Recherche dans les articles

mardi 12 février 2019

Let's talk about innovation with ...

Celia Hodent, game UX consultant

Interview on January 24, 2019 by rOmain Thouy in Montpellier, translated from French

14th article in a series of interviews conducted on the management of innovation in the field of creative industries (video games, animated films) of the Occitanie region.

Celia Hodent
Celia Hodent, game UX consultant (User eXperience). Celia works with studios of any size, to help them implement their UX strategy, to accompany them on projects, or to train their teams.
Celia is the author of the book "Gamer’s brain : How neuroscience and UX can impact Video Game Design" at CRC Press.

Education: PhD in psychology; specialist in the development of intelligence in children and adults. Celia started her career at VTECH (which manufactures electronic educational games for children), then she joined Ubisoft in 2008, before going to LucasArts, to finally join Epic Games in 2013, where she worked on Fortnite, among other games, before going independent at the end of 2017 as a Game UX consultant.

"The job I do today did not exist when I was a student; I did not know that I would start my career in Canada, then move to the US and have an international career. I just finished the book by François Taddei which explains that we must train today's children in jobs that do not exist yet. It's a bit my case: I came from research in child psychology and I met people from the video game. I then understood how I could apply my knowledge in the design of a video game, that there was a job that could be created around that. It is also good not to have a career plan strongly determined from the beginning, but to remain open to opportunities.

Hello Celia, first of all, how do you define innovation in your field ?

Hello rOmain.
I would define it as something new that meets its audience. Innovation is generally considered to derive from technology, such as the arrival of new platforms, or augmented reality, virtual, mixed, blockchain, etc. To take an example that I know well, one of the innovations that contributed to the success of Fortnite has been to make it possible to play from any platforms using only one account.
There are also editorial innovations, more focused on the content of the game, on what it will address as subject or universe. I think, for example, to raise awareness of certain issues, such as the game Hellblade: Senua's Sacrifice [an action-type and hack 'n' slash video game edited and developed by Ninja Theory and released in 2017], which tackles schizophrenia as we have never seen before in a game. Of course, there are also innovations in interactions between the player and the game, often linked to the evolutions of technology. That will trigger new emotions, as in the game Inside (published by Playdead) , or as the future Sky (of Thatgamecompagny), a game based on giving, compassion, altruism and teamwork. All these innovations will allow to offer the players new experiences.
In UX, innovation is strongly linked to technological innovations, like the Zero Interface [définition of Andy Goodman, director of the Design Strategy group], which also raises questions of ethics, artificial intelligence, on how the players will understand and appropriate themselves these new interfaces, which may seem a little magical. Imagine that we put on your forehead a simple electrode, and that, by concentrating, you will be able to move something in a game. When you want to success to do that, you will have to concentrate on this action and only that, while in many video games (action games) players are typically asked to divide their attention. It's interesting to follow the evolution of these types of interfaces and see what form it will take in the closes future.

How is this innovation brought to the studios you know ?

It all depends on the studios. I will take two examples from those I know. At Ubisoft, for example, there is the think tank in Paris, called the Strategic Innovation Lab, which is headed by Caroline Jeanteur. This structure reports directly to the CEO, Yves Guillemot. This lab is there to anticipate the technologies of the future, like the blockchain, right now. He studies how these new technologies will change societies, what impacts they will have on the video games and how they will bring new experiences ever more interesting, more immersive, more personalized to the players. At Ubisoft, they have the will to create "sandbox" worlds where players can do what they want by creating their own experiences. So the lab is studying and testing how technology can make these worlds even more alive.
At Epic Games, which is much smaller than Ubisoft, there is no think tank and the company is less focused on processes. It is especially Tim Sweeney (founder of Epic Games) who feels the innovations. For example, Tim felt the transition of traditional games (games on cartridge or dvd that we buy) to free online games that have no end (Games As A Service or GAAS).
Most often, it is a person who brings innovation with a vision: at Epic Games, it is essentially Tim Sweeney, at Ubisoft, it is rather Serge Hascoët and Yves Guillemot. And at LucasArt, it was Georges Lucas. But to build and realize these ideas, there is especially around them, all the people who will both challenge and execute their vision. It is this set that will lead to real and concrete innovations. Often, it works well when visionaries are open enough to be challenged by their teams. The challenge counts for a lot in the raising of the level of the ideas, thus of the innovations which result from it.

What is the best way to innovate in video games ?

I used Design Thinking, totally user-centered (or UX process). In Design Thinking, we work iteratively, doing a lot of testing and analyzing the results. By combining this approach with a scientific approach applied to design, we add test methods that will allow us to ensure that we do not introduce bias during our tests.
The Design Lab I had been working in had been created to allow to take a step back from projects under development, to review the strategy of the company, and what it really wants to accomplish, to push a few technologies to see what new user experiences might be proposed. By taking this step back, a company can ask, at a moment : what are our current resources, where is our technology, what do we want to offer to our players, is there any way, now, to mount an extra step?
This questioning allows innovation. Becoming aware of one's resources will enable the idea to be implemented and its execution will depend heavily on these resources. The same goes for technology: you have to own it, test it and use it to execute the idea, or even push it a little further to unlock a limit and find a new way of doing things.
On the other hand, a Design Lab can be frowned upon in a company where everyone works hard. It is a bubble inside the company and people outside, if they are not well informed, do not understand well what is done in the Lab. But this is the essence of a Design Lab (or R&D lab) to disconnect in order to take the sufficient distance. However, it is important to maintain a turn-over of the participants in lab work. The field experience of many trades and profiles is very important in a lab. Lab people have to go into the trenches to remember the difficulties to develop. Never forget that when something innovative is found in the design lab, it is not the lab that will implement it.
Finally, it takes empathy to explain to everyone this innovation. Because at that moment, if we say that it is too complicated to do, then we will never go up the stairs. So, we must always challenge what is possible to do or not, while taking into account the being the workload that will fall on him to accomplish this innovation.
And sometimes, what comes out of a design lab can benefit everyone, not just the company hosting the lab. For example, that's what Epic Games did when they found a way to cross-platform gameplay with Unreal Engine. They offered this opportunity to all who use this engine to develop their games. This open source aspect is very important: once you have found a technological breakthrough to innovate, you can decide to share it with everyone.

How can we stimulate innovation in a studio ?

For example, by inviting external people to give lectures. Or conversely, going outside to do things completely different. With Fred Markus, we went to make toys or to divert toys to do other things. The concept of manipulation of objects is important too, because having a manual action forces us to think differently. The New York University of Design (NYU) annually organizes a conference, Practice, which I have already attended. These conferences are rather focused on game design, but they invite each time speakers outside this area: the year I intervened, they invited a professional poker player and a professional rock climber . These interventions made it possible to look for correlations, similarities between our different professions, to build bridges to other worlds, to think differently, to find new ideas. This is what we call the "thinking outside of the box".
Otherwise, I liked to organize PechaKucha events, various quick presentations of 20 slides of 20 seconds each. People do this on different topics that fascinate them, on a problem to solve or on a solution to a problem, to present it to others. During the PechaKucha, links are created, bridges are built. It's very stimulating!

A little scoop on your near future ?

Books project ! To follow, use

Thank you Celia for sharing your vision of innovation.


Nos articles les plus lus