Geek Speak: Veronica Zammitto, game user researcher at Electronic Arts

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      Veronica Zammitto says gamers’ personalities influence the kinds of video-game features they prefer. For the 31-year-old cognitive psychologist, this is reflected in her affinity for real-time strategy games like StarCraft.

      Zammitto is a PhD student in Simon Fraser University’s school of interactive arts and technology in Surrey. She’s also a game user researcher at Electronic Arts, where she’s worked on NBA Live 10 and NHL 11. Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Zammitto moved to Vancouver in 2006.

      The Georgia Straight reached Zammitto by phone at her home.

      What is the focus of your work at Electronic Arts?

      Evaluating the game-user experience, so evaluating how players feel and think while they are playing.

      What techniques do you use to study how players react to games?

      The ones that I am using right now are a mix between quantitative and qualitative methods. So, on the quantitative side, which are more objective—you can quantify them—are psychophysiology. Those are pretty much body signals that I capture with sensors and transform those into emotions, such as facial-muscle activity or galvanic skin response. With those, you can say how aroused the person is or if they’re feeling positive emotions or negative emotions.

      Also eye-tracking—with that, you can know exactly what the player’s looking at on the screen. So, if the person is looking at the scoreboard or is looking at the avatar or paying attention to a popup or not. It’s literally seeing through the eyes of the player.

      How do your findings influence game design?

      While people are playing, are they getting more aroused or engaged with the game or not? If there are certain flaws or the arousal’s going down, that can give you really good information about if you should be introducing new features or new information about what they should be doing.

      So, for instance, if player arousal is going down—it starts up, the player is excited about playing the game, but then it starts to go down, down, down, and it keeps stable—which were the factors that were causing that person to lose interest in that? Maybe the game was too easy and then the objective was meaningless.

      How does someone’s personality affect what kind of game features they like?

      Funnily enough, extroversion and introversion, it doesn’t matter that much in the type of games that you’re going to play, but more on a competitive level.

      What is your favourite game to play?

      I like real-time strategy games. To me, the best title ever is StarCraft—StarCraft II now.

      You’re a cognitive psychologist. So, what do you think your game preferences say about your own personality?

      For instance, generally I classify things. I’m a scientist or researcher, so I like to analyze things in detail. So, I have the different variables that influence outcomes, and I try to make sense of them.

      Funny enough, that also resembles what you do in strategy games. You have to collect resources, you have to organize your forces, and then you move forward and try to conquer the rest of the map. So, I do think your personality kind of shapes what kind of features you prefer.

      Every Friday, Geek Speak catches up with someone in Vancouver’s technology sector, video-game industry, or social-media scene. Who should we interview next? Tell Stephen Hui on Twitter at