73: The Perception Engineers

"'Eight years ago, when the group was first forming, many development teams questioned the benefit of having psychologists conducting user research on their titles,' Dan remembers, 'but our group has grown substantially over the past few years, which speaks to the importance Microsoft places on the work we do.'"

Spanner speaks with the psychologists at Microsoft whose serious business is making gaming fun.

The Perception Engineers

I don't really understand the need for jobs like this to exist. Everything they "discovered" that was wrong with the game are just common elements of game design, and should be handled by the development team. But my definition of a game designer includes paying careful attention to focus groups and random testers, and having an innate or learned ability to judge when something is or is not "fun".

I guess there still aren't any trained game designers out there. Everything is still done based on intuition and experience and working up the ranks from programming or making maps. Maybe in a few years we'll start seeing so-called Game Design schools like Fullsail offering psychology/ludology courses.

This article couldn't have come at a better time for me. I'm a fourth-year University student, about to graduate with a BA in Cognitive Systems (Psychology). I'm also about to be interviewed for a job with a local game developer, and I've been struggling to figure out how to explain what it is I can offer them, skill-wise. This is it. *This* is what I am educated and prepared to do, this is what I *want* to do. Thank you, Escapist, and thank you, Spanner.

In response to Mumbles, I don't think this is the job of the core development team. They're too close to the product to see the flaws. That's why there are testers, to find the flaws in the game. It takes a third party, though, to examine and quantify how the players and the game interact, and see the problem areas overlooked by both developers and testers. After a while, players of a game get used to the quirks and questionable design elements; the key element is making sure new or inexperienced gamers aren't prevented from enjoying the game.

Conceivably developers could be doing this job, but that means they'd be spending their time watching people play the game, rather then actually working on it. They could also beta-test the game themselves, and market it, etc. Conceivably. But it would be bad.

Psychologists are useful, and I think it's great that the industry has become big enough to employ them in design. Little things like that wouldn't get caught without people to catch them, and it's becoming pretty unacceptable to have anything like that (even just from an economic perspective).

Finally, those gigantic budgets are being put to good use.

I can see what you're saying, Mumbels. I spend more time writing about old games than new ones, and most of those were made by a team consisting of a programmer, graphic artist and a musician. Testing was done by them and some of the best loved games we have ever (and will ever) know were made this way. It's the beginning of the argument which questions whether we actually need such massive games and technologically advanced machines to play them on. But, after learning about what goes on at the group (and accepting the fact that these huge games with huge budgets are going to be made, whether we need them or not), I'd say a dedicated profesional for each aspect of design (assuming the developer can afford it) is no bad thing.

True, if programmers were able to be hyper-perceptive and self critical they could proably foresee all the issues the Games User Research Group pick up, but that's a lot to ask of anyone. The probelms highlighted in the article do seem obvious in retrospect, but clearly something as insignificant as the choice of font was the least of the programmer's considerations (and it still happens: anyone tried to read the text in Dead Rising on a standard definition telly? It has a distinct, detrimental effect on the enoyment of the game). I think the sheer scope of game design these days means it's just too much for one or two people to handle, but it practically becomes a philosophical argument as to who is genuinely required, and who isn't. I know what you're saying, though. Before I actually spoke to the guys at the Group, my intentions for the article were to highlight an area of game design that had gone beyond the bounds of reality. Once I understood what they do (and how their work differs from that of other developers), I could really appreciate their contribution to the industry.

I think you're idea of a recognised "game tester" qualification/profession is a really good one, and not at all unlikely. In fact, there's a whole issue's worth of material there for a future Escapist!

Ps. Voxaryx - you're very welcome ;)

Graffiti Writer:
In fact, there's a whole issue's worth of material there for a future Escapist!

Everybody's an editor ;)

Fletcher:

Everybody's an editor ;)

And at no extra cost :)

 

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