Southern Methodist University to host new test centre, offering some 120 keen graduates

THQ partners academia for major new usability lab

THQ is partnering with a US university to build a new testing centre on campus, providing the publisher access to scores of keen game design students.

The new usability lab will be situated at the Texas-based Southern Methodist University (SMU), and is expected to be fully operational by summer 2010.

The move is seen by both parties as a quid pro quo – THQ will have its games tested in the name of academic research, while SMU students will test games in the name of industry experience.

THQ says it will be hiring staff to head up the lab, which will be used to test the company’s entire product range, while adding that paid internship opportunities may be offered.

The move sees THQ add to a long list of companies who today place great emphasis on the importance of usability testing – the practice of placing target audiences in front of games, in a controlled environment, and seeking their feedback on the play experience itself.

Last year Split/Second: Velocity lead designer Jason Avent told Develop that good usability testing can increase a game’s review score by as much as ten per cent.

Danny Bilson, the executive vice president at THQ Core Games, says that the new centre will bolster its bid to create high-quality games.

"The standard for creating great games rises higher and higher as the industry continues to uncover innovative and cutting edge concepts in gaming," he said.

"As game design evolves, it is critical that we keep the basic needs of gamers at the forefront of our minds by continuing to develop titles that ensure user-friendly, intuitive game play.

“We are confident that our investment to expand THQ’s usability resources with the new Lab located at SMU will allow us to augment our track record of consistently delivering highly-rated titles with tried-and-tested playability."

THQ adds that the shared location will generate opportunities for collaboration with faculty and the post-graduate community.

SMU says the move will empower it with “the only top graduate video game design and development program with an on-site usability lab”.

Dr. Karl Steiner has been appointed senior manager at the centre, and emphasised the joint benefits that the move offers.

"By developing our lab at SMU, THQ is getting more than just a first-class testing facility, we’re also joining a community of dedicated gamers," he said.
"We look forward to collaborating with SMU faculty members and students on test and research activities as well as contributing to the development of the next generation of gaming talent."

Meanhile, Dr. Peter Raad, the executive director at SMU’s game faculty, said THQ offers significant benefits for university graduates.

“Students will also have the opportunity to interact with industry executives who can offer topical and real-world insights on video game design and production,” he said.

“In return, THQ will be able to tap into 120 of the most serious, experienced gamers in the US for testing, consultation and research."

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