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The Benefits of UX in Your Game

Why have we all gotten so comfortable with the myth that there’s no money or time for UX? Why have we all gotten so used to hearing that it’s not a worthwhile expenditure – or even worse, that it’s not important at all?

Mike Moran by Mike Moran
7 minute read

Table of Contents

Why have we all gotten so comfortable with the myth that there’s no money or time for UX? Why have we all gotten so used to hearing that it’s not a worthwhile expenditure – or even worse, that it’s not important at all?

Here are some phrases you’ll never hear in a gaming studio…

“Hey, we really don’t have the time to test our game for bugs. Just send it to production.” 

“I know our economy is unbalanced, but it’s no big deal. Go ahead and launch it.”

“Our load screen gets hung up for 5 seconds? No worries. People won’t care.”

Crazy to even consider, right? Well, here’s another one that seems just as ridiculous… but we hear it all the time. 

“UX isn’t that important. Let’s save the time and money and focus on other things.”

…Whaaaaaaa???

Why have we all gotten so comfortable with the myth that there’s no money or time for UX? Why have we all gotten so used to hearing that it’s not a worthwhile expenditure – or even worse, that it’s not important at all?

The answer? I truly don’t think most people understand the benefits of doing serious UX in their game. 

Maybe they don’t know it can increase revenue. Or boost retention. Or reduce development costs. And because of that, they write it off as an unnecessary expense that doesn’t create any tangible benefits to a game or the studio. 

Well today, I’m here to tell you that that belief system is wrong. And not just wrong, but dangerous. Every game needs solid UX in their corner to reach their potential.

Bad game design and bad game experiences don’t just piss off players; it ruins reputations. Forever

I get it: making a successful game is difficult. It’s expensive and time-consuming, and it can be draining – for everybody involved. From market research to monetization strategies, bug fixes to marketing campaigns, there’s a mile-long list of tasks begging for your attention. 

But that doesn’t mean games can just ignore their UX and expect to shine. Less-than-ideal game design can ruin the chances your game has for success in a heartbeat. 

So then, what’s a game to do? The simple answer is: give your UX the space (and respect) it needs to thrive. Today, I’m taking you on another myth dispelling journey – so you have the insight you need to avoid the game-ux-doesn’t-matter trap… and the tools you need to do things different. Because different is beautiful.

Ready? I’ll stop blathering. Let’s get into it.

The context

For developers, exciting ideas and lofty goals are never the problem. Finding the resources to make them happen is. From convincing to pleading to getting overlooked, developers are too often left slighted in the race for more resources. And that means that they oh-so-rarely get the opportunity to ship the game they actually want to ship. 

So how do they make do without the resources they need? They cut features. They put game quality on the chopping block. Or they take matters into their own hands, working overtime – by a lot – to account for the shortages in manpower. 

Burnout at work. Tired and fatigued  office worker sleeping on his work desk while having a video call via a computer in the home office. Remote team meeting video online conference. Problems at work

But those insufficiencies can’t be that commonplace, can they?

According to the International Game Developers Association, 62% of all developers were working overtime to get things done. And of that 62%, half were working well beyond 60 hours a week.

Now obviously, that sort of hustling isn’t sustainable for the productivity of a game. After a month or two, developers are running on fumes and fumes alone. But if we zoom out a bit further and look at the industry as a whole, a swath of frustrated, exhausted professionals is just as unsustainable to its productivity – and general wellbeing.

How UX improves a game

Beyond the consequences of an unhealthy (and unhappy) workforce, the impact of putting UX on the backburner is unmissable. In a good way? No, in a terrible way.

Ignoring UX is overwhelmingly detrimental: A) to the tangible product that’s getting released and B) the goals the game was pushing to achieve.

Does giving UX the space it needs to flourish actually affect that much for a game? The short answer is: you bet your bottom dollar it does.

Here’s a look at that impact, broken down:

Reduce dev time:

The development budget is famous for getting stepped over when late-game tasks enter the picture. UX defends against that in two ways: prototyping and user testing. With prototyping, developers plan for implementation with precision and avoid impulsive ‘feature creep,’ since their architecture has already been set. With user testing, they evade their own biased experience with the game, seeking the feedback of third-parties. The result? A more efficient process – which requires fewer resources end-to-end.

Profile side view portrait of his he nice attractive skilled smart focused concentrated guy consultant writing script creating new digital desktop app in dark room workplace station indoors

Increase Revenue:

Users look for three things when they engage with a digital experience – 1) simplicity, 2) efficiency, and 3) clear-cut goals. If there are five different game stores offering the same type of products, it’s the one that’s easiest to use (intuitive), quickest to buy from (less steps), and most direct to get into (CTA’s) that’ll see the highest amount of sales. Solving for those elements is a UX-stage necessity – assuming you do want to upconversion.

Man holding credit card and using smartphone at home, businessman shopping online, e-commerce, internet banking, spending money, working from home concept

Ensure Engagement:

An unfamiliar game can be daunting to a new user – which is why UX practices like personas, personalization, and consistency matter so much. While personas allow developers to pinpoint and create for their ideal target, personalized suggestions or features embedded into the UX make users feel important. And then there’s consistency: consistent layouts or elements across games make entering a new one feel manageable – and inviting. Taken together, those practices ensure users want to stick around.

Happy woman in red using mobile phone in the night

 

Optimize Loyalty:

Retention is the key to a successful game, so zeroing in on tactics that foster user loyalty should be done early. One such tactic? The customer journey map – a UX tool that enables you to track your users from initial contact to years down the road. The CJM helps you know your users behaviorally and emotionally, locate problems – and fix them – before they leave altogether, and lean on data to derive new features/offers that speak to them. So giving UX pro’s the time they need to set the tool up, and learn from it, is critical to optimizing loyalty later on.

Serious relaxed millennial african man lying on couch using smartphone

Investing in UX isn’t just something your UX designers will be grateful for. It’s something that has very real, very large benefits – for everyone involved. 

From cutting development time by over half to cutting support costs by 90%... 

From the fact that 70% of projects fail because of user rejection to the fact that good UX has proven to skyrocket KPI’s by 83%.... 

It’s clearly not an ambiguity. It’s clearly not a wasteful spend. UX design is fundamental to a compelling, profitable, sustainable game, and if we all started acting like it, we might just see some bonafide success. Industry-wide. 

But if we don’t… we’re exposing ourselves to a reality that’s much less optimistic.


The issue


So now, let’s return to our myth. There’s just no money or time for UX. If a game functions from that belief system – like so many do – it’s leaving its operations vulnerable to:

Inadequate UX:

Not investing in game design is a choice that obviously leads to worse game design – AKA, the opposite of what we outlined above: expensive development, lackluster conversion, patchy engagement, and unretained players. The result of that crapshoot? UX that pisses off players, destroys game reputations, and decreases profitability potential. Here’s an example: your game has a tiny usability flaw that players see when they’re visiting the game store. Sure, it’s small, but it still interrupts their buying experience – and results in a serious blow to your bottom line. So: inadequate UX leads to worse outcomes. Period.

Smiling african boy student sitting on a bench at the park

Ruined Morale:

Aside from creating a visibly flawed product, it’d also be fostering a visibly flawed workplace – where an entire team of skilled professionals is given the sense that their work matters less. The effect? Unappreciated efforts. Lessened care. And, of course, a morale united by its frustration. Rather than upping productivity and bettering outcomes, refusing to invest in UX ensures developers either push too hard and burn out or throw their hands up and walk away. In either case – it’s definitely not the work environment of a sustainable game.

Frustrated Asian graphic designer discussing with her team solving problem working on desktop computer in studio.

Strengthened Competition:

Take bad UX and combine it with disenfranchised developers, and what do you get? A spotlight on the competition. Players annoyed at the design issues will direct their gaze to other titles on the market; employees frustrated by the lack of resource fulfillment will move on to games that treat them better. Ignoring the user experience or the workplace experience won’t keep your game trucking along – it’ll do the opposite. Leaving everyone unhappy along the way.

Apple Shifts to Editorially Curated Lists on App Store - MacRumors

The solution

Here’s what I know: no-one sets out to make a bad game. No-one sets out to disappoint their players or frustrate their staff. But this myth is pervasive, and it convinces decision-makers of all kinds that design is simply not a worthwhile expenditure.  

So how do we combat that? How do we ensure UX is getting the resources it needs – and the respect it deserves? By operating as efficiently – and intentionally – as possible. Here are some of my favorite ideas:

Set Up Systems:

From instituting QA testing early to looking through the lens of the user experience throughout, creating the right habits is key to ensuring game design can succeed – no matter its investment level. The impact of consistent QA? Finding and fixing bugs before your audience has to deal with them. The impact of prioritizing your players’ experience? Seeing things through their eyes – and producing a smoother gameplay framework (and higher engagement) as a result. So yeah, while creating systems like these does require start-up time, it also leaves you with some indisputable ROIs – saving you plenty of cash (and stress) in the long-run.

Smartphone mock up with carousel interface post on social network. Social media mobile app page template. Design of the tape profile. Vector illustration

Implement Early:

Throwing resources at a problem after it’s surfaced is way more expensive than spending on preventative tactics – which is where your early-stage UX process comes in. By giving yourself time to locate potential design problems with your first prototypes, you’ll be primed to fix them much quicker and cheaper than if they were already situated deep inside the game engine. The same goes for game elements: it’s much less costly to tweak them before they’re draped in polished artwork. Now obviously, this isn’t realistic for every issue or tweak – but the more you can knock out early, the more resources you’ll have free for dealing with serious problems later.

Portrait of handsome young man  stretching at workplace in office and smiling happily, copy space

Reframe Expenditure:

It’s easy to look at a stream of outgoing money and time as a loss, but the truth is, in this case, it’s the opposite. By giving developers the support they need early on, you’re investing in a stronger starting point for your game – and positioning it to bring in more revenue. Investing in UX from the beginning means investing in your players and your workplace. It means investing in your sustainability and your competitive edge, and it means investing in your success. So why wouldn’t you think about it like that?

Businessman working


The conclusion

Look – my purpose here is simple. Help game design get the respect (and resources) it deserves, and help games of all kinds flourish. By uncovering the truth behind these myths, that’s what I’m aiming to achieve. (And if we take some stress off of the backs of developers along the way, even better.)

So, let’s summarize: too many games believe that spending on game design is unnecessary. That if any aspect of game development can be sacrificed, it’s UX. But whether those sacrifices come in the form of money, time, or manpower, they all lead to the same outcomes: significantly worse games, worse-off players, and worse-off talent. 

So… let’s change things. 

By instituting the right systems, adhering to the right processes, and reframing the way you think about spending on UX, you’ll be setting your game design team and your game up for success. Beating budgets. Increasing revenue. Upping engagement and loyalty. By understanding that you’re not wasting but investing, you’ll start to realize how your game’s future depends on your actions today. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Let’s stop giving game design the short end of the stick. Support your people, support your process, and give your players something to get excited about. And if you’re ready to join me as I take on another game design myth - "UX is just an opinion" – I’ll see you back here for more debunking soon.