Whenever we browse a website or mobile app, if we’re satisfied with the ease of navigation towards what we’re looking for, we typically spend more time using that site or app and visit more frequently. When that happens, it’s all down to the implementation of a quality user interface (UI), which is often something we take for granted.
Nevertheless, user experience (UX) is arguably the most important design elements for any digital product these days, from websites to mobile apps, business software to video games. Actually, many of the world’s leading UX design agencies often employ expert UI designers with backgrounds in the video games industry. This is usually because with any successful video game, every element of the user interface design must serve a purpose.
Online video games are principally designed to entertain. To do that well, the user interface must also be designed to function seamlessly, be easy to understand and manipulate, while also being the key channel of communication between the game itself and the player. Simply put, whenever the user experience is good, we keep playing. When it isn’t, we get frustrated because the game isn’t responding well to our actions or expectations, leaving us with a poor user experience that often leads us to stop playing.
Capturing the essence of realism
While some games are actually designed to be “gamey” for a purpose, which means they deliberately stray away from being an accurate representation of real-world physics or actions, others aim to be as accurate as possible. We might not expect a fantasy game character to walk or leap like a normal real-life person, because they have super-human abilities or other attributes that are part of that fantasy setting. That said, a well-designed UX will ensure the player finds any fantasy elements believable and in keeping with their in-game surroundings.
By contrast, games which aim to emulate real-world elements are often the most difficult to implement. This is often the biggest complaint surrounding sports games, if a car doesn’t handle quite like it would on a real racing circuit, or a player doesn’t run and move as they would for real in the latest Madden NFL game. Those are typically the biggest user experience complaints for games based around simulation, whenever you read through user comments and reviews at video game sites.
Interestingly, capturing the essence of realism has become a vital part of the user experience at online casino gaming sites. Designers of some of the latest online roulette games have gone to great lengths, aiming to emulate how the ball pings and moves around the spinning roulette wheel, before settling into one of the numbered slots. This is often accompanied by the exact sounds you would hear while sat at a roulette table, from the ball movement on the wood of the roulette wheel, to the chink of the chips as you’re placing bets.
These elements all add to the realism, adding to the sensation that players are experiencing the next best thing to real, physical participation themselves. Whenever games designers can capture audio or visual elements with accurate simulations, it all adds to the user experience by creating an unrivalled sense of immersion for players.
More than just visual appeal
Arguably one of the biggest attractions for modern video gaming, visual appeal is often what gets us playing any given game in the first place. Given the increased focus on photo-realistic and high-definition graphics, visual appeal is usually the very first thing that grabs our attention when we view game trailers for the latest releases. However, aside from the eye-catching appeal of graphics, they also need to serve an overall purpose.
Indeed, there’s often much more to the visual appeal of game design than initially meets the eye. Due to the fact that vision is typically the most used of our senses when playing video games, we are entirely dependent on what we see on our screens. This means that game designers can use the graphical presentation to provide visual cues, adding to the illusion of control which is felt by the player, shaping their in-game choices and decisions. In turn, this increases the feeling of immersion and engagement.
Control and functionality
If there’s one aspect that’s crucial to video game design, it’s providing the player with the feeling they’re in control of what’s happening in the gaming space. That doesn’t necessarily mean they find winning easy, as many gamers like to be challenged and find losing part of the challenge they must overcome, in order to win. Control refers to the way they manipulate the movement and actions of in-game characters or avatars, able to do so in ways they would expect, via the user interface.
Great UX design in the most highly praised video games requires functionality and practicality. In many online role-playing games, often referred to MMORPG’s, players can accumulate lots of in-game items. In older games, accessing that in-game stuff required navigating through seemingly endless inventory menus, much to the annoyance of players whenever they needed to use something quickly. This led to UX designers implementing hotbars or quick-access key and button options, creating easier access to those items.
Essentially, for every interaction the player may perform within a video game environment, UX designers need to put in a great deal of thought, ensuring those interactions are as seamless as they can possibly be. The difficult part for any UX designer is striking the right balance, trying to avoid being too conservative or boring, along with being too radical with designs that remove any sense of familiarity. In modern game design, it’s all about reaching a broad audience of both new and experienced gamers, along with everyone in between.
Due to the fact there are so many elements involved in designing video games, UX can often be the keystone which supports everything else in any game. Too much or too little information can confuse players, as can complicated inputs that leave the player struggling to feel any sense of control. The latter is often one of the biggest gripes amongst players, when games are switched from one platform to another, such as console to PC ports, without suitable UI and UX changes being implemented.
Every platform has their own unique and important UX requirements. Using a mouse and keyboard is different from using a console controller, while both are vastly different from using your finger on a touch-screen mobile device. Quality UX design will factor each of those elements into their work, as with many other aspects of the overall experience we often take for granted, especially now the unification of games working across multiple platforms is a consideration in modern gaming.