Ubisoft’s Parisian us­abil­ity test­ing depart­ment is a new ad­di­tion to ed­i­to­rial, and set away from the rest of the team in its own build­ing be­hind sev­eral locked doors. Here, Au­drey Lau­rent-An­dré and Se­bastien Odasso run a 19-strong team of de­sign­ers and re­searchers who study play­ers’ habits in in-de­vel­op­ment games.

Ubisoft’s stu­dios will typ­i­cally have their own test­ing de­part­ments, too, but Paris likes to keep this small unit close for its own ref­er­ence. “The mis­sion of the line de­sign­ers and pro­duc­ers is to help the teams make bet­ter games. I think it’s im­por­tant for them to be able to see first­hand what hap­pens with the play­ers,” Odasso says. “Us­abil­ity tests have been done at Ubisoft since 2001. Since then, we’ve been con­stantly im­prov­ing our method­olo­gies. When I ar­rived six years ago in the games lab, we were five or six strong. In six years, we’ve tripled or quadru­pled the num­ber of people in the team.”

Odasso’s back­ground is in neu­ro­phys­i­ol­ogy and prod­uct test­ing, while Lau­rent-An­dré is a de­signer and pro­gram­mer who left the En­jmin game de­sign school with a mas­ter’s de­gree in 2011. To­gether, they and the team build pro­cesses to an­swer ques­tions posed by ed­i­to­rial. “Ev­ery­thing starts with the ed­i­to­rial team say­ing, ‘Yeah, I’m not sure about this thing; check if this works,’” Lau­rent-An­dré says. “We try to have one per­son who will fol­low the project all the time. For in­stance, we will have one co­or­di­na­tor who is go­ing to run all of the tests of

The Di­vi­sion and As­sas­sin’s Creed, and he’s able to fol­low the dif­fer­ences be­tween ver­sions and have a good un­der­stand­ing of what the team wants to know. The deeper the knowl­edge on the project, the more ef­fi­cient the method­ol­ogy on it.”

“Most of our feed­back isn’t re­ally on the de­sign de­ci­sions in the game,” Odasso says. “It’s what we call us­abil­ity. Does the player know what he has to do? Where he has to go? Does he know the con­trols, and can he do the things that he has to do? Does he see and un­der­stand the tu­to­rial?

“Even if we’re part of the ed­i­to­rial struc­ture, our playtest re­ports can help the team make de­ci­sions. A boss that’s too hard to beat will [yield a re­port] iden­ti­fy­ing some causes and some sug­ges­tions. The team can, if they want, put them in ac­tion with the re­port. Ev­ery­one has our re­port; ev­ery­one has our find­ings. I think it’s a bril­liant part of game de­sign, even if it’s not game de­sign it­self.”

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