Most UX professionals follow the standard practice of extensive research, reviewing competitors’ sites, conducting user tests and working with marketing to collect relevant data. These are all valid and essential components to building a great user experience, but there are other areas to explore to gain insight on usability. As a life-long gamer, I have found that games are an excellent resource for studying usability, and surprisingly, only a few UX designers take advantage of it.
Games have a lot of complex interactions between the user and the interface. Regardless of what genre the game is, all of them share common characteristics – in order for the user/gamer to progress, they must complete certain challenges with varying levels of difficulty: solving a puzzle, beating a level boss, etc. When the user/gamer completes these challenges, they are rewarded accordingly: new weapons, an armor upgrade, unlocking a level, etc. Some games take complexity further into adding social elements for players to connect and chat. The nature and the amount of complexities in games can be endless.
These complex interactions demand simple interfaces. Great games are easy to use and offer robust reward systems. For example, many iPhone games apply coach marks, allowing the user to quickly learn how to play the game from the very beginning, use very simple language such as “press this button to jump” and arrows may also be applied with these instructions for quick visual cues. The easier the game is to use the more often a user will play. Similarly, the more empowered a user feels, the more time they’ll spend playing. For example, with shooting games, the better you shoot, the more weapons will become available to use.
Many of these aspects can be applied to UX design. Great UX designs have similar features: simple interface, high reward to the user and customized experiences. My favorite aspect of games from a UX perspective however, is its ability to cater to not only new users (our beloved “noobs”) but more experienced users as well who can still enjoy the game because the game still offers the difficulty they require for the game to be satisfying.
If you are a practicing UX professional, there’s a lot to take from games. It’s not only great research; it’s also great fun.
Written by Daniel Cho