HU students get game-testing experience in Bikini Bottom

Harrisburg University Interactive Media students working in the University’s User Experience Center recently gained invaluable hands-on experience in Bikini Bottom.

For those unfamiliar with Bikini Bottom, it’s the underwater world where the characters of Nickelodeon’s long-running, wildly popular SpongeBob Squarepants cartoon reside.

As gamers across the globe anxiously awaited the June 23rd release of SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated video game, four HU students had the opportunity to serve as user-experience research interns on the game. Working with HU’s User Experience Center (UX@HU) and the game’s producer, THQNordic, provided them with crucial, resume-building play-testing research experience.

Pictured left to right are Dominic Walker, Gabriel Kopela, and Wyatt Boyer, who play tested the

Testing was conducted in late February and early March, just before the closures related to the COVID-19 pandemic swept across the U.S. Students who conducted user-experience play tests were brought into the temporary UXC@ HU space and asked to play the game for a set amount of time.

After the participants completed their time-in-game, they took a custom-built survey based on research questions provided by the developer to provide feedback on key aspects of the gameplay experience.

In some cases, follow-up interviews took place with some participants to help further explore elements of their experience with the game. The students and professional research team then worked together to analyze the results, and bring them together to provide feedback for the developers on how well the product currently meets their user experience expectations, and make recommendations on ways to more effectively realize their goals for the user experience of the product.

“THQNordic produces a wide range of really interesting games. And the quality of the work we’ve done together has led to a request for more testing – we’ve tested at least one more project for THQNordic that is expected to release this summer, and we’re starting testing on another project in the next few weeks,” said Dr. Adams Greenwood-Ericksen, Director of the UXC@HU. “We’re grateful for the steady flow of work they’ve provided for us.”

The main function of the UXC@HU is to bring real-world software development projects from the outside world into the university’s lab to test and evaluate their usability and user experience.

HU’s professional researchers oversee all the tests to make sure the center adheres to the highest quality standards. But graduate and undergraduate interns do most of the actual work of testing, evaluating, and documenting the results. They test a variety of projects, but one of the center’s key specialties involves testing the user experience of video games in development.

Recent Interactive Media program graduates Gabrielle Kopera and Wyatt Boyer, along with IMED majors Amanda Fidler and Dominic Walker, participated in the testing of SpongeBob SquarePants: Battle for Bikini Bottom Rehydrated.

Boyer said working on the game introduced him to methodologies and experiences that will help him in his career.

“What I enjoyed the most out of this experience was the ability to work on a commercially available product using techniques and methods widely used in the industry,” he said. “I believe this experience will prove to be immensely beneficial for me moving forward, as it provided a plethora of knowledge on industry-standard programs and practices!”

The invitation to work on a high-profile game like SpongeBob Squarepants: Battle for Bikini Bottom – Rehydrated, highlights THQNordic’s commitment to help train the next generation of user experience researchers, Greenwood-Ericksen said. “It also speaks well of the UXC@HU and HU students.”

“The UXC@HU offers an unmatched opportunity for students to learn and practice their user research and usability assessment skills on real, professional and high-profile products that people have heard of,” Greenwood-Ericksen said. “That means that the students who work on these projects in the lab get the opportunity to gain real world experience and resume credibility while still working on their degree. This helps the students get the kinds of jobs they want after graduation and raises the profile of the University.”

 About Harrisburg University

Accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, Harrisburg University is a private non-profit university offering bachelor and graduate degree programs in science, technology, and math fields to a diverse student body. For more information on the University’s affordable demand-driven undergraduate and graduate programs, call 717.901.5146 or email, Connect@HarrisburgU.edu.