For many, the thought of video games conjures up an image of teenage boys huddled around a television with odd-looking devices and controllers for hours on end. However, video games have evolved from their humble beginnings in the ’70s and ’80s to represent a vast world of options and possibilities. Video games of all sorts can be found everywhere, on console devices, smartphones and even on Facebook.
It didn’t take long for game developers to figure out that everyone loves a good game. People enjoy a challenge and the feeling of success when that challenge is met and overcome. Because of this, games are no longer solely targeted to boys and men but are made for a variety of people, and many games now on the market are intended specifically for women and girls. Interestingly, women 18 or older constitute a larger segment of the game-playing population (30 percent) than boys 17 and under (18 percent). 1
To help game developers understand the entertainment needs and preferences of their new users, these companies have created comprehensive user testing programs. These programs rely on men, women and children to participate in “playtests.” Participants play games that are currently in development and then provide feedback in exchange for a variety of incentives including games, gift cards and cash.
Typical playtests take place during daytime hours and last one or two hours. They can be one-on-one sessions with researchers or group sessions. One-on-one sessions often involve a participant playing a game and following certain instructions provided by the researcher who then questions the player about what she liked or didn’t like about the game and why. Group sessions usually involve a group of people playing in the same room on individual devices. After a specified amount of time, the play session ends, and researchers engage the participants in a group discussion to obtain feedback.
Playtesting lets participants contribute to the creation of games and provides developers with feedback that helps improve games. Adults might find playtesting to be a fun way to get paid for their opinions, and children often love the opportunity to play games that are not yet released. (Children usually need to be at least 6 years old for such tests, as they need to be able to articulate responses.) Playtesting can also provide parents with an opportunity to teach children the value of work and financial responsibility.
1. Entertainment Software Association’s 2012 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data Report – Essential Facts about the Computer and Video Game Industry. Retrieved from http://www.theesa.com/facts/index.asp
Nate Cook is a games user research recruiter at Disney Interactive. Email him at Nate.Cook@disney.com.