FOCUS : TESTING
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.”