The usability testing on Halo 3

It’s time to close some tabs. This Wired article is about the usability testing that Microsoft and Bungie did on Halo 3.

People who know me know I am a big fan of quantified and/or empirical approaches to game design. I really truly think that if you’re not using these kind of methods, over time you will go out of business, as more and more of your competitors start using it (and publishers start demanding it), and the advantage they have starts canceling out any spark of genius you may have. It’s a statistical fact! :)

Comments 4

  1. Darius K. wrote:

    I couldn’t agree more. Then again, I suppose I’m a little biased :)

    Posted 27 Jan 2008 at 9:22
  2. Jurie wrote:

    In your case I wouldn’t call it bias :)

    Posted 27 Jan 2008 at 14:46
  3. Gareth R White wrote:

    Hey Jurie!
    I’m doing a PhD on video game usability these days.

    I started a blog for it though it’ll remain dormant for another month or so while I finish off some other commitments.

    This is part of my ongoing investigation into what academia can do to help industry and vice-versa, which began with discussions we had back at R*V, and which I hope will challenge a couple of your comments that

    “It sometimes seems to me like all academic output on video games is either incomprehensible, or concerns topics which are already being broadly discussed inside the industry, e.g. violence.”

    As I -unsuccessfully- argued back in Vienna, ‘foreign’ language (i.e. academic language seen from industry perspective, or indeed industry language seem from a non-gamer’s perspective) is always going to be a challenge, but something that initially seems incomprehensible can turn out to be entirely comprehensible and worthwhile if you learn how to understand it.

    And another of your main points that:

    “the majority of video game academic output that I’ve seen is just not about making better games, and therefore I find it completely useless, if not worse.”

    Give me a few more years and I’ll try to come up with something practical for the industry. If it turns out to be a load of self-indulgent, ivory tower naval-gazing rather than down-to-earth, quantifiable, empirical techniques then I promise I’ll pack in my crusade and concede that it’s all a load of old tosh.

    Still, Pagulayan’s work seems promising, hey!

    I actually think one of the problems is visibility – I’m guessing you and most industry people only heard about this academic work on games through that Wired article. There’s a lot of interesting material (including papers written by Pagulayan and colleagues) that is unfortunately only available in academic journals. While universities have access to them, most development studios don’t and even if they were aware of the possibility I’m sure they wouldn’t be able to justify paying the cost.

    So we have great academic output on games that I would argue is comprehensible, empirical, and useful for the industry, but which is largely unknown to developers.

    This is where I come in by trying to raise awareness not least in spaces like your blog. Being one of the tiny minority of people who are both developer and academic I can help by speaking in a common language and pointing out where the communication breakdowns are occurring.

    Alternatively, as mainstream developers start to realise that some of the most successful games are those that have been using these academic techniques they’ll naturally begin to exploit whatever they can in the highly pragmatic manner that is one of the great strengths of the industry.

    At the end of the day I just want some better games to play! And for me that means improving the industrial process and our aesthetic appreciation of the medium.


    Posted 28 Jan 2008 at 16:31
  4. Jurie wrote:

    Hi Gareth :)

    Wow, I don’t think anyone has ever expended so much effort trying to prove me wrong ;) But usability research is part of psychology, no? (At least it is at Microsoft.) That’s like computer graphics, those people are OK in my book :D

    Seriously, to each his own, I just wish there were more research on, say, learning curves (which one should be able to combine with pedagogical theory and again psychology) than on the ludological reification of the Marxist-feminist dialectic.

    At the end of the day, I also want better games to play, I just don’t see as much direct help from academia as I think there could be. But I am grateful for any opportunity to be proven wrong!

    Posted 29 Jan 2008 at 1:05