At Neo-Pangea, we are big kids at heart. From casual entertainment to complex evaluations, we love creating games. We’ve partnered with several clients to build gamified experiences to engage their audiences, like an interactive video treasure-trove for Snapple and the interactive history of cyborgs for the Smithsonian. We never assume to know our target audience because, the moment we perceive them as a known entity, we limit the the ability to observe our overall user experience from a fresh perspective. We find that the best insights come from unexpected feedback and results from user testing.
We recently partnered with the largest youth entertainment brand (who shall remain unnamed, but surely you would get it in one guess) to create a Tamagotchi-style experience, focused on one of its brand characters, to help promote a new tentpole series.
We decided to hold two user testing sessions for this project with our target audience: boys and girls ranging from 8 to 12-years-old. Our first rule of thumb when designing UI is don’t make them think. We began our testing by putting the game in their hands without any instruction and quietly observed.
Our first goal was to test the prototype’s game mechanics and overall user experience to see if there were any roadblocks or unforeseen usability challenges; the game uses three different mechanic types which we knew could pose some difficulties. All the kids intuitively knew when to swipe or tap, but some had a harder time adjusting to the games that utilized a gyroscope-based tilt mechanic (this didn’t have on-screen UI, but required them to rotate the device to operate). We observed a higher threshold for frustration and also found that the kids would often repeat the same action over and over even if it didn’t work because, to them, it should work that way. Once they were shown what to do, however, they truly enjoyed it.
We shared this feedback with our client and made some recommendations. In the end, rather than changing the entire game mechanic, we looked for opportunities to build in subtle, in-game prompts to help guide kids as the mechanics changed. We noticed in our next round of testing that, once the kids utilized and understood a mechanic when a new game presented itself, they intuitively knew which mechanic would most likely be utilized within that specific activity.
We also observed a new opportunity for extended engagement. Our experience included several games that unlocked depending on the user’s performance or extended activity within the experience. Between each of the games, users returned back to a “lobby,” which we utilized as a place to choose which game to play, as well as an area for our main character to evolve and react to gameplay outcomes. We noticed kids tapping on the character and saw an opportunity to make the lobby more playful verses utilitarian. We added character animations and some reaction dialogue that would trigger when the character was tapped or interacted with. This ended up being a very valuable contribution from our testing, as it gave the kids the mental break from intensely focused games and lead to more time spent within the experience.
It is direct, hands-on feedback like this that makes user testing invaluable. As interactive experts, we create within set assumptions that user testing allows us to validate. We were able to gather insight where we feel we needed feedback for improvement within the overall user experience. As this game hits the market, we’re confident that the feedback we observed and received from these kids made the experience better than we ever could have on our own.