What Is Games ‘User Experience’ (UX) and How Does It Help?

What is UX?

UX is where the science of the player meets the art of game design.

UX helps make better games.

Why is UX needed? Can’t we just be more thorough?

How does UX help the team?

Why might players not ‘find the fun’ in our game?

  • Teams inevitably become ‘too close’ to their project; they cannot play nor perceive the game as a real player would. This skewed perspective can lead to needless iteration, or simply never recognising where experiential disparities exist.
  • Designing instructions, prompts and ‘onboarding’ non-expert players to your mechanics is difficult because you’re an expert in the game. There is a risk that players ‘don’t get it’, or tutorials becoming heavy-handed.
  • Designing games suitable for players who aren’t like you (such as children, novice or casual players) risks incorrect assumptions about that audience unduly influencing your design discussions. There is a risk you’re making a game for no one.
  • If we try to playtest or observe real players interact with our games, it is very difficult to assess a player’s emotion as they play. This is both in assessing their moment-to-moment feelings, and in considering their engagement over days, weeks, months. Such data is vital to iteration, but is hard-to-obtain without bias, is difficult to analyse, and can be demoralising to the team if it isn’t handled well.
  • Because players are unskilled at rationalising and explaining their emotions, and they won’t appreciate the experiential intent for the game, their verbatim reactions risk diluting or misguiding the project’s intent. Focus groups, or asking people “is this fun, would you buy this?” is not the answer.
  • It never feels like the right time to ‘check’ the player experience: “it is too early to playtest right now!”. This reluctance often results in teams putting off essential feedback-gathering processes until far too late in development. This risks late-flowering flaws being too complex, too expensive, or too far-reaching to address.
  • It is hard to appreciate the bigger picture of a game build once the individual features and components start to come together. Justifying saying NO to features or ideas is incredibly difficult without this big picture view, risking feature-creep.
  • Studios can find it hard to balance attention between what the development team consider interesting to make versus what matters most to players, if they lack a confident, player-centric voice in studio leadership.

How can we overcome these issues?

  • …can maintain creative impartiality and objectivity
  • …truly understands how different player audiences perceive, think, and learn
  • …knows means of engaging real players to gather specific, trustworthy feedback
  • …can assess player’s experience with game mechanics both piece-by-piece, and as a holistic whole
  • …can take responsibility for the player-centric process right from the beginning of development
  • User Experience Designer, tasked with visual design, applying player psychology knowhow to support game design
  • Games User Researcher, charged with running playtests and research sessions with real players
  • Data Scientist, who captures player behaviour through game analytics and evaluates for insight
  • UX Leadership, a Director-level voice for player-centrism in process and studio culture

What does UX do, exactly?

OK, we have an idea!

Your player-base is diverse, dynamic, and dissimilar to you.

Where does player feedback fit in?

By trying to break potential UX issues into layers we can start to explore them in isolation.

But what about emotions? Can we measure those too?

Asking loaded, leading or mal-timed questions can lead to ‘bad data’
Players can lack the language, introspection and experience we take for granted in ourselves; teams shouldn’t rely only on players’ verbatim responses to inform design

A Culture of Informed Iteration

What happens if we don’t bother with UX feedback?

Whom should we make responsible for ‘good UX’?

It never feels like the right time to ‘test’ the game, until it is too late…

In Summary

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