Game Usability : Advancing the Player Experience book cover
1st Edition

Game Usability
Advancing the Player Experience

ISBN 9780123744470
Published August 12, 2008 by CRC Press
398 Pages

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Book Description

Computers used to be for geeks. And geeks were fine with dealing with a difficult and finicky interface--they liked this--it was even a sort of badge of honor (e.g. the Unix geeks). But making the interface really intuitive and useful--think about the first Macintosh computers--took computers far far beyond the geek crowd. The Mac made HCI (human computer interaction) and usability very popular topics in the productivity software industry. Suddenly a new kind of experience was crucial to the success of software - the user experience. Now, 20 years later, developers are applying and extending these ideas to games.

Game companies are now trying to take games beyond the 'hardcore' gamer market--the people who love challenge and are happy to master a complicated or highly genre-constrained interface. Right about now (with the growth of interest in casual games) game companies are truly realizing that usability matters, particularly to mainstream audiences. If it's not seamless and easy to use and engaging, players will just not stay to get to the 'good stuff'.

By definition, usability is the ease with which people can emplo a particular tool in order to achieve a particular goal. Usability refers to a computer program's efficiency or elegance. This book gives game designers a better understanding of how player characteristics impact usability strategy, and offers specific methods and measures to employ in game usability practice. The book also includes practical advice on how to include usability in already tight development timelines, and how to advocate for usability and communicate results to higher-ups effectively.

Table of Contents

I. What is usability and why should I care?
A. Overview chapter Isbister and Schaffer (Editors)
Introduces key concepts and positions book for primary audiences: game developers and
students aspiring to work in game development. Addresses key concerns that developers
may have about adopting usability, and sets a broad road map of what is to come in the
B. Interview with Tobi Saulnier of 1st Playable
A discussion with the CEO of a small game studio about why and how she uses usability
techniques in her development.
C. Interview with Don Norman of Nielsen Norman group
A discussion with one of the preeiminent HCI practitioners of usability in design practice,
about how game developers may benefit from usability techniques, and about trends in

II. Usability techniques 101
A. Use of Classic usability techniques at Microsoft Games Wixon (Microsoft)
An overview of the tactics in use to improve games usability at one of the earliest
adopters of usability techniques.
B. Expert evaluation Laitinen (Adage, Helsinki)
Overview of how to conduct expert evaluations and when they can be of value in game
C. Heuristic evaluation Schaffer (RPI)
Overview of the use of heuristics in game evaluation.
D. Selling usability in the organization Noergaard (Copenhagen U.) & Rau (IO Interactive)
Overview of challenges and process for convincing your company to adopt usability
E. Think-aloud evaluation and other interview techniques Hounhoot (Philips Research)
Interview techniques including think-aloud and retrospective think-aloud as they apply to
game usability.
F. Interview with Eric Schaffer, CEO and Founder of Human Factors International
On the use of standards and their application to game usability and development.
G. (seeking another interview with a game company person about bringing usability to their

III. Focus on types of players
A. The four fun keys Lazarro (Xeo)
Overview of the her taxonomy of fun that is a result of player observation, and how this
applies to game usability.
B. Game usability for children Lieberman (UC Santa Barbara)
Overview of usability topics of special interest to developers of children's games.
C. Interview with Tsurumi of Sony Japan about cultural issues in usability, by Kenji Ono
D. (seeking another interview with one of Nicole's clients about use of fun keys?)

IV. Focus on special contexts
A. Mobile games usability Mäyra (U. Tampere, Finland)
B. Casual games usability Fortugno (Rebel Monkey, NYC)
C. Alternate reality games usability Thompson (Georgia IT)
D. RPG usability Tychsen (ITU)
E. Educational games usability Hounhoot and Verhaegh (Philips)
F. (still seeking someone to write about MMOs in particular)

V. Advanced tactics
A. Rigorous prototyping Swink (Flashbang Studios)
The role of rapid, iterative prototyping in games usability.
B. Instrumenting games Pagulayan (Microsoft)
How this was done in Halo 3, and lessons/advice for others interested in this method.
C. Social psychology and usability Isbister (ITU)
Using social psychological research findings to benchmark designs in usability.
D. Physiological approaches (1) Hazlett (Johns Hopkins)
Use of small muscle movement in the face to detect emotion when playing games.
E. Physiological approaches (2) Mandryk (U. Saskatchewan)
Use of integrated suite of physiological measures to detect emotion when playing games.
F. Interview with Jenova Chen about prototyping fl0w and contributions to its usability.
G. Interview with Will Wright about rapid prototyping and usability in his design process.

VI. Putting it all together
A. At-a-glance matrix of issues and tools Isbister and Schaffer (Editors)
To help guide readers with particular issues to particular chapters.
B. Interview with Saito of Ritsumeikan of the role of game technologies in driving
innovation in other product areas in Japan (by Kenji Ono)

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Associate Professor, Department of Language, Literature and Communication, RPI; Director of the Games Research Lab, RPI; Chair of the MS in HCI Program, RPI. Katherine is Director of the Games Research Lab at Rensselaer (RPI), where she has worked to build an undergraduate major in game design, as well as a robust program of games-related research. She is also the Chair of the MS in HCI at RPI, which she helped to redesign to address current challenges facing HCI practitioners, such as the design of games and other social and leisure applications. Katherine is a former MK Game author, having written: Better Game Characters by Design: A Psychological Approach, which was nominated for a Game Developer Magazine Front Line award in 2006. She has published work in a wide variety of venues, and has given invited talks at research and academic venues including Sony research labs in Japan, Banff Centre in Canada, IBM, the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, and others. The Games Research Lab at RPI has cutting-edge facilities for user studies, and Isbister has used the lab to research innovative methods in user testing (e.g. the Sensual Evaluation Instrument - a project nominated for Best Paper award at the CHI conference in 2006). Isbister has worked in both research and commercial settings on HCI and usability aspects of games and other products. This background, combined with strong connections to game industry practitioners, makes her well suited to put together an edited volume on games usability that is both rigorous and useful to developers in their everyday work.


"Playtesting is the most challenging, and most mysterious part of game development, and this book is by far, the most thorough and practical collection of writings on the subject. I plan to return to it again and again -- there is just so much to draw from! Anyone who reads it will be able to playtest their games well, and with confidence."

Jesse Schell, Professor of Entertainment Technology, Carnegie Mellon University

".Games user research has taken leaps and bounds over the past 10 years, as evidenced by the content of this book.We encourage the readers to use this resource as a great starting point for strengthening the discipline while taking us into the future.”

Randy Pagulayan, Microsoft Game Studios & Dennis Wixon, Microsoft Surfaces

"Katherine Isbister's "Game Usability” is a multi-faceted look at a critical component of modern game design, full of excellent case studies by usability experts, industry leaders and cutting edge researchers. The methods found here will be useful to anyone interested in honing the player experience of their commercial, independent or academic games."

Tracy Fullerton, Associate Professor USC School of Cinematic Arts; Director, EA Game Innovation Lab

"On first blush, usability and game design look like oil and water: they don't seem to mix. One appears scientific, the other creative; one dispassionate, the other sentimental. This book offers a variety of promising ways to put the two together, ways that suggest general lessons in how design can learn from a measure of impartiality, and usability from a measure of passion."

Ian Bogost, Associate Professor in the School of Literature Communication and Culture, The Georgia Institute of Technology, and Founding Partner, Persuasive Games