Games are not only entertainment, but also art, science and business. Behind every successful game there is a talented and thoughtful design that takes into account the psychology, aesthetics and economics of the gameplay. In this post I will tell you what game design and UX are, why they are so important for creating engaging and satisfying games, how the “win” button works and why MVP is not always the best way to test hypotheses about the game.
It’s essentially a product team. If it’s not an indie game, you’ll need top-notch specialists from various fields. For example, for a 3D game, you’ll need 3D designers, programmers, and 2D designers who create art and concepts. As for UX designers, there aren’t many of them on the project. However, Wargaming stands out in this regard — they have many UX designers because they develop a massive product that cannot be done by a single person.
When I (Andrey Taliashvili) worked at Gameloft, there were a maximum of two UX designers on the project.
Sometimes, Technical Writers are needed as well. They write various documentation and facilitate communication between departments.
Ready, set, go!
One problem is that UI/UX designers working in game development rarely update their portfolios. There are still some things I can’t showcase because the projects were closed while they were being developed. At some point, someone said, “No, here we released the game in a certain region, and it had poor performance.” And for many big companies, it’s easier not to release a game than to release it and lose reputation and money.
Projects (games) can be developed for two years before release. During this time, the company is “underwater” — we don’t collect feedback from users, and a lot needs to be done for the MVP to yield any results.
MVP exists in games: a game with a similar gameplay is created, but under a different brand, by another company. Then this game is released to the market, and the company observes how people react to it. We check the gameplay. If players like it, the game is usually closed, and a new one is created with rich content, graphics, etc., released under a reputable company.
Who does UX/UI designers interact with and how?
In the game industry, a UX designer can only exist in a large project or a big company. If the company is small, they must combine it with other specialties, such as programming or game design.
In summary, a UX designer in game development is essentially a Game Designer.
There are also interface games where the interface itself can be a game. For example, the game Space Team. It runs on a local network, and essentially, you play within the interface: you have a spaceship interface on your screen, and at some point, buttons start falling off, and you have to tell each other which button to press, how to set a value, etc. Essentially, this game is about playing within the interface with other people.
→ Roman Nurgaliev (Product Designer): We play in the interface every day, and our buttons fall off 😀
To make a game a game, you need to understand it as a Game Designer. There’s a “toy” and there’s a “game.” The difference between a “toy” and a “game” is that a game has goals, rules, and Win/Lose Conditions → how to play it correctly, and the rules depend on these conditions.
Having knowledge of “How to design interfaces properly” is not enough to create a good game.
If we take the entire idea of UX and apply it to games, we would have one big button that says 'Win' and the player would click on it and 'Win'.
From a UX perspective, that’s right. You need to minimize the player’s path to enjoyment as much as possible. But in game development, on the contrary, this button (‘Win’) should constantly elude you.
There is always a dichotomy between the game designer, whose task is to make things more challenging, and the UX designer, whose task is to make things easier for the user (player). Ultimately, the struggle between these two “forces” can help create an interesting and great product in the gaming industry.
Metrics. What do they look at when creating features, builds, etc.
It depends on the phase of our project. Earlier, we discussed how it’s difficult to create an MVP for a game, but we can simplify everything to the maximum extent. For example, instead of animation, we can use static images. We can simplify gameplay. We can test a small idea and see if players like it or not.
This can be tested in closed tests: we create a game prototype, develop a concept for the feature we want to test, let players try it out, and then ask them how they liked the feature, whether it resonated with them or not.
Retention metric is essential, but it is usually evaluated by producers and analysts rather than UX designers. The smaller the company, the more different competencies are distributed among various people.
If we consider the “funnel,” often in free-to-play games, there is an “acquisition funnel” where traffic is directed. We can observe, for example, that 100% arrived, but 20% left the game during the tutorial. In reality, this is a high indicator. Usually, people install a game, try it, and 50% leave simply because it wasn’t what they expected.
If the game has analytics functionality, we can see on which screen the user decided to leave.
Regarding tutorials, they should explain all the basic mechanics of the game.
If we take the same “funnel,” having a long tutorial would be detrimental in a regular application. But if this lengthy tutorial is well-designed and interesting in a game, it can work well. When players drop off during the tutorial, it’s not always a bad sign. Perhaps those players don’t like the gameplay you’re explaining. Simply shortening the tutorial doesn’t necessarily make it better. Players might drop off later due to incomplete tutorials.
The testing environment is different.
Once, I redesigned a website for a plastic surgeon. I asked the woman who managed the website about her analytics. She said:
— The most important thing is to create a proper homepage.
— Yes, you’re right. You don’t have one.
— I have analytics that nobody visits the homepage.
— Can I see the analytics?
As a result, it turned out that the logo in the top left corner was not clickable. She said, “People come to the homepage through direct links!” In reality, people visited the site, deleted unnecessary characters from the URL to get to the homepage.
— In some new games, the tutorial is essentially the entire game. For example, I’m playing Doom now, and it constantly teaches you new things.
— Actually, that’s very correct. It wouldn’t make sense to make the player spend half an hour learning all the mechanics and only then let them play. The purpose of such tutorials in games is to provide players with necessary information when they need it. We don’t overload them; the cognitive load is minimal.
Top management and development team
If you, as a UX designer, want to make decisions about game monetization, you need to grow towards management because those decisions are made there. UX designers in game development cannot influence that directly.
Not all management employees understand the gaming industry. It depends on which industry they came from. To regulate matters between top management and the development team, there is a producer. They protect the interests of the team.
You can’t release something in one month that takes three months to develop. The result will be three times worse.
What influences trends in game development?
A regular designer can visit Behance and see the current trends. What do they look for in games? What influences the appearance of the interface?
The game setting has the most significant influence on the interface. You may be able to create beautiful, detailed wooden buttons that fit well with games featuring similar (wood-themed) content.
UX patterns and monetization patterns strongly shape trends.
For example, the Battle Pass: an accumulative system that rewards players with additional perks for completing specific tasks. Usually, these rewards are cosmetic and do not impact the game’s balance.
It was initially introduced by Dota, and Fortnite took it to an unprecedented level. Now, many games consider this as the primary monetization method.
Diegetic interface: an interface that is integrated into the game world (e.g., Dead Space, Metro, Escape from Tarkov).
The game setting heavily influences both game design and UX/UI.
How to ace an interview for UX/UI designers in the gaming industry?
Understanding game design and having gaming experience is essential. Being a good UX designer alone may not be enough.
If a person doesn’t enjoy games, they won’t thrive in the gaming industry for long.
Hard skills are crucial; being able to create a good interface and having strong drawing skills are highly valuable.
Understanding the industry and its systems is important.
Soft skills are also important.
What is the career development path for a UX/UI designer in the gaming industry?
There is a lot of work, you can, in principle, not move somewhere in terms of changing your profession.
The industry is rapidly evolving. The advantage of game services is that whenever a new feature or mechanic is introduced, a new interface is needed to support it.
If someone gets bored with designing interfaces in a large company, they can transition internally to become a game designer. For example, in Gameloft, a woman transitioned from Customer Care to 3D animation by completing courses.
P.S. from Andrii Taliashvili
I don’t really like the fact that there is such an opinion that playing games is just wasting time, a useless activity. I am for people playing games. I was also skeptical about games before I got into the industry. You need to play good games. There are games that are real works of art, it’s cooler than going to the movies.