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A free online conference dedicated to the design of player experience. Please join us for #GRUXOnline!

This smaller event will be in addition to our mainline #gamesUR Summits (NA / EU)!

Games ‘User Experience’ (UX) is a vibrant professional discipline of researchers, designers, data scientists, artists, and production staff with one goal: design and deliver superb experiences in commercial video game development.

#GRUXOnline is a one-day online event for knowledge-sharing in design and research in gamedev. It is hosted by the Games User Research & User Experience SIG of the International Game Developers Association (IGDA).

On the 27th of November 2020, join our YouTube live stream for talks, panels, interviews and knowledge-sharing from the top talent in games UX.

Previous GRUX SIG events have included speakers from Riot Games, Ubisoft, King, Microsoft, Blizzard, Sony, Valve, and many others. You do not want to miss this!

Streamed free on our YouTube channel

Join the discussion in our Discord

Nov 27th 2020
9AM to 3PM GMT
1AM to 9AM PST


TimeTrack 1Track 2
9:00 AM GMTWelcome address
GRUX Online conference team
15 min
Welcome address
GRUX Online conference team
15 min
9:15 AM GMTIncreasing Research Impact through Collaborative Studies
Steve Bromley, Games User Research Consultant
30 min
Problem-solving strategies and learning in The Witness
Megan Pusey, Murdoch University
30 min
9:45 AM GMTEffective Communication in Chaos: Lessons for Communication System Design in Team Play
Evelyn Tan, PhD Researcher, University of York
30 min
Play time is over: Running games user research on non-games
Tom Lorusso and Lauren White, Xbox Research
30 min
10:15 AM GMT15 minute break15 minute break
10:30 AM GMTMind the Gap Between Academia and Games
Josh Rivers, CCP Games
30 min
10 Checkpoints for Cultural Representation in Games
Udaya Lakshmi, Xbox Research & Design
30 min
Players Diving Deep: Eliciting Play Experiences with an Argumentative Qualitative Interview Method
Heidi Rautalahti, The University of Helsinki
30 min
* This track is duplicated across both tracks. Unforeseen circumstances led to a last-minute change in scheduling.
Players Diving Deep: Eliciting Play Experiences with an Argumentative Qualitative Interview Method
Heidi Rautalahti, The University of Helsinki
30 min
11:30 AM GMTGRUX 2020 Census
Elizabeth Zelle, Amazon Games
30 min
Building a UX Process from scratch: Experiences of UX at small and mid-sized studios
Nida Ahmad, Netspeak Games
Emma Varjo, Frozenbyte
Kirk Rodgers-Isordia, Electronic Arts
30 min
12:00 PM GMT1 hour lunch break1 hour lunch break
1:00 PM GMTDeep Representation in Tell Me Why
Deborah Hendersen, Microsoft
60 min
Why Looking At Non-Games UX Makes For Better Games UX
Bernice Wong, Pixelberry Studios
30 min
1:30 PM GMTDeep Representation in Tell Me Why, cont’dDo I need Technical Knowledge for a career in UX/UI?
Andreia Gonçalves, Electronic Arts
30 min
2:00 PM GMT15 minute break
2:15 PM GMTQnA with Celia Hodent
Celia Hodent, Independent
30 min
2:45 PM GMTClosing remarks
GRUX Online conference team
15 min

Talk and speaker info

Increasing Research Impact through Collaborative Studies

User researchers have a problem.

They interact directly with players, by running studies that probe into their behaviour and understanding. This gives them great insight into the issues players are encountering, and where there is the potential to improve the player experience.

However, researchers are not usually the ones who make the design decisions that create this player experience.

This leads to a communication gap between research and design. When communication issues widen that gap, it reduces the impact that research studies could be having – causing frustration, wasting researcher time and costing the studio money.

In this talk, we’ll consider three reasons why this occurs. The first is that research is often unintentionally hidden away from decision-makers. The second, colleagues don’t understand why research is relevant to them. Finally, colleagues misunderstand the conclusions of research studies.

For each of these reasons, we’ll understand why they occur, and equip researchers with tools they can use to overcome these problems, increasing the impact of their research studies.



Steve Bromley is an experienced user researcher, who worked with Sony PlayStation for five years on some of their top European games. He continues to work with games and virtual reality studios to improve the usability and player experience of their games.

For the last five years Steve Bromley started, and continues to run the Games Research mentoring scheme, which has partnered over one hundred students with more than fifty industry professionals from top games companies such as Sony, EA, Valve, Ubisoft and Microsoft.

Effective Communication in Chaos: Lessons for Communication System Design in Team Play

What do aviation crews and crisis teams have in common with teams in video games? These are ‘swift starting action teams’ — ad hoc teams that usually consist of members who are unfamiliar to each other, but have to quickly and effectively work together almost immediately upon formation. In this presentation, we will unpack what effective communication looks like for real-world swift starting action teams to inspire new ways of thinking about communication system design in games. We will also explore how the design of communication systems, especially if they are strongly performance-focused, influences the social interactions between strangers.

As we know, games are inherently playful environments and the social relationships that are supported through play is a core motivator for many players. Perhaps we may be missing out on opportunities to support social relationships, even the development of new relationships between players who are strangers by having in-game communication systems that focus purely on the performance aspect of team play?

To illustrate the point, I will present some findings from my study on team communication between strangers playing Portal 2. Although unreflective of the chaotic, fast-paced environment that most swift starting action teams face, these teams were under time pressure to complete as many levels as possible. The results from this study gave rise to further questions: ‘What are the ‘traits’ of effective communication for teams, and how might in-game systems adopt to them?’, ‘What are the advantages and disadvantages of developing sophisticated communication systems that largely focus on enabling more efficient teamwork?’, ‘What kind of experience do we want players to have during team play with strangers ー a performance-focused experience or a social experience, and what design decisions move us toward these goals?’.


Evelyn Tan is an Industrial/Organisational Psychologist using digital games to study teams. Her research focuses on team dynamics and the processes the lead to effective and cohesive teams, especially in ad hoc teams of strangers. She is currently doing a PhD with the Centre for Doctoral Training in Intelligence Games and Game Intelligence (IGGI) at the University of York, UK.


Mind the Gap Between Academia and Games

Making data-driven and player-focused decisions is key to success in game design. This we know. Nevertheless, countless research insights go unheard and unnoticed because of their origin: academia. Against the backdrop of his experiences at CCP Games as both anthropologist and Player Researcher, in this talk Josh will speak to how he has worked to help bridge the communication divide that exists between academic researchers of EVE Online and CCP’s development team in order to produce actionable research nuggets from academic insights.

This talk will begin with an overview of CCP’s design processes, speaking explicitly to where in the process development teams turn to user research for answers and how those answers are provided both with in-house research and dissemination of existing work. Following this overview, Josh will speak to the hurdles the player research group at CCP faces when translating academic research into actionable development goals and how the team has worked to equip developers with the ability to digest research ‘nuggets’ over time. Simultaneously, he will highlight how research from non-industry professionals can bolster industry endeavors and paint a more holistic picture of a massively-multiplayer online game’s community, culture, and public perception.

While focused primarily on translating MMO-related research into development strategies and actions, this talk will provide all attendees with strategies for accessing, interpreting, and translating academic work into understandable and actionable research insights for their development teams. In addition, attendees will walk away with their own action items for equipping their colleagues with the ability to appreciate and digest both academic and in-house user research.


Josh Rivers is a digital anthropologist with over ten years of social scientific research experience. At present, Josh is a Player Researcher at CCP Games, where he leads the company’s user experience research efforts. With a background in ethnographic research on virtual worlds and their offline communities, Josh draws heavily on his interdisciplinary experiences in academia to inspire novel approaches to producing valuable and insightful player research. His work at CCP entails synthesizing academic work on EVE Online with qualitative studies in order to produce actionable research results for CCP’s development team.

GRUX 2020 Census

In late spring of 2020 the first (of what will hopefully become annual) GRUX Census was run to collect information on who the members of the SIG are and how the SIG can best grow to meet their various needs over the coming years. Maintaining a high level of transparency is important to both the current Steering Committee and the community, and in that vein Zelle will be presenting high level findings from this year’s Census.


Elizabeth Zelle (she/her) is the User Research Manager at Amazon Games and currently based out of the Dallas, TX area. Zelle has been in the games industry since 2008 and is in her 9th year doing user research, is currently serving as a GRUX Steering Committee member, and is also an undercover marine biologist.

Deep Representation in Tell Me Why

This talk will discuss how UR supported the inclusion of a transgender protagonist in Tell Me Why to ensure that the representation was respectful, recognizable, and approachable. This topic was a challenge, though often for reasons that had little to do with methods. It was hard to know how to think about the intended experience – what were appropriate goals, how (or should) participant data be leveraged, what did success look like for the product or the UR? I’m going to talk through each of these, including some practical detail around how we built a transgender panel & the questions we used to assess LGBTQIA inclusion, but with a large focus on audience breadth and how to understand representation as another skill-axis in your game.


Deborah Hendersen a Principle User Researcher with Xbox, the Studio Lead for Publishing which this year released Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Microsoft Flight Simulator, and Tell Me Why. I’ve been in the games industry for nearly a decade, and before that got my PhD in Cognitive Psychology by studying the different between fiction and nonfiction at Stanford.


QnA with Celia Hodent

Celia Hodent is a globally-recognised figurehead in the domain of games user experience. Through her talks, books, events, and work directly with studios, she has led a surge of awareness into the importance of ‘player centricity’ in game development. At GRUXOnline Celia will be taking your questions, moderated by conference director Emma Varjo. A superb opportunity to quiz Celia on her prior experiences as Director of UX at EPIC, on her current work raising awareness of ethics in games, or on her vision of the future of ‘putting the player first’ in gamedev. Submit your questions to Celia on Twitter or via our Discord.


Celia Hodent, PhD is an expert in game UX (user experience) and cognitive psychology. She is a consultant, speaker, and acclaimed author of The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX can Impact Video Game Design & The Psychology of Video Games.


Problem-solving strategies and learning in The Witness

This presentation explores problem-solving strategies used by players while playing puzzle game The Witness. I describe the different strategies players use when problem-solving puzzles and compare how novice and expert video game players differ in their approaches. This work also looks at how co-located play results in the same problem-solving strategies as multiplayer games. I also present a new method for measuring the learning curve/difficulty of puzzles games and how this can inform design.


Megan Pusey is a PhD candidate investigating if puzzle video games can be used to build resilience. She is interested in how players learn through failure and if this could help train resilient behaviours. Megan’s background is in physics, science communication and education. As a high school teacher she used video games such as Minecraft, Universe Sandbox and Portal 2 to teach science. Megan enjoys playing video games and making costumes in her spare time.


Play time is over: Running games user research on non-games

It’s amazing how many things in the world of games aren’t actually games. PCs and Consoles are quickly filling up with game launchers, multiple stores, companion apps, communication tools, game overlays, and a myriad of other features and apps. These aren’t games – they don’t have headshots or level navigation or enemy types – but they are integral to the gaming experience.

So how does Games User Research work for these experiences? Yes there’s straightforward usability and removing blockers. But as an industry, we know the value of playtesting and getting attitudinal data from our users.

In Xbox Research, we’ve been tackling this question for the past few years – How do we go beyond fun and look at the attitudinal measures for non-game experiences?

In this talk, we’ll review the needs for this track of work: simplicity, growing the funnel and a focus on our ecosystem. And how we brought the motivations and constructs from games to non-games. And how effective it has been in shaping how we build and ship these experiences for Xbox.


Tom Lorusso is a User Research lead in Xbox committed to using applied research to get closer to our mission of “Gaming for Everyone!” Tom focuses on a mix of games, platform and accessibility in his current role. And has previously worked on Windows, mobile and medical devices. He’s happiest when he’s at the crux of software, hardware and services. Or out on the soccer field. Tom is currently hooked on Minecraft Dungeons, Call of Duty Warzone and Hearthstone Battlegrounds.


Lauren White joined Microsoft in early 2015. Before that, she was sharpening her skills as a user researcher with consumer products. She has a BA in psychology from Reed College, and a PhD in media psychology from Fielding Graduate University. She is currently working on the Xbox platform shell with a focus on Xbox ecosystem experiences. When not working, she’s gardening or looking up at space and wondering when we’ll get to Mars.


10 Checkpoints for Cultural Representation in Games

Gameplay benefits from authentic cultural representation. Players, across genres, but more so in role playing and open world games, delight in real-world cultural references. The opportunity is just as attractive for game designers. They have richer starting points with the creative license to set up cultural interactions. These promises come with two responsibilities –to respect cultural sentiment and to uphold the game’s intended experience.

Culture deepens player engagement when it is approached with care. Take player interactions in a new culture. Discovering a lost volcano in Hawaii or a tomb to excavate in Peru suggests exoticism, novelty, and delight. Players get to be virtual tourists on an adventure! When an Xbox game studio looked to a new cultural destination, Xbox Research & Design (XR&D) set out to do the homework. We (XR&D) went about it discreetly (ergo no direct user studies) to uphold confidentiality.

We analyzed qualitative themes from experiences of that culture’s representation in other gaming and entertainment. We reviewed lead gamer opinions, critical gamer reviews on blogs, player guides, social media audience reactions and player insights from video game experiences on Steam. We looked at language, story mechanics and character representation in entertainment media including comics and movies. We also referred to academic papers on cultural representation in games to ground our understanding of gaming behavior and expectations at the games’ intended cultural destinations. Once we compiled this list, we saw that it pointed to a broader framework for video games. The framework is useful to shine a light on pitfalls and triggers in cultural representation across three spheres: historical facts, current politics, and future aspirations.

This talk is organized to present ten broad principles for mindful representation. They guide both a careful and caring approach to cultural representation in games. These principles can be applied across game genres in the selection of gameplay situations, character playability, and sociocultural interpretations. User researchers can use them as starting points to generate research questions. Game designers can use them to probe creative objectives for cultural representation in delightful gameplay while building unexplored game worlds.


Udaya Lakshmi is a design researcher with roots in HCI and digital media. She previously worked in user experience roles in India to create interactive digital products. She pursues a PhD in Human-centered Computing at Georgia Tech. Her research work is centered on healthcare infrastructure and maker technologies for innovation. As a qualitative researcher, she observes how DIY makers approach innovation through collaborative practices in, and for, medical settings. The niche trend became an alternative response to COVID-19 medical supply needs across the world. Her research interests extend to inclusion in innovation, community culture and crowd collaborations. She was an intern with Xbox Research & Design (XR&D) at Microsoft in summer 2020. This talk sums up broader considerations from her design research project on understanding cultural representation. It offers insights from an approach to conduct user research when confidentiality is non-negotiable


Players Diving Deep: Eliciting Play Experiences with an Argumentative Qualitative Interview Method

This presentation gives ideas and hands-on tools to execute an argumentative qualitative interview for ux-research, and presents a case example where the method was used. The presentation draws on a humanities study and data gathered among Finnish adult video game players in 2019. An argumentative interview approach (developed, for example, by Vesala and Rantanen 2007) meant here, that semi-structured interviews were introduced by arguments or statements to players. The purpose was to produce “free and open-ended argumentation” (Peltola and Vesala 2013), inspiring and eliciting stories of meaningful encounters with video games. The interviews resulted in narratives of important connections in personal lives, that video games were able to afford.


Heidi Rautalahti is a doctoral candidate in the study of religion field focused on critical discussions of religion in digital games, in the University of Helsinki. She has written on video games and meaningful encounters, and popular culture and religion. Her interests relate to bringing user experience research and humanities approaches closer, as well as, contemporary discussions on what religion, or big questions, are in today’s popular culture.


Building a UX Process from scratch: Experiences of UX at small and mid-sized studios

It can be daunting to be one of the few UX people on your team, let alone your whole company. This panel will be a discussion about our personal experiences of working in smaller teams, where budgets and resources are tight, and getting creative to showcase the value of UX. The aim is always to support the development of collaborative environments where player experience is at the center, but how do you get stakeholder buy in, run research projects and devise an iterative design process when time is of the essence?

Hear from panelists who have previous experiences of this whilst others currently have these responsibilities for the first time! Join us as we chat about what we have learnt from our failures as well as small but impactful steps taken to empower teams and create exceptional user experiences.


Nida Ahmad is a UX Designer and User Researcher at Netspeak Games. With a focus on accessibility and psychology, she creates playful and usable user experiences. She is dedicated to making the industry a welcoming place, having served as a reader for the BAFTA Young Games Designer Awards and speaker at industry events on the importance of UX in Game Development. She is also part of the founding team of POC in Play, an initiative to increase the inclusion and retention of People of Colour in the industry.


Emma Varjo is the UX Lead at Frozenbyte. She works hard to ensure everyone has a great experience when playing games made at Frozenbyte. This she does by using her knowledge of Human-Computer Interaction, running playtests and gathering feedback from players, and generally just taking to people a lot.


Kirk Rodgers-Isordia does games research & mad science at Electronic Arts, where he leads a small team to support EA’s LA studios: Respawn, Industrial Toys, & DICE LA. Recently, he also led foundational work on streaming disruptions to gameplay and cross-functional research on the Stadia controller at Google Stadia. It’s possible Kirk only does UXR work to fund his Destiny 2 addiction.


Why Looking At Non-Games UX Makes For Better Games UX

As UX professionals and game developers, there’s a common expectation that we look solely towards the game space to improve our field. However, humans experience the world through a common language and the majority of that language transcends beyond the ‘normal’ boundaries of games. By encouraging the mindset to look at different non-games spaces, we can use those learnings to broaden our understanding of player usability, engagement, and creativity to inspire better games UX.

By the end of this talk, attendees should have a clearer understanding of the following topics:

How looking at non-game fields can improve the success of games UX.
How looking at non-game fields can help foster your particular voice as a UX professional.
How looking at non-game fields is essential for sustaining creativity and good mental health in the games industry.


Bernice Wong is a UX Designer at Pixelberry Studios. A University of California, Berkeley alumni and an IGDA Velocity Award recipient, Bernice enjoys chatting about two of her favorite topics: mental health and design. You can find her nowadays thinking about fantasy, eating way too much sushi, or experimenting with creating small interactive experiences in different mediums.


Do I need Technical Knowledge for a career in UX/UI?

‘Do I need Technical Knowledge for a Career in Games UX/UI?’ – I see this question asked often from students and other Design professionals trying to pursue a career in games. As someone with both a Design and Programming background, I want to help you find the level of Technical Knowledge that is right for you.
In this talk, I will share with you how Technical Knowledge has empowered me in my career in games so far. I will walk you through a spectrum of Technical Knowledge as it relates to Games UX/UI to better understand what each level involves and brings to your toolbox as a Designer.
In the end, you should be able to better identify the ideal level of Technical Knowledge for the role you want to have.


Andreia Gonçalves is an Experience Designer originally from Portugal and now based in Vancouver, Canada. She currently works at Electronic Arts and has previously worked on both Console, PC, and Mobile games, in titles such as Plants vs Zombies: Battle for Neighborville (2019) and Oz: Broken Kingdom(2016). With a background in both Design and Programming, Andreia is passionate about bringing both together to create engaging experiences.
In her free time, she enjoys learning new things, reading, and being indoors.


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If you have any enqueries, please contact us at gruxonlineconf@grux.org