Its all in the UX-perience

The power of user experience design, when and how to begin and the shifting sands of player expectations

 

When developing any product, be it physical or digital, the goal is essentially the same – make the user happy!  In the development of a game it is imperative that the end user is satisfied with their experience when using it, without this the product is doomed, but how many of us go out into the wild and ask consumers what their experience is and how it could be better?

For console developers this flow of game development will seem very familiar,  find the fun, create an extensive experience out of it then wrap up with menus and an interface, launch.  Finding the fun is one of the cornerstones to making a great game, without that fun game loop or unique arousing mechanic, a game will inevitably fail in satisfying a gamers expectations.  The average gamer will spend little time in deciding whether to continue with a game after they have begun playing, factors such as the age and demographic will affect the users patience but most users show little appreciation for what ‘might’ happen later in the game – if its not intriguing, fun and/or challenging right from the start then it is at risk of being deleted.

User experience design is paramount in creating a successful game by closely monitoring how users are entering the game and how they are feeling during the course of their engagement.  It seems obvious but if a user fails to be interested in the experience, subject or gameplay then they will switch off and move onto something else.  Very few games have the luxury of second chances with the player, those with an established brand enjoy some amount of patience from their audience, but for new titles the users experience from the outset is a make or break opppurtunity.

Console gaming is generally speaking about sitting comfortably in the lounge and settling in for a game session that could be 1-3 hours (or more) this isn’t about to change, in fact now we have PlayStation VR and we could see a return to lounge gaming in a whole new mood (but thats for another post).  The console experience has built an expectation that the user is prepared to settle into a game, and just like a movie would not finish in 26 minutes, most console games are designed to be played over several long sessions.

uxtestingthegame

In 2010 we witnessed the advent of free to play gaming on mobile devices and it brought about a renaissance in the design of short, casual and rewarding experiences.  Developing for free to play mobile has many similarities to the arcade experiences of the past which were designed so that users bought into a game on-sight of the arcade cabinet (which contained it), then delivering a credible experience that warranted further investment (GAME OVER….10 seconds…continue?).

There are very good premium titles on the app store and in February 2015 Apple promoted the consumption of these as a genre in themselves in their ‘Pay Once and Play’ campaign; today when I looked its offering a 50% sale on selected titles, there are many unsettled arguments about the morales of free to play; their design ethos and, if pay once titles are on the whole a better prospect for the consumer.  However it cannot be denied that the top grossing titles are usually subscription or free to play games and applications.

“…user experience design is pretty straightforward, clarify the moment to moment experience of the user and work to make this as clear and enjoyable to them as possible”

Many developers debate when the right time is to begin user experience design and I always recommend starting ‘as soon as’ pre-production begins; user experience design does not necessarily involve an individual wearing the UX hat; user experience design is pretty straightforward – clarify the moment to moment experience of the user and work to make this as clear and enjoyable to them as possible.  Most developers can understand this and provide helpful insights and ideas around how to make things better.  Difficulty comes when you need to test experiences and gain practical feedback.

Early mock ups of screen flows and concepts are hard for a typical test subject to comment upon, in mobile free to play gaming, the best method I found of testing user experience is to develop the game as a simple prototype, this doesn’t have to be done in the game engine but could be a separate programme entirely such as Flash, InVision or even Powerpoint. Retaining this test bed, testing and iterating it during the course of pre-production provides the development team a contained space to understand the player journey and key areas of fun and enjoyment.

“…When testing mechanics it can be useful to do so in a clean and purpose built space…”

Testing gameplay mechanics can only really be achieved via the game engine and in-game.  Often a game mechanic is combined with other mechanics to create a greater experience, for example running might be one enjoyable mechanic in a game, with the addition of a forward role this can change the experience adding complexity and depth to both the controls and the possibilities.  When testing mechanics it can be useful to do so in a clean and purpose built space, constructing such spaces should have the primary objective to test gameplay and provide useful feedback.  In the case of a racing game angles and distances on the tracks help developers determine cornering, braking and acceleration, during early development, keeping the scene as simple colours and grids can also help artists and designers focus on the primary objective – finding the fun.

Selecting the appropriate test subject can be hard especially if your audience is not represented in the development team.  Creating several fictional test subjects or ‘persona’s’ is one method used by developers to think about their design from their customers perspective. There are third party solutions around that can provide professional, stress free testing facilities, including planning, hosting and compiling of the data, combined with a user experience design team these can make a huge difference in a products retention and conversion figures and with the investment so low it seems senseless to launch any product without undergoing some user testing.

The role of design and particularly user experience design is vital in todays super competitive and ultra consuming market place, getting just 30 seconds of any customers time is either expensive or lucky and in either case it should be regarded as our duty to give them a great experience that warrants their investment only in remembering this can we make truly successful titles.

7 steps to a solid experience:

  1. Start designing user flow early!
  2. Keep the design simple
  3. Make meaningful, iterative changes
  4. Understand the value of every player choice in the game
  5. Regularly observe players in the flow
  6. Get third parties to review your game
  7. Build representative personas for your product

If you require help with your user experience design, development or prototyping then Funsolve offer a variety of services that will benefit you.

What are your top tips for user experience design and what is the one thing you believe is fundamental in any product design process?

Share your thoughts below…