Playtesting a video game isn’t just about playing games all day (if only!) Elise would know. She helps lead User Research across the Ubisoft Canadian studios and their goal to create the best overall experience for players by bridging intentional design and user experience. She shares her unexpected journey to Ubisoft Toronto and what it takes to become a user researcher.
Hey Elise! What do you do as a User Research Craft Lead? And what’s your favourite thing about your role?
As a Craft Lead, my mandate is to grow and support a talented team of User Research Analysts across our Toronto, Montreal, and Quebec studios. My aim is to improve the way we do research, grow and train our Analysts, and assist with the planning and execution of their studies. My favourite thing about the role is the people I get to meet and work with – our Canadian User Research Lab is filled with the best of the best, and it’s a pleasure to get to work with our researchers every day.
How long have you been at Ubisoft Toronto?
I started at Ubisoft Toronto in fall of 2015 as a User Research Moderator/Assistant, where I recruited for our studies and executed the sessions (e.g. moderated participants, taking observations, etc.). I worked as a Moderator until 2018, at which point I became a User Research Analyst where I led and designed a variety of studies on numerous titles/franchises. I then transitioned into a Team Lead role in 2021 where I led an amazing team of Analysts, and just recently pivoted to Craft Lead. I was so excited to get my 5-year water tower trophy in 2020 – now I look forward to my 10-year anniversary!
What drew you to Ubisoft Toronto?
Before I was an employee, I was a Ubisoft fan, (especially of Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry). When I learned that Ubisoft had a Toronto studio and that they were hiring researchers, I knew that I had to apply. As a Toronto native, I was also thrilled to learn that I could work on some of my favourite video game franchises and live in my hometown.
Describe what people think you do in User Research versus what you actually do?
Some of the biggest misconceptions about user research in general are that we play games all day (nope, but that would be fun), that it’s the same as quality assurance, or that we tell designers how to make their games.
While user research and quality assurance both involve playing through a game or build, the goal of user research is to focus on the overall experience of playing the game. Our objective is to be the voice of players and communicate their feedback to the respective teams. We track metrics such as playtime, retention and completion rate. We measure user engagement and appreciation for features, as well as usability issues such as errors, clarity and difficulty navigating the interface or gameplay. We then use this info to determine whether design systems are working as intended, from which feedback is forwarded to the teams for them to determine how they wish to implement it in the game.
Lastly, our job as user researchers is to help designers reach their own design goals, and to identify when there’s a gap between the design intention and the player’s experience. In other words, we don’t (and shouldn’t) tell designers how to make their games – that’s their expertise! You don’t need game design experience to be a games user researcher; instead, we utilize our knowledge of video games, research best practices, and usability principles.
What did you do before working at Ubisoft Toronto? How did you break into the video game industry?
After completing my undergraduate degree, I immediately started graduate school in psychology (during which I admittedly played a lot of video games, especially Mass Effect). While writing my PhD dissertation I happened to see an opening for a User Research Moderator position at Ubisoft Toronto and decided to go for it! I didn’t know anyone who worked at Ubisoft Toronto or in the industry, but I applied anyway! I left 7 years of graduate studies behind, but I never looked back.
What are some tips you’d give to someone hoping to land a similar role to yours? OR What steps did you take to reach your current position?
My advice to someone trying to break into the video game user research community would be to do your research (no pun intended). Take some time to understand what games user research is and how it differs from general user research or UX/UI design. Become familiar with the company you’re applying to – what kind of games do they make? Try and play one of their recent games and be able to speak about it if asked. Be prepared to leverage your background and experiences. For me, I needed to frame how the skills I gained in academia could translate into a user research position.
What’s your favourite project that you’ve worked on / Can you describe a project you’ve worked on that you’re proudest of?
I can’t say too much about specific projects because almost all our work is on games in development, but one moment that I was proud of was when I got to represent Ubisoft at Gamescom in Germany. I had never attended a convention or been to Germany before, so it was such an amazing experience. It was an honour to represent Ubisoft and show attendees South Park: The Fractured but Whole. A… unique experience was being in a small room with the Nosulus Rift. It was real, and it was horrifying.
Can you describe the User Research community within Ubisoft?
We have a very large community of User Researchers at Ubisoft, across provinces, countries, and continents! One of the coolest things about being in User Research at Ubisoft is that you get to collaborate with others around the world. We get to work on playtests together, share methodologies, and just generally support each other.
Although the one challenge to working collaboratively with people around the world is the different time zones!
How has hybrid & flexible work impacted your work/team’s experience?
Hybrid & flexible work has had a huge impact on our team’s day-to-day work. Prior to 2020 we ran every playtest in the studio, so we needed to pivot quickly once the pandemic hit. Our researchers worked hard to build the infrastructure to run our playtests remotely, with players being able to play the game in their own homes. Now that we can work at the studio again, we have even more tools at our disposal to run effective and efficient playtests. For me personally, hybrid work has allowed me to be more present with my children while still being able to connect with colleagues face-to-face on days when I work from the studio.
What’s one game that’s left a lasting impact on you?
When I was a kid, my parents and sister would watch me play Ocarina of Time. Before online guides were readily accessible, we’d have to put our heads together to navigate dungeons and solve puzzles. Not only was it an objectively amazing game but playing it as a family ranks as one of my favourite childhood memories. Also, my mom became a Legend of Zelda fan after, and has played every Game Boy LoZ game MULTIPLE times.
People of Ubisoft Toronto is a series featuring studio members from a variety of projects and backgrounds as they share their experiences at our studio, perspective of the video game industry and, perhaps, even a sneak peek of what they’re working on!
Our studio values diversity and believes in embracing differences to build stronger and more creative teams. We welcome people who would like to join us and redefine the future of games. Visit our careers page for more information on open roles and how to apply. To know more about our studio members and culture, click here.