Darksiders III : Playtest Study

Participatory Design

Contextual Interview

Iterative Playtesting


I worked with the wonderful team at Gunfire Games through each stage of their game development lifecycle by utilizing a participatory design to determine the features for every build and interface. The tests were mostly explorative in nature aimed at uncovering usability issues and compiling them into a report. For the purpose of this portfolio piece, I will be walking you through one of the studies that I conducted on the alpha build.

For this test, I decided to get more qualitative data through open-ended questions and semantic differential scales. The developers at gunfire were looking for data on certain aspects of the game. They also asked us to spend time playing around on the build and identify any research questions we could answer.

The Process

For the purpose of designing the tests, gathering and analyzing the data, I based it off the AEIOU method. Where:

A - Analyse the activities in terms of movement, fighting, character progression and other such activities that the player engages in during the playthrough.

E- How does the player interact with the environment and how does the environment affect the decision-making process

I- Documenting and categorizing the interactions that take place between the player and the UI, the protagonist, the enemies, and the NPC characters

O- Are the state of objects in the world causing certain states of arousal and how much of an impact are these objects having on the gameplay experience

U- Understand the user in terms of the relationship they develop with the game, the main character, combat mechanics and determine if this relation detracted from the overall usability of the game

Gunfire games also stated that they were looking to see if players of difficult and hardcore hack-n-slash games would find the combat to be challenging

We formed the research questions accordingly. This study was directed towards determining the usability from the start of the first mission up to the point when the player reaches a place in the world called 'Haven' and was carried out through a contextual interview. This was a crucial study because we would gather data on players' first impressions of the game. 

Research Questions:

  1. Would Dark Souls players find the game easier than non-souls players?

  2. Will facing the first boss early on in the game cause frustration for players?

  3. Will players of the previous Darksiders games be satisfied with the current build?

  4. What percentage of participants will act as promoters?

Sample size:

  1. 30 participants in 2 groups

  2. Group 1 -15 Dark souls or Darksiders players

  3. Group 2 -15 Non-Souls Players

  4. At least 10 of the participants should be female

Test Plan:

  • A pre psychographic survey was given to the participants to determine their expectations for games of this genre if they are casual or hardcore players and general psychographic data

  • Participants were allowed to play the game for 60 minutes or up to when the reached the part in the map known as 'Haven'

  • Gameplay recording along with a recording of the participant was taken

  • The number of times that participants died in the fight with the first boss 'Envy' was recorded

  • Participants will then be given a post psychographic survey to determine the degree to which their expectations were met or exceeded

  • Participants will then answer a survey meant to collect both quantitative and qualitative data

  • A short 5-minute interview will be conducted so participants can voice any other feelings towards the game


  • Quantitative data was analyzed to support findings based on usability and challenge of the game

  • Qualitative data gathered from a semantic differential scale and open-ended questions were used to explain any findings

  • Comparative analysis using the videos and data between the two groups will be used to analyze differences in performance and usability between Dark Souls and non-Souls players. 



  1. Souls players did find the game to be less challenging overall compared to non-souls players. All the Dark Souls Players completed the playthrough well before the 60-minute mark and died an average of 1 time to the first boss. Whereas, most non-souls players did not reach 'Haven' before the 60-minute mark and died an average of 4 times to the first boss

  2. The game received an overall NPS score of 47.5 showing with more number of participants acting as promoters and two participants acting as demoters. After further analyzing the demoters it was seen that they died more than 10 times each to the first boss. This was determined as the possible reason for their position as a detractor. Most of their quantitative data also reflected that they disliked the fight with the first boss

  3. All previous Darksiders players had a positive reaction towards the game

  4. Most participants stated that they disliked the double jump mechanic. This was an additional finding that proved to be a very important aspect of the report

We compiled the data in the form of a report in Word Doc format and sent it to Gunfire Games who were pleased with the results. Based on the findings they decided not to make any changes towards the general combat and the first boss fight because they wanted the game to be challenging. The double jump, however, was reworked in the next iteration of the build and met with positive reactions in the next usability test that was conducted.

I was credited for the work