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As the User Research Manager at Volition, I pioneered and executed all research efforts on the three DLC releases and research program development. I also collaborated with our parent company/publisher's research team, PLAION GamesLab, to strategize and execute studies for other studios. Below are short summaries of the main projects I carried out in relation to DLC.
I revitalized all of the recruitment materials to improve their compliance with ethical APA standards, but I noticed that we had a history of a very low sign-up rate. To match Volition's research recruiting page with its values toward equity and accessibility, I conducted a usability test with prospective users who had never used the site before. This revealed significant issues with information architecture, visibility, banner blindness, and copy clarity. I forwarded a screenshot of the page with the issues and my solutions to our webmaster, who implemented many of the changes. This resulted in a 200% increase in sign-ups in just a week's time.
Telemetry showed that players didn't use the wingsuit mechanic in the overworld. To encourage its use, the Missions team built a 5-sequence event in which players were provided comprehensive in-game onboarding and tutorials to learn its usage. Due to time and budget constraints, I elected to curate a game-specific heuristic analysis to catch errors (and inform decisions to design cuts). I completed the analysis in parallel with my research partner at GamesLab to make sure there was more than one pair of eyes on the study.
The team had been concerned that players wouldn't know where to go when given a path of rings to follow. Below, you can see how chaotic the pathway looked. There was no clear end point or direction to follow, and the difficulty spiked unpredictably between challenges. In addition, the wingsuit mechanics were unclear and instructions were vague.
I provided a topline "5 biggest issues" and "5 solid wins" for the team alongside a complete report for their needs. Not even three days later the mission team followed up with me for a post-hoc review to see if I had any other feedback. They had implemented the suggestions that alleviated 99% of the observed problems!
Afterward, onboarding was a breeze. Tutorials occurred in-context at the right time, the path from start to finish was clear, and difficulty progressed as players would expect over the course of the 5 challenges.
One of my junior UX Designers doubled as a Missions designer. While working with teams on the earliest DLC release "The Heist and the Hazardous," he expressed a need to conduct usability testing. This was informed by his suspicion that conveyance was inadequate, which would result in players becoming confused, misled, or frustrated when unable to discover where things were or what they did. I helped him run a week-long session of usability studies, the results of which he compiled into a concise report that our Senior Franchise Producer used to direct necessary changes.
After the production team sent me a 15-page list of things they wanted to test for an upcoming mission (which I personally thought was awesome, but alas, there was only one Eevin), I worked with them to whittle their needs down to most urgent and highest impact: usability and some attitudinal variables. Time constraints and budget determined we would only have one shot at testing with users, so it had to be comprehensive. As such, we tested with an incomplete build and some lorem-ipsum placeholders. That was nothing new.
The results were enough to confirm changes to characters' narratives, move forward with lighting choices, and sculp the utility of the in-game store.
Aside from the research tactics, one of the primary challenges was ensuring that we conveyed that this release was an entirely different mode and completely separate from the main game; I made sure to ask about this, and users confirmed that it was very salient. Win!
Dustfaire was set to be the final Saints Row release ever, so we wanted to go out with a bang. Market research from Deep Silver indicated that players had really enjoyed the LARP segments of the main game, so the game designers developed a brand new district, huge narrative and dialogue style, and multiple side quests for this massive, seven-mission beast.
We got started on Dustfaire as early as we could; this time, the budget and critical team members' PTO were our primary limiting factors. Again, since there was only one Eevin, I prioritized usability testing to make sure players could do what they needed.
I had one week to conduct usability tests across these 7 missions, but only 3 were testable when the time came. In consulting the design team and producers, we concluded that we wanted more in-depth feedback for one mission at a time (as opposed to more shallow feedback across all three). So, we scheduled all Mission 1 participants for Monday, all Mission 2 participants for Tuesday, etc.
To expedite turnaround, I streamed the live session to the designers, writers, programmers, and producers, who volleyed between decisions in a separate Teams channel. I had coached them on appropriate questioning earlier on, so I was confident in allowing them to ask post-test questions as needed (and was impressed!).
The studio was thrilled with the immediacy of the live-streamed usability tests; decisions were made quickly and with clarity, dev teams' energies were replenished, and everyone wanted more! The following week, I curated a series of tutorials and trained our Principal Game Designers on how to run internal playtests, which became a weekly occurrence thereafter. Ultimately, this led to higher-quality materials for the subsequent Dustfaire playtest and therefore enabled us to focus on longitudinal experiences.
With the usability tests under our belt, we recruited 30 players from our target audience to play through all 7 missions and answer questions about each. As predicted, there were additional bugs, usability issues, some accessibility problems, and a variety of polarized opinions.
Ideally, we would have conducted more tests to continuously evaluate whether the changes were in-line with users' needs, but we were at the end of the timeline. As far as I am aware, the teams made as many of the high-level changes as they could under massive time constraints.
UX Research Strategist & Analyst
Senior UX Researcher - Volition & PLAION GamesLab
Worked with stakeholders from Deep Silver Dambuster to identify and prioritize research needs; collaborated with Lead Researcher and Head of Analytics; developed surveys and participant instructions; analyzed user playtest and survey data; consulted on research insights.
Significantly improved first-hour user experience, including gameplay balance, pacing, usability, player appreciation, and brand trust.
Senior UX Researcher - Volition & PLAION GamesLab
Collaborated with stakeholders from Starbreeze Studios; worked with Lead Researcher to design research strategy, methodology, and analysis of complex, repeated-measures playtests and focus groups early during alpha stage; designed and analyzed survey and focus group data.
Tested design decisions; informed design direction based on single-player vs co-op experience, player appreciation, and brand trust; identified key areas for improvement in usability and tutorialization for new users.
UX & Learning Solutions Consultant
Conducted evaluative research on the 2nd edition beta version of the MindTap e-learning platform. Interviewed student and instructional users to reveal pain points on interactive module features, user flow, analytics tracking, and usability of drag-and-drop mechanics. Proposed mock-ups and design suggestions ad-hoc.
Significant improvements to default configuration, user flow, and customizable features for instructors and student users.
UX/Web Design Consultant
Created a CMS and style guide, standardized the CSS, and generated interaction designs for the website; created a CMS, reformatted classes, and diagnosed issue with a custom script.
Saved company $10,792 in 4 weeks, heightened visibility of call-to-actions on 4 web pages and provided technical web design training to developers & CEO.
Lead UX Writer, Researcher
Collaborated with a cross-disciplinary, distributed, remote team and LA's Department of Neighborhood Empowerment to design a responsive web resource with online data literacy modules for LA's citizens (Access the Data); guided research direction/analysis, optimized web copy, iteratively designed and tested a responsive website prototype; conducted Tree Tests and Card Sorts using Optimal Workshop to investigate the navigation and menu.
Significantly improved web usability, copy, and design system; standardized research protocols, materials, and scripts.
UX Research Consultant
Performed a customized usability audit and heuristic analysis on the website; defined user needs and journey maps; suggested changes for WCAG 2.0 accessibility; proposed options to improve SEO and UX writing to better reach target audience (medical professionals, educators, and at-risk populations in Malawi); developed Figma prototype to guide designers in making website enhancements; Analyzed and recommended improvements for SEO, privacy & security, and WCAG 2.0 standards.
Saved the organization $7,000 in losses by boosting site traffic, accessibility, SEO, and content organization.