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A simple breakdown of the basic goals of user experience and quality assurance testing, and how they work together to help developers create better games.

Lindsay Lauters Miller, Blogger

June 2, 2014

3 Min Read

Hi there! My name is Lindsay. I'm the Director of The Research Centaur, the UX+QA divison of The Behemoth. We made Castle Crashers, BattleBlock Theater, and your favorite capsule machines at San Diego Comic-con.  

I get into situations like this a lot: I'm walking the show floor at E3 or PAX, or wherever, and I meet somebody awesome (woo!). We get to talking about what we do -- they make games, I make games and then help test them. I mention I have a background in both user experience (UX) and quality assurance (QA) testing, and they think for a minute.

Then they ask, "What's the difference?"

Well... I'm glad you asked.


There are so many things developers can do to make a great game more amazing, and testing is a critical piece of that process.

The goal of testing is two-fold, in my mind:

  • Ensure players experience what the developers want them to experience (which usually means lots of fun!).

  • Ensure that the final game is the one its developers have dreamed about -- or is as close to it as possible.

And I'd argue that you need both user experience and QA testing to help you get there.


So what is user experience testing, exactly? If you ask a dozen user researchers that question, you'll get a dozen answers (and hear two dozen names for various types of tests).

Ultimately, though, UX testing is about examining real player reactions to and experiences with an in-development game.

At The Research Centaur, we do this in a variety of ways. Most commonly, we'll bring a group of gamers into our lab and ask them to play a specific part of a prototype game they've never seen before.

Then, we watch what they do and ask the right questions to help figure out whether the gamers are understanding the mechanics and game flow (or, failing that, at least enjoying themselves and reacting in a way the developers like).  If the developers are unpleasantly surprised by the player experience, the researchers running the test will also provide insight into and suggestions on how to change the game for the better.

This type of testing is great at finding out how real players will experience the game once it's released, and what they'll do. It's not so great at finding crashes, graphical problems, or other bugs -- which is where the quality assurance (QA) piece of the puzzle comes in.


Quality Assurance is what most developers think about when they hear the word, "testing."

It's the process of systematically walking the game software through as many features and behaviors as possible, and seeing what it does. This helps catch critical bugs before the players ever see them.

The trick to good QA testing is doing it in a smart, risk-based way that doesn't cost too much -- but maybe I'll talk about that more in a future blog post.


So, to summarize! User experience testing:

  • Is about examining the player's perception of and experience with an in-development game

  • Outputs areas of misunderstanding, unexpected player reactions, difficulty spikes, or shelf moments (times when the player gets so frustrated they would give up on the game)

  • Results in better understanding of how players experience the game, and researcher recommendations on how to bring the player experience into alignment with the developer's vision

And QA testing:

  • Is about examining software behavior

  • Outputs bugs

  • Results in cleaner, better software that behaves in the way the developer intends

Together, these two test disciplines create a better game. Because both bugs and misunderstandings can keep a player from having the best possible experience with a game, I'd argue that they are both equally critical to a fantastic launch.

Do you have any questions about user experience or quality assurance testing? Please let me know in the comments!

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