A game's usability is of the utmost importance in reaching a broad audience according to industry experts writing jointly in a new Gamasutra feature
"Usability is a crucial factor when attempting to reach large, diverse audiences with a game," according to Adams Greenwood-Ericksen, Eric Preisz and Shawn Stafford. Drs. Greenwood-Erickson and Stafford are consultants for for F.I.R.E.'s Game Studies User Experience Center at Full Sail University. Preisz is director of the Torque division at web game company InstantAction.
"A commonly stated rule-of-thumb is that if your player doesn't understand the basics of your interface in two minutes, they'll stop playing your game," the trio states. "Therefore, good usability is critical to game success."
The experts add, "When it comes to designing usable games, it is critical not only to understand how your target audience experiences your game, but also how other groups of individuals not in your target audience will react to a product (professionals call these 'core' and 'fringe' users)."
The feature notes that as game makers increasingly recognize the importance of usability, specialized user experience firms are sprouting up. But smaller and midsize studios might not have the resources to use those services.
There are ground rules that all game makers can follow within their own studios, almost regardless of budget. Greenwood-Ericksen, Preisz and Stafford wrote, "Every game can benefit from the basic techniques these groups use. Many of these techniques are simple and cheap enough to be implemented by developers and artists directly."
In the full Gamasutra feature
, the trio goes into great depth on the "think-aloud technique," heuristic analysis techniques, focus group technique and "naturalistic observation technique" -- and what exactly to do with gathered usability information.