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Storyboarding for Games User Research

February 13, 2013 Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

Storyboarding Player Experience

Visualizing player experience by storyboarding could make difficult-to-interpret GUR data more accessible to a wider game industry audience. Here we point out some key strength of storyboarding approaches for GUR:

Correlation between user research data and gameplay events: Storyboarding would be a powerful tool for tying the GUR findings together, since these findings contain data with a radically different formats (such as qualitative user comments and quantitative game metrics).

For example, in Biometric Storyboards, we use visualization of a player's actions, their biometrics responses, their post-gameplay comments, and gameplay events to help us to better understand and explore correlations between changes in player's feeling and the corresponding events or behaviors.

We saw these storyboards being used to examine behavior of several players during a single game event. Understanding how players are motivated to perform particular tasks in gameplay environments is vital information for game designers.

Comparison of players' behavior: Once we have created a series of these storyboards, we can compare the gameplay journeys of different players and use them to spot key trends in gameplay behavior. Further studies may show the player's background profiles and "psychographics" (motivations) can reflect a regular pattern of behavior and subsequent enjoyment in their corresponding storyboards. Future development of these storyboarding techniques would provide a tool that could be useful to compare gameplay experience in different settings.

Whole session overview: By visualizing the whole gameplay session, storyboarding would help to provide an efficient overview across all events, levels, and missions, enabling the developers to quickly scan for key elements in level design, player performance and player emotions.

Verifying the intended design decisions: We have seen these storyboards being used to compare how players actually felt during game event to what the designer had originally intended players to experience. Storyboards would suitably fit into the design process, enabling designers to verify the success of their game design environment, and judge whether their intended game experience matched the actual player experience.

Simplicity: Storyboards can be formed and iterated based on the demands of game developers to deliver visualizations that are simple, easy to understand and interpret with an immediately apparent benefit.

User-centered Design: GURs have a benefit from understanding of game development process and the relevant needs in the working environment to design visualizations that closely match the requirements and language of target users, and the subsequent level of detail necessary for the task.

Familiarity: Game developers and producers are familiar with storyboards, various data representation techniques and visualizations of game metrics. Similarity between these existing models help to support communication with and between developers and effectively increased the acceptance of new tools.

Support collaboration: Storyboards enable increased collaboration between games user researchers, game designers, other developers, and producers. We saw that producers and designers were able to more effectively discuss design strategy using these storyboards as evidence for player behavior.


Through storyboarding we can visualize and aggregate player data, this would help games user researchers and games development teams to achieve a shared view on critical game design events. Based on our experience, storyboards are not only a powerful tool to explain game design problems but also provide a way to discuss their solutions. They can help the whole team to visualize design problems, the potential solutions, and gameplay areas that need improvement.

Creating data-driven storyboards supports design arguments, so that game designers can see how players would experience their intended designs. These storyboards provide an analytical connection between players and game designers. With these storyboards we can provide engaging and actionable arguments explaining player experience issues to the games development team.

Game events (we call them "game beats") and emotions resulting from those events are at the heart of creating a great player experience. Biometric Storyboards allow us to visualize events in gameplay where player's actions or behaviors lead to change in their emotional states. We already ran several studies with Biometric Storyboards and hope to be able to present our Biometric Storyboards tool for game and player evaluation soon.

Acknowledgment: We would like to thank Mark Knowles, Jason Avent, Graham McAllister, and our interviewees for their contributions to this work. We would also like to thank Gareth R. White, Steve Bromley, and Kate Howland for their encouragement and constructive comments on earlier versions of this article.

More reading: W. Quesenbery and K. Brooks, "Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design, 1st edition," Storytelling for User Experience: Crafting Stories for Better Design, 1st edition, Apr. 2010.

Article Start Previous Page 3 of 3

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Dennis Kappen
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Great article!!. This is an exciting area of research and has immense potential.

Typically a storyboard is a representational process of visually depicting the structure of a story. A sequence of visuals helps to communicate the progression or build up of the story. Storyboarding has always been used by designers and concept artists to flush out their ideas in the ideation phase of a project in the fields of industrial design, multimedia, animation, web development, game design and films to mention a few. The storyboarding activity is a means to create a tangible expression of an intangible collection of thoughts by a designer or a team of designers.

In my mind, storyboarding is a quick, iterative and a visual representation of a collection of ideas, which together communicates the overarching schema or the design intent of a proposed solution. The visual representation can be in the form of sketches, flowcharts, or mind mapping bubble diagrams on a simplistic level. In the process of design, the storyboarding process has been a brainstorming method whereby expensive production costs can be saved by investing time in storyboarding concept designs in various phases of any project in the above mentioned fields.

Hence, in storyboarding, all one needs is an idea which is then transcribed into sequential visuals, which then communicates the essence of the scenarios being conceptualized or designed. This activity has been used in all the three stages of the concept design process namely; ideation (the creative and brainstorming phase); design creative (act of transferring concept ideation into tangible visual elements); and design validation (testing the functionality of the design being conceptualized to ensure that the creative solution adheres to the goals set out in the design brief). The concept design phase is then followed by an iterative loop interconnecting future phases; design and development; prototyping; validation and testing.

My point here is that, semantically, storyboarding is an idea representational tool or a scenario representational tool in the process of concept development.

In the above article, the term “storyboarding “has been used by the authors’ as a means of representation of data visually. The question that bothers me is that if the data generated in the UT is already a tangible element, is it still appropriate to use the term storyboarding to visualize data? If the data is being represented visually, then, is the representation semantically, a data visualization interface as opposed to being a storyboard? In my humble opinion, the term storyboard in “Biometric Storyboards” may not be appropriate in its usage, because the representation is of finite and defined data as opposed to ideas. Perhaps, in my mind, the term “storyboards” adds confusion between idea representation; and representation of data or multiple permutations and combinations of data visualizations.

On the other hand, if Biometric Storyboard as a tool would help designers to build “what if” scenarios from the collected data to project or simulate future responses, then it lends itself to being a concept/scenario generation tool as opposed to being a data visualization tool.

Simulations of new scenarios based on mapping between the intended, the perceptual and the actual interactions would create a better understanding of users’ needs and interaction challenges.

In my humble opinion, the question we need to ask is while a storyboard is a visual representation, is every data representation a "storyboard"?

Lennart Nacke
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Dennis, this is a great question that we actually thought about close to the end of the development of Biometric Storyboards. Really, what is being generated by the user research and biometric data is a visualization of game structure, much like a plot graph of important game events. So, following your definition of storyboarding as an ideation tool, I guess we are closer to a filtering tool than an ideation tool. I think part of the understanding that we still have to gather is whether storyboarding itself is a useful term for this kind of data representation or whether there could be better terms for quick insight tools that visualize big data for gaming. I think storyboarding and ideation is where our approach started, but it would be interesting if there are more appropriate terms for this as we go toward visual data analytics.

Rina Wehbe
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The article was well written and clearly outlined a problem. Biometric storyboards were purposed to help game design teams communicate ideas effectively by using physiological inputs to get information about the user’s emotional state. However, physiological methods are proficient at determining the valence of the arousal. Is gameplay behaviour enough to determine the valence of the arousal? Could you further talk to this point? I would also be interested in hearing more about you ideas concerning using psychographics to determine motivations and patterns of behaviours. Overall great article!

Pejman Mirza-Babaei
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Hi Rina, glad that you liked the article, also interesting thoughts and questions. I don't think we are that advanced to be able to determine user's emotional state yet. In Biometric storyboards , the graph represent user's level of arousal (excitement or frustration) and qualitative data (post-gameplay interview) are used to determine their valence. These player experience information would be more useful when compared to designer's intended experience. Also, I don't think gameplay behaviour is enough to determine player experience (see the heatmap example in the first page), and that is why GURs use triangulation of methods. Also have a look at this article regarding your question about using psychographics to determine motivations and patterns of behaviours

Dennis Kappen
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Thank you Lennart, not getting bogged down by semantics, this is a great article and I am also reading the CHI2013 paper to understand interrelationships between player experience, intended, perceptual and actual interactions and get more clarifications on physiological methods.