The video gaming industry has been in a state of constant evolution over the past few decades. What started out as the simple gameplay of Pong has gradually grown into something far more spectacular and interactive.
The video gaming medium has certainly expanded beyond all recognition, and while originally the sole focus of the industry was to create engaging and exciting games, that has begun to change. As the craft has progressed and consumer needs have altered, the industry now has begun to look at the entire user experience – even elements that have nothing at all to do with the gameplay itself.
This is something that has proven to be especially interesting to Rodrigo Lizarraga – a former UI/UX designer in the video gaming industry and well-established graphic designer who now works in the field of art direction.
“Tech, game design and art as ways of innovating gameplay aren’t the sole focus anymore,” he is quoted as saying, “while gameplay is certainly always going to be the key thing when developing any video game, user experience is rapidly rising to the fore too. It’s only by creating an engaging and impressive user experience that players will continue to play in the long-term, and as the industry is evolving and moving towards sustainability, player retention is more important than ever before.”
What Is The Role Of Video Game UX Design?
“There’s a common misconception that UX designers simply make wireframes, user flows and sitemaps,” Lizarraga says. “And yes, those things form the basic toolset of any UX designer. However, there’s far more to the job than just that. When you’re a UX designer, your primary function is to make decisions. Those decisions involve the rate and amount at which user experience helps or breaks the design of the game as well as how the game can be accessed by more people.”
With accessibility becoming a more important goal over recent years, and with so many impressive games for consumers to choose from, it isn’t surprising that UX designers have had to broaden their scope and take on more and more responsibility for the success of the games that they help to produce.
Matching Form To Function
One of the most important elements of UX design in modern video games is to match form to function i.e. to find ways of dispensing information and relaying instructions during gameplay that don’t negatively impact on the immersion of the player in the action.
“The understanding and expectations of form and function have changed considerably over the years,” Lizarraga points out, “now different games have different form and function requirements that UX designers must take into account and accommodate.”
He demonstrates the example of user interfaces that endeavor to maintain the integrity of the fourth wall lying between the game world and the player. At one time, this was commonplace across most video games, with players remaining immersed in the game’s setting. Setting and atmosphere were often key and this meant that players needed to be looking at the game world as much as they could.
Yet, while this type of interface is still used, there have been adaptations and moves towards breaking down that fourth wall. Lizarraga points to the example of the use of dialogue and subtitles in some games to such an extent that it is invasive to gameplay. Despite the fact that their use almost stops the game in some cases, he explains that in such cases, they’re a key element of play, keeping players informed about what they can expect and giving them a better understanding of how the gameplay is panning out.
He goes further to say that in some games, the subtitles are even more vital, taking on a virtually physical presence and drawing the eyes of the player to lead them effectively through the game world without ever being a true part of it.
“The elements of each game take a form that specifically adheres to function,” he says. “It is the UX designer’s job to decide on just how much that fourth wall is broken.”
Do The UX Designer’s Decisions Become Game Mechanics?
Although it was once believed that UX designers were supposed to focus only on controls, accessibility and interfaces, Lizarraga debunks this and says that the video games industry’s cornerstone is, and always has been, to innovate gameplay methods. In a video gaming context, UX asks a few simple questions – what’s the player’s purpose? How can they be helped to achieve it?
“UX designers don’t have to make gameplay easy,” Lizarraga says, “rather, they have to help players fulfil their purpose in the game, whether that be through guidance, immersion or creating a sense of having achieved something. Essentially, it’s the primary purpose of UX designers to know precisely how much to break the fourth wall and how much to leave it intact, and this is what makes UX so powerful in video game development.”