For my Master's project for the Georgia Tech HCI program, I am collaborating with my team with sponsorship from Insomniac Games to investigate how console video game settings may be optimized to best improve the gaming experiences of players.
Video game studios have implemented robust settings options to provide for individual player needs; however, these settings are often underutilized due to the current manner in which they are presented in-game. These circumstances present the opportunity to engage in the process of research and design to best understand how players approach video game settings in order to develop solutions that optimize each player's gaming experience.
We concluded our primary and secondary research activities at the end of the fall 2022 semester for this project. As the spring 2023 semester begins, we will enter the design phase of this project and will have an operational prototype to demonstrate by May 2023. Please check back in for updates in the near future to see the design progress we are making.
In recent years, Western AAA video game studios have implemented robust settings options focused on creating accessibility and inclusivity for players with disabilities who were previously excluded from gaming experiences. While these settings offer heightened player accessibility and individualized customizations, they operate on a model in which players are expected to opt-in to use these settings through a time-consuming series of adjustments to optimize their game experience. As such, many of these newly implemented settings often go underutilized, especially by players without disabilities, and tend to detract from the desired immersion of their gaming experiences. Given these circumstances, my team and I have been fortunate enough to use the opportunity of our Master's project with oversight from Insomniac Games to further investigate how settings might be better implemented within video games to create more immersive and optimized experiences for all players.
To conduct our preliminary literature review, we examined accessibility databases, developer conferences, and industry press releases to understand the current video game settings implementation.
The goal of the literature review was to orient our understanding of the current practices, limitations, and trade-offs that define how settings are implemented in recent and upcoming video game titles.
The literature review offered insight into the disparate landscape of how settings are implemented across titles and genres as well as illuminated the deficit-style thinking that has defined how settings are frequently approached by game studios.
To conduct our competitive analysis, we examined 12 AAA+ console video games through online user-interface databases. The analysis spanned 6 distinct domains of video game settings and UI.
The goal of the competitive analysis was to establish a foundational understanding of the current state of settings and their implementation in console video games in order to identify existing patterns and best practices.
The competitive analysis provided an operational understanding of the current state of console video game settings and demonstrated common beneficial and detrimental settings implementation patterns.
To reach the broadest population of console video game players, we distributed our survey across gaming forums, websites, and social media hubs, which resulted in a total of 92 responses.
The goal of these surveys was to understand the high-level approaches and reasoning that players with and without disabilities have when adjusting settings to optimize their game experiences.
These surveys provided direct insight into the context, frequency, and type of settings that players most often adjust while demonstrating that all players have their preferences and motivations for doing so.
We conducted a series of 12 remote semi-structured interviews with gamers who were recruited from their responses to the survey. 6 of the interviewees identified as having a disability, while 6 of the interviewees did not identify as having a disability.
The goal of the interviews was to have an insightful understanding of the process by which gamers approach and manipulate settings to optimize their gaming experiences.
The interviews provided key insight into the various approaches that gamers take when manipulating game settings to optimize their experience while also demonstrating the shared patterns and expectations that inform these behaviors.
We conducted a series of 10 closed card sorting sessions in which participants with and without disabilities sorted 60 settings from God of War: Ragnarök into 6 predefined settings categories.
The goal of this card sorting was to gain a deeper understanding of how players conceptualize the information architecture of video game settings and their associated menus.
Analysis of the card sorting showed that players often encountered difficulty understanding how certain settings operate and indicated there is variability in how players prefer settings to be hierarchically categorized.
We partnered with Well Played LLC to conduct 8 in-person gameplay observations in their local play-testing lab where participants played through the opening of Far Cry 6 or God of War: Ragnarök while we provided prompts to elicit interactions with settings.
The goal of the observations was to understand how players approach their process of adjusting game settings when playing a novel video game for the first time.
The observations demonstrated the approach variations that players take when implementing settings in a new game as well as the difficulties that players encounter when navigating unknown settings menus.
Following the conclusion of our research practices, I collaborated with my team to aggregate disparate information and findings from each individual research method. Through this aggregation process, we distilled our overall research findings into these essential points to guide our forthcoming design process.
Players across all levels and abilities often seek outside help to improve their gaming experiences.
Players approach adjustment of settings based on their prior gaming experience and lived experience.
Players approach new games with existing expectations established from prior gaming experiences.
Players prefer to receive immediate feedback when adjusting settings that alter their gaming experiences.
Players prefer to learn new games by doing, but vary in the amount of content they prefer.
Players often experience difficulty in remembering what previous adjustments they made to settings.
Players tend to prioritize the first experience of a game to optimize settings to address their needs.
Players approach games with pre-established settings preferences that they seek to optimize.
To initiate the design process, I next led my team members in translating our essential research findings into a series of actionable design requirements. These design requirements will be the key guiding factors throughout the conception, development, and evaluation of our solution.
The design solution should emphasize the experiential benefits of adjusting settings.
The design solution should offer the ability to provide guided settings suggestions that aid players.
The design solution should provide players immediate feedback of settings that have been adjusted.
The design solution should maintain players' immersion in the gaming experience.
The design solution should be inclusive of players of all experience and ability levels.
The design solution should help players to understand what settings mean and how they function.
The design solution should prioritize preventative settings adjusment for players.
The design solution should reduce players' need to seek outside help to improve their experiences.