What is so special about UX in Games?

Insight into the User Experience in Games. 

By Kristina Miles – Lead UX/ UI Artist

User Experience, or simply UX, is an essential part of any modern IT product. Without any doubt, it has become one of the key domains for mobile game development, along with Game Design, Art etc. To begin with, I suggest the definition of what UX for the mobile game is, why it’s so crucial, and how it differs from the rest of other UX, let’s say an IT product.

User Experience serves as an equivalent of constructing an interaction bridge between the product team (that consists of Engineers and Game Designers) and game players. The main purpose of UX is making the game as clear and intuitive as possible. With the user experience designed correctly, players independently assess and overcome the challenges while playing the game, in other words, they are brought easily and delightfully to the experience as it’s a pleasure to engage with the game.

The goal of UX design is creating a game for a user to feel comfortable with. This includes the game functions and the player controls: a hierarchy of content, intuitive navigation, game mechanics and the functionality of visual elements. UX appeals to the player’s interaction with a game system at all possible levels. But the most important thing is that UX serves the purpose of entertaining and engaging users into play with full compliance of technical and business specification.

What Exactly makes a Mobile Game’s UX so Unique?
I would admit that creating the mobile game UX is, in fact, a much more advanced process, since mobile games generally have a more complex architecture and therefore relationship with the user. The game, on its own, is a complex ecosystem where we add features to target different segments of the game’s audience.

The main features come with game mechanics that are engaging enough to either entertain a player or give them an impactful and worthwhile experience, and ‘hook them in’. ‘Hooking an audience in’ is not an easy task and that becomes even harder without having frictionless UX. It should assess and turn complex game mechanics into local and easy-to-use control patterns with all options being intuitive, where players enjoy the process of progressing through levels. Having a clear user interface generally leads to an increase in usage and retention of the audience.

Hotwheels id UI
UX game screen flow

Since we accept the fact that UX affects all the aspects of a game, one of the main tasks for a UX Designer becomes familiarising with the game as a whole, in order to form a decent and solid user experience. Due to that, the commitment of a UX Designer is practically necessary at all stages. If the Game Designer adds features and mechanics to the game, the UX Designer visualises their game idea in a visual form and subtracts anything ‘clunky’ that adds noise to make the game more enjoyable. Among the most successful strategies is the collaborative relationship between a Game Designer and UX Designer at the initial stages of development. Sometimes Game Designers working on their own may generate excellent design ideas which sound great in theory, but when trying to implement them into a concrete interface, it is apparent that they are way too complicated, perhaps nearly impossible for proper implementation. Also, we should keep in mind that some UX solutions may go against technical limitations, so we should always understand the work of the Code team, who will have to translate all these cool ideas and features into reality. These late ‘close calls’ force game production into unpredictable adjustments, usually in the form of simplification, sometimes in a drastic way. I am confident that close communication with all team members at early stages of development is the key to frictionless UX, resulting in an excellent game experience.

Unlike other game genres, a mobile game’s UX exposure covers significant, if not the whole area of the product. It is not just a base layer on its own, but also the whole of the metagame, with a vast majority of the game process taking place within the interface, unlike many PC & console counterparts. What makes it exponentially harder is that console/PC UX doesn’t generally concern itself with monetisation, acquisition, retention, and many other topics related to mobile games. As the cherry on the cake, mobile games are mostly developed to be used on small mobile phone screens (although these are not as small nowadays: mine, for example, does not fit into a pocket). While working on a game, the UX Designer has to comply to the whole variety of screens available. Thus, one of the most common problems while designing a user interface is in trying to negotiate the amount of information that a game is supposed to show at any one time while fitting it all on-screen and making it easy to consume. This is a critical factor in the approach of the UX/UI Designer’s work.

Hotwheels id UI

Last, but not the least — designing the interface for a Free To Play game often gets complicated when the developers are not aware of all the potential future features intended for the project. Game development involves the acquisition of new functions in the process of creating the game, which is unknown in early pre-production. That is why it is crucial to consider UX/UI scalability from day one. Nowadays, the most common process is when the product team work in a very agile design way, which often carries a payload of specs and documentation being either severely out of date or not existing at all. This leads to a variety of future challenges for the interface design team. One of the ways of overcoming such challenges requires constant communication and rapid prototyping to keep the interface design correct.

First Impressions from a Data Analyst

First Impressions from a Data Analyst new to the games industry 

By Sophia Douglas – Data Analyst

I joined Electric Square in mid-November of 2019 as a Data Analyst. Not only is Electric Square my first job in the video game industry, but it is also my first proper data science role querying very large data sets; previously I had mostly used excel for data processing of small to mid-sized data sets.

As Electric Square is my first job in the industry, I had no expectations as to what a games company may be like. It is a much faster paced industry than my previous roles, previously I worked analysing sensitive data of low participation students at a University. Policy decisions at educational institutions are not as slow as policy decisions in government, but data analysis often evidenced actions that would be a year or two away. In the games industry, when asked for evidence with regards to a new feature, action will often occur the following week. It certainly makes an employee feel more heard and valued when you can see insights and recommendations being acted on within the same month, let alone the same year.

This may also be due, however, to Electric Square being a smaller company. Although Electric Square is in a period of growth, the size of the company is still such that it fosters a sense of family and solidarity amongst colleagues. In any case, the work culture at Electric Square really makes an employee feel important and respected, whilst motivating a member of staff to produce high quality outputs.

The social culture at Electric Square is very inclusive and welcoming. In roles I have had before, many workers (through their own volition) choose not to really socialise with their colleagues. As such, there were no formal or informal socialising occasions, except a Christmas party once a year. In contrast, Electric Square organises many excursions for its staff outside of office hours, facilitating socialisation more easily for those who do wish to engage with other colleagues without being pressuring for those who would rather keep to themselves. Furthermore, the weekly Show and Tell events not only celebrate the work of teams and individuals company wide, but also allow for different departments to mix and socialise. This not only encourages pride in work, socialisation and teambuilding within projects, but also across other projects. This allows interactions with people who you may not see day to day (especially with projects split across multiple offices).

From an analytics perspective, however, the role is as expected. Some may be wondering what it is that the analytics department does at Electric Square?

The primary responsibility of Analytics is to monitor the health and performance of our products. This is achieved by consistently tracking various metrics across time, in addition to comparing them to previously agreed Key Performance Indicators (KPIs). These KPIs are calculated by looking at sector wide trends and targets. Some of these include:

• How many users are playing the games?
• Are users coming back again and again?
• Are users spending real world money in game?
• What percentage of users spend money?

The Analytics department looks at data from real users in real time, allowing us to follow player behaviour on a macroscopic level. Every interaction with the product is recorded across thousands of users, creating a huge resource for investigations into human behaviour. An analyst’s job is to interrogate the player data, and communicate the findings and conclusions efficiently to internal and external stakeholders. This often takes the format of dashboards or written reports.

Other responsibilities of the Analytics department include providing evidence to inform decisions with respect to design. This could involve experimentation, such as A/B Testing, in which samples of users are presented with new changes. The data of those in the experimental group is compared to those in a control group, who are not experiencing these differences, to see if their behaviour has changed for good or for bad, or perhaps there may be no difference at all.

Finally, the day-to-day of an analyst often requires answering ad-hoc data requests from other departments and investigating bugs, particularly those that result in player attrition.

At the time of writing, I am only two and a half months into the role. Every day presents new and interesting challenges, but everyone is patient, kind and willing to teach me. I have already learnt so much, and I am excited to support Electric Square further in the future.

I’m a veteran of my field, these are the 5 things I wish I knew when I was new

Here are 5 things I wish I knew when I was started out in the games industry 

By Francis-Xavier Martins – Principal Artist

My name is Francis-Xavier Martins, I’m a Principal Artist at Electric Square Games in Brighton. This year marks my 20th year in the industry and it has been a very interesting journey. Ups, downs, failures and triumphs. I wouldn’t change what I do for the world and I’m very fortunate to be in such a creative industry. With that said, here are five things I wish I knew when I was just starting out. I hope it helps anyone out there worrying about the journey ahead.

1.   It’s okay not to know what you want to focus on

When you get your first job in the industry, you’re keen to jump into everything. Modelling, texturing, animation, VFX, and the rest. It’s all very exciting. You want to try everything, so much so that it can be overwhelming, a bit daunting and a little confusing. The laser focus you need comes with time. With all the skills you acquire, you will eventually realise which ones you like doing more than others. Just enjoy the hors d’oeuvres of skill and software and eventually you can hone in and spend more time on what you feel you want to spend more time on in your working day.

2.   Devour Knowledge

If you like, say, making cool stuff in Houdini, it isn’t enough to show interest to your colleagues or Lead. You need to spend time, even when you’re not being paid, to getting good. You need to practice, read articles, watch tutorials, figure out new and creative ways to use the software to make assets that will make your peers sit up and take notice. This will elevate your work to a new level and your leads will notice too. It’s a good way to fast track your way to better gigs and being indispensable in your field.

3.   Lose the Ego

When I first started as an artist, I was sometimes reluctant to take on criticism from other people about my work. Today I look back at most of the work I did in my early years and I cringe! You’re never as good as you think you are. Be humble, listen to criticism if it’s constructive, say thanks and more often than not you’ll find you’ll improve as an artist and your work will get better. A by product of having an ego is people will never want to talk to you and you might go on living in a delusional cloud thinking you’re the one, when in reality your work will be severely lacking the quality required to up your game.

4.   Crunch is not essential

I’m fortunate to work in a company that doesn’t enforce crunch. We hit our milestones by proper planning and having the right people doing the jobs. I thought crunch culture had to be done when I was a young artist. I thought it was something to be proud of. “I worked 14 hours last night. Smashed it.” In actual fact It’s harmful and in some cases, exploitative. It’s detrimental to your health and you will burn out if you keep doing it. If you find yourself in a company that regularly enforces this, I would seriously consider looking elsewhere.

5.   Have fun and communicate!

You’re in the creative industry, making cool stuff for people to watch, play, and experience. Have fun, talk to your colleagues, get to know them, inside and out of work. I worked as a freelancer for 7 years and many of the gigs I got were from people I formed relationships with when I was working full-time. Communication is a vital part of working in our industry so don’t be afraid to say hello to the person beside you, have a chat and be nice. You’ll find your working experience richer for it.

That’s it for now. Go forth and make some cool stuff!

How did you get to be here?

Lead Artist Dan Purcell Interview

Dan Purcell is a Lead Artist at Electric Square talks about his personal journey that has lead him to work in games.

GamesIndustry.biz Award

Best Medium Sized Studio

By Guy DeRosa – Head of Talent

Just one week before our 4th birthday, our Electric Square team got to attend our first ever Gamesindustry.biz Best Places to Work Awards. The ceremony took place at London’s Ham Yard Hotel in Central London, hosting some of the UK’s top studios and recognising the industry’s most remarkable people. The event was peppered with eye opening talks and glittered with inspirational people – we felt truly privileged to be a part of it.

Electric Square best place to work award
Electric Square best place to work award

We are pleased to announce that in our first year of trying, Electric Square was named in the ‘Best Medium Sized Studio’ category, alongside amazing company, including our Keywords family siblings at Studio Gobo and d3t. A huge congratulations to all the winners on the day!

2019 has been a terrific year for us at Electric Square, with the launch of our our latest releases Forza Street and Hot Wheels id. We would like to send a huge thanks to you, the Electric Square community, and to our team who make Electric Square a truly fantastic place to work.

A full list of the day’s winners can be found here.

International Women’s Day

Women In Games

By Alice Guy – Product Owner, Electric Square.

I joined the games industry in 2005 aged 28. I was a Producer for Climax Racing in Brighton working with Electric Square’s Studio Head, Jon Gibson, then Game Director. I had worked for several years as a project manager but never in such a technical field, so it was a step into the unknown. However because my husband worked at Climax I did have a head-start. I knew a bit about the company, its culture and the crew who worked there.

Without question it was (like most studios) male-dominated. I was one of about five women in a 100+ person studio, which when you step back and think about it is a pretty mad concept. I was generally comfortable with it, having always been somewhat loud-mouthed and strident! It was a great company/team to work for, and I loved the pace, the passion and the creativity that shone through the often (very) long days.

There was a lot of male banter, for sure, and had I been younger, or single, or less confident, perhaps I’d have found it more intimidating than I did… Now I wonder if I over-compensated, giving as good as I got in order to fit in.  Anyhow, as we moved from an independent studio to being owned by Disney there was a clear (and good) shift change.

Within a year Climax Racing was bought out and became Black Rock Studio, and despite being on maternity leave by then I was offered the role of Director of Production. Mixing motherhood with games development wasn’t that commonplace back then, so I have to big up Tony Beckwith for taking the leap of faith!

The industry, having originally been born out of ‘geeky bedrooms’, had grown up quickly. Teams were growing in size, games-centric graduate programmers were starting to make their mark, and the stakes were growing larger with every new platform release. With that, the balance of diversity started to shift, slowly but surely. When I joined the industry, women tended to be in supporting roles (production, finance, HR, office management), but as time has gone on more and more women are contributing throughout the dev team.

At Electric Square I see brilliant women working in every discipline, doing awesome work, and I love that. But there’s still a lot more to do – the industry can definitely do better!

Nurturing future talent is king, and schools still need to do a better job of promoting STEM subjects to their female pupils, and to better understand and encourage the exciting opportunities of games development as a career. As do parents – again, hopefully that’s shifting as early gamers raise the next generation. As games developers we’ve got the opportunity to enchant, to educate, to challenge, to entertain our audience – and that’s really f***ing powerful.

More games are being designed for gender-neutral audiences. Stereotypes are (mostly) reducing. Creativity, fun and wide-appeal the primary focus – and less about the ‘macho male’ experience vs the ‘social fluffy female’ one. But they’re definitely still present – and I’d love to see more big name publishers take a broader view of representation generally in their games, building on what independent studios have achieved, and being encouraged to take more risks.
Misogyny amongst gamers, and ‘old boys networks’ mentality among developers, can still be seen and needs to be challenged.

I’m hopeful that time will naturally improve this – being a relatively young industry, in a world where equality is improving, and as more and more women show they can boss their fields. However the male voice is hugely important in accelerating it – supporting their female counterparts when they see or hear anything that was best left back in the ‘good old days’.

On top of this, dev studios need to focus on creating environments that appeal to all, ensuring there are no gender pay gaps, and offering benefits such as flexible working opportunities for their female (and male) staff juggling childcare. It’s 2019, we shouldn’t even be having to say this! Thankfully, these are all values that matter a great deal to Electric Square.

But oh dear, this wasn’t meant to be a rant! From a personal perspective I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my games career, even when it’s been tough. I have brought up two children through it. I have worked as a studio director, founded my own company, and now work as a Product Owner. I’ve had great opportunities, and continue to do so. But I can’t deny, I would still love to see more women in the studios I work in, and more women in the publishing teams I work with.

Why should the men have all the fun heh?!