About — User Experience Design

At GDC this year I attended a round table about Games User Research and Experience. It was kind of funny hearing professionals talk about the differences between UX (User Experience) and UI (User Interface). They even debated the definition of UX in games, and what it means to be a UX Designer. Which got me thinking, how do you ensure the best experience for your players? And how do you ensure that the players are receiving the optimal intended experience?

So just to be clear, UI does not equal UX. In games the user experience is created by the combination of gameplay systems, interface, and feedback. The UI or user interface, is the overlay the game provides that allows the user to more easily interact with the experience. The user interface can streamline the user experience, but ultimately how the game is communicated makes sure players are properly experiencing the game (which technically UI can help with).

Now when I say ‘how it is communicated’ I mean how is the player aware of the goal, and their progress. This ties into feedback and gameplay but without a clear goal the ‘game’ is just a toy to mess around with. This is what most game designers tap into with the psychology of optimal experience, or flow. This comes down to how the game presents players with their objective. Does it show the player what to do? Is it open ended? Is it a list of quests to complete? All this, plus how the system communicates feedback composes the user experience.

So, who is responsible for ensuring the best player experience? The short answer is everyone: the user experience is created by everyone on the development team. Usually it is only in the UX designers job description to be held accountable for the ‘experience.’ UX is made up of all the sums of the game, but the UX Designer is the advocate for the player. Even though everyone helps make the experience, the UX Designer works in all aspects of the game to ensure the player has the most optimal time experiencing the games intent. This means looking at everything from moment to moment gameplay no-no’s, UI, and really everything else. If for some reason a percentage of players gets stuck at a certain spot, or never learn what something is, it is the UX designers job to prioritize and fix this.

So how do we ensure the best experience for our players, as a UX Designer? I think the most important thing you can do is play your game. If you are going to be the advocate for the player, you must at least somewhat understand what they are going through. How else are you going to try to empathize with them? After that, the best thing you can do to ensure your players are getting the experience’s intent is to understand them– how they think, what they want, what they like, don’t like, etc.

UX Research or User Research is the way designers can identify what is happening to the player when they experience the game. There are many different research methods out there: user groups, heuristic evaluations, think-aloud protocol, usability, retrospective testing, interviews, and surveys. In doing so you can gather different kinds of data which will ultimately be behavioral, attitudinal, qualitative, and quantitative. Although falling under the data sciences field, analyzing and evaluating results will grant the most accurate data. In doing so you will be making informed decisions on what roadblocks to fix first.

So now that we have feedback, all we have to do is make changes until we get the desired result. This step is when it pays to have a ton of experience under your belt, as one wrong change can cost an additional sprint worth of time trying to fix it.

Besides that, and figuring out what players are telling you, there really isn’t much more you can do to ensure players are receiving the experiential intent of the game. Fixing bugs and play testing will always help, but as a UX designer, it’s about using the science of the player to check the game.

Hoping this helps explain how to stop your game from being different from what you intended!

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