UX Research Case Study: Marketplace for Video Games and Consoles
Recently I’ve been working on a UX research project for designing a C2C videogame and console marketplace platform.
This case study details the research process we went through with my designer partner. After a stakeholder interview and reviewing the feedback and prior research material, we did a competitive analysis, conducted diary studies, and interviewed users from different user roles.
Stakeholder interview, identifying business goals
The desired outcomes of a Stakeholder Interview
At the beginning of a UX research and design project a stakeholder interview should be conducted in order to find out the followings:
- what are the business goals (so later we can see where the user goals and the business goals align)?
- are there any existing research or design material?
- what is already known about the users?
- what is the stakeholder’s background, story?
- who are the known competitors?
- are there any technological limitations?
- additional project-related information (deadlines, team members etc.).
The “starting point” was a Hungarian Facebook Group dedicated to selling and buying used video games and consoles (like Playstation and Xbox) currently with more than 35.000 members. The group also serves as a community for discussing gaming-related topics, asking questions, talking about the new trends.
The Facebook Group has been a success so far, however, to take this platform to the next level, the owner started to think about new channels. A Facebook Group has certain limitations which makes the user experience less smooth and pleasurable (e.g. you can’t do complex search). So the main focus of the research was to find out what the users’ needs, motivations are during the selling and buying activities, in what context and how they use the existing channels.
The current status quo on the game console market makes the situation ideal for opening such a second-hand platform for two reasons:
- Microsoft and Sony (two of the biggest companies on this market) are planning to release new game-console versions more often. However, it needs to be mentioned that these new releases won’t be completely new machines, the older (Xbox One and PlayStation 4) games will be compatible with them. At the same time, many gamers will try to get the newer versions due to the bigger hardware power and the new features (like 4k compatibility, better VR graphics).
- The newest console versions are not easy to get modified or chipped (a game console is chipped in order to by-pass the copyright sensing parts, it is a hardware modification), so the players can’t copy the games, they have to buy the original editions.
Thanks to the big user base (35000+ members), the owner received many messages, comments from the users. Analyzing these messages helped us identify:
- the main issues the users have (the patterns that emerged created a good starting point for forming our initial hypotheses), and
- the language applied by users.
Initial knowledge about the users
Thanks to the more than 8.500 sale posts and the huge number of messages sent to the admin and to the moderators, we could create some hypothetical personas (naturally, those are subject to refinement during the “Define” phase of the UX process), and we could form hypotheses for the research.
We identified that there are at least 3 different user roles: buyer, seller and moderator (and obviously there are overlaps as well), and these 3 roles can be divided further, for example there are parents who are looking for presents for their children, they are not experienced gamers, and know much less about video games compared to the actual players.
Framework for the Competitive Analysis
To conduct a competitive analysis, a good way to start gathering data is to set a framework and identify factors for the analysis.
We used an Excel sheet with the following columns:
- Site Name & URL
- Main functions
- Strengths (solutions we would like to consider or build upon)
- Weaknesses (things we certainly need to avoid)
- Value Proposition (its main statement)
- Business Model
- Key brand differentiators
- Elements of the Main Navigation (it is going to be useful at the stage of creating the information architecture)
- Content types (next to the sale posts)
- Search and Filter functions in more details
- Is the site/app active at the moment? Any data about the number of the active users?
- Username & Password — it is important to create an account, and discover the site’s / app’s main userflows as a registered user)
Next to filling in this table, we also saved screenshots of the main userflows and key screens, and commented them. We used Realtime Board to collect and share our findings.
Defining the assessment criteria is essential, but it is also important to collect as many competitors as possible, you should not do the analysis with only 2 or 3 competitors (obviously there are cases when you have only 1 competitor or no competitor at all). Our advice:
- Define your search keywords, try different permutations,
- Write a long list of competitors, you can choose the most important 8–10 after you conducted the search part,
- Try to have a panoramic view of your competitors: include not only the main players on the market, but the new services as well,
- Zoom out: e.g. in this case, not only the console and console game trade (sell/buy) services are the competitors: we considered all the other online used stuff marketplaces regardless of what kind of items can the users sell or buy,
- Even in the case of building a service which target audience is limited to one country, it is worth checking out the similar services offered in an other country or internationally. Obviously, different markets mean different user behavior, but these services can serve as a starting point, and help broaden our view.
The data collected throughout the competitive analysis served as a great starting point for the best practice research. It is important to highlight that best practice research is not about looking at various ideas, then using someone else’s solutions. Every project is different, our clients, partners have unique goals and context, and so do their users. However, while there are certainly no definitive ways of doing things that will work for every target audience, there are some guidelines, patterns which can be used as a starting point.
Framework for the Diary Studies
Thanks to diary studies, we could gain really valuable insights about the users’ context. Collecting long-term qualitative data allowed us to better understand how the users interact with the Facebook Group during the day (when they check it, in which context, how often etc.).
First we set up a framework for the research by
- defining what factors should be logged by the participants,
- specifying how we are going to keep in touch with the participants, how they should send their logs,
- deciding what the follow-up steps are (e.g. a follow-up interview with each participant).
We asked the participants to log each activity related to selling or buying video games or consoles online for two weeks. We created a table to fill in each day, and asked them to send it to our email address. This allowed us to ask questions about specific points during the process.
If you are not familiar with this method, here is a UX Knowledge Base Sketch I created to summarize it (I do these sketches weekly, here you can subscribe for my newsletter to get these directly to your inbox):
We conducted 11 user interviews so far (and planning to do more in the future during the iterations), each was 60–90 minute long, and most of them was done remotely by using Skype.
We interviewed users from each user roles:
- Sellers: who are mainly using the Facebook Group for selling,
- Buyers: who are there to expand their collection,
- Moderators: who help to maintain a high quality of the selling & buying activity inside the Facebook Group.
The first step was carefully composing the interview scripts, our main advice in connection with constructing questions is:
- never use leading questions (E.g. “Are you disappointed when you really want to buy a game, but don’t get a reply from the seller for a week?”),
- if it is possible, don’t ask about the future (and especially exclude for instance these questions: “Would you pay a monthly fee for our platform?”, “How much would you pay”?),
- use open-ended questions, and ask about past experiences (e.g. “Please tell me about the last time you bought a video game from the Facebook Group!”),
- follow a logical structure (introduction, warming-up questions, buying/selling online, buying/selling inside the Facebook Group etc.)
And one more advice: don’t follow strictly the interview script during the interview. Imagine that you have a map of hiking trails: follow it, but be ready to leave the route if you feel that there might be something really interesting to observe. Later you can get back to the trail. Be open-minded, unexpected insights are great!
The two most interesting insights we can already see are:
- Trust seems to be the main factor in the success of a C2C marketplace,
- Reaction time can be very important, so the users check the Facebook Group many times during the day.
A short note about why we left out creating an online survey (we are planning to do it later): while it seems to be an easy-to-conduct method, the results of it can be really misleading. Without prior knowledge of the users’ behavior, it is easy to construct the questions in a way that ensures validating our assumptions (e.g. provide response options that we think to be appropriate). So it is a better practice to conduct several user interviews (and other observations, like contextual inquiry) first, then based on the patterns that emerged during the “Define” phase of the design process much more effective survey questions can be designed.
I collected some more facts about this “ Empathize” phase of this UX process:
UX Research and Design Methods: Stakeholder Interview, Feedback Review, Competitive Analysis, Best Practice Research, Diary Studies, User Interview
Tools: Google Drive, Trello, Skype, Realtime Board, Pen & Paper, Audio Recorder, MS Excel
Next steps: our next task is to synthesize the research findings, we are planning to utilize different methods, like creating Empathy Maps, User Journey Maps and Storyboarding, and we are going to start refining the Personas.
If you have any comments, please reach out to me here or on Twitter: