Contextual Design: Think Aloud
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Lead facilitator: Thomas Detko
Combining the skill mastery and physics of pinball, with the challenge of physics-based puzzle play, and the engagement of role playing games, Rollers of the Realm (RTR) offers a new yet familiar and accessible gaming experience. Supported by epic fantasy narrative and an ensemble cast of meaningful characters, Rollers of the Realm provides challenging, bite-sized game-play for the casual gamer.
From the fall 2012 until spring 2013, Rollers of the Realm was one of seven teams to participate in the CFC Media Lab’s digital entertainment accelerator, ideaBOOST. The program employs the best practices from tech’s lean startup movement and other disciplines. The program’s goal is to help companies navigate the entertainment and technology startup market, sharpen their product vision, and refine their strategies to target audiences and generate sustainable revenues. As part of this program, the teams were exposed to a number of participatory design techniques. Each team made use of several techniques in order to further the development of their projects.
By using the Think Aloud method the Rollers of the Realm team were able to gather valuable feedback on the game’s design and gain insights into the cognitive model of their testers. This method was used to support the design phase of this game’s development.
Prior to their participation in ideaBOOST, the alpha version of Rollers of the Realm had been tested by approximately 140 people. While these alphas testers represented a broad spectrum of users, the team needed to get feedback on the physics, game-play experience and story line from their target audience – fans of pinball and RPG games. Participants at this session were players who had expressed an interest in testing a pinball-roll playing game mashup.
This method was used in conjunction with Video Ethnography and User Testing in order to gain a deeper understanding of casual gamers who are interested in pinball, puzzle, and role-playing game play.
The Think Aloud method was chosen because it enabled the RTR team to hear the thoughts and feelings of their testers as it related to their game playing experience. Rather than have testers describe this as they were playing the game, which would interfere with the game play, testers responded to playback of video that was recorded of their game play.
Testers of Rollers of the Realm were videotaped was they played the game. Immediately afterward, testers were shown their video recording and participated in a discussion about the experience. Testers were able to speak about key points in the game and speak to what they were thinking, why they made certain choices, where they had experienced setbacks or difficulties and their overall impressions of the game.
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The high quality feedback from the Think Aloud sessions greatly informed the next stage of the game’s design as well as the way that the game was framed for marketing purposes. The Rollers of the Realm team received positive feedback on the game’s design as well as insights into the cognitive model of their testers. Despite the small number of testers who played the alpha version of the game, this combination of methods enabled the team to gain a very detailed understanding of in-game play. The game testers drew connections to the very popular casual game, Angry Birds, particularly in terms of the physics of the game play. The team also discovered that that testers saw the game as a puzzler, and not merely as a pinball-type game with role-playing elements.
With the realization that their game appealed to puzzle lovers, the team reframed their branding of the game to include puzzle play and expanded their target audience from pinball game fans to casual gamers.
ideaBOOST is the CFC Media Lab’s accelerator that emphasizes Audience Engagement for entertainment platform development. This case study was prepared for the ASTOUND initiative, a partnership between the CFC, HotDocs, and OCAD University.