Aug 20

How to improve user experience when designing a game

After you have been working on a game for so long it is common to develop “blindness” to certain aspects. A good tip is to get a post it note and write that user experience is not only about how intuitive features in the user interface are, it is about the ENTIRE gaming experience as a whole (including game balancing, the retention and viral mechanics, even the graphics and ensuring that it goes with the theme of the overall game). Here are a few top tips from working in gaming:

1. Let non gamers play it

Ask non-gaming/non-techy friends to have a play of the game and watch them play it. Write down anything that was too difficult or confused them. Try to avoid helping them straight away when they get stuck, but try to include a few cheats for you to input to get your player further in the game depending on how much of your game you want them to test.

2. Get them to explain what they are doing

Ask your test players every so often why they are doing whatever it is that they are doing. The answers may surprise you. “Well I don’t want to enter that dungeon yet so I am just going to chop down bunch of trees first.” or “Completing that level is too much effort (probably a game balancing issue), so I’m just going to explore for a while” or “I do not know what to do so I’m not even going to bother paying attention to it or interacting with it.”

3. Balance the goals

User experience design in video games isn’t just about captivating your players (but it’s a big part of it), it’s also about balancing the goals. The UI is where users invite their friends, spend money, and it’s through the UI that you can get people to come back – the user interface is perhaps one of the most important, if not THE most important way to meet/exceed your product goals. You want to create a enjoyable and fun gaming experience while also retaining players, increasing virality, and monetizing (if that is your thing). This is more ‘Product Management’, but every UX designer should understand some principles of product management (and every product manager should understand some principles of user experience design). Sometimes, to meet product goals, you have to compromise with delighting users. Your players will tell you one thing but do the complete opposite. Example: during testing, we had users complain that they hated how they had to spend 3 energies to chop down one tree. Their feedback to us was to get rid of it. If we got rid of it, it would severely disadvantage our balancing of the game. But guess what? Looking at their behavior, they still did it to advance in the game. You’ll only be able to measure this in an unreleased game if you do a couple of user tests. There are a few ways to do this, here are two:

  • For bigger teams, get a good group of users (around 50 or so) to test your game while you’re developing it. Be sure to prepare surveys/questionaires to send them. If these are all power users, well, I’d take the results with a grain of salt, but you’ll have a good starting point in that the mechanics and features at least work for them.
  • Try using a service like usertesting.com to test your game in front of completely new people that haven’t been exposed to any of your previous games.

4. Test features on existing games

Use existing games that are maturing as a testing ground. If you’re introducing a new mechanic/feature/balancing, scrap something quick together and release it in an existing game you have that’s maturing in its userbase. This is powerful in that you have real users interacting with the feature or mechanic or the game balance, and you can measure quantitatively rather than qualitatively. That being said, you should also keep confounding factors in mind (theme of the game could be totally different, and therefor it works…etc etc).

5. Check out the Competition

See what the competition is doing – you might find that every so often, much larger games companies have a larger budget to test things against their users, so if it’s working for them, chances are, it’s something that works. You can use that as a starting point.

6. Don’t reinvent the wheel

There is no point reinventing the wheel or get overly creative. If there’s a common convention for a certain feature or mechanic, stick with it. Chances are, it’s something your players are already used to and it’s something they understand, so seeing something completely different can confuse them or throw them off. For example: in social games, players are used to their neighbour/friends hud on the bottom and Quests on the side. This is a fairly common convention, and if you decided to have the quests on the bottom, and friends on the side, it could cause confusion and frustration.

And remember

Making something simple is often harder than creating something complex. Don’t bury anything beyond two clicks – if you do, it’s probably something your users won’t take the time to find, or it’s something that’s not significant. And if it’s not significant, why have it in the first place? It’s just taking up server/bandwidth space.

Source: Quora.com

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