Summary: BBC R&D released the results of user testing on their Alexa skill: The Inspection Chamber. The extensive study provides valuable insights into how users felt about engaging with this immersive voice first drama. The results have wide applicability to interactive voice fiction.
As follow up to an earlier post about BBC R&D’s voice first drama The Inspection Chamber, Nicky Birch, executive producer of the Alexa skill, forwarded me this link to their user testing study. There are lots of great nuggets in the report.
In their report, the BBC R&D team refers to their voice skill as a conversational drama. They offer this helpful definition: “A conversational drama encourages the listener to take part in the story by responding to comments and questions from the characters.”
Since the terminology around voice-driven stories and games is still pretty fluid, it’s interesting to see how other people define and describe what they’re doing in this space.
The vast majority of test subjects said they didn’t enjoy the actual story of The Inspection Chamber, either because they felt the story was lacking or they didn’t understand it.
Weak storylines, or confusing narratives, seem to be a common challenge in voice first fiction. In many of the voice experiences I’ve sampled, it’s clear that the designers are battling with the dueling necessities of engaging listeners through story, while offering them ample opportunities to get involved in the experience and even drive outcomes. It’s difficult to do both at the same time.
While nearly all of the study participants complained about The Inspection Chamber story (only a fraction of testers were fans of science fiction), a solid majority said they enjoyed the interactive audio drama “format.” They liked it when a character in the drama asked them a direct question, and they seemed to look forward to more compelling ways to become part of the story.
At first glance this feedback seems almost contradictory. On the one hand, study participants found the story confusing or weak, possibly because it wasn’t a linear narrative. On the other hand, they asked for even more opportunities to engage with the story.
Based on the study results, the experimental Inspection Chamber drama wasn’t an overwhelming hit with the testers. But it wasn’t a failure by any means. The newly released test results show that most people really enjoy conversational interactions, including interactive drama. Now it’s just up to all of us to figure out how to make those experiences even better.
Thanks to Nicky Birch and the team at BBC R&D for releasing the results of their user testing. If you’re interested in voice first fiction, head on over to this link and download the full report.