by David Dick
Software used for accounting, desktop publishing, graphic design, and creating online help, to name a few, is expected to be complex to learn and use. Users often attend costly training workshops simply to understand how to get started, and require subsequent training to “master” the program. Their reward is to become the office guru, and include the title of the product on their résumés because that’s what prospective employers are shopping for.
Users expect documentation to be professionally designed and written, and online help to describe how to accomplish a particular task with as few words as possible. Such software is not intended to be an “art form” or “fun to use.” It’s not a toy that they are using—it’s a sophisticated program.
But what about games developed for PCs? Should these games be designed and evaluated according to the same usability standards as other PC software?
David Keiras writes in “User Interface Design for Games” that work is less productive if the software is unnecessarily hard to use. The user must get something done, so using the software should be as easy as possible. Games are not fun unless some difficulty is involved.
Should games be evaluated according to the same usability standards as other software?
Melissa Federoff published a case study concerning heuristics and usability evaluation methodology of video games. Melissa concludes that video games have different design considerations and usability issues than other types of software. The ISO 9241-11 definition of usability includes three independent measures: efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction. In the case of video game usability, she concluded that effectiveness and efficiency are secondary considerations in relation to satisfaction. A consumer may need to purchase or use other software to perform necessary tasks, but a game is bought on a voluntary basis purely for entertainment value. If a game is not fun to play, it will not sell in the marketplace.
To ensure the satisfaction of game players, Federoff notes that considerable care is required in the game design process and could be better guaranteed with the use of formal usability evaluation procedures by game developers. Though heuristics have been identified for software (Nielsen, 1994), as far as she can determine, only T.W. Malone (1980; 1982) has attempted to develop a set of heuristics specific to games. Because games are a rapidly changing type of software due to constant technological advancements, and Malone’s study was conducted over 20 years ago, Federoff believes the concept of game heuristics is worth revisiting. While the focus of Malone’s research was instructional games, Federoff study’s foremost concern is games developed with the primary objective of entertaining the user.
In addition to providing entertainment, can games be educational, too?
In “It’s Official, Games can make you Smarter...”, Ann Light describes research conducted at the University of Rochester that proved that action video games can give a person the ability to monitor more objects in their visual field and do so faster than a person who doesn’t play such games. The study suggests that in addition to making game players more aware of their surroundings while performing tasks such as driving, action game playing might be a useful tool to rehabilitate visually impaired patients or to train soldiers for combat.
Games should be challenging, educational and entertaining. Powerful computer processors are making it possible to design life-like graphics, which contribute to the game as being an art form. For this reason, games are not designed and evaluated by the standards as other PC products—and maybe that’s a good thing.
David Kieras, “User Interface Design for
Games” (University of Michigan, 2000).
Thomas W. Malone, “Heuristics for designing enjoyable user interfaces: Lessons from computer games.” in Human Factors in Computing Systems (Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing Corporation, 1982).
Ann Light, 2003, “It’s Official, Games can make you Smarter...”
Melissa Federoff (2003), “Heuristics and Usability Guidelines for the Creation and Evaluation of Fun in Video Games”
Jakob Nielsen, “Heuristic evaluation” in Usability Inspection Methods (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1994).