Researcher Ben Lewis-Evans offers some quick tips for user research as part of a new Gamasutra feature -- ones that can be put into effect easily, regardless of whether you're doing a formal test or just asking quick questions of players.
"Whenever doing research, you should be clear about what you want to know," writes Lewis-Evans.
This is not as hard as it sounds. "You will be playing the game yourselves as you work on it, and you should have design documents, so you know how things are supposed to work."
"Work out what areas you think might be problems and know what you want to ask about before it's time to test," he writes.
However, there's one crucial thing to note, Lewis-Evans writes. "I am not saying you go out there with preconceptions and already 'know' the answers you want; rather I am just making the point that you should be at prepared and know what you're looking for. Otherwise, you get a mass of data that may not be of any use to you at all. At the same time, be open to surprises. You never know what might pop up."
Even though you want to be completely open to what the testers think, you don't want to necessarily give equal weight to all of their ideas, he suggests.
"When dealing with your users, you should be open, and listen to the problems they are raising. You can also listen to the solutions they give to those problems -- but they are likely to be less useful to you.
"You are the game developers, and you know what is possible with the technology, time, and resources you have. The users won't. So observe, do the research, and treat it seriously when it reveals issues, but take suggestions from users as to how to solve the issues with a grain of salt."