UX Research for Products vs. Games: A Comparative Exploration

Odette Jansen
5 min readSep 13, 2023

In the realm of user experience (UX), understanding the user is paramount. Whether it’s for a product like a SaaS platform or a video game, UX research aims to delve deep into the user’s psyche to provide a seamless experience. However, the methods and goals of UX research can differ significantly between products and games. This article will explore the astonishing differences and overlaps between UX research for products such as SaaS/websites and games.

Understanding the Landscape

The gaming industry is the largest entertainment sector worldwide, growing at an impressive rate of about 15% annually. With worldwide spending on games projected to be $137.9 billion in 2018, it’s no surprise that the competition among game developers is palpable (IGDA Games Research and User Experience SIG, 2021). On the other hand, products, especially in the SaaS domain, have their own set of challenges and dynamics. The primary goal remains the same: understanding the user. But how does the approach differ?

UX Research in Products

When it comes to products, especially SaaS platforms, and websites, the focus is often on usability. The primary questions revolve around:

  • How easily can a user navigate the platform?
  • Are the features intuitive and user-friendly?
  • What challenges do users face while using the product?

The research methods for products often involve usability testing, A/B testing, and surveys. The insights derived from these methods help designers and developers refine the product, ensuring that it meets the users’ needs and expectations.

UX Research in Games

The world of gaming offers a different set of challenges. Games are not just about usability; they’re about playability. The questions here are more profound:

  • What makes a game fun?
  • How do players feel while playing?
  • What motivates players to continue playing or abandon the game?

Given the emotional and immersive nature of games, the research methods are more varied. Playtesting is a common approach, where researchers observe players as they play the game. This method provides invaluable insights into player behavior, reactions, and overall experience. Additionally, biometric sensors can measure excitement or boredom, and additional software can track player movements and choices.

The approach of UX research can differ

The End Goals

Products (SaaS/Websites):

  • Objective: Enhance usability, simplify navigation, and drive conversions.
  • Focus: Streamline workflows, increase productivity, boost user retention, and ensure user satisfaction.
  • Measurement: Metrics like time-on-task, conversion rates, bounce rates, and customer satisfaction scores.

Games:

  • Objective: The focus shifts to augmenting player engagement, immersion, and entertainment.
  • Focus: Gameplay mechanics, narrative flow, emotional engagement, and challenge balancing.
  • Measurement: Player retention rates, in-game progression, feedback on mechanics, and emotional response tracking.

Design Considerations

Products (SaaS/Websites):

  • Primary Concerns: Intuitive UI, seamless workflows, data security, platform compatibility, and scalability.
  • User Perspective: Users seek solutions to specific problems and they value efficiency, and ease of use.

Games:

  • Primary Concerns: Engaging graphics, balanced gameplay mechanics, narrative consistency, and responsive controls.
  • Player Perspective: Players are in search of entertainment, emotional resonance, challenges, and rewards.

Differences and Overlap in Methods

While the goals might differ, there’s an overlap in the methods used in both domains. For instance, one-on-one interviews, surveys, and observational studies are common in both product and game UX research. However, the emphasis and the kind of questions posed might vary. Let’s take a look at some methods to highlight the difference and overlap between products and games.

Usability Testing:

  • Products: Focuses on how easily users can complete specific tasks. Measures efficiency, effectiveness, and satisfaction.
  • Games: Examines how players navigate the game, uncovering issues like control responsiveness and game mechanic clarity.

Emotion Tracking:

  • Products: Less common but can be used to gauge emotional response to branding, design aesthetics, or specific features.
  • Games: Widely used to understand player immersion, emotional connection to the narrative, and feelings during gameplay.

Surveys and Questionnaires:

  • Both: These are used to gather feedback on user/player satisfaction. However, in games, the emphasis might be more on aspects like storyline satisfaction, character development, and gameplay mechanics.

A/B Testing:

  • Products: Commonly used to compare different versions of a feature or page layout.
  • Games: Used to test variations in game mechanics, level designs, or reward systems.

Playtesting:

  • Products: Not applicable.
  • Games: Players play the game while researchers observe, specifically focusing on the gameplay experience, challenge balancing, and emotional responses.

Eye-tracking Studies:

  • Products: Understand where users focus on a webpage or in an application, helping to optimize the layout.
  • Games: Gauge what players focus on during gameplay, which can be essential for optimizing HUD layout, in-game tutorials, or guiding player attention.

The differences between User/Player Profiles & Personas

The target audience for products also differs from that of games of course. But that also means that personas require a different approach.

Products: User personas are based on demographics, job roles, pain points, and goals.
Games: Player personas might focus more on playing habits, preferred game genres, gaming device preferences, and in-game behavior.

Ethical Considerations are always important

Both product and game research must be conducted ethically. It’s imperative to ensure participants’ consent, protect their privacy, and provide transparency about data usage. Whether it’s a product or a game, the user’s trust is paramount, and ethical considerations should never be overlooked.

The Unique Lens of Games UX Research

The gaming industry requires UX researchers to look through a unique lens. With games, the experience is not just about functionality; it’s about emotion. Games are designed to evoke feelings, whether it’s the thrill of victory, the agony of defeat, or the simple joy of exploration. This emotional aspect makes game UX research incredibly challenging and exciting.

For instance, understanding the social gaming experience, especially for demographics often forgotten, like women, requires a nuanced approach. The motivations for playing games can vary widely, from action and adventure to social interaction and creativity. Recognizing these motivations and designing games that cater to them is the essence of game UX research.

Conclusion

While there are specific distinctions between UX research for products and games, the overarching goal remains the same: to understand the end-users, be they users or players, and offer them the best experience possible. Recognizing these differences and overlaps ensures that researchers can employ the most effective strategies and methodologies for their specific domain. As the lines between digital products and games continue to blur, especially with gamification trends, understanding both realms of UX research becomes even more crucial.

References:

  • The Acagamic. (2023). UX Research Plan Cheat Sheet to Understanding Games User Research.
  • User Experience Magazine. (2022). UX Research for the Gaming Industry Requires Looking through a Unique Lens.
  • IGDA Games Research and User Experience SIG. (2021). What is GUR/UX?
  • The UX of Gaming. (2022). How to Conduct User Research for Groundbreaking Insights.
  • Games User Research. (2021). What’s Different?

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Odette Jansen

Lead UX Research @Nordhealth ⭐️ I write about UX Research practices, and share templates & workshops. Passionate about games, education and healthcare.