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What Works?

D. Wixon
Published 2006 · Engineering, Computer Science

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on methodology and co-edited Field Methods Casebook for Software Design (John Wiley & Sons). In a previous column, I addressed the question “What is a game?” In that column, I reviewed the essential characteristics of games that differentiate them from productivity applications: 1. Games focus on activity and not results. 2. Games focus on rules and not scenarios. 3. Games are designed with chance elements. 4. Playing a game is its own reward. Given the differences between games and productivity applications, one might ask whether any of the methods and techniques that have been developed for productivity applications apply to games. Fortunately the answer is yes, although there are some differences in how these methods are applied and who composes the audience for research. One of the most interesting aspects of working in games is the people with whom you get to work. In the games world, the most impor tant person is the designer. It’s widely recognized tha t great design is the key to great games. Great game designers like Will Wright (creator of The Sims) and Shigeru Miyamoto (creator of Mario, Zelda, and Donkey Kong) are universally recognized as the source of product success. It follows that the most impor tant person for user researchers to influence is the designer. This means that the primary question behind all user research in games is: How well does the game reflect the designer’s original intent when users play it? The role of the user researcher is to create an empirical way to assess the extent to which the game as played reflects the game as designed. In a sense, user research provides data on how well the designer’s vision is realized in the actual game. The challenge for the user researcher is to find an empirical way of assessing this relationship and uncovering elements of the design that unintentionally block users from playing the game as it was intended. Fortunately, some of the tried-and-true methods of user research are well suited to this problem. One of the best methods for quickly assessing and addressing “mismatches” between design intent and actual behavior is Rapid Iterative Testing and Evaluation, a.k.a. RITE. In addition to being highly effective in improving designs, t he R ITE me thod serves to quickly establish a collaborative relationship between research and design. Many usability methods have overlooked the fact that their overall effectiveness rests on their relationship with decision makers. Because it involves close collaboration between user research and design, RITE is a natural way for user researchers to establish both credibility and effectiveness. Its flexibility and its focus on quick results are well attuned to the needs of the game development teams. Fortunately, many game design teams have powerful development



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