- Forming the goal
- Forming the intention
- Specifying an action
- Executing the action
- Perceiving the state of the world
- Interpreting the state of the world
- Evaluating the outcome
8 min read
Usability Evaluation For Video Games: Gulfs Of Execution, Evaluation
In this reprinted #altdevblogaday in-depth piece, European University Cyprus assistant professor Georgios Christou begints to look at how to evaluate the usability of a video game.
[In this reprinted #altdevblogaday in-depth piece, European University Cyprus assistant professor Georgios Christou begints to look at how to evaluate the usability of a video game.] A lot of the readers of #altdevblogaday are students, young developers and hobbyists, so I've decided to write down a few things about usability evaluation methods for games. I feel that very little is out there about how to evaluate the usability of a video game, and it seems that most people do this experientially, or not at all. It is also true that the interface is the only way that a game designer/developer has a real dialogue with players, so if the user interface sucks, players are not going to play a game for long. Of course, there are exceptions (take Skyrim, for example) where an atrocious interface is beat to submission by players because the game's other features (storyline, progression, etc.) are so good. But let's face it, that's rare! I'm going to break this topic into a series of posts because of the sheer amount of information that exists about it. I hope that you'll find the series interesting! Seven Stages of Action To understand how to evaluate a video game, first one needs to understand users. More specifically, to understand how users work with a user interface, what they expect, and how they react to the unexpected. So first, let me present Donald Norman's 'Seven Stages of Action' model, which is described in his excellent book 'The Design of Everyday Things' (Norman, 2002). I highly suggest this book to all my students, as well as to all people who are involved with designing anything!
The Seven Stages of Action model by Don Norman (2002)Norman proposes that when users interact with a user interface, they go through the following stages (Norman, 2001, p. 48):
Screencap from King's Quest IV graphic adventure by Sierra On-Line, Inc.Application The understanding of the gulfs of execution and evaluation arm the game designer and the game developer with some important tools. The problems that are created by a gulf of execution are mostly due to actions that don't map well to the game world. For example, World of Warcraft players were rewarded if they started playing Star Wars: The Old Republic through a very familiar user interface, and a control set that almost matches that of World of Warcraft out of the box. Thus, mastering the interface is not a challenge that needs to be overcome by the player, who would probably prefer to master the gameplay challenges instead. The concept of the gulf of execution meshes nicely with user interface standards. Although I am not a proponent of standardizing user interfaces , it is nice to have some knowledge transfer, at least of the controls in games that belong to the same genre (think about the 'WASD' control keys, for example). Remember here that one of the goals when designing a video game is to challenge the players as they gain further mastery of the game, not of the user interface of the game. And if your user interface is one that is entirely new, then you should allow players to acclimate themselves and breach the gulf of execution before creating serious gameplay challenges. On the gulf of evaluation side of things now, there are quite a few things that we can use to create feedback that is not obtrusive. While it's great to show players of, say, FPS games that they are getting shot in the back, there are subtler ways than printing it on the screen in front of them! Some games flash a red border to the players, and others provide not only visual but sound feedback as well. However, again, the primary goal should be to make this feedback understandable quickly. Think about how many mods have been created for World of Warcraft, designed to make the life of healers easier during raid battles. Why is that? Because one of the primary difficulties in WoW's interface was that it didn't allow immediate understanding of the health of all the raid members. As the developers saw and listened to their users however, the interface became more and more pliable, although not entirely to the point that healers are throwing away their Whammys and their HealBots. Conclusion In conclusion, the gulfs of execution and evaluation are probably two of the most widely used and widely applied concepts in usability evaluation. So next time you start your game design, maybe you'll think about how to get your players to cross those two gulfs in an easier manner! This blog post is the first in a series of posts about how to use usability evaluation principles for your games. If you like this, let me know so that I continue writing on the subject. You can also let me know if you are interested in a specific aspect of usability evaluation, and I'll do my best to either explain, or to study up and let you know what I find. References Norman, D. (2002). The Design of Everyday Things. Basic Books. [This piece was reprinted from #AltDevBlogADay, a shared blog initiative started by @mike_acton devoted to giving game developers of all disciplines a place to motivate each other to write regularly about their personal game development passions.]