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User Research: What a player means when saying "I don't like the art style of the game"?

by Yongcheng Liu on 10/12/21 11:07:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


In opinion & comments analysis, user researchers often encounter too general and subjective feedback from players, especially in terms of game art and stories, such as players saying "I don't really like the art style of your game", "I don't think the world view is very good, I'm not interested in it at all. "...... What's more annoying is that these feedbacks seem to be mostly emotional output, but not clearly directed to the problems that the game can perceive and eventually form the basis of improvement and changes.

Do players dislike the overall style? Or do they dislike the specific art or several parts of the story? And why don't they like it? What adjustments can be made to the game to reverse the player's opinion? To understand these deeper needs behind players' emotional output, user researchers need certain research methods to dig deeper into their real thoughts, such as 1V1 interviews with more detailed questioning skills. How to do it and avoid our lessons learned? In this article, I will take players' evaluation of the game's art style as an example, and show you how to get deeper into players' real thoughts by splitting and refining the "art style" in the interview question design and practical use.


What are the details of the game that affect the overall "art style" feedback of players?

The first step to understanding what factors drive players to give a negative review to a game's art style is to break down the relatively general term art style: what modules and details do players think of when they evaluate a game's art style? Based on our experience in conducting art style research, we have compiled the following details:

With almost all the details that may affect players' evaluation of the game's "art style" broken down, we can design specific questions for these details in the questionnaire and interview questions for the 1V1 art style interview or playtest with a bunch of players. For example, in one closed beta test questionnaire about players' art style evaluation, we have done some detail mining and got some possible feedback points of players in the pre-test:

not only in the questionnaire and interview design but also in the final presentation of players' feedback, user researchers also need to explore and summarize different aspects of details, in order to provide a complete blueprint for the game's art improvement strategy. For example, in a closed beta test, players were not satisfied with the game's art style overall, but when analyzing player feedback, we found that players' specific dissatisfaction with the game's art could be broadly categorized into three major areas: in-game art, character appearance, and interface.


the factors outside of art design that may also affect players' evaluation of art style

Some of you may think that by listing all the elements within the game that may affect the player's art style evaluation, you can always figure out one or several specific deep-seated needs of players. Actually, not all the case. The art design itself may not be as influential as one might think when it comes to evaluating some specific styles. Instead, there are other things outside the game that may influence the player's "first impression". For example, in a study on the art style of a game with a Western Myth-based setting, one player said.

"I don't really like the game art style ...... can't say exactly, I just don't like it. I usually prefer to play games like Onmyoji."

Although the player did not give art feedback suggestions with clear points, the reason why he/she did not accept the game's art style - influenced by other games - was actually hidden in his/her words. Obviously, the player's gaming experience will shape his/her game art preferences to a considerable extent.

(Gamers in the same categories are heavily influenced by the popular games in that category. It has become a concern for many game development teams to do their best to attract players from different categories to the game and to meet their art-related needs.)
In addition, other experiences with media or pop culture also influence to a considerable extent the art evaluation of some players for some specific style of games. There is also research about games with a Western Myth-based setting, with this feedback from players.

"I didn't really like the art style of this game, it just felt generic ...... I had actually seen the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series before and felt that some of the elements in them were overly familiar ...... "


It's clear that there are hidden messages in this players’ feedback, for example, will he/she accept the art style of western myth setting or not? If you look at just the first half of the feedback, the answer is probably yes. But later, when he/she mentions Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, a new question emerges: if they love these movies, why didn't they accept games with similar art styles and elements? Obviously, behind this answer, there are some deeper art needs waiting to be discovered.


When faced with generalized feedback, the most important thing is to get to the bottom of it

Whether you are a designer or a user researcher when confronted with comments such as "I don't like the art style" or "I don't like the worldview and story", we may be a bit confused - what are their points of dissatisfaction? Is that really the problem we have? If so, what can we do to improve it? In fact, we can break down these general feedback points through 1V1 player interviews or other connected research, and eventually dig out the needs behind these dissatisfactions.

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