User Testing for Games

When I talk to developers and designers about user testing, they sometimes tell me that it’s okay to make applications hard to use, because games are hard to use. The logic goes something like this: Games are hard, but people like games. We can make people like our apps by making them more like games. Hence, it’s okay to make apps hard to use, because that makes them more like games.

In reality, modern games are typically not hard. They’re designed to feel hard, to give the player the impression of having overcome incredible odds, of being powerful, of being able to face mighty enemies and dangerous situations. But at the same time, a lot of user testing goes into making sure that the player never really gets stuck or dies too often, but is always able to make steady progress through the game. The impression that games are hard is (for most games) an intentionally crafted illusion.

Here’s what Bruce Oberg, co-owner of inFamous developer Sucker Punch, has to say about it:1

We want people to make progress at a steady pace, we don’t want them to die all the time. If we have a recording of where everyone died, and we see that everyone’s dying in one spot, maybe we need to change that spot, maybe there’s a bad guy who can shoot at you unfairly.


Basically, we want everyone to be able to have a good time playing the game, whether you’re high-skilled or low-skilled. We want everyone to be able to make progress and have fun.

Jump to around 2:50 to hear him talk about user testing:

The idea that it’s okay to make apps hard to use because games are hard is a fallacy. Most modern games are not hard, and game developers use the same usability tools as developers of regular applications to ensure that they are not.

  1. There’s a transcript of the interview at the bottom of the page at↩︎

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Want to read more like this? Buy my book's second edition! Designed for Use: Create Usable Interfaces for Applications and the Web is now available DRM-free directly from The Pragmatic Programmers. Or you can get it on Amazon, where it's also available in Chinese and Japanese.