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The Importance of User Feedback in Educational Game Development

User feedback is a fundamental aspect of game design! It provides invaluable insights into the player experience and gameplay mechanics, and in the case of educational games, it also gives game designers information about a game’s learning effectiveness. As an educational game studio dedicated to creating high-quality learning experiences, we know firsthand that by incorporating user feedback into the iterative design process, designers and developers can enhance the overall quality and efficacy of educational games!

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We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Laura Beukema, a talented game designer at Filament Games, who shed light on the importance and specificities of user feedback in the development of educational games. Read on to gain a deeper understanding of the role user feedback plays in shaping educational games!

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Why is user feedback important in the development of educational games?

User feedback and playtesting are crucial to developing games because you can’t know for sure if a game will work until someone else tries to play it. The only way to really know if a game is fun is to see how it’s played, and in the case of educational games, to see how players learn while they play. Getting answers to all those questions about how your game will be played is exciting, and then you get to incorporate what you discovered into making the game better and the learning more effective.

How does user feedback contribute to the overall quality and effectiveness of an educational game?

Game development is an iterative process. You poke at what you are developing to see where it can be improved. The best way to assess that is through user feedback. Through seeing your game in action, you learn whether players understand how to play the game, what confuses them, and whether they are able to complete the goals in the game. 

Other things to look for include any difficulties with using the interface, sections of the game that are too challenging (or too easy), which parts are the most engaging, and whether any parts aren’t engaged with at all. All of that information helps you improve on anything that wasn’t received well or didn’t quite meet project goals, but also helps direct efforts towards building on parts that worked well.

How does user feedback/playtesting differ for educational games when compared to commercial entertainment games?

For both types of games, you playtest for usability and engagement, but educational games have the added challenge of needing to fulfill efficacy goals around the targeted learning objectives. That can take the form of more carefully observing testers’ interactions to understand how they are making decisions and how they improve their understanding of the game as they play. Often, we utilize some form of assessment, whether built into the game itself or framed as pre- and post-surveys where we try to understand what players knew going in, and how that has been impacted after play.

Can you provide an example of a situation where user feedback significantly influenced the development or improvement of an educational game?

This was several years ago, but one easy example I can remember is an engineering game in which players built and drove a robot that required specific parts. Each part had a few variations that had tradeoffs between them for how the robot performed. In early versions, those variations and tradeoffs weren’t as easy to understand as we thought, and some players really struggled to design a passing robot. 

Based on that testing, we moved to adding more visual distinction to the parts and the way they were arranged to better communicate the tradeoffs. We also added more robust and nuanced feedback from the main character when players tested out their designs, to help guide them towards success.

What methods do you use to collect user feedback during the development process?

Most feedback is collected as observations by a team member while watching testers play, and if possible, asking testers questions to surface why they made a specific choice or interacted a certain way. It really depends on the kind of testing that is conducted though, and the type of game we are making. 

Sometimes it makes sense for testers to play in pairs or small groups, and even take a more participatory approach to discussing how to improve the game. In other cases that might be on a larger scale, we can collect analytics data or provide surveys. If we are gathering feedback on something more specific, like art style, or want to test a very early concept that isn’t playable yet, then an interview might make the most sense.

How do you ensure that user feedback is effectively incorporated into the iterative design process of an educational game?

The first thing is to make sure we are intentional about what point in development we are testing and collecting feedback. Throughout development, there’s discussion around the goals of any playtests and what we want to learn from testing. Collecting feedback isn’t helpful if it’s too late in development to meaningfully act on it. Feedback is always reviewed as a team to discuss any patterns or recurring issues and brainstorm solutions. Ideally, those discussions also touch on how realistic and actionable potential solutions are in terms of time and effort, to inform decisions about how we address the feedback. Of course, we have to also consider how any changes will impact other parts of the game since so much of what makes up a game is interdependent.

How do you prioritize and address different feedback sources or suggestions? For example, how do you handle conflicting feedback from different user groups or individuals?

Ultimately, it comes down to the team and stakeholders all having a shared vision of the project goals and the prioritization of those goals. It can be very easy to want to address every piece of feedback, since we all want to make the best game possible, and having that shared list of priorities gives teams a way to make decisions by thinking in terms of whether the affected users are within the target demographic or whether the way an idea is represented detracts from a key learning objective or not. 

Typically, teams prioritize feedback based on frequency and impact. Things that were encountered by a significant portion of players and/or significantly impacted the experience are discussed in terms of alignment with that shared vision of project goals and priorities. We then weigh the value of improvements and solutions against development efforts to prioritize items that give the most value for the time and resources we have left.

How do you strike a balance between incorporating user feedback and maintaining the integrity of the educational content or learning objectives in a game?

I would say one is in service of the other and always comes down to project goals and priorities. User feedback often helps uncover things that are barriers to players accessing and understanding the educational content and learning objectives. Struggles with completing levels, engagement with game mechanics, and how players feel while playing are all things that can help or hinder players from achieving the educational goals and learning objectives. 

For example, in a recent history game, users reported that some content made them uncomfortable, which could be seen as an issue that needed to be solved. In reality, that struggle for players confronting the content drove them to engage with the game in a way that was important to understanding the historical context and the primary learning objective.

In addition to direct user feedback, what other sources of feedback or data do you consider valuable in the development of educational games?

Another important aspect of development is balancing a game, which can’t happen without accounting for different types of players and play patterns. That raw data of what decisions players made and the results of those decisions, can be collected through observation, but also through analytics. Understanding what choices are the most common or most effective helps make decisions about how to balance the choices available to players with the complexity of the goals.

As you can tell from this interview, user feedback has a special place in the educational game development process. It goes beyond the traditional notions of entertainment-focused game testing, taking into account the targeted learning objectives and efficacy goals. By closely observing players’ interactions and considering their feedback, developers can craft games that not only engage and entertain but also foster meaningful learning experiences!

Want to harness the immersive power of video games for impact? We’re experts in educational game design, and we want to work with you. Reach out to us for a free consultation. 

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