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[Diary Studies] UR Lab Interview – Part #2

In part 2 of our interview with User Research Analyst Janine from the UR Lab in Düsseldorf we take a look at the typical day of a tester and how the test results are summarized and presented.

You can find the first part here.

How does a day/session for a tester look like?

All tests and studies vary in duration and focus, but the most common one is a whole day playtest.

We welcome our testers in the morning. However, before we explain the details of the test, they have to sign an NDA (non-disclosure agreement), which is mandatory to take part in a test. By signing the NDA, the testers commit themselves to not revealing anything about the test and its content.

Afterwards, we explain the details of the test and take the testers to our lab. Sometimes there isn’t much introduction needed, and the players simply start playing the game. In other cases, some more explanation about the test is required. We always make sure that our guests understand that we are not testing their gaming experience or knowledge; rather, we are looking for issues in our game. So we always encourage them to be honest and to talk to us if they are unsure about something.

There are usually two observers present during a test. Their task is to watch the players and to look for any issues they encounter.

During full-day playtests, we normally order food and drinks for lunch. This way we are able to take a break and to get to know our testers a little better.

When the second half of the test is done, we often conduct 1-on-1 interviews with each tester,  where we ask questions related to the experience they had with the game.

When the day is over, we usually hand out some small gifts to thank our testers for their participation.

The atmosphere during our tests is generally relaxed and we are always happy to see some new faces!

Are there different kinds of tests? Regarding time played, content, focus, …

Yes, no user test is like the other! We always adapt each test session to the needs of the dev team and what they want to find out.

The duration of a test is dependent on the amount of content the game already has. The focus always differs according to the current state of the project and what the team is still unsure about.

We have several kinds of studies. Typically, we use common playtests, where testers come to our facility to play. Additionally, we also conduct diary studies, during which participants are able to play the game from home over a longer period (usually 2 weeks).

There are other special cases as well. For example, if a project is still in a very early state, we often start testing when there is no game yet. In these instances, we use prototypes or card sorting. Furthermore, we sometimes invite testers for a focus group to discuss various topics like artworks or settings.

How are you summarizing the test results?

Within Ubisoft we have to stick to three specific reporting documents: a high level summary, a detailed appendix, and a presentation from one of the assigned user research analysts. The presentation allows for a detailed explanation and discussion, directly with the development team, about the findings.

This way we can deliver different report formats, each one tailored to specific job families.

The reporting documents are standardised to make sure that dev teams have comparable results, even if they conduct tests with different UR Labs.

How close is your contact with the respective dev team?

Usually we adapt our behaviour to each team’s needs. Each team has a different working philosophy and we always work and change our behaviour according to that.

We are always available  to our dev teams in case of occurring questions or if they would like to schedule another study. Our teams know that early testing saves both time and money. Therefore, after a test, we always encourage the dev teams to do follow-up tests. Frequently teams will send us updated game builds and ask for additional feedback. Opinions of players are very important to them, which is why they contact us regularly.

We also received two additional questions by our German community member IppoSenshu which we forwarded to Janine:

How many UR Labs do you have in total? And when did they start the first playtests?

You can sign up at 16 different Ubisoft UR Labs worldwide, distributed over 10 countries. But we also have some smaller labs which are used differently.
The UR Lab in Düsseldorf was founded about 10 years ago.

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[Diary Studies] UR Lab Interview – Part #1

With all the buzz regarding the Diary Study going on, we thought it would be a great opportunity to simply get some more information for you about: What is a user research lab? How does it work? What kind of playtests are organized and how is all the gathered data used?

So, we sat down with User Research Analyst Janine of the UR Lab in Düsseldorf to answer some of these questions for you.

What is the UR Lab?

The UR Lab frequently conducts playtests and studies for our projects and is often the first intersection point of players and games. We combine high-technology with common sense in a way that helps dev teams to improve the usability and user experience of their games during all stages of production.

Where are you located?

We are located in the Ubisoft Düsseldorf studio where we offer our dev teams a modern test setup (eye trackers, current gen PCs, etc.) that is built according to current scientific findings. We do our best to welcome our testers and to make them feel comfortable in our lab.

Are there several UR Labs? If yes, do they have different tasks/foci?

Yes, there are several Ubisoft UR Labs worldwide. These teams focus on improving the usability and user experience of our games. Each lab has varying expertise, often depending on the projects they usually work on. Labs stay in close contact with each other to benefit from the others’ study findings and methodologies, and to spread their professional competence.

Do these research studies only happen pre-launch or also post-launch?

We do both. User research and usability testing should start as early as possible to find issues during early stages of development. This also helps dev teams get to know their target group even better while developing the game.

At the same time, user research does not stop after a game is released, as there is always room for improvement. For instance, we also jump in when DLC or other new content, is created to guarantee the same quality as the main game.

Are you also analysing user data from live games or only hosting playtests directly in-house?

The UR Lab also encompasses Game Analytics and we work closely with our data analysts. They analyse data from our live games and support the development teams with their findings. Usually they are responsible for quantitative data, while we provide teams with qualitative insights. Combined, we are able to support our dev teams with the extensive data they currently need to make decisions.

How can I take part in a user research study? Are you only inviting people from the area?

If you are interested in being invited, you need to register at https://playtest.ubisoft.com/bluebyte/enUS . There you can pick the UR Lab that is nearest to you. Keep in mind that you must be able to show up at the studio in person, to participate in a test.

When a user test is scheduled, you will get a preselection mail from us. This will redirect you to a survey that you need to complete, in order to apply for the study. In the survey, we ask you to answer some questions about your gaming habits like how much you play or what your favourite games are.

Following the survey, we will analyse your answers and pick the candidates that best match the target group. Sometimes we are looking for people who spent a lot of time with a specific game, and sometimes we are looking for the opposite. So no worries if you are not a hardcore gamer!

As soon as you’ve been selected, you will get a final invitation mail from us, and we will be happy to welcome you to our studio!

We do not only invite people from the area either. We invite those, who have applied and are willing to come to us. Sometimes we get testers who have travelled for hours to visit us, which is always an honour!

This was the first part of the interview. Stay tuned for next week when we talk about a typical day of a tester and how the results are summarized.

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Interview: Keralis

We sat down with Keralis, a strategy and build-up games focused YouTuber and The Settlers fan, and asked him a lot of questions about his channel and his personal history with The Settlers. We let him do his own introduction, so let’s jump right into the interview!

Hello Keralis, hope you’re well. It’s an honor to have you around for an interview today. It’s probably best to start with the “standard questions” for the people who don’t know you yet: Who are you and what’s this whole YouTube thing about?

My name is “Keralis” and I am a 37 year old YouTube content creator from Sweden but with roots in Poland. I do play a huge variety of games but my passion are creative, strategy, city builders and simulation games. Like Anno, Cities Skylines, Planet Coaster, Tropico just to mention a few.

“This whole YouTube thing” it’s a crazy way of sharing something with others, building a community and even making a living of it. Many of my friends have a very hard time understanding why someone would sit and watch other play video games and even getting paid for it. Explaining this is hard but I guess many are just tired of mainstream media and both YouTube and Twitch are great for “two way communication”. They feel involved in something which TV channels doesn’t very often allow them to.

When did you start creating content on YouTube? How did it start?

I started creating YouTube videos about 7 years ago without any intention of growing the channel or getting an audience to watch my videos. All was a happy little mistake.

The story began when the Battlefield clan which I was part of bought a Minecraft server for the community and many of the players went from playing this intense and adult first person shooter to building with blocks in a peaceful world. I was very sceptic in the beginning but since I always have had a passion for Lego I gave in and joined the others. I’ve built this huge Minecraft hotel and wanted to share it on the community forums so I recorded a video, uploaded it to YouTube and posted the link on the community forums. A few months later I was browsing YouTube and noticed that my “Minecraft hotel” video had over 100.000 views and so it began! I saw a possibility in playing video games and sharing it with an audience. I’ve never dreamt of making it a living but it has been exactly that for the last 6 years.

Looking at your channel right now, you’re mostly playing strategy, build-up and simulation games. You did make videos about games like The Witcher 3 or Sniper Elite 4 in the past. Did you actively decide to feature different content or is it more something of a “mood” thing?

Sharing a huge variety of games is my dream, however, it is hard since you build a community around certain game genres. I have always been quite creative and I have been sharing this side with my community in form of tutorial videos or just appealing creations made in different games. So going from making a realistic city in Cities Skylines to showing a kill montage in Sniper Elite 4 is quite contrary but at the end of the day I post what makes me happy.

And, following up on that: Are there any games you play in private without featuring them on your channel? Or do you even keep whole genres (like…racing games, for example) for private play sessions only?

Indeed, I play a bunch of games without sharing them with my audience. You did mention Witcher 3 in the previous question. This was one of those games which I thought if I should or shouldn’t make into a series. The game is so deep and there is so much backstory inform in-game books.

Reading everything for your audience would bore them to death but for me all that lore is magical. So I did a YouTube friendly series then I played the game myself “off-camera” and spent 4 times longer just reading everything. I also have a weird thing for football manager games, I remember playing those on my Amiga 500 and it has just continued.

Your content is largely single player focused, so to say. How important is multiplayer in a (build-up) strategy game for you? Are you playing any of the game you’re creating videos about in multiplayer?

Yes, most of my content is single player focused but multiplayer is indeed important or at least fun! How can I forget all those LAN parties growing up with Age of Empires and Warcraft? However I have not played much of those in my recent time and the last multiplayer series I did were ARK: Survival Evolved and Conan Exiles and I did those mainly for creative base building. I would however love to be part of a build-up strategy series with other YouTubers like doing Anno 1404 in multiplayer would be amazing!

As you probably already expected, we can hardly avoid talking about The Settlers here 😉

So to start with the most obvious question: Which The Settlers game was your first?

I got my first The Settlers game as a Christmas present in 1993 for the Amiga 500! The following year we bought our first PC and The Settlers was one of the first games for it! This really brings back memories, growing up as an only child meant many hours in-front of the computer playing games!

Considering you’re quite a bit familiar with the series, if you were to name 3 things which are “The Settlers” for you, which would those be?

  1. YEP! How could you forgot the YEP’S, amazing medieval soundtrack & bird chirps!? (Settlers 1993)
  2. The cutest armies which have roamed the gaming world! Especially the Romans in Settlers 3!
  3. City-Building!

Since we announced a new title in the series only a few months ago, which aspect of the new The Settlers would you like to know more about or which aspect interests you the most?

I can’t pinpoint one thing which interest me the most since the whole game looks stunning after watching the GamesCom trailer and the pre-alpha gameplay footage. I WANT THE GAME NOW! Please don’t make me wait, it hurts! PS. This includes ANNO 1800!

Thank you very much for taking the time for this interview Keralis. We are very happy to have you here 🙂

And if you, dear fans, want to watch this wonderful man play some video games, The Settlers 1 in particular, check out his channel and show him some love:

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[Dev] WYSIWYG – What you see is what you get

After summarizing gamescom 2018 in Cologne and answering some of your most pressing questions, it is time to dive deeper. Let us jump into The Settlers universe, talk about various features or what makes a The Settlers game unique.

The Settlers have a unique DNA, which defines our game and how it plays and feels. Today we want to talk about one of the key elements of this DNA, the “WYSIWYG”-approach and how this translates into our game.

What does this actually means?

WYSIWYG stands for “What you see is what you get”.

Everything that happens in the game systems is visualized. Lets take a look at the life cycle of a tree. As a player, you see a tree grow and the tree is an object in the world. If you build a woodcutter to chop down this particular tree you can follow him. The woodcutter will go to the tree, cut it down and transport the log back to his building. The tree is gone and you have a log instead. This log will then be transported to a sawmill to produce wooden planks, or to other buildings as construction material.

You can just watch and see what happens. With this knowledge, you as a player, are able to learn and to understand the game system directly. You technically do not need any statistics and graphics to visualize anything. You could zoom in and count the logs in front of a woodcutter building. You will know, if you just have one woodcutter and no one transporting any logs, how many logs your whole settlement has.

Talking about wood all the time, does it work for other things as well? Yes. It works for everything in game. It does not matter if it is fish, grain, stone, swords or even your settlers. Every good or person is there where you currently see it, him or her.

We sat down with Lead Game Designer Christian Hagedorn. He told us, he brings WYSIWYG to the next level, but sometimes it gets hard!

Christian “Bakyra” Hagedorn: “WYSIWYG brings a very interesting challenge to the table. In modern games we have grown accustomed to the game telling us what do to. That’s why we challenge ourselves to let you play without telling you how to do it.

Christian continues: “The goal of WYSIWYG is for players to be able to understand, without indicators, what the game is about. The premise is simple, but to bring it to the game, we have to do various checks. You cannot allow interactions without explanation. For example: When the enemy army attacks, for civilians to flee, they must see the army. There is no magic happening here. They are not afraid because the keep is under attack; they are afraid and flee because they see the enemy.

This translates to everything in-game. If coal is available, you will see it in the landscape. You will see the processes of producing different goods and this presents a great challenge. How far do we go?

“You will need to find a balance between what is entertaining gameplay and what is strictly simulation.”

WYSISWYG makes it easier for a player to understand the world and everything in it. For a designer or for the art team it will increase the complexity of every design to fit this rule.

It is important to remember that we do not replicate reality. If there is no need to show the transformation, we will not show it. For example: The sawmill cutting the log into two board sets with one process. There is no need to show the removal of excess wood nor the sanding process.

This  would just grow in complexity without any real value for the player.

“We aim for the player to be able to understand everything about the game by just watching it.”

We define the information the player can access as information layers. On the first layer, you have the world you play in – WYSIWYG. You see where you can place what building, farm resources, fish, hunt, gather etc. In the other layers you find everything else, you might want to know. The second layer is the building information. You see what goods can be produced, how many of those goods are waiting to be used / transported or how many workers are working. Again: You can simply zoom in and see if the workers are waiting around or maybe in the forest cutting down wood. You can even count the logs if you want, but this second layer will give you the information as well. The third layer is a filter in a menu. Statistics how many goods you have overall, how many workers of this type etc.

There are other great things about it too. Because of WYSIWYG every resource has to be moved; because you see it in the world. This leads to lots of people living and going somewhere. This sometimes can lead to traffic jams. Organic gameplay and city livelihood are the result of our efforts, and it’s very rewarding!

Thank you very much Christian for your time and insights about “What you see is what you get”.

As Christian already teased, next week we will talk about traffics jams, road systems and vehicles, but before we do that. We want to know what you think about WYSIWYG. Do you like the level of detail? Which statistics would you like to have about your economy? Let us know in the comments down below.

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