In a new Gamasutra feature
, Janus Rau Sorensen, user research manager at Crystal Dynamics & IO Interactive, offers up a helpful analogy to distinguish between marketing-lead focus testing and user testing, which is an aid to design.
"There is often some confusion among developers with regard to the terminology used by user researchers. Just what is focus testing, what's user testing, and how do the goals and methods of the two differ?" asks Maurice Tan, psychologist and author of the feature.
For help, he turns to Sorensen:
"If we were making cars instead of games (in which case this site would be Carasutra), QA would be looking for blown gaskets, flat tires, loose connections in the electrical circuitry or a malfunctioning A/C. They would try to answer the question 'To what extent does the machine work?' and the main object of inquiry is 'the machine'.
"Market research would present the concept of the car to a group of potential consumers, or explore consumer habits and preferences, and try to answer the question 'To what extent can we sell this machine to these people?' the main object of inquiry being 'the relationship between the consumer and the sales pitch.'"
"A car user researcher, on the other hand, would run a 'user test' by putting a potential buyer in the same room as the car and see if this person can make it into the car, can find the A/C button, turn on the engine, drive from A to B without crashing the car, and perhaps investigate whether or not this person feels the car is fun to drive.
"The question the user researcher would be trying to answer is 'To what extent is the interaction between the car and the user usable, satisfying and enjoyable?' Therefore, the object of inquiry for user research is 'the relationship and interaction between the consumer and the product content,' and the principal activity in which data and information about this interaction is acquired is called 'user testing'. This is also the case for games user research."
The full feature, which further distinguishes the fields and explains how you can make the most of user research in your development, is live now on Gamasutra