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IGDA Interview Series: David Lightbown

Posted By Jillian Mood, Thursday, January 21, 2016

David Lightbown has been working professionally in video games for 15 years. He has spent the majority of his career focusing on the efficiency of game development pipelines and tools.

David has presented at the Game Developers Conference, Siggraph, and the Montreal International Game Summit on multiple occasions. In 2010, he received the Autodesk Master award, which recognizes people who have made a significant contribution to the digital content creation community. David's new book, "Designing the User Experience of Game Development Tools", was released in 2015.

He currently holds the position of User Experience Director for the Technology Group at Ubisoft Montreal.



David Lightbown
User Experience Director - Technology Group, Ubisoft Montreal

Jillian Mood, IGDA: You've had a great career so far! Tell us about your current role as a user experience director at Ubisoft?

David Lightbown: Thank you! My role at Ubisoft is to apply concepts and techniques from the field of User Experience to our game development tools and pipelines.

I do that by coaching developers to be aware of User Experience, and by working directly with game production teams – primarily the Assassin’s Creed and Far Cry franchises – to improve the User Experience of their tools and pipelines.

JM: Ubisoft has a reputation of having amazing tools for their employees, it must be exciting contributing to that!

DL: That’s a very nice thing to say! We work as hard as we can to improve our tools and pipelines, and there’s always more that we can do. One of the many reasons why I accepted this position at Ubisoft is that we have the ambition and vision to hire people dedicated to the User Experience of tools and pipelines. I’m very fortunate to be amongst so many great developers who are participating in this challenge!

JM: What point in your career was it when you wanted to focus on UX and productivity? Tell us about your thought process that led to this direction in your career?

DL: Around 2012, I was at a turning point in my career: I had been working as a Technical Director for almost a decade, I felt like I had hit a wall with what I could do to help content creators be more productive.

I started researching other ways that I could help, and I stumbled upon the field of User Experience after a colleague recommended the book “The Inmates are Running the Asylum” by Alan Cooper. After that, I started reading any books about User Experience that I could find, and I realized that I had been doing some of the techniques without realizing that this was an established field, with a mountain of evidence-based research rooted in psychology, cognition, perception, and so on.

I created a presentation about how User Experience can help improve tools and pipelines, and I presented it to a number of game development studios. Ubisoft expressed an interest in hiring me full time as User Experience Director for the Technology Group. I’ve been doing just that ever since, and couldn’t be happier!

JM: Big question: what accomplishment in your career gave you the most satisfaction?

DL: Winning the Autodesk Master Award in 2010 was a huge accomplishment.

My GDC Europe 2013 presentation was voted #1 at the conference by the audience, and I’m extremely proud of that.

Coming to the conclusion that we need to improve the User Experience of our tools and pipelines, and then being hired by Ubisoft Montreal to do that full-time, is a dream come true, and I’m thankful to have this opportunity. I am truly inspired by my work every day!

It also might sound cliché but, it’s the truth: any time I see a game developer who is more productive because of a tool or pipeline that I worked on, I feel a sense of accomplishment.

JM: Since you have been in the industry for about 15 years correct including spending 8 years at Behaviour Interactive…how has the emphasis and perception of user experience changed? Are companies putting a much bigger emphasis on UX and productivity especially internally?

DL: I feel that it has changed dramatically in the last few years. Through the presentations that I have given at GDC, as well as my book, I’m hoping to make more people aware of how User Experience can improve game development tools and pipelines. Our industry is still very young, and so our development process is constantly evolving. I am seeing more and more companies hiring people for full-time positions in User Experience, whether it be for games or tools and pipelines. It’s a move in the right direction, but there is still a huge amount of untapped potential that game developers can benefit from by investing in User Experience.

JM: I watch some of your GDC talks (and promise to read your book!). Obviously you are very ambitious. What are your career goals?

DL: One of my goals is to reach as many people in the games industry as possible – through conference presentations, podcasts, articles, my book, and so on – in an effort to help them realize the potential benefits of investing in the User Experience of game development tools and pipelines.

My main goal is always to find better ways to apply User Experience techniques to the tools and pipelines at Ubisoft, so that our developers are able to continue making great games!

JM: We are thrilled you will be conducting the first webinar of 2016 on Wednesday, 27 January focusing on productivity with better tools! What else can you tell our audience about what to expect and walk away with?

DL: I’m very excited to share my thoughts on what User Experience can offer the games industry! I’d like the people who attend the workshop to walk away with a better understanding of what User Experience is, how it can help make tools and pipelines more productive, and what they can do to get started and reap the rewards. I’m looking forward to it!

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