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.


Angela Jones-Wright said...

Hello Ms Chen,
As a future Game Designer and gamer, I want to understand how we as Game Designers should balance story game lines with all battle. I play loads of different games. Right now what I found time for are Fallout 3, Skyrim and Destiny. As I was a bit let down by Destiny lack of story consistency was lacking but the killing was massive. I think that the recent content was much better than the beginning content.
So how can we miss these pitfalls of pushing to big of story line and tons of combat? I am looking foward to your opinion and understanding of what the future Game Designers should to to give the best push foward.

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