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Every year, over 9,000 gamers are invited to come through Xbox Research’s playtest and usability labs located in Redmond, WA to play games and provide feedback on real-world gameplay, clarity, accessibility, and appeal. Without that feedback, games don’t launch. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they were no longer able to bring gamers into the labs. For a business that was always at the cutting edge of game research, this new reality delivered a big blow.
Xbox Research’s mission is to “enable the magic of gaming for every person on the planet,” and they have an unwavering commitment to making games more accessible. With the bulk of playtesting limited to locals both willing and able to come to their physical labs in Redmond, WA, much of their geographically diverse testing group was excluded. And because any decline in the diversity of participants can impact the quality of feedback, the Studio D team had to find a way to continue testing their games with distributed gamers.
They needed a solution that had the high performance and high fidelity required to remotely demonstrate the truest gameplay experience. They tried many alternatives, but none were able to mimic local gameplay, which was essential to both delivering the greatest control and receiving the most accurate feedback.
By the Numbers
Workstations running Parsec concurrently
Playtests (of different games) running concurrently
Playtesting participants per month
After working with 343 Industries to successfully leverage Parsec to playtest Halo Infinite, Xbox Research deployed Parsec to start playtesting with the next Age of Empires release. The initial round of playtests proved that Parsec’s seamless gameplay experience produced meaningful user research.
Xbox Research didn’t see any evidence of reduced testing quality or quantity after using Parsec for remote playtesting for a year. Their playtest reports looked as if those studies had been running in person as usual. And now that Parsec has enabled them to once again test with gamers around the world, Xbox Research can focus on scaling virtual game testing. Without the limits imposed by on-prem hardware, they’ve been able to conduct tests with up to 60 concurrent gamers on Microsoft Azure Virtual Machines (VMs).
How Xbox Research accomplished virtual playtesting with Parsec
Scaling to meet demand: In-person playtesting on dedicated hardware has firm limits in time, space, and numbers. Only so many people can fit in one test space at a time, and budgets can limit access to machine hardware. Virtual playtesting enables Xbox Research to reach gamers regardless of geography and allows the team to run as many consecutive tests as they need at a lower cost. During their initial effort using Parsec for Teams Enterprise and Microsoft Azure to create VMs for playtesting, Xbox Research was able to keep methodological control over their testing and meet the demand of the game studios.
Gaming without limits: For remote playtesting to provide statistically viable feedback, gameplay needs to feel the same in a gamer’s living room anywhere around the world as it would in the Redmond lab. Xbox’s rigorous research methodology requires a predictable and consistent gameplay experience across geographic divides with near-zero lag and latency – which Parsec delivered with flying colors. With Parsec for Teams Enterprise, Xbox Research can connect with multiple markets and gamers of all abilities knowing the user experience is virtually identical.
Secure connections: Keeping intellectual property safe is a primary concern of game developers. Leaks and piracy threaten the success and reputation of billion-dollar franchises. With Parsec for Teams Enterprise, Xbox Research has fine-grained control over what both internal team members and guests on the system can access and when. Additionally, Parsec connections are peer-to-peer and end-to-end encrypted, so game studios can run content securely.
“Playtesting is such a complicated beast, given the interactive content and the hardware requirements. Parsec made remote playtesting efficient, reliable, and more secure.” – Brian Walker, Xbox Research, Principal Research Operations Lead
Moving forward: Integrating Parsec more deeply with Microsoft
Xbox Research’s success is real-world proof of Parsec’s value for real-time 3D applications. So much so that the Microsoft Studios developer ecosystem has continued wider adoption of Parsec for Teams Enterprise, partnering with Microsoft Azure. Through the Azure Marketplace, creative teams can deploy VMs preconfigured with Parsec in five minutes or less.
“Parsec is going to allow us to scale in scenarios we’ve never been able to before. With Parsec, we can spin up an Azure virtual machine lab anywhere in the world. This is our future.” – Brian Walker, Xbox Research, Principal Research Operations Lead
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