gdc 2016

Far Cry Primal's Beast Riding Was Added Late In Development Thanks To Playtesting

by Mike Futter on Mar 15, 2016 at 06:01 AM

When players began testing Far Cry Primal, there were a number of things they enjoyed. However, there was one big problem bogging down the gameplay. It was taking far too long to get from one place to another.

Previous Far Cry games feature vehicles, hang gliders, wing suits, and other means of traversal. None of those things fit in the prehistoric setting, but Ubisoft had a problem. It simply wasn't fun to trudge across the map.

However, the team took that feedback and devised a solution. Beast taming was already part of the game. By giving players the opportunity to ride some of the animals, moving around became faster, thus solving the issue.

This success story is just one of many from Ubisoft's User Data Research group. We had the chance to hear from editorial user research director Sebastien Odasso, who discussed how Ubisoft improves its games with the help of end-user playtesters.

It's important to note that playtesting isn't quality assurance. These individuals aren't on a bug hunt. It also isn't the dreaded marketing-driven focus testing that some players believe is diluting creativity in triple-A gaming.

User research is about gathering feedback on a variety of game elements, including the interface, communication of in-game objectives, and general enjoyment. Data is gathered from community playtesters that visit one of Ubisoft's 13 user research labs to play in-development games.

Using a variety of psychological data gathering, ergonomics, and telemetry (like heat maps and player pathing through the game), Ubisoft is able to determine how players experience games. Once the data is gathered, Ubisoft's user research team prepares a report for the developers. There is no mandate to implement feedback, and creative control remains with the developers.

However, across the 203 playtests conducted last year, the user research group has evidenced a number of successes. These include streamlining the vehicle upgrade process in The Crew. At one point, players could not do this on the fly and, instead, had to return to HQ. Players were spending an enormously disproportionate time at HQ to upgrade, taking them away from other activities.

The Division's skill mods were once harder to interpret. Taking into account user research data, the game was adjusted to call out the important information and highlighting the relevant information.

Ubisoft continues to innovate its processes. The publisher is now also using eye tracking data to determine if players are accurately following the action and critical prompts. The user research team is also using an integrated feedback logger that allows players to identify if they are confused or frustrated at key points. These are accompanied by 10-second videos that show what was happening on-screen during the feedback.

There are a few areas that present challenges for Ubisoft as it continues to refine its user data processes. Microtransactions and in-app purchases are impossible to lab-test. Giving players currency to use doesn't yield practical results, as there are no real-world consequences from spending gifted money. Ubisoft is also working to build up its player testing regimen for virtual reality.

While the user research group doesn't make games, it seems clear it helps make them better. By bringing end-users in during development, Ubisoft is able to get data from outside the bubble. And though studios need not take into account the user research, the evidence seems clear that games have benefitted from the feedback.