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Player Research: Goat Simulator 3

Coffee Stain came to Player Research, a Keywords Studio, for insights to ensure Goat Simulator 3 follows the first game’s success. A series of mixed-methods bespoke UX research studies was designed to provide holistic feedback, and answer their key questions on progression and audience reception.

Aims

Goat Simulator is infamous for its deliberately chaotic, rambunctious gameplay.

Following the first game’s runaway success, Coffee Stain North wanted to create a sequel that maintained the disorganised and unpredictable nature of the original, but without crossing the fine line between fun and frustration: ensuring the game is chaotic, but also that the chaos didn’t come at the cost of usability, or fun.

Coffee Stain North were committed to creating a game that built upon its predecessor, expanding the existing Goat Simulator fanbase. They were particularly curious how their target audience – fans of open-world and sandbox games – would react to this new-and-improved Goat Sim experience.

So how does one approach testing a game that is purposefully designed to be obtuse? Full of hidden surprises, double meanings, crazy unpredictable physics, and a main character prone to slapstick clumsiness? To conduct insightful and impactful research for a game like Goat Simulator 3, Player Research needed to gain a deep understanding of developers’ intended experience for players.

As an example: is it considered part of the intended experience for a playtester to spend twenty five minutes climbing on a church roof, trying to headbutt church bells in a specific order, dressed as a goat wearing a Santa hat and a tutu?

Spoiler alert: yes, very much so.

Approach

“...I don't know what anything is” - Drae, Video Game Content Creator

It’s not often the case that hearing players feeling very confused during a game review is a compliment – but that’s Goat Simulator 3 in a nutshell.

“We want to mess with the players and not give them too much control”, says Sebastian Zethraeus, Coffee Stain North Producer, explaining what they consider to be one of the main sources of fun in the title.

Coffee Stain came to Player Research for insight into whether players knew how to play, as well as whether they enjoyed playing. We designed a mixed-methods approach to provide holistic feedback, and answer their key questions on progression and audience reception.

Multiple touchpoints of research were needed to carefully explore these topics in depth, and as the game design evolved – over more than a year, Player Research ran three Usability Playtests, and two Experiential Playtests.

  • Usability Playtesting helps identify unintentional points of friction and gaps in players’ understanding of the game concepts. Players are closely observed as they play, and then interviewed.
  • Experiential Playtesting provides a controlled, actionable perspective of the breadth of players’ opinions, motivations, and playstyles. 

That desire and willingness to listen to the voice of their players allowed Coffee Stain North to iterate and improve upon the experience of the original game, and take Goat Sim 3 to the next level.

The Challenge (Part 1)

Early iterations of Goat Sim 3 kept closely to the original game’s freedom and chaos — hallmarks that attracted so many players and fans. But with Goat Sim 3’s gameworld being eighteen times larger than the original, Coffee Stain North needed to know whether this approach would land…

Perhaps some kind of structure was needed to support this more expansive game?

The developers vaguely suspected it might be the case, but the suspicion and data they had weren’t enough to act on it.

Understandably, Coffee Stain North needed to be sure that more structured play would be appreciated by their target audience, before investing time and money into changing course. The only way to capture that insight and to be able to trust the results, is by conducting research with that target audience.

Some of the decisions the team needed to make would potentially add months to the development time. It was crucial to have confidence – hence Player Research’s involvement.
Sebastian Zethraeus 
Coffee Stain North

Insights

Player Research designed one particular Experiential Playtest to explore players overall impressions of the game, and this question of progression in-depth. Our research drew together observations of playtesters in play, periodic surveys, and 1-on-1 interviews to capture a rich cross-section of data. 

Coffee Stain North’s vague suspicion proved to be true – an overwhelming portion of our playtesters felt the game was missing some kind of structure — an overarching goal, a story, or guidance. Players weren’t experiencing the full breadth of content available, and were dropping out of lovingly-scripted activities before the payoffs and rewards. 

This lack of direction and long-term goals had a powerful negative impact on the experience for many playtesters: 

  • “I don’t believe the gameplay would be able to hold me for long enough to complete it without something larger to aim for” – Playtester 
  • “I don’t know what the overall intention or aim of the game is, or what I am working towards. This I think definitely needs some improving” – Playtester

Impact

The clarity brought by this research study helped Coffee Stain North make the radical decision to extend their development time on Goat Sim 3, giving them confidence that it was worth the extra resources needed.

In that additional time, they implemented a suite of systems that were expressly aimed at supporting players in setting longer-term goals, and providing the structure that would guide players through the expansive game world. 

The playtest in particular helped Coffee Stain North make an evidence-based decision to adjust the development roadmap, and ultimately improve the game’s quality.

The Challenge (Part 2)

Exactly how to structure players’ progression posed a difficult design challenge. 

The insights clearly identified a need to provide players with something to aim for, but also confirmed that the freedom, agency, and unreserved silliness are still the game’s core strengths and must be preserved. 

Coffee Stain North knew that if they added a progression system, they would need to do it without limiting player freedom and maintaining the free-form play that is so core to Goat Simulator. 

"We needed to do it in a goaty way" - Sebastian Zethraeus, Coffee Stain North

Solution

As a solution, the designers came up with Goat Towers. 

Goat Towers provide players with optional guidance, goals and story, without reducing that all-important player agency. By performing various activities in the game world, players receive ‘Illuminati Points’, and gradually unlock medallions on the Goat Tower’s progression wall. Players can engage with Goat Towers when they see fit. 

With their typical humour and comedy intuition, Coffee Stain North managed to create a progression system that feels like a part of the game world, giving players a clear sense of purpose (and poking fun at Assassin’s Creed‘s towers), but not tying them to it.

After a period of implementation, research was again needed to validate and tweak the feature, ensuring its effectiveness in solving the problem it set out to tackle. 

Multiple iterations of research were performed between development sprints, providing regular ‘temperature–checks’ with the target audience on the evolving experience. Did players discover the progression system and understand it? Was the progression system what they wanted? Did it motivate exploration of the whole game world? 

Month-to-month our playtesting delivered answers to improve this critical mechanic, and many others. The addition of Goat Towers was just one of many of improvements driven by our mixed-methods research on Goat Simulator 3. 

The Goat Tower progression system was tweaked and perfected through feedback on the feature’s discoverability, ensuring increasing the frequency of engagements with the system, and broadening players’ understanding of it.

Results

According to post-launch telemetry data, the vast majority of players engaged with the Goat Towers — driving engagement with the full breadth of content in Goat Simulator 3.

Huge thanks and congratulations to the Coffee Stain North team for the success of this brilliant sequel.

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