Friday, October 16, 2015

Player vs. Designer: Tracking User Experience

In this article, game designer Sande Chen gives advice on how to interpret player feedback and how it impacts user experience.

Have you heard the advice, "Take the note under the note"?  As a young screenwriter, I found this advice baffling, especially when in my first Hollywood meeting, the director said one thing and then the producer completely contradicted the director, asking for a rewrite that I thought was impossible if I followed the director's wishes.  Yet, they were smiling in agreement, seemingly both on the same page.  What the heck was going on?  Life would be much simpler if there were a feedback interpreter at every meeting.      

The problem with feedback is that not everyone can clearly enunciate what is wrong.  Moreover, people may be just bad at giving feedback.  They can only tell you what they felt when they went through the material while you fight back the urge to point out that if only they had read this section, they would understand everything.  The thing is, if they missed that section, that's feedback in itself.  What's important is not the actual words in the feedback, but what you can interpret about the user experience.

Last week at the 2015 New York Comic Con Livestream panel, Writing for Video Games, which was broadcast on Twitch, I eluded to this topic when asked about how to deal with player feedback.  I described a situation whereby designers reacted to player feedback in a MMO and then ended up making the situation worse. 
Matthew Weise, Caitlin Burns, Sande Chen, Steele Filipek at NYCC
In this example, the player response to this MMO world was loud and critical.  The whole thing was too boring.  Too many talk-to quests and not much killing.  I could see that the writer(s) were trying to develop a story, but not many players found the story interesting, especially when they wanted to kill something.  You could blame the players, but the fact is, in a kill-centric MMO, players want to kill.  It's not a MMO about diplomacy.

The designers took that note and in the next release, changed tactics.  Now, there were very few talk-to quests and lots of Kill-10, Kill-Collect, and boss fights.  It was Kill, Kill, Kill.  But the players were more upset than ever because bottlenecks were appearing everywhere.  Players complained that they had to kill hundreds of these mobs and how it was so boring to kill the same thing over and over.  What happened?

Now, you might interpret this feedback as players complaining about everything.  They complained about story quests and then they complained about kill quests.  It might seem that way, but let's examine that first note more closely.  Instead of taking the feedback at face value and replacing all the story quests with kill quests, the designers might have realized that this was an issue of pacing.  Story quests aren't evil.  Neither are kill quests.  They're just part of the user experience.

In this day and age, we're lucky that we can get player feedback so quickly.  This relationship doesn't have to be adversarial.  There's no right or wrong in how somebody feels.  However, we do have to develop a filter to interpret the feedback.  Zeroing in on the user experience is one way of putting player feedback in focus.

Sande Chen is a writer and game designer whose work has spanned 10 years in the industry. Her credits include 1999 IGF winner Terminus, 2007 PC RPG of the Year The Witcher, and Wizard 101. She is one of the founding members of the IGDA Game Design SIG.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Upcoming Events: NY Comic Con and Immersive Edge

I'm finally making some virtual appearances, though you can catch me in person at New York Comic Con tomorrow, October 8! I will be there with colleagues Caitlin Burns, Steele Filipek, and Matthew Weise on a panel about Writing for Video Games.  It'll be broadcast live on NYCC Livestream.  Just go to Twitch and check out NYCC's Live Stage.

New York Comic Con
Writing for Video Games
Thursday, October 8, 2015, 11:30 AM

Secondly, I had a great time at the first installment of Game Writing Portfolio Workout on September 28.  We didn't have time to practice quest writing and interactive dialog, but definitely can during the second class on October 20.

Tickets are available here through PlayCrafting NYC and of course, there's still the early bird price if you sign up early.  The first workshop was sold out, so make plans to come soon!  No virtual appearances for this one because PlayCrafting believes hands-on attention and interaction is what makes its classes so valuable.


Finally, on November 8, I will have the unique pleasure of attending the launch of Immersive Edge, a collaborative Hypergrid story written, built, and produced by 25 persons.  My avatar will be there in the virtual world to do a short presentation about how technology affects storytelling.  Check out the trailer below to learn more about Immersive Edge.