Reflection on group project
I’ve had a long thought on the project and what topic I wanted to write more on for this assignment. Even though this is game design I’ve decided to compare game design “playtesting” with traditional “usability testing”. My definition of usability testing will be the one from U.S Department of Health & Human Services (n.d.).
“Usability testing refers to evaluating a product or service by testing it with representative users. Typically, during a test, participants will try to complete typical tasks while observers watch, listen and takes notes. The goal is to identify any usability problems, collect qualitative and quantitative data and determine the participant’s satisfaction with the product.” (ibid.)
Further, my definition of “playtesting” will be the one provided by Tracy Fullerton (2014).
“Playtesting is something that the designer performs throughout the entire design process to gain an insight into how players experience the game […] As a designer, your foremost goal while you are developing the game is to make sure it is functioning the way you intended, that it is internally complete, balanced, and fun to play.” (ibid.)
At a first read these two seem rather similar. Both versions of testing put the users in the center and both value their input during the tests. However their goals differ and that’s a topic I’d like to write about further. During this course we’ve conducted a number of playtesting sessions, from lo-fi prototypes to hi-fi prototypes. Pre-testing we had discussions on how to setup and perform a playtesting session, the goal was to examine if objects we planned use in game produced the intended reaction with the players. By crafting a paper prototype or a ravine, several objects we thought of for the game, both neutral, positive and negative and allowing the player to control the hang glider we discovered something interesting. Each player had a predetermined explanation as to why a certain object was either good or bad (or in some rare cases neutral).
We valued their responses greatly as their input showed us that we had an issue with objects and how they had an effect on the player. But that’s also where we might have gone wrong when comparing with usability testing. As with a usability test you often craft a persona, something that in playtesting is referred to as target audience but essentially boils down to the same thing. We had just briefly discussed a target audience for our game and our current test subjects were not really what we had in mind. Essentially we went with what they said but kept in the back of our minds that our target audience maybe thought otherwise. We made some important decisions based on the replies we got. One of them going from a point- or time-based game to an adventurous experience without any real goal other than exploration.
Was it the right way to go?
I’ve decided that it wasn’t even though these ideas came out of our tests. When I look at the sport hang gliding I see competitive and fearless people that want to do something a bit dangerous and wild. When we added calm and relaxing music and removed the competitive parts from the game I think we essentially went from extreme sport to a calming exploration from above. More a bird in the sky than a daring hang glider risking it to take a narrow turn only to get that extra point. What I perhaps think that Fullerton is lacking in her description of playtesting is the essential part of personas. Sure, players might be a narrower group given that it’s a form of entertainment for most than usability tests performed on a device used by individuals driving a car or exploring health options through a website. I would argue that it’s equally important to perform playtesting with a target audience as it is with a focus group for a usability team. However I’m not saying that one shouldn’t consult other types of users or players to widen your player base. Simply suggesting that things could have been different had we sat down and discussed our target audience in detail and perhaps roamed the streets to find them.
Fullerton, T., 2014. Game Design Workshop A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games 3rd ed., Natick; Abingdon: A K Peters, Limited Taylor & Francis Group [distributor]. Available at: http://public.eblib.com/choice/publicfullrecord.aspx?p=1563118.
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, (n.d.). Usability Testing. [online]. Available at: http://www.usability.gov/how-to-and-tools/methods/usability-testing.html [Accessed 15 Mar. 2016]