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I know this may be an odd question, but I have the opportunity to take a graduate class that teaches how to do empirical research.

I've taken a Human-Computer Interaction class in the past where it was important to perform empirical studies to find out how users interact with your application and study what improvements can be made. I can see where doing the same type of empirical studies might be useful when developing a game.

Also, we get to choose the type of empirical research we do which I would choose to do on either computer graphics or game development. Would a class like this potentially be helpful for a wanna-be indie game developer?

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I've yet to really see a case where "Can learning X help..." have an answer of "no". –  Tetrad Jan 10 '12 at 19:12
    
Valve is notorious for testing everything to the n'th degree in their games. Seems to have worked well for them. "At Valve, we see our game designs as hypotheses and our playtests as experiments to validate these hypotheses." –  DampeS8N Jan 11 '12 at 19:27
    
@Tetrad, "Can learning how to write COBOL help me write better Object Oriented code?" –  DampeS8N Jan 11 '12 at 19:40

2 Answers 2

Definitely. The reason? Because the more research you do of techniques used by those at the leading edge of your field, the better and more creative a [insert name of your profession here] you will become.

On a weekly basis, I read or at least skim over research papers on real-time raytracing, global illumination models, up-and-coming AI techniques, procedural generation, narratology and/or game design as well as other random topics in math and geometry. In fields you are new to, it will take you a while to grok the fundamentals, and you may sometimes feel stupid. Don't be intimidated. (This assumes you are not already post-grad or an otherwise seasoned researcher). The more you immerse yourself in that knowledge the sooner you will begin to see the bigger picture and the brilliance of the solutions documented. You don't have to read entire papers either. Sometimes just a skim through or looking at the results concluded in the study are enough.

I think it's all too common in the game development field not to think of ourselves as computer scientists. IMHO this is one reason why there's been an increasing lack of innovation since the mid-90's, and conversely an increasing interest in indie titles.

I've found another excellent place to research solutions that push the boundaries of available technology is the demo scene. In earlier days, many game developers (take Zyrinx/Lemon for example, the guys who developed AMOK) came from the ranks of demoscene coders, and I think in some parts of the world at least, this still happens a fair amount.

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Where do you find such research papers/information to read about on a weekly basis? Do you have a website you would recommend? Because I'd love to do the same thing as you! –  Jesse Emond Jan 11 '12 at 0:35
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@JesseEmond It tends to follow from topics I discover as I work. The root might be something I find on stackoverflow, a demo on youtube, wikipedia, a blog entry on a new technique... I just have a broad range of technical interests and try to follow those up. If I find a bit that interests me that I don't immediately have time for, I tag by its topic and a "must read" label in google bookmarks. Avoid the beaten path where you can afford to: you'll question more, and seek alternatives. There's much we take for granted because "it's just the way things are done." But be sure you have the time. –  Nick Wiggill Jan 11 '12 at 2:06
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@JesseEmond Also just to say, one paper will lead you to another via references or a concept described (perhaps not explicitly named) in the paper. Names are the links in the chain of knowledge. Once you find the right word to describe something you've imagined or been introduced to, it opens whole new avenues of research. But until you have it, you're in limbo. I learnt this lesson the hard way. It may be worth asking others if there is a term for a concept floating around in your brain; chances are someone else has conceived of the same thing before you, and there is already a name for it. –  Nick Wiggill Jan 11 '12 at 2:17
    
Thanks for the great tips! –  Jesse Emond Jan 11 '12 at 2:26

Probably. Certainly empirical research techniques have their place in game development -- usability studies, for example, or analysis of market data or marketing trends for competing games. Large studios conduct this kind of thing in one form or another (with varying degrees of rigidity with respect to the empirical model).

For an indie specifically, it can still be useful to know about, but in practice it would become more of a question of whether or not you have time to engage in serious market research (or resources to put forward in serious usability research) versus spending that time, money, et cetera on actually producing and polishing your game.

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Well, I plan on having a day job till I could support myself as an indie. So, the time would not be a factor. I would just want to do everything I possibly can think of to make sure my game can have some success. –  Joey Green Jan 10 '12 at 16:35
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Time is always a factor (opportunity cost); I would in fact argue that if you have a day job, it becomes even more weighted of a decision what to spend your fewer hours of free time on (making game, researching for game, doing something else related to having a life). –  Josh Petrie Jan 10 '12 at 16:43
    
-1 for answering "probably" and giving a generally vague answer, but +1 on your comment about time being a factor. –  Nick Wiggill Jan 10 '12 at 18:42

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