Employee Spotlight -  Graham McAllister

Graham McAllister has been intrigued by the way players interact with video games for over a decade. He was born in Belfast and chose gaming over Guinness, as he utilized his passion for video games into understanding user interactions and the overall player experience.

Graham was an academic in Human-Computer Interaction at the University of Sussex and has written more than 50 separate articles on UX research for a number of established websites including GamasutraGamesinudstry.biz and EDGE. One of his biggest achievements was founding the first external UX Research Studio for games in the world.  The studio is called “Player Research” which is based in Brighton, UK and was later acquired by Keywords Studios in 2016.

When he isn’t on the treadmill making room for some chocolate, he’s busy trying to complete his book on how development teams can define, measure and communicate the player experience of their game. Graham has accumulated a wealth of knowledge and experience on player testing throughout his journey, all of which he has brought to Sprung Studios as our Research Director for Sprung’s User Research facilities.

Graham has been so focused on how other players interact with Video Games we were curious about some of his favourites growing up. Including what he draws inspiration from and where does he see player testing heading as the industry grows.

Q. What’s something you miss about older game generations? 
In the very early days when games were in arcades, I enjoyed things like Ikari Warriors, a vertically scrolling shoot-em-up. What I particularly enjoyed about it was its controller, as not only could you move your character in the 8 compass directions, but you could also twist the controller to aim your gun allowing you to move in one direction whilst aiming in another separate direction. This has a similar result to a twin-stick control scheme today, except Ikari Warriors was doing it with a single stick. There were quite a few SNK games that used that similar control scheme and I loved playing all of them.

Q. What have been some of your favourite games over the years?
I’ve had a lot of gaming highlights since I started playing, I’ll do my best to restrict the list! River Raid (Atari 2600), The Hobbit (Spectrum 48k), Dragontorc (Spectrum 48K), The Last Ninja (C64), Populous (Amiga), Eye of the Beholder (Amiga), Half-Life (PC), Command & Conquer (PC), Halo (Xbox), ICO (PS2), The Last of Us (PS4).

Q. What games do you draw inspiration from? 
I find that it’s possible to learn from every game, what I enjoy is trying to find out what a game does well, and not so well. I’m fascinated by processes and systems, so when I play games, I’m most interested in using that game as an input for refining my processes for evaluating games.

Q. Where do you see player testing heading as the industry grows? 
I think there’s potential for testing to eventually be in software, i.e. AI will replace human participants, but that won’t happen soon. In the meantime, I wish studios had a better base knowledge of user research – they don’t know what they don’t know. If they knew just how much the player experience of their game could improve if they did user research throughout development then I think they’d be able to make better decisions. What we’re talking about here is the UX Maturity of a studio, and many are at the very bottom of the maturity ladder – they don’t have a good enough understanding of the area to even know where to start. The starting point is education and awareness, then build up from there.

Q. What are you playing now? 
I’m playing The Division 2 at present, but the main game I’m looking forward to is Cyberpunk 2077.