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Gathering UX Insights from Game Jams

Is a Game Jam some kind of a sandwich? How does it help with UX insights?

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At coherence, we believe in a good, solid, and simple user experience. To understand our users better so we can continuously improve coherence, we often participate in Game Jams. A Game Jam is an event which takes place over a certain amount of time (usually a weekend) where participants create a game from scratch either in a team or alone. It’s proven to be a popular format, as the Global Game Jam alone had over 33,000 jammers in 2022. Also, it can be a lot of fun to innovate and get inspired without the pressure of making something polished with a lot of content.

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These are great for gathering insights! Why? It’s because we have a lot of new users in a short amount of time trying our product in a high-pressure environment. These Game Jams are also very experimental with games that vary in size, quality and type - all these things are good for us because we can account for and gather feedback for many different use cases. However, it is a very specific type of research we can perform - for instance, a game can only go so far in a Game Jam due to time constraints so what you can get out of coherence can be limited. But what it is great for is how we onboard and set up our users and how they utilize features in the earlier stages.

In this article I’ll be talking about how we do research during Game Jams for our multiplayer toolkit - however, you can pick up a few tips if you want to test your own product or game in a highly intense and time-pressured environment and understand what value you can get by doing that.

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It’s dangerous to go alone, take this… (internal research)!

Another very useful thing we do at coherence is having internal Game Jams where we actually use our product ourselves. Being a UX Designer, I’ve been in working environments where nobody uses the product themselves - even though they work on it daily! There’s a huge amount of value going to waste when you’re not using your own product. It’s a good way to put people who work on the product in the shoes of those who are using your product. It helps build empathy - I never see a problem fixed faster than when a Developer or Designer has to use it, finds something awkward or confusing and then there’s the realization that this is potentially affecting all of our users - if it’s a small problem for us, it’s probably a much more frustrating problem for our users!

Every few months the whole team gets a week to work on a game as part of an internal Game Jam - this can either be improving an existing game project or creating a completely new game. The only rule is to use coherence, especially any new features we’ve been working on. Because we love our product, this is probably the thing we most look forward to!

During our Game Jam, this also gives everyone in the business a chance to throw their ideas into a hat and give their feedback. Sometimes the best feedback or insights you can gather internally aren’t from Designers or Developers - but Product or Business. Anyone can try the product and give feedback - and usually the people who are further removed from the product can be better from a new user’s perspective as they aren’t working on it every day.


It’s time to gather insights and chew bubble gum…and I’m all outta gum!

After each external or internal Game Jam we gather insights, mostly by surveys. Surveys are useful because of the quantity of users you can cover in a small amount of time. It’s also easier to compare answers. Questions range from general usage to specific features we have been working on that month and/or sprint. If there’s any feedback that might need a more detailed answer, I set up calls with them and discuss in more detail. One good thing about these Game Jams is that as they’re a similar environment and you ask similar questions, you can see patterns over time and utilize this for metrics.

The other way we gather research is by having regular updates throughout the Game Jam. Ie, asking people to give feedback whilst they’re building games. This works great, because it’s very real time and efficient and sometimes we can fix issues as they come in.

The power of internal research is catching UX issues or bugs before they get in the hands of our users. We have other measures, such as QA and UX Designers, but bringing everyone together to use coherence means we can make improvements based on numerous peoples thoughts and feelings - possibly people who may not have given these valuable insights before, such as tech writers or product.

I’ll quickly list some alternative ways of researching which work well in these environments:

  1. Usability testing: Conducting usability testing with real users can help you identify usability issues and areas for improvement in your product.
  2. Analytics: Analyzing data from web and app analytics tools can help you understand how users use your product.
  3. Card sorting: Conducting card sorting exercises with users can help you understand how they organize information and identify patterns in their thinking.
  4. A/B testing: Conducting A/B testing can help you test different design elements and identify which ones are most effective at achieving your goals.
  5. Focus groups: Conducting focus groups can help you gather feedback from a group of users and identify common themes and patterns in their feedback.
  6. Contextual inquiry: Conducting contextual inquiry involves observing users in their natural environment and can provide valuable insights into their behaviors and needs.

If you take away anything from this, it’s the understanding that this is a specific type of research which tests your product under the pressure of time constraints. If a user can work out how to use your product in a more efficient way - this is some evidence (possibly?) that your product is simpler and one of the main reasons we do research in the first place is to make our product easier to use. This is why having a time constraint on a product (product-dependent of course) can be very valuable.

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In conclusion, Game Jam and Insights make for a tasty sandwich!

Game Jams are a great way to get fast, intense and efficient feedback. It isn’t the only way of conducting research, but it’s a great environment for anything related to on-boarding or a new feature - specifically if you do internal Game Jams.

There’s value in testing your product under pressure. Ensuring that you give the best user experience possible - even when users aren’t following a ‘happy path’ or don’t have weeks to work out what your product does.

Remember to take the time to test your product in a real environment and let it help you empathize with your users more so you can make better changes and decisions moving forward.

At coherence, we care about our user experience so it’s very important for us to practice what we preach and use what we make. It’s always good to take a walk in your users’ shoes and understand their problems on a deeper level.

Written By

Stacey Ray

Published in: Tradecraft
June 8, 2023