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.
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.
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.