Video game usability testing uses the same principles as any other form of usability testing. Identifying relevant audience segments and providing a realistic context of use are key considerations.
Defining usability for video game usability testing
In order to design, run and analyse video game usability testing sessions, it is essential that we understand what usability means in the context of a video game. Although video games do represent an interesting challenge for usability practitioners, there’s nothing about video games that changes the fundamental nature of usability.
The generally-accepted definition of usability states that usability can be considered to be the “extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals in a specified context of use with effectiveness, efficiency and satisfaction” (ISO 9241-11).
Video game usability testing sessions are most useful when the factors mentioned in the above definition are carefully considered and applied to the video game context in a meaningful way.
Users – identifying your video game usability testing participants
Video games can be designed for very large and diverse audiences. Running video game usability testing sessions with each segment of the audience is the best way to ensure that the final product delivers the best possible video gaming experience.
Identifying a video game’s different audience segments can, however, be challenging. We have found it very useful to consider peoples’ likely levels of knowledge and experience when identifying audience segments for video game usability testing. Some of the parameters that we have found to be very useful in helping identify audience segments for video game usability testing include:
- Video games (in general)
- Genre(s) of video game
- Past versions of the same game
Video games that are seeking the widest possible audience will probably have audience segments that include novices and experts along each of the above-mentioned parameters. Ideally, you should run video game usability testing sessions with as many of these audience segments as possible. Some segments might, however, need to be prioritized due to certain features of the video game’s design and/or its target audience.
Context of use – running realistic video game usability testing
Video games are played in incredibly diverse contexts, so it is essential that video game usability testing takes account of this. We would recommend that video games are tested using various different set-ups, rather than solely in a usability testing facility.
In past projects, we have made ‘home visits’ to run video game usability testing sessions. We found that this had the benefit of helping the participant to relax during the video game usability testing session, as well as ensuring that the ‘gaming environment’ was true to life.
These home visits have also helped us to appreciate the limitations of video game usability testing that is purely run in a traditional usability testing facility. We would strongly recommend that any video game usability testing facility should be flexible enough to mimic a participant’s own preferred gaming set-up.
Summary – video game usability testing
Video game usability testing is a particular form of usability testing that demands a very tight focus on identifying audience segments and providing a realistic context of use. Carefully considering these issues will increase the benefits delivered by any video game usability testing sessions.