The user experience is a vital element of any game, and there are many things that factor into it. A gamer doesn't comment to his friend about how well designed the menus are, and how easy it was to navigate. However, when a game has a bad UI and user experience it sticks out like a sore thumb.
At SXSW 2015 some veterans in the industry, Jason Schklar of Jason Schklar Consults, Stephanie Hegadorn of IBM Design, Kyle Drexel of Wargaming.net gave a great talk over the importance of UX (User Experience) in video games and some of the things to keep in mind when working on a game's UX. Not only is UX include the more obvious things like menus and navigation, but UX includes the entire experience of the game.
Kyle Drexel of Wargaming.net was the first to talk on how he saw UX in games, "UX in games really comes down to how little friction you have so that the person using the game is focused entirely on the game and the game mechanics. The things I believe that they want to do when they purchase the game. UX is about making sure the gamer is playing the game and not fighting with it, and also that the developers and designers intentions shine through all the menus."
Kyle went on to explain how the Wargaming studio works with UX, "So UX can be incorporated into the development process many different ways, and different companies have varying organizational structures. At Wargaming there are several centers for user research and UX design, my particular role is to organize how research is conducted in North America."
"User experience has been something development teams and companies have been familiar with for many years, but I think it hasn't really been brought into the forefront of games until mobile really took off, because I think something shifted a little bit. The access to these games was so simple, and the ability to delete them was so easy as well, they realized the window to capture a user was very small, so they knew they had to get the experience right."
Kyle began to explain how he approaches UX in games, "My approach to UX is fundamentally through research. My job is to construct studies that reveal what the actual players think; this means creating situations that users of the game can give feedback to." Kyle gave three categories for UX feedback.
"The first is the usability style feedback in which you have a user come in and interact with the product. I observe where they succeed and where they fail. They generally don't know where they succeeded or failed. This is just their ability to use the product."
"I might also bring in a larger group of players to come in and play the game, but this time I'm not observing them directly, and I'm not necessarily interested in specifically their success or failure. I'm more interested in their opinions and attitudes over what they just played. Is it fun, is it challenging? These are attitude measurements that are also extremely valuable when conducting research for the UX in your game."
3. Big Data
"Once you have a lot of people playing such as a beta then you can start looking at the big data that demonstrates trends that would be too subtle to observe if this was a usability study. For instance, there is a multiplayer map and you determine that it's balanced if you were to play ten times, there would be five wins on one side, and five on the other."
Kyle continued, "But if you were to do it a thousand times you might discover that there is a little bit of a bias, and you can look where people were killed and determine that there is really a bottleneck on this point of the map and it completely favors one team. This would be something that is extremely hard to uncover just through play testing."
The panelists went on to talk about some of the games they've played recently that showcased a great UX, "My personal example is Hearthstone. I don't think that, just because I like the menus, I'm thinking in terms of the overall experience. I played a game a few years ago that was very similar, Magic: the Gathering, which Hearthstone is very much a clone of. That was an excruciating game to play because its menus were not only bad but the overall experience and interactions were just not very user centric."
The user experience that the panelists were discussing goes far beyond what someone might typically think of user experience. It's not just the menus and the HUD, but rather how the entire experience of the game works. If a player just starts a game, continues to die, repeatedly, and can't progress, that would be considered bad user experience. So it's not just directly related to a game's menu design but rather the game as a whole. As a game developer, these are things you need to put a lot of thought into, not only the UX in terms of the UI and the menus but the usability as well.