Why UX Will Save Your Game

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Posted by Ross Manthorp on 6 December 2018

Antidote by Sekg is a playtesting platform for game developers. Author Joan Costa from Sekg has put together the following blog on why UX is so important at all stages of game development. Sekg also has a developer service on our Marketplace.

Creating a successful game is pretty simple, you just need to create an engaging experience, maybe find the right publisher, communicate well, and your game becomes an instant best-seller. Alright, it's not that easy, but what we do know is that one of the key reasons why a game succeeds is... that it is entertaining.

Unfortunately, this is something really difficult to achieve. Falling into bad experiences can come easy: just put in a cocktail shaker, two spoons of unclear menus, a cup of balancing issues, a handful of frozen splash screens, 1.5 oz of wrong targeting and hundreds of games being released daily... and you get a nightmare.

Game developers (from giants like Blizzard to Indies like Robot Gentleman) have discovered that in order to sleep well, they have to invest in understanding their players’ experience - and well, they have been doing a great job!

The field of UX (User Experience) has changed rapidly and become indispensable over the past years, mostly due to the boom of video games and the overload of the app stores. Studios are aware now, that having a good product is not enough to capture gamers’ attention or, what is even more complex, to retain them. Players do not necessarily want to play the game with the best graphics or the most advanced game mechanics but want to feel special and live unique and amazing experiences. Take for example Hotline Miami or Uncanny Valley, both are games with incredible gameplay experiences and uncommon graphics.


Hotline Miami, a game with a great user experience

No matter the budget you have or what your game is going to be (PC, mobile, 2D, simulation, RPG...) your mission should always be to provide your players with a unique experience they will never forget.

What is UX really?

The International Organization for Standardizations defines UX as a “person's perceptions and responses resulting from the use and/or anticipated use of a product, system or service. It includes all users' emotions, beliefs, preferences, perceptions, physical and psychological responses, behaviours and accomplishments that occur before, during and after use”.

In short, UX is about caring about how players feel and how to make your game meaningful. Several factors need to be considered: functionality, interaction, visuals, usability, information architecture, user interface and even how our brain works and what are our motivations as players.

In the video game industry, the user experience is shaped by the story, game mechanics, challenges, missions, graphics, controls and even cinematics. These elements have to be well-balanced with each other to create perfect immersive experiences. Let’s take a look at Undertale for example: a 2D RPG with lovely 90s-inspired graphics, is one of the most-reviewed products on Steam, receiving worldwide acclaim thanks to its puzzles, addictive story and more important, the original content; or Nidhogg, acquiring more users every day using a perfect combination of simple and accessible controls, great level design and a competitive local PvP.


Undertale, one of the most successful RPG games on Steam

How is UX helping my game?

A well-designed user experience has a direct impact on retention and conversion rate of your players because it’s the substratum of your players’ engagement. The higher the engagement, the higher the potential number of players and, if your game has the right business model, the higher the economic success. And this applies to any type of game and platform.

To reach these objectives, it is important to understand what the user is looking for and gather relevant data. Some of the ways to do so are usability tests, focus groups, surveys, playtesting, behaviour analysis, biometric tracking, gameplay reviews, in-game analytics or telemetry.

A lot of data can be extracted from studying the player and the game. As a whole, this data helps us to understand how users feel about our game. A good experience cannot be delivered if we have no evidence about their needs and expectations. This is why it is important to have a well-designed testing framework that covers your whole product lifecycle, starting at the very first prototype, and that helps you to continuously validate the experience of your players.


Example of a playtest in progress using Antidote by Sekg

What is a well-designed UX testing framework?

The best formula is the one providing you with accurate results within the shortest amount of time. Each stage of the game development will require different analysis, thus, it’s important to choose the solution that gets you actionable results fast and easily at every stage.

Where to focus your testing efforts is different from one game to another. For example, a narrative PC game like Life is Strange should make a special effort on the analysis of the story and whether the user understands it, rather than focusing only on the gameplay. While testing the story, the user will be involuntarily playing the mechanics that are part of the game, and you will see if they are working as expected.

If you are introducing new camera mechanics, it would be a good idea to perform a behavioural test, like an eye tracking or an A/B test, to analyse how the user interacts with this new system compared to the old one. But, in the case of designing characters on an early stage version of the game, a simple opinion survey would be more meaningful if you know the right questions to ask.

Don’t be scared to use multiple methods in combo (e.g heart rate monitoring, eye-tracking and surveys). It will help you understand the player from different perspectives, like in our previous example, where you would be mixing players’ objective reactions with their subjective opinions.

Many types of data gathering exist in the games industry. Focus on easily applicable methodologies for each aspect of your game to obtain the best results, fast and iteratively.

Who should I test my game with?

The first thing to consider is, what is your intended target? If you are already coding and you don’t have it yet defined, I’ll kindly ask you to stop reading now and come back later. Meet your team immediately and define for whom you are creating this new amazing experience. Go, go! I will wait here…

Now that you have discovered your target (and have verified that there is enough market), here comes the bad news: your friends, family and volunteers that come to your office are not the best segments to test your game with. As several authors (e.g. Robert Fitzpatric in The Mom’s Test and Celia Hodent in The Gamer’s Brain) have stated before, and I hereby repeat, they will all, unconsciously or not, be lying to you.

Create a userbase that represents your potential target and let them test your game. You can find players online (e.g Reddit, Discord, Steam and other online communities) and offline (e.g game events where to showcase your game, such as GDC or BGW). If you don’t have the time to do it by yourself, you can also use online services such as Antidote, which helps you select the players that best match the target of your game. There are many players out there eager to help you in the process, and you need them. It is the perfect match.

Wrapping up

The video game industry is growing at a high speed and is getting saturated, with very similar games making their way through. Delivering the best experience to gamers will increase your chances and make a difference in succeeding or not.

Tracking and monitoring every aspect of your game won’t necessarily end up in better results. When reviewing the UX, keep it simple and centred on what is essential to your game. Most importantly, pay attention to what the results are showing you.

Great solutions are available nowadays, search out there for the one that is right for you. Particularly at Sekg, we created Antidote, a UX platform specially designed to help any game developer, from Indie hobbyists to large enterprises, get player insights from the very first prototype. A tool to let you focus on what really matters: shipping the greatest experience to all of us, gamers.

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