Game Usability: Advice from the Experts for Advancing the Player Experience (Ch. 7)

Laitinen, S. (2008). Usability and Playability Expert Evaluation. In K. Isbister and N. Schaffer (Eds.), Game Usability: Advice from the Experts for Advancing the Player Experience (pp. 91-111). New York: Morgan Kaufmann.

What is evaluated:

  • Game usability, which means looking at the user interface, including all the screens, menus, displays, controls and other user interface elements that the player uses before, during and after gameplay. Typical problems include the fact that the menus are cumbersome to use, displays are unclear, controls are difficult to learn. Good game usability means that the user interface is easy to learn, fluent to use, that it supports all “typical” interactions.
  • Gameplay, which includes the game mechanics and interactions that occur within the game. Goal is to remove challenges that are not intended by the game designers and to ensure a fun experience. Typical problems include boring and repetitive tasks, unclear goals, unfair punishment.
  • Platform and game type need to be addressed in the case of mobile and casual games, for example. Different game types may require different or additional heuristics.

The process:

  • Planning the work: expert evaluation begins with a meeting between the evaluators and the game developers. Important to introduce the game to the evaluators, present the material to be evaluated, and agree upon the issues to be studied.
  • Reviewing the game: evaluators use heuristic rules, knowledge of good design practices and personal experience. Also consider target audience and special needs set by the game type and platform. Sometimes, for the sake of saving time, the expert will have ways to shortcut to different levels in the game.
  • Reporting the findings: typically takes 1-3 days to create a report. Each problem should include: title, rating  (unclassified, minor, moderate, important, critical), written description, suggested solution. Also a good idea to provide a summary of key findings; also a good idea to include the strengths of the game.
  • Review session: opportunity for developers to answer questions.

Usability heuristics:

  • be consistent
  • provide feedback
  • use easy to understand terminology
  • minimize player’s memory load
  • avoid errors
  • provide help
  • use simple and clear menus
  • do not use device user interfaces
  • design an efficient and visually pleasing screen layout
  • employ audiovisual representations that support the game
  • design flexible and convenient game controls.

Gameplay heuristics:

  • provide clear goals or support player-created goals
  • allow the player to see the progress in the game and compare results
  • ensure the player is rewarded and rewards are meaningful
  • allow the player to feel a sense of control
  • make sure that challenge, strategy and pace are balanced
  • provide a good first-time experience
  • ensure that the game story supports the gameplay and is meaningful
  • elminate repetitive or boring tasks
  • support different playing styles
  • ensure that the game doesn’t stagnate
  • ensure consistency
  • use orthogonal unit differentiation
  • ensure player doesn’t lose any hard-won possessions
  • ensure the player can express him/herself.



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