Game UX Summit ’18 | Using User Experience Research Tools for Educational Games – Kalmpourtzis


George Kalmpourtzis: Hey. Let’s do … Okay. So, hello from me. My name is George Kalmpourtzistzis, and I
am the founder of Infinitivity Design Labs, which is an indie game design and consulting
services studio based in France. So, let me give you some information about
myself, okay? During the past 10 years I have the luxury
to explore the gaming industry developer through a variety of roles. I have been a developer, I have been a designer,
I have been a user experience researcher, and I have also been a producer. For the last seven years, I have been working
a lot with educational gaming, which seems very interesting. And also, recently I wrote a book which is
called Educational Game Design Fundamentals, a journey to creating and basically motivating
learning experiences. It’s about educational game design. So, let’s begin. As it has been mentioned already through previous
sessions during the conference, we are experiencing a great revolution in technology. So technology becomes part of our lives, and
there are several people, entrepreneurs, designers, developer, teachers and educators, that are
trying to integrate this technological revolutions in our daily life. And the gaming industry is no exception to
this revolution, so we as players, as designers, we have experienced this revolution in the
PCs, in the consoles, in mobile, visual augmented reality, and this history is still being created. And at the same time, we see the players,
the way that people actually learn, players learn, has also evolved. There has been the great discussion during
the past decade about integrating games into how people learn. So from one side, you have those people that
are very passionate about integrating game design and the games into learning contexts,
because they feel that games have an intrinsically motivating value for people that are actually
learning. From the other side, there are those that
are skeptical because they say that games superficially, they address the topics that
they promise to teach players about. And also, they may act as distractors. And we have seen during the past decade several
initiatives, from the industry, from academia, from public organizations and from private
institutions about creating games about learning. Some of them had a tremendous impact on how
players learn. They a tremendous impact on us and some of
them were extremely boring, and that we tried to forget, and some of them we have already
forgotten. So there are several reasons why educational
games may be efficient, however, the main reason is that is educational game design
teams consists of members, usually, that do not share the same vision about the games
that they want to design. So there are several locations where these
themes may have contradictory visions about what they want to design, and there are several
occasions where even the term game is not defined the same way for everybody in the
team. So, from one side, you have game designers,
who try to address gaming in the traditional way that we address, through casual game design. And there are also educators who try to focus
on a learning objective, and [inaudible 00:03:50] approaches. And of course, both of these aspects are of
equal importance. We want to create games that have a learning
value, but also they are fun to play. So games that fail to integrate, to facilitate
learning objectives are actually superficial to help us learn what they promise to help
towards the way that they promise us to learn. And from the other side, games that do not
focus on their game mechanics, they are boring or they’re disguised learning activities that
are not actually games, and players and students are extremely capable of spotting those games,
and they don’t want to play them. So, okay, let’s take a step backward, and
let me tell you a story. I have been working with kids, so we are designing
games with kids for kids, usually for educational purposes. And the last year, I was working with a kindergarten
classroom in Greece, working on the topic of mathematical patterning. So, just to give you some context, mathematical
patterning, at this age, is not clear to kindergarten students. So, the mechanics behind how, actually, mathematical
patterns … For example, triangle, square, triangle, square, and it goes on, to work,
are not clear to kindergartners. And we tried to create games and through the
process of designing games we expected that players would actually understand how mathematical
patterns work. So, this is a paper prototype created by two
kindergarten students of this classroom. So, just to explain very quickly to you how
the game works, this is a puzzle platform game where we have a burger buns that need
to pass from one side of the screen to the other. So, we see that there are some color of the
burger buns. These are colored burger buns for those who
are hungry. This is a continuation of [inaudible 00:05:51]. And they try to jump from one side of the
screen to the other. If they fall on this brown frying pans that
we see on one side of the screen, they will be fried. So by tapping, players can change these frying
pans into colored buns, so if they manage to correctly transform the frying pans to
the correct color that completes the patterns that we see on the top of the screen, then
the cutlets would actually manage to pass to the other side of the screen, and they
will fall down and be fried. So, the reason why I am showing you this is
that I was in front of the conception of the game theme, and I was amazed when, actually,
the two students decided to pick up the thing because one other classmate of theirs, his
name was [Johannes 00:06:37], liked the hamburgers. So, this was user-started design from its
core, and it was actually done by two kindergarten students. And I realized that we, in adult educational
design teams, sometimes we forget about the user because we spend a lot of time discussing
about several other aspects, and because there is this agreement inside the team. And part of my research is related to how
we can improve the educational design process. So, as part of a broad process, we conducted
several interviews with educators of all sorts. University professors, teachers, trainers,
game designers and game developers, that were all members previously of a educational game
design teams, and we came up with the following journey map. So I will very briefly go through the map. So initially, there is a team. The team is assembled. Later on, the team comes up with a topic. Everybody tries to contribute to the team
of the game. Later on, there is design, development, evaluation,
and if there is the possibility, there is also iteration. What actually everybody described is either
a linear or an iterative process. And this is not very much different from what
we have in other types of games. Let’s, however, have a look on how different
stakeholders feel during these steps. So here we have game designers and educators. At the beginning of the design process, everybody
is actually invigorated that they are going to participate in the creation of a new game. And as the process goes on, and the topic
is decided, everybody wants to contribute to the project, and to present their opinion
and their view of the topic by explaining how game design works, or how the learning
objectives and the particular approach that they want to implement actually work. However, when design and development start,
we see misalignment. From one side, the game designers feel that
they are held back by the educators, and the educators feel that their opinion is not being
taken into account, and this misalignment is actually evident from here on until the
end of the game. Eventually, we have games that for game designers
are boring, and for educators are not usable in their delivery. So nobody’s actually going to use these games. So, more or less, what we see is that there
may be educational game design teams that are not aligned, and they don’t serve the
same vision. And when this happens, there is disagreement,
there is friction, that when it exists, the future of the game, the future of the project,
is at stake. And I have personally experienced several
occasions where we scrapped the project because the stakeholders and the consults of the other
party who were participating in the project could not agree on the nature of the game. However, it has been observed that this friction
could potentially be decreased or even eliminated even when using user experience research tools,
such like Personas and journeys. Personas, which is a classic user experience
research tool, helps us put the focus on our audience. With personas, we can define a portion of
our audience, and anticipate their behavior and their reaction when they play our games. However, educational games have some particularities
compared to other types of games, and we have to adapt our personas for their needs or for
the educational games. The main aspect that we needed to take into
account was that not everybody learns in the same way. We are actually all different, and we learn
in different ways. We approach our environment in different ways. We perceive our environment in different ways. We receive, we process, we [inaudible 00:10:32]
information in different ways, and when we engage in learning activities or when we play
new educational games, we do not all have the same amount of information in order to
complete the game. It’s very possible that someone that lives
in one country than another have different curricula, have been taught their courses
in different ways, or even in different regions in the same country, and they may not possess
the same starting point. These are aspects that we needed to take into
account when designing our personas, and also, we need to take into account accessibility. In several locations, there are public institutions
that want to create educational games, where we need to take into account a large population
which is this audience. So apart from actually defining the [inaudible
00:11:21], the needs, the expectations, the context around our persona, we also needed
to give as much information as possible about how our audience is actually learning. And in this way, we try to explain several
aspects related to the mastery of our audience concerning the topic that we wanted to teach. And on top of that, we also wanted to present
as much information as possible regarding their approach to learning. For example, we used learning styles. We tried to address the misconceptions that
they had so that we would actually make them disappear during the game, or if there were
blocking points, we had to address them either before the game or at some point during the
progression of our games. And we tried to have this information as soon
as possible so that everybody’s aligned, because these tools actually … One of the main aspect
that … One of the main benefit was that would bring everybody on the same table, and
they would all be aligned on the topic and the problem that they needed to solve. So, just to say something before I go to this,
I present you this side … Personas are a very powerful tool in educational game design,
but also they can be very tricky. So we have here, I have here, two examples
that I would like to show to you. This is a screenshot from a game that we designed
called Ladybugs Box, early childhood mathematics. So, this was a game that was developed for
mobile devices and was aiming at helping players develop their spatial thinking skills. In kindergarten, the term left or right are
not that clear, but apart from this, spatial thinking is also related to mental transformations,
rotations, the way that I see now the spaces, not in the same way that you are seeing space
at the moment. Giving and receiving spatial directions, being
able to locate myself on a map. These are all aspects that are yet not clear
to children of the early childhood, and for several adults as well. So in that regard, we tried to create a game
for the kindergarten. When we started developing the game, we realized
there are several European countries that do not define kindergarten in the same way. There are children that go to the kindergarten
at the age of three, at the age of four, and at the age of five. So, this difference in this stage is tremendous. There is a tremendous cognitive difference
… A tremendous difference in the cognitive development of a three year old child compared
to a four year old child. So, we have to take into account different
curricula, see how actually different curricula approach the topic that we wanted to teach. We had to conduct interviews with different
students, and we also sold different prototypes to these students in order to come up with
some personas. And eventually, we came up in this case with
three personas that were related to age, mastery of the topic, and apparently something that
we hadn’t anticipated at that point at the development of that game, was the familiarity
with mobile devices, which apparently was an issue. So here, I’m presenting you two of the three. And we used those personas in order to create
different introductory levels, and based on this, we later on created different level
progressions in order to facilitate the cognitive development, the learning curve, of those
different players. On top of this, we created instructions for
teachers that would be willing to use these games in their classrooms, and later on, we
learned some pilot activities in order to test out games. So what you see here is a game that actually
was developed by a company in France called Mascot. So Mascot, a couple of years ago, was asked
to design an educational game that would help France primary school students develop their
reading skills. The game had to be accessible to students
with auditory and visual deficiencies. So, from the very beginning, we tried to define
our audience. The issue was that even if the [inaudible
00:15:33] of age was quite well defined, the issue that we faced was that still, it was
very broad. So we had several accessibility experts that
pointed out several aspects and several characteristics that we needed to take into account for different
types of players. And we realized that we had to come up with
lots and lots of personas, and initially we went with lots and lots of personas. If you hear how many personas we did, you
will not believe me. And so later on, we realized that that didn’t
make any sense, because this game needed to be very customizable, and needed to adapt
to the individual needs of the player that we needed to target. So what we came up eventually was that we
tried to list all the characteristics that we needed to take into account, and we tried
to cluster them and see if there are common patterns that we could address. Eventually, we came up with this game. This game is called Quest Island. It’s a 3D adventure game, where players actually
follow the story of fairy tale characters. They interact with different non-player characters,
seeing some quests that they need to complete by also reading material that would actually
help them develop their reading skills. And there was also an editor that was created
by one of the partners in the consortium that we were working with, which actually helped
us customize the game, especially for our audience with visual deficiencies. So, it turns out that the more our game needs
to adapt to the individual needs of its player, the more personas we need. So the more difficult it comes to use this
tool. User journeys on the other hand help us in
the same way anticipate and project and reflect on the general experience that our players
will have when they play our games. However, we had the same issue that educational
games have several particularities that are not addressed, that do not exist, in other
types of games. So we had to adapt our journeys for this context. And mainly, we need to take into account the
learning progression of our students, of our players. So this is a template that we created in order
to design our user journeys, and in initially we had to describe our audience through personas
like the ones that we saw before. And initially, we tried to describe our learning
context and our learning objectives, our game context, and our gaming objectives. And from the very beginning, we tried to draft
the learning scenario and the game progression. This was done from the very beginning by all
stakeholders, and everybody was trying to draft everything that they could from the
very beginning. What happened was that, from the very beginning,
we realized that there were several issues, and this was a good point, because we realized
that later on we needed to find some solutions to the problems that were coming up. These were pain points for us. So we applied this methodology in a platform
called [Tactilo Map 00:18:41]. So, Tactilo Map is an online platform where
teachers are able to create learning scenarios by putting points of interest on a map, and
they can also create several activity scenarios, et cetera. And later on, students would be able to download
these scenarios on mobile phones, or smart phones, or on their tablets, and go outdoors
and play with the scenarios that were created for them. We were asked to design some games for this
platform, and we brought together educators, designers, game designers, developers, and
we tried to address topics like geography, geology, history, and mathematics. So from the very beginning, we started drafting
the learning scenario and the learning progression, and the game that we wanted to design. We elaborated also on the game mechanics,
and on the components that would be affected by those game mechanics, also narrative aspects
of the games. And in several cases, there were misalignments,
so either the game would not be related to the learning objectives that we wanted to
target, or the learning objectives were too hard for the game to be facilitated. So, we either changed the game or the narrative
aspects in order to facilitate the learning objectives, or on the other hand, we decided
to decrease in some occasions the learning objectives so that we would have a seamless
learning-gaming experience. And as part of this, there were also some
new features that were presented, because during this iteration situation that we would
have misalignments, eventually, we would also, in some occasions, we would also come with
new features. This is a new feature that we came up with,
which is a live communication soft tool. So eventually, students could communicate
and exchange information about their topic, about their quest that they were playing about,
especially if it was the same. And this actually unlocked several possibilities
for us, because now we had multiplayer capabilities. So actually, we worked later on with teams
that would be working collaboratively, or competitively, or there would be [inaudible
00:20:49] that would be playing individually, but against or with other classmates. Later on, we decided also to add intersectional
user journeys, which also helped us see how the game progression is actually affecting
the overall experience, and we realized that we had an interesting evaluation tool that
would later help us examine and make our games evolve even more if actually we decided to
move forward. This is online, Tactilo Map, at the moment. And the last project that I would like to
show you is called [Studious Plus 00:21:27]. Studious Plus is actually related to the concept
of a makeover, of a classroom makeover. So what we did is we took a traditional classroom,
and we transformed it to a gaming space. So actually, there would be a huge gaming
space with five play areas. Each area would have a different game, and
all the different areas would be around the same topic, which in this case, it was mathematical
patterning again. So, students of the classroom would enter
the gaming space. They would decide to go to an area, then they
would play, then they would be bored, and they would switch to another area. So while we were actually play-testing this
concept, we realized that we had an issue, and the issue was that players would actually
play one or two games, and then they would already have a mastery of the topic, so when
they would try to play another game, they would feel bored, because there was no challenge. So what we decided to do, we came up with,
we drafted different user journeys for each game, taking into account they would be played
by players with different experience, different level of experience. And based on this, we tried to come up with
a novel progression strategy, taking into account that this gaming space is going to
be played in a non-linear way by different types of students. And in this way, we integrated the … So,
every time that the players would actually enter a game, they would enter their profile,
and in this way, the game would adapt the leveling progression to the needs of the style
and the profile of the students that we had. So, educational game designers need to take
into account several aspects when they design, and several factors when they design their
games. The more educational game design matures,
the more it becomes obvious that we have a need for holistic and the global need for
a user experience strategist that will ensure a generic, homogenous gaming-learning experience. A very important aspect that we need to take
into account is that we need to maintain balance between gaming and learning aspects, and the
personas and user journeys are a very interesting tool that can help us achieve this. However, it is very important that we take
into account that we need to adapt them to the needs of each individual game that we
want to design. Thank you very much. Okay, so … Okay, we have time. Speaker 2: I guess I’ll just stand here. Thanks for the talk. This is something of really a high interest
to me. When I was in university, I dealt with this
type of thing a lot. And one of the things we rubbed up against,
as you mentioned briefly, was a lot of the educators and the content experts had a misconception
that because it is a game it will be fun, and because it’s fun, students will engage
in the content, and because students are engaging in the learning content, let’s just throw
as much learning content in, usually in walls of texts and stuff. And it was the antithesis of what they’re
trying to accomplish. So I guess my question is, how have you been
successful addressing those misconceptions directly with those educators? I know from a designer, you talk about keeping
a balance with yourself, but there’s often a misconception happening on the other end? How do you achieve that balance with those
people? Thank you. George Kalmpourtzis: Thank you very much. Basically, this is, in general, a very big
challenge for educational game design. I feel that evolution and revolution does
not come in one day, and usually it needs time, and we need time to change our way of
seeing things and our perspectives. I feel that both educators and game designers
want to hear the other, they want to create games that are both learning, that have a
learning value, and are also fun. And you need time. You need to present all the time, continuously,
your opinion. And I find the more a consistent and a continuous
design process is in place, the more easy it becomes for someone to gradually change
their opinion and perspective on the topic. I don’t say that it will happen immediately. I don’t think this is the case, but I think
this is a challenge in general in design. However, I feel that it is us that actually
will make the change if we need to. I don’t know if I answered your question. Speaker 2: Certainly. Thank you. George Kalmpourtzis: Okay. Okay. Thank you very much.

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