Gaming UX Research: 5 Lessons to Level-up User Experiences Across Industries

Posted by Ali Smith on Jul 18, 2023

In the fast-paced world of user experience (UX) research, teams are constantly seeking innovative methodologies and approaches to better understand user interactions with products and services. Each industry often has its own set of unique practices and caveats, however the domain of Gaming UX Research offers valuable insights and strategies that can be applied to UX research in other industries. 

AnswerLab’s team of Gaming UX Research subject-matter experts include team members who also have extensive backgrounds conducting research in other industries such as financial services, healthcare and pharmaceutical, social media, technology, SaaS, and more. 

Below are five lessons learned from Gaming UX Research principles that can transcend boundaries and benefit industries beyond gaming. When thinking about these lessons, we can break them down into the three main phases of a research project: prep, fieldwork, and analysis. 

The Prep Phase 
Embrace becoming an ‘expert’ in the subject matter.

When preparing to conduct research on a new topic, researchers often adopt a learner’s mindset or a ‘let the participant teach you’ approach. In qualitative discussions, this takes the shape of avoiding acknowledging prior understanding or interest of the subject matter. This can be helpful at times, particularly when studying first-time user experiences because it allows researchers to observe and learn directly from participants, letting them guide us to insights that might be overlooked by an expert. 

However, within Gaming UX Research, being an expert in the subject matter is advantageous. Your expertise helps you to ask more informed and targeted questions, understand the nuances of gameplay mechanics, and quickly recognize potential usability issues. Gaming is a sector where learning the lingo and becoming ingrained in its culture hold valuable stock.

Participants become noticeably more enthusiastic and detailed in their responses when researchers  acknowledge their own gaming experiences, for instance, their own experience playing a specific genre of game, watching a competitive streamer, or becoming familiar with common gaming acronyms. 

There is an exchange that occurs – a sort of rite of passage – that unlocks a deeper layer of trust and engagement with participants, that leads to more accurate and rich findings. 

Taking this approach in other industries can be beneficial as well. For example, when conducting research in finance and FinTech, being comfortable with stock and crypto lingo can help researchers decipher a gold mine of insights from participants

In gaming, knowing the lingo helps signal to others you’re an insider and they can relax and trust you to handle the task at hand. For example, understanding the question ‘Are you a runner or add clear?’ can make all the difference from allowing you to contribute to a goal or being kicked from a team. UX Research in other industries is often the same -demonstrating linguistic competence is a great first step to building trust and honest communication.
- Nelson S., Senior UX Researcher at AnswerLab   

Challenge assumptions about who your participants should be, and ensure proper representation. 

Gaming UX illustrates a research principle that is critical across industries: the inclusion of a diverse sample of participants. We should aim to look beyond recruiting participants who are the loudest, most intuitive or obvious perceived target audience for that product to get our clients the insights they truly need. 

Historically, gaming has been perceived as a male-dominated activity. Gaming was often marketed towards a male audience, leading to various stereotypes. However, according to the Entertainment Software Association’s 2021 Essential Facts About the Video Game Industry report, 48% of gamers in the United States are actually women. 

We’ve heard from female gamers that conducting gaming research among women to understand ‘the female experience’ is not enough. Instead, this research can and should account for the intersectionality of the human experience. Gamers are more than just their gender – the interwoven layers of their identity are all at play when generating opinions and behaviors around products.

Participants have cited aspects like their sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, age, and more as critical drivers in the decisions they make. This same sentiment should be consistently in mind for other industries as well, which is why AnswerLab’s recruitment team created an Inclusive Recruiting How-To Guide for research teams.

By challenging assumptions and including individuals of differing perspectives, researchers gain a more holistic understanding of user needs and preferences. 

Asset 4

The Fieldwork Phase 
Embrace the possibility to mimic playtesting in non-gaming environments. 

UX researchers have often been taught to conduct usability testing in similar ways:

> Have participants start going through a flow
     > Pause after Screen 1 and ask probing questions
          > Continue going through the flow
               > Pause after Screen 2 and ask probing questions

One of the most valuable techniques in Gaming UX research is playtesting, where players engage with an early version of a game or prototype to provide feedback that will impact future development. In the fieldwork stage of a study, Gaming UX Research shows us that even non-gaming usability tests can and often should be treated like playtesting.

Unlike the traditional usability testing process outlined above with pauses and probes throughout, playtesting lets participants go through a flow uninterrupted and observes their natural behaviors from start to finish. We’ve found that this leads to more realistic behaviors and candid responses as participants avoid losing their train of thought, losing momentum for navigating the flow, and falling into the cycle of preparing responses for upcoming questions. 

The same argument can be made for instances in other industries. It might not feel intuitive to think of submitting a payment in a financial services app as playtesting, but one could strongly argue that any UX journey is a game of sorts, with instructions, tasks, twists and turns, and ultimately a hopefully-satisfying reward.

Asset 6

The Analysis Phase
Lean on storytelling methods to crystallize findings. 

When it comes time for analyzing the data and generating a report, it’s important to structure the findings in a way that is both comprehensive, digestible, and motivating for action. Research teams often find that their reports lose traction because their structure falls into stale patterns for readers. 

Another key element of Gaming UX is the power of narrative. A quality game often has a powerful story, and reminds us that storytelling helps with:

  • Enhancing engagement and memorability
  • Contextualizing the research by framing it within a journey
  • Making the data more relatable
  • Fostering empathy and understanding 

Regardless of industry, this framework can be applied to any research report. A good report, like a good game, has a compelling narrative, a hero (user) to root for, a deep understanding and appreciation of their journey and pitfalls, perhaps some side quests to explore in the future, and a fun and engaging dialogue that makes readers feel inspired to unlock the next level of understanding. 

As an avid gamer myself, visualizing a narrative is an imperative must, as it was always a foundational component of my gaming retention. How can I relate? How do I feel through this alternative reality? When constructing a research report, folks may be intimidated by a wall of data or text, but it's through a design lens that we craft a sensory experience that is both comprehensive and effective. It’s like transcribing a novel to a film or code to the gaming screen. We are bringing stories to life.
– Emily P., Art Director at AnswerLab

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Gamify the share-out process to boost stakeholder engagement and impact.

A key final step in any research process is socializing the findings – the process of sharing the research insights with stakeholders or a project team  should effectively generate utilization and impact.

When well-executed, this step should take into consideration several factors: generating buy-in and support, promoting collaboration, raising awareness, and facilitating evidence-based decision-making. All of these variables require one necessity: engagement. And we’ve found that gamifying this process is a valuable way to increase engagement in share-outs. 

Gaming UX principles remind us that an engaging game consists of a few elements – mechanics or rules, captivating narratives, appealing aesthetics, meaningful choices, social interaction, and opportunity for creativity.

Gamifying the share-out allows researchers to
incorporate elements of games into activities to
boost engagement and drive change. 

We’ve found that this tactic works successfully both for gaming and non-gaming research teams, especially when utilizing shareable insights cards (printed playing card-style fact sheets that synthesize persona groups) and rounds of design-thinking dashes (rapid-fire workshops with teams, time constraints, instructions, and challenges). However, the possibilities are boundless as to ways to channel elements of one’s favorite game and cater it to their group of stakeholders. 


As a whole, the field of UX Research has much to gain from the valuable lessons learned in the realm of gaming. As UX research continues to evolve, cross-industry collaborations and the adoption of proven strategies will pave the way for the creation of exceptional user experiences across sectors.

Research teams can draw empowerment and empathy by tapping into their own personal experiences with playing games of any kind, putting themselves in the driver’s seat to invigorate their own research goals.

Learn how we combined quantitative and qualitative research methods to help a gaming client see the big picture and plan for future product development.


Written by

Ali Smith

Ali Smith is a Principal UX Researcher at AnswerLab, where she leverages her wide breadth of expertise specializing in Gaming, AR/VR, Social Media, and AI research. Along with working closely with Fortune 500 clients to understand their users’ needs, she is passionate about mentoring aspiring UX researchers and actively contributing to the development and advancement of the field.

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