Written by Karina Arrambide of the HCI Games Group.
Figure 1. Woman wearing a VR headset
Virtual Reality headsets have increased in popularity over the past years. As a user, it is always exciting to see new devices and technologies that immerse us in virtual worlds and create an engaging experience. I still remember the first time I tried VR and the fascination I had with this new environment. But it is also interesting to see the challenges and constraints of user testing for VR.
As an addition to many usability and user experience issues that traditional user research presents, VR adds more things that we must consider when testing. One of the main issues that developers have encountered with VR headsets is simulation sickness. People are experiencing a whole new dimension, and, in many cases, this can be confusing. For user research, it is a challenge to test participants trying VR because sometimes they are so immersed in the environment that it is difficult to collect valuable data.
It is highly probable that we had experienced simulation sickness at some point in our lives. Simulation sickness is a syndrome that can cause headaches, eye strain, nausea, vertigo and other symptoms. If our participants experience simulation sickness during testing, it could be highly uncomfortable for them and our study could be impacted in a negative way. As researchers, it is important that we try to find ways that can help us minimize the risk of simulation sickness and create a secure and comfortable environment for our participants. It is not always easy with VR, but we should strive to prevent negative situations that can compromise our experiment.
Over the last few weeks, I have read different books, articles, and publication about testing with VR devices. Here are some tips that can help avoid any pitfalls when user testing with VR:
- Non-disclosure agreements (NDA). We should include the basic things in the NDA, but also it is important to cover anything related to illness or discomfort that participants may experience. We should be explicit that the study can be stopped at any moment should the participant feel uncomfortable.
- Room space for testing. Participants may not be aware that they are moving when using the VR headset. Be sure that furniture (desks, chairs, etc.) is adequate to accommodate testing with VR and that it is also a safe environment for participants.
- Create a safe space for your participants. We should assure that our space will not increase the risks of participants getting hurt and it is important to also give them a safe area in which they can rest in case they feel dizziness or nausea.
- Reassure participants that they can stop at any moment. Sometimes participants would want to finish the test session even if they are feeling uncomfortable. We should clarify at the beginning of the session that they can stop at any moment without any penalization. Our main interest is the safety of the participants and we should be very clear about this.
- Make sure everything is working correctly. Testing with VR may create additional technical difficulties and it is important to be prepared in with backup materials in case something goes wrong.
- Schedule breaks between sessions. Not only participants but researchers can experience simulation sickness while observing the session. Make sure you schedule breaks between the sessions. These breaks can also help to ask participants about their experience that can translate invaluable data for our study.
In summary, testing with VR is new and challenging, but it is important to think about these challenges and be prepared. VR is a new field and testing is important to make sure the best experience is being delivered. But we should also make sure, as researchers, that our participants are safe and in a comfortable environment.
Hopefully, the previous list will help researchers to plan accordingly and to be aware of the main things to consider when user testing for VR.
- Anders Drachen, Pejman Mirza-Babaei and Lennart E. Nacke – Games User Research. Oxford 2018.
- Belén Ceballos (2016) – Testing the User Experience of Virtual Reality. Medium, available online at: https://medium.com/tradecraft-traction/testing-the-user-experience-of-virtual-reality-dec1d905bf0f
- Chloe Ng (2017) – Lessons in Mobile VR Usability Testing. Medium, available online at: https://medium.com/fulldive/lessons-in-mobile-vr-usability-testing-85fe2fb3abd5
- Jamie Wales (2016) – The Reality of Virtual Reality User Testing – Our Top Tips. Bunnyfoot, available online at: http://bunnyfoot.com/blog/2016/07/the-reality-of-virtual-reality-user-testing-our-top-tips/
- Steve Bromley (2016) – Running User Tests for Virtual Reality. Available online at: http://www.stevebromley.com/blog/2016/06/03/running-user-tests-for-virtual-reality/