User Research in Virtual Worlds

November 14, 2007

At a recent conference in Sydney, Australia, Gary Bunker and Gabriele Hermansson presented their new project – ‘User Research in Virtual Worlds‘ lead by Hyro. Hyro’s aim is to build a research platform that would allow to research users within virtual worlds like Second Life, not only for their experiences there but also for their needs outside of it. Researchers will attempt to use virtual research – focus groups, interviews and user testing – in a practical way in design projects requiring complex user input.

The Focus group in Second Life was conducted as a trial to test its feasibility for future use, and as such a second focus group was conducted in parallel, in the physical world. This allowed them to benchmark the findings gathered in Second Life against those that were recorded during the traditional focus group session.

Testing in-world also removes some of the potential issues around testing by people with disabilities in real life such as:

  • Travel and costs
  • Supplying equipment, assistive technologies and support
  • Payment and possible conflict of interest if a tester already earns a salary or is on benefits. Presumably payment in Linden Dollars transcends these issues.

Lisa Herrod in her blog wrote:

Virtual Participants’ were recruited from both Australia and the UK, with the focus group being recorded with a media camera and chat logger.

Things that worked

* There was a high level of feedback
* Participants were comfortable
* There was a good level of interaction with the participants
* The focus group had an international reach, which was a requirement of the testing
* Findings of the online session matched those recorded in the offline session

Things that didn’t work so well

* Online sessions took about one and a half times as long (i.e. 1.5 hrs online and 1hr offline)
* There were multiple conversation threads running at the same time, which were difficult to track
* The response time of some participants was slow
* It was confusing if participants weren’t identified directly by name during discussion, as it was at times difficult to indicate who the focus group facilitator was addressing.