US 20100144444 A1
A video game testing system facilitating real-time monitoring and modifying a video game during a playtesting session. The testing system includes video game platforms operating during a playtesting session to run a video game. A server is provided to run a communications hub module communicatively linked with the video game platforms. The testing system also includes a monitoring computer station with a statistics gathering tool receiving data related to play of the video game by a control group of players. The game play data is transmitted from the video game platforms via the communications hub module, and the statistics gathering tool processes the game play data and outputs aggregated statistics during the playtesting session. The testing system includes a development tool issuing authoring messages to the game platforms defining modifications to the game data during the playtesting sessions, whereby real-time feedback is provided on game play and modifications.
1. A video game testing system facilitating game authoring during testing, comprising:
a set of video game platforms operating during a playtesting session to provide a video game based on game data;
a server with a communications hub module communicatively linked with the video game platforms; and
a monitoring system with a playtest statistics gathering tool receiving game play data related to a set of players playing the video games, the game play data being transmitted from the video game platforms via the communications hub module, and wherein the playtest statistics gathering tool processes the game play data and outputs aggregated statistics based on the processing during the playtesting session.
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10. A playtesting method for video game development, comprising:
during a playtesting session, providing a plurality of instances of a video game running on video game platforms;
transmitting game play data from the video game platforms corresponding to a set of players playing the video game instances;
gathering the transmitted game play data with a statistics gathering tool running on a computer system;
with the statistics gathering tool, processing the gathered game play data to generate a set of playtest statistics; and
during the playtesting session, displaying the set of playtest statistics on a monitor, whereby a developer of the video game is provided with feedback on game play results during the playtesting session.
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15. A system for testing a software program, comprising:
a set of at least two computing platforms each running a software program based on a set of program data;
a server running a central hub application providing a communication interface to the computing platforms;
a statistics gathering module running on a computer linked to the central hub server, the statistics gathering module collecting data related to use of the software program by a set of operators, processing the collected data, and at least partially concurrently with the use of the software application by the operation displaying the processed data on a display screen.
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This application is a continuation-in-part of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 12/328,619, filed Dec. 4, 2008, and entitled “Communication Hub for Video Game Development Systems,” and is also related to U.S. patent application Ser. No. ______, filed with this application and entitled “Live Authoring Method for Real Time Development of Video Games,” and U.S. patent application Ser. No. ______, filed with this application and entitled “Collaborative Authoring Method for Video Game Development,” all of which are incorporated herein by reference in their entireties.
1. Field of the Invention
The present invention relates, in general, to video game development and communications between development tools and video game platforms, and, more particularly, to systems and methods for improving the efficiency and effectiveness provided during playtesting of video games.
2. Relevant Background
The video game market has moved from a smaller niche market to a multi-billion dollar market. The demand for new video games is growing rapidly as the size and demographics of game players continues to expand. Also, video games used to be made for only one or two game platforms, but now there is a demand for video games that can be sold on numerous platforms including standalone game consoles, computers, handheld portable gaming devices, and other electronic devices such as cellphones, digital music players, and personal digital assistants (PDAs). As a result, there is significant competition among game developers to create video games to meet the growing demand in a timely and efficient manner and, often, for these games to be able to run as desired on differing platforms or devices.
Large-scale, commercial video games are typically created by large development teams with the development process taking 1 to 3 years and costing millions of dollars. A typical development team may include producers to oversee production, game designers, artists, programmers, level designers, sound engineers, and testers with some team members handling more than one role. The development team works in a collaborative manner to create game content (or game assets) and game code, which together may be thought of as a game application, that can be run by a gaming engine on a particular game platform to provide the game to a player.
For example, programmers may write new source code, artists may develop game assets such as characters or scene objects, coloring schemes, textures, 3D models of game elements, and the like, sound engineers may develop sound effects and music, writers may create character dialog, and level designers may create advanced and eye-catching levels. To support these team members, numerous game development tools, such as Microsoft XNA, Maya from Autodesk, Inc., and the like, are now available for use in designing and creating game content including creating and modeling characters and even for defining game logic (e.g., how high a character jumps, how much life does a character gain or lose based on a game event, how fast does a character or game element move, and so on). However, typically a complete engine has to be purchased, which causes most game developers to try to build their own tools. Additionally, each video game console or platform developer typically will make a software development kit (or SDK or devkit) available to game developers, and each SDK may include applications or tools that are useful in creating new video games. Each SDK may also include a communications library and/or interface (e.g., platform communications data) to facilitate communications with a game platform (e.g., the platform running a game under current development or running a built game for testing or use by a developer to see how a new character, asset, game parameter, or the like is working in the game).
Currently, development tools used in the video game industry rarely communicate with each other and, if they do, the tools typically communicate and function using a one-to-one connection. Specifically, the tool communicates with a game running on a particular video game platform with a connection between the tool running on a developer's workstation and the game platform. For example, the development tool may generate a platform client on the workstation to provide an interface with the running game, and the tool may be required to manage a communication socket to support these communications. Each game platform typically utilizes differing interfacing and communication protocols (or at least have some differences), and each development tool is required to understand how to communicate with each game platform that may be used with the tool. Presently, a game developer may be working on a video game that needs to operate on more than one game platform, and the development for each platform often occurs along parallel paths as it is desirable (or required) for games to be released concurrently for each of the game platforms.
Developing or “authoring” a video game is often time consuming for members of the development team, and computer processing time during the game creation and modification is often a large percentage of development time. For example, the present development process in the video game industry involves a designer, programmer, artist, or other team member using a development tool to change an existing, or to create a new, game asset such as a game object, a texture of an object or scenery element, an animation or character, or the like. The development team member then processes this data to create a new game build and then uploads it to a particular game platform or console. They can then see their changes or additions in the running game on the platform. If additional changes are required, the process is repeated with altering game assets through operation of a game development tool on their workstation and rebuilding and running the modified video game application with a game engine on the game platform.
This iterative process is time consuming and also requires considerable amounts of processing time to create new builds or versions of the video game application, and the problem is amplified when there are numerous small changes that need to be made or many repetitive changes or additions that need to be made to a game level or scene as the developer quickly becomes frustrated with the tedious task of making minor changes and having to reprocess the game application to view the changes. Further, the process has to be repeated for each intended video game platform because a change or modification to a game asset that “works” or is effective on one platform may not be acceptable on another platform. For example, a coloring change or a lighting change to a video game may produce a desirable effect when the video game is run on one platform while the same change may produce a different and unacceptable effect on a second platform (e.g., a game development tool may allow setting lighting at 5 on a scale from 1 to 10 but each platform or game engine may translate this differently to produce differing effects). Another issue is that different game development tools may have to be run or used to alter differing portions or sets of the game assets, and, typically, this has required separate game builds or game asset processing to view the revised video game.
Some companies have created products that designed to be used as the central hub of game content authoring, but this has not resolved all editing and modifying issues. Another attempt to address the time consuming editing or modifying problems of game development has been to try to build the tools into the game engine. However, this approach is generally undesirable as it increases the chances of work-stopping bugs in the tools as it ties operation of all of the tools together, and this approach has been resisted by game platform developers as it complicates the game engine and its operations. This only allows the content creator to view the created assets inside the tool, and while it is closer to a running game, it is not actually the same as the game running on a target platform, which can fool a game designer or developer.
Another issue facing the video game industry is how to support collaborative efforts among the development team members working on a new video game. Typically, due to the large and complex nature of game content (e.g., game data and/or game assets), only one artist, designer, or other development team member can work on any given portion of a game at a time. For example, an artist working on a texture or materials for a given game level would force a designer who wants to adjust or tweak placement of some game objects or elements within that that level or location/position within that level to wait until the artist has completed their work or at least saved the new game data allowing a rebuild of the game. Such serial development efforts often extends the timeline for creating a new video game, and there are demands within the industry to shorten video game development times from many months down to a few months time (e.g., to respond to customer demand for games related to new movies or trends).
Playtesting is often used to determine whether a video game is ready for market including working out bugs or problems and adjusting logic and game parameters/settings to make the game more enjoyable to play. Testing may begin as soon as there portions ready to play but often begins later in the development process so that there is a significant amount of the game to play for the testers. Playtesting generally involves people or testers playing the video game on one or more target platforms. In a typical closed or internal playtest, a group of testers are selected and asked to play through predetermined portions of the video game. After play is completed, their play experience is captured or documented through questionnaire and interviews or communications with development team members including those who worked to design the tested portions. In some cases, video recording is used to document the testers play experience. Also, some playtest labs include recording facilities to capture game information or statistics from each player's session, and this information is stored for later or offline evaluation by the development team. Hence, playtesting is generally a static process that captures for a snapshot of playtesting results for a tested portion of the game. The playtesting results are later analyzed and used to implement changes to the video game, but, to test these changes, another group of playtesters will be gathered to perform another playtesting of the modified video game.
Hence, there remains a need for improved methods for playtesting video games. Preferably, such methods and systems support use of existing (and to be developed) video game development tools and would reduce the amount of time spent by developers in creating new game assets and in performing modifications to a previously built video game. Further, the inventors recognize that one of the largest discrepancies among the testers during playtesting is their video game skills, and, hence, the inventors believe it is desirable to provide a playtesting method and system in which the same testers are used to play a video game or portion of such game after game modifications are made such that skill discrepancies do not skew the playtesting results (e.g., one set of playtesters may have a high average skill level that encourages developers to make a game (or a particular move/task/function/operation) more difficult but a second, later set of playtesters may have a low average skill level that indicates the modified game is less fun because it is too difficult (or vice versa)).
The present invention addresses the above problems by providing methods and systems for facilitating and simplifying communications between video game development tools and video game platforms (or games running on such platforms). A central hub communications application is provided that abstracts the knowledge of the video game platforms as well as the existence of other video game development tools. The video game development tools can communicate with any game platform and with each other without requiring specific knowledge of the intended recipients and their communication rules or protocols. To this end, the central hub communications application or module has access to the data or knowledge of how to connect and communicate with each video game platform in a video game development system or network (e.g., has access to platform communication libraries (such as those provided with game platform SDKs or the like) that may be thought of as communication data sets or libraries). In contrast, the video game development tool only has a client-side communications library (e.g., access to such a library in memory of the development workstation or computer or as a library built-in to the tool) that allows the tool to communicate with the communications hub application. The hub application receives the tool-sent messages, processes these messages as necessary based on the video game platform communication data sets, and forwards the messages to the appropriate recipients/clients (e.g., video games running on one or more platforms, to another development tool, or other interested client).
More particularly, a video game development tool is provided for facilitating communications with a first video game platform and a second video game platform (e.g., two or more platforms distributed by two or more companies), with the game platforms providing two different communication libraries defining messaging and other communications with the platforms or games running on such platforms. The system includes a communications hub module running in the system such as on a hub or communications server, and the hub server is communicatively linked with the first and second video game platforms to allow the communications hub module to forward messages to and receive messages from the game platforms. The system also includes memory or data storage that is accessible by the communications hub module and that stores the first and second communication data sets (e.g., first and second or differing code libraries that may be linked into the system). A video game development tool is provided in the system running on a computer system such as a developer workstation or other computing or electronic device. The development tool is communicatively linked with the communications hub module, and, in this regard, the development tool transmits messages configured or formatted based on a client-side communications library that provides information such as communication protocols for communicating with the communications hub module. In operation, the communications hub module receives the transmitted messages from the development tool, generates game platform messages from the received messages based on the appropriate first and second communication data sets, and then forwards the game platform messages to at least one of the first and second video game platforms.
The messages from the video game development tool often will include game data for a video game running on both the first and second video game platforms, and, in these cases, the game platform messages are forwarded to both game platforms from the hub module. The hub module may process each of the messages from the tool to determine or identify a list of recipients for each of the game platform messages it creates. The list of recipients may be based on a set of addressees provided in the tool messages or may be based on the message content (e.g., to recipients interested in particular game data such as particular logic, game assets, game parameters/variable values, and the like). In many cases, the game development system will include additional game development tools linked to the hub module, and these tools may receive messages from the first or original game tool when they are identified in the set of addressees or when placed on the list of recipients by the communications hub module based on the message content (e.g., another tool may be interested when certain game data is modified by another tool). In this way, tool-to-tool communications are facilitated or provided within the development system via the hub module. The list of message recipients may be determined by the hub module from a list of clients that have been registered with the hub module to receive messages from video game tools, and the registered clients may include subsystems of a video game running on one or both of the game platforms. The development tool may use a single communication socket to send the transmitted message to both platforms via the hub module while the hub module may act to provide a communication interface with the game platforms in part by maintaining communication sockets or clients for these game platforms (e.g., to implement the protocols or communication rules/definitions provided in the first and second communication data sets).
According to another aspect, a video game development system is provided with enhanced or “live” feedback to developers working with multiple game platforms or consoles. The system includes a communications hub module running on a hub server that is linked for digital communications with first and second video game platforms that use game engines to run video games (e.g., differently configured game engines such as those that may be provided by differing platform manufacturers). A video game development tool running on a computer system or workstation and that is also linked to the communications hub module. The development tool operates in response to user/developer input to perform modifications of video game data including game data or asset changes and additions. An authoring module is associated with the video game development tool and operates after the game data modifications to transmit an authoring message to the communications hub module. The authoring message typically includes content reflecting the game data modifications and is formatted based on a client-side communications library to be accepted/received by the hub module. The hub module generates game data update messages from the authoring messages and forwards these messages to the first and second video game platforms. The game engines on the platforms then operate to alter a running video game using the game data modifications to provide prompt visual/audio feedback to the developer on the changes they made with the development tool. The modifications may include changes to game logic for the video game and often may include multiple modifications (e.g., at least two) of the video game data such as a change to a game asset, e.g., a change to an object such as its location, size, texture, and so or a change to a game defining parameter such as a lighting level.
According to another aspect, a video game development system is provided that is adapted for collaborative game authoring. The system includes a video game platform with a game engine running or providing video game instance based on a set of game data (e.g., defined game logic, game assets such as animations, objects, and game settings, and the like). A communications hub module is communicatively linked to the video game platform, and first and second game development tools are linked to the communications hub module. The tools are operated to modify the set of game data and to transmit authoring messages including content based on modifications to the set of game data to the communications hub module. The communications hub module generates game data update messages from these tool-generated authoring messages (with the update messages being in the form expected/required by the platform which typically differs from that required/expected by the hub module for the authoring messages) and forwards the update messages to the video game platform. In response, the game engine runs the video game using the set of game data including updates provided in the update messages. The first and second development tools may be operated concurrently by developers to transmit the authoring messages such that the live running instance of the game on the platform may include edits or changes (or additions) provide by both development tools to support collaborative design efforts.
Regarding playtesting of video games, a video game testing system is provided that facilitates authoring or modifying the game during the playtesting session. The testing system includes a set of video game platforms that operate during a playtesting session to run (or provide an instance of) a video game, with the game running based on a set of game data such as game logic, game assets, and the like. A server or computer is provided in the testing system to run a communications hub module that is communicatively linked with the video game platforms (e.g., the running video games are communication clients of the hub module). The testing system also includes a monitoring system with a playtest statistics gathering tool that receives game play data related to a set of players playing the running video games. The game play data is transmitted from the video game platforms via the communications hub module, and the statistics gathering tool processes the game play data and outputs aggregated statistics during the playtesting session (e.g., provides real-time feedback on play results of a video game via a GUI on a display screen in the monitoring system). The testing system may also include a game development tool that issues authoring or game update messages to the game platforms via the hub module. The authoring messages include content defining modifications to the game data and are transmitted during the playtesting sessions such as to alter game logic in response to players in the control group finding a task too easy or too difficult. The authoring messages may be sent to all of the running video games or to some subset to allow selective modification of the playtested video games with the same control group of players.
Briefly, embodiments of the present invention are directed toward methods and systems of enhancing playtesting of video games (or other software applications). The methods discussed below generally include providing a number of video games running on video game platforms (e.g., the same platform or platforms with varying configurations such consoles or devices from differing manufacturers/distributors). A group of players or testers are assigned to these platforms to playtest the game, and during the playtesting session, the method includes transmitting game play data from the video game platforms. A statistics gathering tool is in communication with the game platforms and functions to gather the transmitted game play data and then to process the game play data to generate a set of playtest statistics (e.g., number of players failing at a particular task, percentage of players defeating an opponent or level, and so on). During or concurrent with the playtesting session, the method includes displaying the playtest statistics on a monitor or display device such that a game developer is provided real-time feedback on playtesting results. The method may then include generating modifications to game data used by the game platforms to provide the video games, such as by operation of a game development tool, and transmitting the modifications to the video game platforms for use/implementation during the playtesting session to alter the running games (e.g., make a task easier or harder or otherwise alter game logic or game assets or otherwise modify the game as it is being tested). The playtest is continued after the changes such that the aggregated statistics and game play data can be collected by the statistics gathering tool and presented or displayed to the game developer (or test monitor).
Other embodiments of the present invention are directed toward methods and systems of live authoring of video games to provide real time feedback to the authors or development team members. The live authoring methods and systems allow a development team member to create changes to a video game using one or more video game development tools and to cause these changes to be implemented on one, two, or more video game platforms with one broadcast authoring message (e.g., a message with game content or data that is implemented by running games on differing platforms). The authoring message or game update is broadcast through a game communication hub (e.g., a message with game content formatted for receipt by the hub or a hub application running on a hub server) to allow any listening client to listen and receive and react to the game update. The hub application acts to identify appropriate recipients for the message such as games (or subsystems of games) running on differing game platforms, game data storage for the game content, and/or other game development tools (e.g., a change made to a game asset or game data such as a texture property in one tool such as Adobe Photoshop is made/reflected in a game engine running the video game and also in a second tool such as Autodesk Maya) without the developer being forced to resend the message or to rebuild the game for each platform with the game asset or data changes/additions. The following description begins with a discussion of a video game development communication method and system with reference to
Other embodiments of the present invention are directed to methods and systems for managing communications within a video game development system or network. Specifically, a game development system or network is described that lessens the processing overhead, usage complexity, and maintenance requirements for each game development tool used by a game developer by proving a central hub communication application in the development system or network that establishes a communication interface(s) between each tool and differing game platforms. The hub communication application (or the server running such an application) acts as a message passing hub that extracts (or determines) the recipients for a message issued by a development tool and transmits the content (e.g., game data such as modified game logic to be used by a game engine on a platform, a game asset such as a new character or object in 3D model or other form, and/or a game parameter such as lighting level, texturing, and the like) as-is or with reformatting to the recipients in the game development system or network.
As background, the following description provides examples of particular computers, computing devices, workstations, video game platforms/consoles, communication networking and digital connections, memory devices, and other computing hardware and software resources used in video game development. However, it will be understood that these are only representative examples of useful implementations of the invention and not as limitations to its breadth. Further, embodiments of the invention may be thought of generally as a computer-based method for supporting communications, authoring, and testing during game development (e.g., while operating a developer terminal, node, PC, workstation, or the like and using one or more video game development tool), the particular software, firmware, and/or hardware used to implement the described methods and functions are also not limiting of the invention. In general, the algorithms, routines, and processes described herein may be implemented upon nearly any computer-readable medium that can cause a computer or computer system to perform a corresponding function. For example, the hub communication application may be provided as software or programming code for causing a computing device such as a developer's computing device or a central/networked server to perform particular functions as part of creating a game development computing and communication environment and may be stored on a memory device of nearly any node accessible via wired or wireless connections by video game development tools and run on a device that uses one or more processors or CPUs to run the software. The video game development workstations likely will include a number of input/output devices (I/O devices) such as a keyboard, a mouse or trackball or the like, a touchscreen or pad, a voice recognition mechanism, and the like. A monitor or monitors will also be provided to allow the user to view one or more user interface (such as windows created as part of the computing environment to view and/or access video game tool interfaces and view/modify game data such as game logic, game settings, game assets, game parameters, and the like). Such user interfaces may be nearly any combination of menus, screen designs, keyboard commands, command language, and the like (including in some cases mice, touch screens, and other input hardware such as voice recognition) to allow a user to interact with a computer and with video game digital assets and data stored in memory in a particular computing environment. The invention may also be implemented using one or more data servers that may communicate with the workstations over a digital communications network such as the Internet, a local area network, a wide area network, or the like using any of a number of well-known or later developed communications protocols (wired or wireless), and the browsers and related applications may be provided as web applications accessible in particular computing environments.
To assist in understanding some of the benefits of such a hub-based communication system and method as part of the game development and testing process, it may be useful to discuss an existing or more conventional game development system 100 as shown in
Presently, development tools 114, 134 used in the video game industry typically provide no communications or, if they do provide a form of communication, function as shown by using a one-to-one connection 120, 126, 140, 146 between the tool 114, 134 and the running games/platforms 160, 170. To establish communications, the tools 114, 134 may be thought of as creating communication clients 116, 122, 136, 142 for each game 160, 170 that they wish to communicate with during development/operation of system 100. Further, such one-to-one communications may be thought of as requiring the tools 114, 134 to each create and manage communication sockets 118, 124, 138, 144 to allow direct messaging 120, 126, 140, 146 to and from the running games 160, 170. In the system 100, each tool needs to understand how to communicate with each platform 160, 170 separately. For example, a communication link along with messages formatted as required by the communication data 119 for a particular platform 160 likely cannot be used for sending a message with the same content to the other platform 170. In a more concrete example, a certain tool 114 or 134 may use one set of communication data 119, 139 (e.g., information/data provided in a video game platform developer's SDK or the like) to update objects or other game assets/data on a Sony PS3 platform (or first platform) but could not use these same communication techniques/methods to send messages updating the same objects or other game assets/data on a Microsoft Xbox 360 (or second platform). Further, the one-to-one communication technique has not been useful in allowing tools to communicate between each other or with other tools as the tools 114, 134 generally would need to have explicit knowledge of the other running tools in order to establish a connection.
The system 200 simplifies game development communications by including a developer communications hub 220 (e.g., a server or other computing device that may take the “server” role for messaging within system 200). The hub 220 runs a central hub communications or message-passing application that abstracts the knowledge of platforms and existence of other tools from the individual tools 212, 251, and such a centralization and abstraction of communications duties allows the tools 212, 251 to communicate with each other and with any game platform 230, 240 without requiring specific knowledge of the intended recipient and potential interfacing, message formatting, and other communication requirements imposed by that recipient. The system 200 does this generally by centralizing the knowledge of how to connect with different platforms 230, 240 into a central hub application and, in some cases, by building a client side communications library into each tool (not shown but used to allow the tools 212, 251 to communicate with the hub application with a relatively simple messaging protocol that can be used for all of its messaging and data transfer in system 200). Such a library may also be used to allow the platforms 230, 240 to connect with the hub 220 (or hub communication application running thereon).
As shown, the hub 220 provides an interface to a client 222 for tools 212, 251 to communicate with games running on a first platform 230 (shown as Platform A) as well as communication clients 224, 226 for tools 212, 251 to communicate with games running on a second platform 240 (shown as Platform B in
The system 300 also a communications network 340 that is used to connect the developer system 310 with a hub server 350. The hub server 350 includes a CPU 352 that runs a communications hub application 354. The CPU 352 also manages memory 356 that is shown to store a list of clients (e.g., platforms, tools, games or subsystems of games registered with the hub application, and the like) for receiving system communications. The memory 356 also stores platform communication data (e.g., SDK communication libraries for each platform 370, 380) for each platform 370, 380 in the system 300 or expected to be added to/used within system 300. The hub server 350 runs the communication hub application 354, and the application 354 may function to provide a communication interface 362 between the tools 316, 318 and the game platforms 370, 380 (and between tools 316, 318 themselves). To this end, a communication client 364, 366, 368 may be created by the hub application 354 using the platform communication data sets 360 for each platform 370, 380 as well as rules/protocols for communicating with the workstation/system 310.
During operation of the system 300, each of the game development tools 316, 318 may use the client-side hub library 338 as a built-in or runtime communication mechanism to create and manage a hub communication socket or link 342, 344 via network 340 to send messages to and from the hub application 354 on server 350. These messages may include game data such as modifying game logic 334 or an asset 332 on games 372, 382 (e.g., the same game running on two differing platforms). The hub application 354 processes these messages via interface 362 and clients 364, 366, 368 and/or communication data 360 to determine the recipients for the message, to place the message in the expected format for those recipients, and to transmit the message over links 376, 386, 342, 344 as appropriate. The list of clients 358 may include the video games 372, 382 or one of the tools 318 and each message may be sent to one, a set of, or all of such recipients depending on the content (who is registered as being interested in that type of content/message) and/or on a recipient list/addressee in the message from the tool 316, 318 (such as to a particular game or game subsystem or to any tools interested in a particular game data).
A system bus 407 couples various system components including system memory 405 to processing unit 403. System bus 407 may be any of several types of bus structures including a memory bus or memory controller, a peripheral bus, and a local bus using any of a variety of bus architectures. System memory 405 includes read only memory (ROM) and random access memory (RAM). A basic input/output system (BIOS) 456, containing the basic routines that help to transfer information between elements within computer system 402, such as during start-up, is stored in ROM 456. Computer system 402 further includes various drives and associated computer-readable media. A hard disk drive 409 reads from and writes to a (typically fixed) magnetic hard disk 411; a magnetic disk drive 413 reads from and writes to a removable “floppy” or other magnetic disk 415; and an optical disk drive 417 reads from and, in some configurations, writes to a removable optical disk 419 such as a CD ROM or other optical media, and, of course, other removable memory devices may be inserted into and accessed (read and/or writing of data) via a port such as a USB or other communication port in a housing of the system 402. Hard disk drive 409, magnetic disk drive 413, and optical disk drive 417 are connected to system bus 407 by a hard disk drive interface 421, a magnetic disk drive interface 423, and an optical drive interface 425, respectively. The drives and their associated computer-readable media provide nonvolatile storage of computer-readable instructions, programs, procedures, routines, data structures, program modules, and other data for computer system 402 (such as initial installation of the client-side communications library and/or for backup storage/transfer of game application or game assets). In other configurations, other types of computer-readable media that can store data that is accessible by a computer (e.g., magnetic cassettes, flash memory cards, digital video disks, random access memories (RAMs), read only memories (ROMs) and the like) may also be used.
A number of program modules such as game development tools, testing routines, and the like may be stored on hard disk 411, removable magnetic disk 415, optical disk 419 and/or ROM and/or RAM of system memory 405. Such program modules may include an operating system providing graphics and sound APIs, one or more application programs, other program modules, and program data such as game data. A user may enter commands and information into computer system 402 through input devices such as a keyboard 427 and a pointing device or mouse 429. Other input devices may include a microphone, a joystick, a game controller, wireless communication devices, a scanner, or the like. These and other input devices are often connected to processing unit 403 through a serial port interface 431 that is coupled to system bus 407, but may be connected by other interfaces, such as a parallel port interface or a universal serial bus (USB) or by wireless connections. A monitor(s) 433 or other type of display device is also connected to system bus 407 via an interface, such as a video adapter 435 such as for viewing game development and game testing GUIs or other game data.
Computer system 402 may also include a modem 454 or other means for establishing communications over wide area network 452, such as the Internet. Modem 454, which may be internal or external, is connected to system bus 407 via serial port interface 431 (or some other interface). A network interface 456 may also be provided for allowing computer system 402 to communicate (e.g., establish communication sockets and the like) with a remote computing device or server 450 via a local area network 458 (or such communication may be via wide area network 452 or other communications path such as dial-up or other communications means). Computer system 402 typically includes other peripheral output devices, such as printers and other standard devices (not shown). Computer system 402 is preferably equipped with an operating system supporting Internet communication protocols and/or other digital communications network protocols and communication interfaces (e.g., to support digital communications with the central communications hub on computer 250 via messages generated and transmitted based on the definitions/requirements of the client-side communication library typically built into the game development programs). Other types of computer systems other than or in addition to the one shown are usable to practice the invention (e.g., a local area network of computers, an interactive television, a personal digital assistant, an interactive wireless communications device, electronic devices with adequate computing capabilities and memory, or the like).
The method 500 then may include the hub application monitoring the communication network for a next message to be transmitted from a tool or game. When a message is received at the hub, the method 500 continues at 540 with the hub application acting to identify message recipients 540. For example, in some embodiments, the tools may transmit messages in a generic manner with no addressees specified, and in such cases the message may be sent to all recipients on the hub recipient list or a subset interested in a particular type of message or message content. In other cases, the message may be transmitted by the tool in a form that specifies one or more (a set) of recipients for the message, e.g., a message to a game running on one platform or another tool. At 550, the hub application translates and/or reformats the message as appropriate based on the identified recipients and the communications data (rules, libraries, and the like) associated with each of these identified recipients. For example, a hub-formatted message from a tool may be reformatted or translated to comply with communications data/rules for a first game platform and also for a second game platform. Then at 560, the method 500 continues with the hub application forwarding the message to all identified recipients or to clients requesting the game information in the message. In some cases, the hub application handles opening communication links or sockets for each platform (and/or for each recipient or the like). The method 500 may continue at 530 with waiting for additional game development or related messages or end at 590. Generally, the method 500 may be used for one-to-one communications as a tool or other sender of the development network may specify the recipient or addressee, but the method 500 also supports a one-to-many connection or broadcasting communication methods as a tool can make a change to a particular game data (such as tweak a portion of the game logic) and transmit a generic hub-format message that will be sent by the hub application to all interested recipients (e.g., to all games or game subsystems affected by the change). As a result, a developer does not have to create and send a message for each platform to have the change implemented by running games.
Likewise, the developer computer system 610 is similar to system 310 in that it includes a CPU 312, I/O devices 314, and a monitor 320 for displaying information including game data in tool GUIs 322. The system 610 also uses the CPU 312 to run one or more game development tools 316. In this case, each tool 316, 318 is able to link to and communicate with the communications hub application 354 using a built-in, client side library 615, 617 that defines how to interface and communicate with the hub application 354 including how to format authoring messages 690, 691. In the system 600, a data storage server 640 is included that is accessible by the tools 316, 318 via network 340 and includes memory 642 storing the game application data 644 (e.g., game assets such as created objects, character models and animation, game logic, parameter/variable settings, and other information used by a game engine in running a video game). As game tools 316, 318 access the data 644 (e.g., display current values in a tool GUI or the like), a tool cache or memory 624 may be used by CPU 312 to store game data 630 such as game assets 632, game logic 634, and variable/parameter settings 636 for efficient access by tools 316, 318.
During operation of the developer computer system 610, a developer may call up or use a number of game development tools 316, 318. For example, a logic adjustment tool 316 or 318 may be used that provides a GUI 322 that presents the present game logic 634 or settings 636 and allows it to be readily adjusted or tweaked (e.g., how fast a character runs, how much high a character jumps, how many times an opponent has to be struck to fall, and so on) such as with pull down boxes with logic value choices, slide bars to adjust values, data entry boxes, and the like. Another tool 316, 318 may be used to create a new animation or to modify an existing model or object such as by changing its texture, by moving its position within a screen, modifying its size, and so on via a GUI 322 displayed on monitor 320.
According to one important aspect of the system 600, the developer is able to obtain instantaneous or real time feedback on these changes in previously built and running video games on two or more differing game platforms (e.g., on Sony's PS3 concurrently with Nintendo's Wii consoles and so on). As shown, the system 600 includes at least two game platforms 670, 680 that include game engines 672, 682 to run game applications 674, 684. The running video games 674, 684 functionality is controlled in part by the game assets 676, 686 such as 3D models of characters and other animations, level design, game play logic, lighting settings, textures, coloring, and so on. When the video game 674, 684 is run by the engines 672, 682 a video display 678, 688 of the platform or game system 670, 680 is used to display the game to players such as testers and, in this case, to the developers.
To provide real time feedback, the developer computer system 610 includes live authoring modules 616, 618 associated with or built in to each development tool 316, 318. The live authoring module 616, 618 functions (as is discussed with reference to
In this manner, a single authoring message 690 or 691 from a tool 316, 318 may be used to cause multiple changes to be concurrently implemented within any number of game platforms 670, 680 as well as other tools 316, 318, and this can be achieved without the developer having to have knowledge of each platform 670, 680, without creating and sending multiple messages, and without having to reprocess or create new builds of the running game applications 674, 684 as the authoring is “live” or performed with real time feedback. Rebuilds of games, in contrast, are undesirable as they may take several minutes to complete.
At 710, the method 700 continues with configuring the game development system for hub communications, e.g., for allowing a tool to send a single message in a format understood by the hub application that can then determine a recipient list, translate/reformat the message based on the communication requirements of each recipient, and broadcast/forward the authoring or game data update message to the set of recipients. To this end, client-side libraries may be provided on the game developer's computer or workstation such as modules built in or accessed by each game tool to allow the tools to communicate with properly formatted messages to the hub application, and hub application is provided in the system and communicatively linked to the tools (such as via a communication network). The hub application is provided access to communications libraries or data sets (e.g., communications libraries provided with a game platform SDK and the like to manage communications with clients associated with a potential recipient list within the developer system, which may include other development tools (e.g., a PC client may be utilized/supported by the hub application) as well as game data central storage.
At 720, the method 700 continues with providing and/or loading a live authoring module or modules on the developer computer system(s). For example, a single authoring module may be provided to support a set of development tools or an instance may be provided for each development tool to support communications with the hub application upon changes to the game data with a tool. At 728, the method 700 continues with a developer using the game development tools (or other mechanisms) to create new game assets or to modify existing game data or assets (such as changing the logic to make a particular move or portion of a game easier or harder).
At 730, the method 700 includes determining whether automated messaging has been activated within the live authoring module. For example, it may be a default setting for the live authoring module for authoring messages to be broadcast automatically upon a game development tool linked to an authoring module being used to create or update a game asset or game data. In other embodiments, the game developer may be given the option of making such messaging automatic or to select an option in which they are prompted by the authoring module after making a change with a tool to send an authoring message to the running video games (and other interested clients/recipients) via the central communication hub. In this regard, if the messaging is not automated (e.g., handled by the authoring module without further action by the developer), the method 700 continues at 740 with the live authoring tool prompting the user or developer to transmit a game update message such as by displaying a message in workstation monitor or tool GUI asking if the updated data should be sent in an authoring message or whether to remind the developer later (e.g., upon another asset addition or modification). At 746, the method 700 includes determining whether the message transmittal is authorized. If not, the method 700 may continue at 740 as shown or return to step 728 (e.g., await a next change to a game asset). In other embodiments/implementations, the data is always sent if possible and typically always handled. In such cases, the method 700 is adapted to from prompting a user, especially when they may end up skipping one change and then allowing a second change, which is dependent upon the first, which may cause problems.
If messaging is automated or has been authorized, the method 700 continues at 750 with the live authoring module acting to transmit the authoring message to the communications hub application. The authoring message is in a format called for the by the hub application (e.g., in a client-side library), and the message content typically is the game data addition (e.g., a new object or character) or a change to an existing game asset such as to modify game logic, change a variable or parameter setting or position, and so on. At 760, the hub application receives the message, determines a set of recipients or clients to receive the message, translates each based on a corresponding communications data set defining/controlling communications with that recipient, and transmits or forwards the messages with game data to each identified recipient.
At 770, the game data for the video game may be updated to reflect the game data in the authoring message (e.g., in centralized storage location accessible by one or more developers working on one or more workstations). At 780, the method 700 continues with the game engine running the game application with the updated game data or assets as presented in the authoring message broadcast from the development tool. The method 700 may end at 790 or return to step 728 to allow the developer(s) to make additional revisions or additions of the game data. In this manner, the developer can author a change or set of changes to a video game, broadcast a single authoring message with one, two, three, or more additions and/or changes to the game data or assets, and view the resulting effects these changes/additions have on the running game application within one, two, or more game platforms or consoles.
For example, the game data or assets used by a game application and/or game engine running the game application may be identical for the screen shots 810, 820. As shown, a game character 812 with clothing 814 is shown to be jumping from the floor/ground 818 toward the top of a game object (e.g., a column in this case) 816. The character 812 is shown to jump to a particular height, Hjump, while the object 816 has a particular height, Hobject. In screen shot 820 corresponding to a different game platform, the character 822 is shown to have clothes 824, and the clothes 824 may have a different appearance than clothes 814. Similarly, the game shot 820 shows the floor 828 with a texture similar to that of floor 818 but with some small differences. Yet further, an object 826 is included but its height, Hobject, differs from that of object 816 and/or the height of the jump, Hjump, may differ for the character 822. From this illustration, it can be seen that a set of game data may be processed differently or produce differing results for a game application run on two differing platforms. This makes it desirable for a developer to view a running game while (e.g., “live”) they make changes to the game data or assets and, preferably, to view the same game running on two or more platforms to allow a determination of whether the change or addition to the game assets is desirable or effective.
The modified game assets/data is used by the two game engines/platforms associated with screen shots 910, 920 but, as is shown, the changes to the game data results in at least partially differing results or effects for the game display or game output. For example, the texturing of the floor 918, 928 may appear somewhat different, the height the character jumps may be slightly different, and/or the height of the object 916, 926 may differ for the two platforms with the same game data. Of course, not every game data change or addition will result in a different game effect for differing platforms, but it is very useful for a developer to be able to verify the effects of their editing or authoring in real time (or nearly instantaneously as the game display is modified based on changes) and for the effects to be verified/tested for all platforms for which the game is being designed. The live authoring tool with use of the communications hub application technology allows live authoring to be carried out in a game development system with efficient messaging and without requiring iterative steps of creating new builds of a game on every platform (e.g., a useful portion of the live authoring processes is that builds of multiple games running on differing platforms receive game data changes concurrently with the tool or developer workstation sending message(s) to the communications hub). Also, as discussed, multiple content/logic changes can be sent/made in real time, which significantly increases the efficiency of a developer making numerous edits/changes to a video game.
In some game development environments, it is desirable for two or more game development tools to communicate with the same live instance of a video game on one or more video game platforms. For example, it may be useful for a developer to use two tools concurrently to work on a video game including changing differing portions of the game data (e.g., level design and game assets such as texturing, lighting settings, game logic, and so on). In other examples, two game developers may wish to work on the same portion or location within a video game concurrently with the same or differing game development tools. In some embodiments, a game development system configured as discussed above (e.g., see
During operation of the system 1000, the game development tools 1020, 1040 access centralized game data storage (not shown in
In this exemplary embodiment 1000, a hub communications library or data set 1024, 1042 is provided for each tool 1020, 1040 and is used by the tools 1020, 1040 to transmit or broadcast authoring messages 1050, 1052 to the hum 350. The communications hub application 354 then determines recipients, translates the messages 1050, 1052 (which are in a format expected/required by the hub application 354) to a form expected/required by each identified recipient, and then transmits a set of game data update messages 1054, 1056, 1058. In the collaborative mode of operation, the client list 358 may include the tools 1020, 1040 (e.g., each tool 1020, 1040 listens for changes to the game data 1028, 1046 it uses/references). The authoring messages 1050, 1052 are transmitted generally after the tools 1020, 1040 are used to create updates 1029, 1048 to the game data 1028, 1046. These changes/content are included by the hub application 354 in the data update messages 1054, 1056, 1058 such that the game data 1076 used by the live, running video game instance 1074 includes or is provided based on the game data updates 1078. As a result, the game images/output 1084 provided by the platform output devices 1080 is “live” or provides real time feedback after the authoring messages 1050 and/or 1052 are transmitted.
Significantly, the messages 1050, 1052 may be transmitted independently or in an overlapping manner to support collaborative authoring as a user of development system 1010 or 1030 may continue work with tool 1020 and 1040 to author or modify the game 1074. In other words, “concurrent” and/or collaborative authoring is generally intended to mean that two or more tools 1020, 1040 may work on a single game instance 1074 (or instances running on two or more platforms 1070) and communicate changes or updates with each other and/or with the running game (e.g., to have real time or live feedback regarding the changes provided by operation of the game platform 1070 and in their tool GUIs 1014, 1034). The updates 1029, 1048 made by one or both of the tools 1020, 1040 are also reflected in the tool's game data 1028, 1046 such that work by each developer is provided in a timely manner to each developer, and the tool GUI 1014, 1034 may include the updates 1029, 1048 such as shown with collaborating author changes 1015, 1035 (e.g., changes made by the other one of the authors and not just with the tool 1020 or 1040 associated directly with the tool GUI 1014, 1034).
As shown in
The hub communications applications and tool-to-game platform communication techniques described herein may also be utilized to provide unique and effective playtesting of video games. The playtesting described below may be thought of as “real-time” in that collected data from the game is transmitted via the communications hub to a playtesting monitoring system (or developers workstation/computer) and presented as the playtesting is occurring (e.g., with no or minor delays) on one or more monitors. Real-time playtesting turns what used to be a static game testing environment into a dynamic, interactive process. Interactivity is provided by the use of development tools or other devices to transmit game modifications (e.g., changing logic to make a function or process easier or harder or the like) via the communications hub to the game platforms (which may be differing types of platforms requiring differing communication protocols for messaging) where the game engine running the video game application uses the modified game data to nearly instantaneous provide a revised game to the game players (e.g., all of the games may be modified in a like manner or a subset may be modified to determine if the change has a desired or predicted effect).
In some preferred embodiments, the video game testing system is adapted such that the game play data is monitored in real time rather than evaluating the results of a given testing session after the fact (e.g., days or weeks after the test group has left the test facility). Data is collected from each game player or individual tester and reported back to a centralized location such as a monitoring computer system or a developer's workstation adapted for playtest monitoring. From this central location or system, changes can be made by the developer such as by operating a video game development tool to transmit authoring messages with new game data/content to via the communications hub application to one or more of the running video games (e.g., a game mod recipient set). The results of this game modification or change can be determined nearly immediately because the game players or individual testers are still in the test facility and play the revised running game or instance of the game on one or more game platforms. For example, if a significant portion such as a majority of the game players are having difficulty completing a given jump (or other game task/function), the level designers or other development team members can “on the fly” or in near real time shorten the distance to see if this modification to the running game helps increase the success rate to a desired level (e.g., still some amount miss the jump if desirable to provide a challenge at this point in the game). A statistics gathering tool may be run to store the change to game data and when in the test that the change was made such that the game modification or “tweak” is tracked and stored along with other playtest tracking data.
The game modification may be made on all game platforms or in all running game instances or for some smaller fraction or subset (e.g., 50 percent, 10 percent, 80 percent or the like), and the players may be grouped based on one or more criteria and the subset selected out of one or more of these groups (e.g., modify 30 percent of the running games for the highest skill level players, modify 70 percent of the running games for the players under 30 years old, modify 40 percent of the running games for the male players, or nearly any other combination of fraction of the games and grouping of players). The use of real-time monitoring of playtesting combined with modifying the game in a single play session ensures that the playtesters or test group of players is of a consistent skill level, which in the past had led to wide ranges of results as the skill of two groups of players often varied widely. The communications hub application allows any number of game clients to connect and send nearly any type of game play information or data through the hub to a statistics gathering and processing tool(s) for real-time processing/evaluation and display to monitoring individuals (e.g., members of the development team). One or more authoring or game development tools can connect to the same communications hub application and distribute tweaks or modifications to the game data to some or all of the playtesters during the playtest.
As the game 1216 is played by a set of testers, game play data 1230 is transmitted to the hub server 350 that includes a communications hub application 354 that communicates (as discussed in detail above) using client communications libraries 360 and client lists 358 stored in memory with the game platforms 1212 and with a playtest monitoring system 1240. In particular, the hub application 354 forwards the game play data 1230 to the playtest monitoring system 1240 in a form accepted/expected by the monitoring system 1240 (or client applications running thereon such as the statistics gathering tool 1250 and game development tool(s) 1254) as testing data messages 1232.
The monitoring system 1240 often will be operated by a game developer or development team member to tweak or fine tune aspects of a video game 1216 during or as part of performing playtesting at the facility 1210. To this end, the system 1240 includes I/O devices 1244 managed by a CPU 1242 to allow an operator to input or select game changes or test modifications 1264 via interaction with a game development tool 1254 and/or to view and manipulate results of game testing. A monitor 1244 is provided that may be used by a playtesting statistics gathering tool 1250 to display a test monitoring interface 1246, e.g., to display aggregated playtest information to the developer. The monitor 1244 may also be used by the game development tool 1254 to display a development tool GUI 1245 to display the game data 1262 that is presently being used by the game (shown at 1218) and is being tested and to allow the developer to make changes or tweaks to the game logic or other game assets/settings (e.g., shorten a jump, increase life/energy of a character upon reaching a check point, and so on). In other embodiments, a separate tool is utilized that is not necessarily part of the monitor 1244.
As discussed above, the development tool 1254 may use a built in (or accessible) hub communications library 1256 to communicate with the hub application 354 with game authoring messages 1270 that typically will include testing mods or game data changes 1264 made via the tool 1254 and interface 1245. The hub application 354 determines the appropriate clients and sends test modification messages 1276 to the clients or game applications 1216 on various platforms 1212 in the facility 1212 (or to other development tools as discussed above). The clients receiving the modification messages 1276 may then modify their game data 1218 to include the modifications 1220 and the running video game 1216 will reflect the changes to allow the testing by the same control group to continue to verify the effectiveness or usefulness of the changes. The games 1216 receiving the changes 1220 may be all of the running games 1216 or some smaller subset selected by an operator of the monitoring system 1240 such as a fraction of all games or a fraction of a subgroup of the games and so on.
The playtesting statistics gathering tool 1250 may function to record all the received data 1266 in memory 1260, but, typically, the tool 1250 also is configured to perform aggregation functions and to present processed/aggregated data 1247 within an interface 1246. For example, the gathering tool 1250 may act to generate and store 1266 and then display aggregated statistics 1247 such as numbers of players, average scoring/energy at various game checkpoints, number of players beating a level or challenge and how many attempts it requires, and so on. This aggregation of statistics by tool 1250 is preferably done on an ongoing basis concurrently with the operation of the playtesting facility 1210 such that developers have real-time feedback on the results of the playtesting of the game 1216. The statistics gathering tool 1250 may also display player statistics for each of the players as shown at 1248 in interface 1246. The individual player stats 1248 may include demographic information such as age and sex as well as other more gaming specific information such as number of years of gaming experience and skill ranking (if available, while the system 1200 is useful in some aspects not because of knowledge of the skill levels but because the control group is the same before and after a test mod 1220 is sent to and implemented in a running game 1216).
The testing described herein preferably includes some level of processing or aggregating of the game data from the testers to facilitate game development and decisions on how to improve the current game version. To this end, the aggregation section 1350 includes a title 1352 indicating which game is described and includes a number of aggregated statistics or game test results determined by processing and/or aggregating the collected test data. For example, the statistics 1350 may include average scoring for a game or portion of game 1354, may include percentage of players that lose or die at particular locations or tasks of the game 1356, may include average damage or loss of energy/life at various points of games 1358 (e.g., how much energy does it require to reach a checkpoint or to perform a battle, and so on), and/or may include number of players passing/beating a level on a first (or other) attempt. Numerous other statistics or playtest results may be determined by the statistics gathering tool and displayed in an interface as shown with screenshot 1310. In some cases, the system is also used to capture spatial information that can be overlaid on top of an authoring environment to provide context (e.g., where do people die or fail often in a game or the like).
In alternate or additional screenshot 1410, the statistics gathering tool may be used to group the game players or testers into groups based on various criteria and to display these various groups (or the player windows 1320 and their aggregated statistics 1350). For example, the criteria used to form three groups 1420, 1430, 1440 may be age or skill levels or these variable combined with gender of the players such as when the game may be more targeted to particular ages (such as tweens) or to particular genders. As shown, within each grouping on the screen 1410, a set of player windows 1424, 1434, 1444 are provided to allow a test monitor to quickly determine the status of the various players or testers in each group. Though not shown, a statistics/aggregated results window/box such as shown at 1350 may be provided for each group 1420, 1430, 1440 to allow the test monitor to more rapidly compare the playing experience for each group (e.g., one group finds the game or a portion of the game easy or hard while another group may have a very different experience). The output or game test data displayed in the screenshots 1310, 1410 may be utilized by a game developer to select test or game modifications (via operation of a game development tool) to implement within the entire control group or just on the machines/platforms of particular groups, fractions of groups, or even individual players.
At 1536, the method 1500 includes initiating game play in a test facility (or in platforms in a distributed test system which may even include online game testing as “facility” is not intended to be limiting to a particular physical location or room). In step 1536, a video game is run on a plurality of game platforms that may be the same configuration (e.g., all from one platform company) or may vary as the communications hub application allows the statistics gathering tool (and development tools) to communicate including receiving game play data from the various platforms and sending game data changes or authoring messages from the development tool to the running games. At 1540, the method 1500 includes collecting game play data as the games are played by the control group of testers or game players and also using the statistics gathering tool to store this data, to aggregate and/or process the data, and to determine various statistics or test parameters or values based on the game data.
At 1550, the statistics gathering tool provides a test monitoring interface on a monitor of a developer workstation or monitoring system, and the interface includes at least portions of the gathered game data such as calculated statistics and/or player data and status information (e.g., see
It is understood that the present disclosure has been made only by way of example, and that numerous changes in the combination and arrangement of parts can be resorted to by those skilled in the art without departing from the spirit and scope of the invention, as hereinafter claimed. For example, the playtesting methods described herein may be used with testing and developing other forms of software and other products in which feedback may be provided by computer software through a communications hub application to a monitoring system. In such product development environments, the testing information is gathered, processed, and displayed at least with some overlap with the testing session (e.g., while the testers are still available to test product modifications). A software development or authoring tool is used to transmit product modifications to the testing facilities (e.g., a set of computers or electronic devices running a software application) such as by sending authoring messages with content including such changes via the communication hub module or application. The modified product is tested with the implemented modifications by the same or nearly the same control group, and the results/data are sent to the statistics gathering tool for processing and/or display on the monitoring station. This iterative, real-time process is effective for more quickly fixing usability issues with software products and also for fine tuning product features and design aspects in response to tester feedback or tester experiences (as measured by collection of test data).