rd Place:
Pokémon Go (Niantic, iOS)

Despite all the little frustrations I had because of this game, I couldn’t not put it on my list! It was so much fun being able to catch Pokémons “for real” after so many years and I was so happy when I finally got my first Psyduck (or Psykokwak as we call it in French – yes, it’s a much better name :p). I did some crazy things because of this game, including going in some random places in the hope to catch a Pikachu that I never caught, and I have no regrets!

Honourable Mentions:
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games, PC/VR): We had so much fun playing this game at the office! Good heart/pressure training! Even better with VR!

ALISTAIR

Game of the Year:
Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes (Steel Crate Games, PC/VR)

Such a great asymmetric party game, everyone can play, everyone can enjoy. The perfect cross between board and video game, with a real sense of humour, what more could I want?

2nd Place:
Able Black (Scott Leach, iOS)

Great little sci-fi game with a fascinating story, gripping start, lovely events, interesting end. Curious to see what Scott Leach does next (FYI Scott, your game could have done with a UX polish, you know who to contact for that ;) )

3rd Place:
Lovers in a Dangerous Space Time (Asteroid Base, PC/PS4)

Again a great co-op party game, generating lots of (friendly) shouting, lots of laughter, and much enjoyment. Permeated with a sickly sweet sugary shell. But why not let us skip the cut scenes??? WHY?

Honourable Mentions:

Broforce (Free Lives, PS4) Only not in the top 3 as made my list last year. Multiplayer co-op crazyness as before, but more so.

Child (Alistair and Clara, Real Life) Not in my top 3 due to slow delivery times and often awkward interface. Great fun, fascinating and a generally moving experience. Bit dominating though, so I’d only recommend for those looking to focus on a single thing for a while.

BOB

Game of the Year:
Total War: Warhammer (Creative Assembly, PC)
Everybody had been clamouring for it, and Creative Assembly delivered hard. Both turn based and real time sections benefitted greatly from moving to the high fantasy, Warhammer setting, freeing the gameplay from the shackles of historic realism. Every campaign feels like an epic, emergent story about politics and – obviously – war. I’ve played 3 campaigns to the end, and plan to get all the DLC at some point.

2nd Place:
Inside (Playdead, PC)
I am enthusiastic about every aspect of this game. The stark, beautiful visual design and colour palette, the feeling of vulnerability and tension, the crazy good sound design (apparently recorded through a human skull, wtf?), the simple, weighty controls and sense of movement. At the end I sat there just staring at the screen, wide-eyed, for like, 10 whole minutes, not sure what to do with my life.

3rd Place:
The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine (CD Projekt Red, PC)
This might be the best piece of DLC I’ve ever played, and some of the best fantasy RPG gaming I’ve ever experienced. Incredible setting, filled with colourful vistas and characters, and truly great storyline succeed in making it feel both part of, and distinct from, the base game.

Honourable Mentions:
If it was a game, I’d put Google Earth VR as my GOTY because it just blows my mind every time. Other games I was amazed by this year are Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End, Superhot, and Skyrim: Special Edition

 

Another year over! Enjoy the holidays, from everyone at Player Research!

26
Oct

Keywords Studios acquires Player Research

A note from Graham McAllister, Player Research Founder.

“I’m proud to announce that Player Research has joined the Keywords Studios Group, global leaders in video games services.

Founded in January 2012, Player Research has provided User Experience Research and Playtesting Services to hundreds of leading games and many wonderful clients, assisting them in optimising their games during the development phases and in live operation. We’ve been thrilled to receive numerous awards and recognition for our work.

Ever since I started the company, I’ve had very ambitious plans for Player Research. This included expanding into different regions throughout the world and growing our ability to offer services to more and more clients and games. Keywords are the perfect partner to help accelerate that ambition, the expertise, global locations and know-how allows us to not only meet our original goals for the company, but to go well beyond.

For our clients, nothing is changing. We’ll simply be enhancing our understanding of players to a worldwide scale adding cultural specificities to our proven methodologies. We’ll still be working with the same breadth of developers across all genres, platforms, and business models as before. Myself and the Player Research team are very much looking forward to helping make your game become globally successful.

If you have any questions, feel free to contact me directly.”

Graham McAllister
Founder and Director, Player Research

14
Sep

How Pokémon Go Fails to Capture Learnability

The gaming press is unsurprisingly alight with comment on Pokémon Go, but interestingly also with huge numbers of guides and articles on how to actually play the game. Why does this big-budget mobile game need propping-up from how-to guides by the BBCWIREDTrustedReviewsThe GuardianVOXPolygon,RedditorsYoutubers, and many more? This article highlights a number of points where Niantic have broken or ignored many UX design principles for designing a game that is easy to learn and understand, that ultimately could be affecting Pokémon Go’s player experience.

Continue Reading..

14
Sep

Spoiled for choice: The psychology of choice overload in games, and how to avoid it

TL;DR version:

  • Too much choice can lead to dissatisfaction with or avoidance of choices
  • Excessive choice should be particularly avoided with game and genre newcomers
  • Choice overload seems to start kicking in when there are more than 7 options to pick from
  • Experienced players may not suffer from choice overload, and having more choice could even be beneficial for them
  • Avoid choice overload by reducing the options available, or by otherwise easing the decision making process for newcomers
  • Dividing options into categories can also help improve choice satisfaction among players unfamiliar with the choice domain

Continue Reading..

19
Apr

Perceiving without looking: Designing HUDs for peripheral vision

TL;DR version:

  • Fast paced games are often best played by keeping your eyes on the action
  • HUD information might sometimes be perceivable without placing it in central vision
  • To do this, use big, stark HUD elements, with variations in brightness
  • Avoid clutter, and make HUD elements look visually distinct from one another
  • Draw attention through careful use of flashes and motion

Continue Reading..

04
Apr

Better Games from Diaries and Data

Diary studies are a research methodology that provides rich, meaningful data about how players interact with a game over a long period. Diary studies give players an opportunity to record their thoughts and feelings about an unfinished game in the moment. This diary tool gives the developers a truly nuanced and deep understanding of players’ motivations over time, their moment-to-moment reactions over weeks and even months, and unrivalled feedback on how best to improve the game from a player experience perspective. Despite these opportunities for insights that are far greater and more actionable than analytics or early access feedback alone, studios are rarely aware of diary studies, relying all too often on cold, impersonal metrics as the sole method of ‘understanding’ their players. Without the addition of qualitative data about how players feel to supplement analytics data about what they did, any ‘insight’ into players’ engagement, monetisation and retention risks being shallow, unfounded and potentially outright false.Continue Reading..

13
Dec

Player Research Games of the Year 2015

It is games of the year time again, and once again the Player Research staff is sharing the games that they have enjoyed playing the most this year. There are more of us this year, but still not enough to be statistically meaningful. So we are not tallying up votes, but as with last year simply presenting each Player Research staff members personal and subjective picks in their own words [Editor: And my commentary]. Continue Reading..

21
May

Player Research at Unite 2015 Europe

Unite Europe is coming! The event, hosted at Westergasfabriek June 24-25, boasts an impressive line up of industry expertise and offers attendees the opportunity to learn of upcoming features and improvements in Unity.

Player Research Director Graham McAllister will be in attendance and delivering a talk on Friday 25 June from 17:30 – 18:30 entitled Assessing The Gameplay Experience: A Player Perspective. A brief description of what Graham will be discussing can be found below. Head over to the Unite 2015 Europe website for full details and running order.

Continue Reading..

18
May

The Usability of Bloodborne

[This blog post by Player Researcher Ben Lewis-Evans was featured on Gamasutra]

I work in the area of Games User Research. That is to say I work with game developers to help them achieve the game experience they are after. To do so I use my background in human factors psychology to run playtests, to carry out heuristic analyses based on usability and player experience principles, and to generally just try to help out as much as my expertise allows.

One thing that I often hear, am told, and/or read online is that the existence and popularity of “hard” games like the Souls games, and more recently Bloodborne, means my job isn’t needed. Or as it is sometimes more strongly put, that my job leads to what is “wrong” with games that aren’t like Bloodborne.

This is an understandable misunderstanding. But it is a misunderstanding. And I want to tell you why by using the example of Bloodborne (which, yes, I completed without guides, but no I didn’t get the “true” ending  - just in case you want to stamp my gamer cred card or something).

There are two major misunderstandings here. The first is that usability is about making games easy. The second is that games like Bloodborne don’t have core elements of good usability in them.Continue Reading..

11
May

One to Watch?

[This article by Player Research Director Graham McAllister was featured on GamesIndustry.biz]

Graham McAllister explores the potential gaming applications of Apple’s latest device

It’s not often a new gaming platform comes along. I don’t mean an iteration of an existing one, like a next-generation console update, but rather, a completely new way of experiencing games. The Apple Watch has been with us for just over two weeks, and although smartwatches from other manufacturers have been available for a while, none have made any real impact. But this is Apple, and they’ve been clever to position their offering differently, this is not just a functional device which makes accessing information easier, it’s also presented as a desirable fashion accessory. Such an approach will help address the perception that smartwatches are only for tech-savvy early adopters, Apple is clearly saying that’s not the case at all, they’re for everyone. But is it for gamers? Well, it depends on what you mean by gaming. Is it a device to play games on in the traditional sense? Most likely not. Could it be a way to create deeper engagement with games that users are already playing on their other devices? Almost certainly. But to understand how the Apple Watch can increase a player’s engagement with a game, we first need to explore the watch from an interaction design perspective.

Continue Reading..