原作者：Celia Hodent 译者：Vivian Xue
《堡垒之夜》是史上最成功的游戏之一，它的成功也引发了许多人的好奇和思索：为什么它能够成为一款现象级游戏？作为前Epic Games用户体验主管，我在2013-2017年间参与制作《堡垒之夜》，我想从用户体验的角度谈谈团队一路走来采取的策略，它们如何造就了如今这款现象级游戏。我的心理学专业知识背景、我从事的用户体验师这一职业，以及我个人在这款游戏开发中所做的工作，可能导致我的观点存在些许偏见，毕竟人很容易受到潜意识中偏见的影响。然而，与先前发表的分析文章不同的是，这篇分析的内容直接来源于《堡垒之夜》发行前我在游戏开发者大会(GDC)上所做的数次演讲，以及我在2017年出版的书籍《玩家的大脑：神经科学和用户体验如何影响游戏设计》(The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design)。
Building in Fortnite（from gamasutra.com）
YouTube上有个视频Test Your Awareness: Do The Test，测试结果涉及到一个现象“非注意盲视”：当我们集中注意力处理一件任务时，我们无法注意到与该任务无关的刺激现象（即便是一个意外事件！）许多游戏在挑战玩家的注意极限，当玩家掌握了游戏后这样做当然没问题。然而，让玩家在学习和探索的过程中同时进行多项任务，可能会导致他们错过重要信息，例如，在战斗过程中突然弹出恢复血量的教程。玩家因被打扰而感到恼怒倒还好，最糟糕的情况是，他们因此跳过了弹出的关键信息，更别提处理和记忆这些信息了。由于人的注意力有限，游戏开发者应时刻注意避免造成过度的记忆负担，特别是在教程部分，因为这部分需要的注意力更多。
可用性对于任何产品来说都很关键，包括游戏，然而一款游戏可能上手简单（人性化的用户界面，玩家能轻松地理解目标、完成动作）但很无聊。与工具类产品不同（如浏览器或办公软件），电子游戏不是一种实现目的的手段，一般人打游戏纯粹只是为了享受乐趣。因此，如果游戏不够吸引人，即便再容易人们也不想玩。唐纳德·诺曼提出一个叫“情感设计”（Emotional design）的概念，指出任何产品的意义不仅在于实现功能。但对于游戏来说，情感设计不但重要，还是关键所在。游戏开发者经常讨论乐趣或沉浸度，而我倾向于使用参与度（engagement）来指代游戏的吸引力，因为这个概念更加具体易分析。和可用性相比，参与性是一个更模糊的概念；因为我们永远无法完全预料或理解为什么人们会做某件事。因此，在提高参与性方面并不存在任何详实的指导原则。根据我在Ubisoft、 LucasArts和 Epic Games的工作经验，我认为影响参与性的三大支柱因素为：
游戏中的情感包括 “游戏感(game feel)”和提供新内容两个方面。“游戏感”指玩家与游戏互动时的感觉。游戏感与视角、操作和角色有关。它是一种“身临其境的感觉（sense of presence）”，能够带来这种感觉的有：对玩家行为做出恰当反应的AI角色，一个有意义的故事或优质的配乐等等。它还与游戏的真实感有关，这里指的是游戏整体内容的真实可感，而不是画面的写实性。情感还在于为玩家提供惊喜和新鲜感，我就不详细讨论这个方面了。我们偶尔需要一些新鲜事物打破无聊。这也解释了为什么在线游戏需要不断推出新的内容、活动、模式、皮肤或者赛季。
游戏流(Gameflow)来源于心理学概念——“心流 (Flow)”，心理学家米哈里·契克森米哈赖对“心流”进行了探索研究。当他在寻找快乐的秘诀时，他发现那些快乐的人更经常处于“心流”状态中。当你专注于某件有意义且具有挑战性的活动时，你便进入了“心流”状态，比如在工作中发挥创造力（画画、编织、演奏），或者玩某些游戏时。对游戏流进行广泛探索的代表游戏是陈星汉的《浮游》、《花》和《风之旅人》。游戏流的一个重要组成部分是挑战。一款游戏必须拥有适当的难度曲线，既不会太简单（令人无聊）也不会太难（令人过于紧张）。这正是游戏和其它产品的区别所在：在设计游戏用户体验时，你必须挑战用户。游戏开发者必须小心地设计“摩擦 (friction)”——玩家需要克服的阻碍。这也是为什么多人游戏必须完善匹配机制，使技术相当的玩家对抗。秒杀或者被人秒杀都不好玩。
例如，在《堡垒之夜》开发早期，在alpha封测结束后，一些玩家抱怨游戏太肝。他们感觉升级过程中采集物资制作高级物品耗费的时间太长了。这个问题从何而来？难道是游戏的设计出了问题吗？系统设计师重新验证了数据，确认采集和制造系统的平衡性没有问题。那么为什么玩家们会产生这种抱怨呢？为了解决这个问题，我们进行了长期调查。如果不是设计导致的，那么有可能是玩家的主观感知导致的。因此我们审查了许多元素。其中之一是游戏的用户界面中的一个叫做“弱点 (weak point)”的功能。在《堡垒之夜》中，当玩家采集资源（比如一堆石头）时，物体上将显示一个 “弱点”，鼓励玩家点击它。如果玩家点击“弱点”，他们就能更快地摧毁物体获得资源。但在我们的早期用户体验测试中，我们发现玩家完全无视这些“弱点”。这个问题看似微不足道，却引发了严重的连锁效应，由于整个采集系统的数据平衡都基于玩家点击这些“弱点”，因此，如果玩家不点击它们，那么采集时间就会比我们预计得要长，这也导致了玩家对采集耗时长的抱怨。因此团队对于这个小小的用户体验元素进行了多次修改。首先，“弱点”从视觉效果上被放大、更显眼。当“弱点”变得更显眼后，玩家终于注意到了它，但他们以为这是在提示他们当前操作的物品。最终，设计师在“Save the World”模式（PvE模式）去掉了“弱点”，把它变成了一个可解锁的技能。这个技能瞬间变得有意义，得到了许多玩家的好评，基本上解决了这个问题。大部分玩家在新版中开始点击“弱点”。至少在“Save the World”模式中……
当你从用户体验的视角分析《堡垒之夜》，你将看到我们为了提升游戏可用性、尽可能避免造成误解以及消除一系列非设计问题造成的挫败感所付出的努力。我在这个视频中介绍了一些例子。就参与性和玩家动机而言，在PvE(Save the World)模式中，《堡垒之夜》让玩家时刻朝着明确的目标前进。在吃鸡模式中，失败的玩家能迅速重新开始，在下一轮中取得更好的表现。游戏的装扮和胜利姿势选项提供了自主性，还有一个“创造模式（Creative Mode）”能够让玩家自由建造任何东西。《堡垒之夜》有效满足了玩家的关系需求，玩家可以在游戏中竞争、合作甚至聚会玩耍。它不仅是一款游戏，它还是一个能够让玩家聊天、跳舞、发挥创意甚至一起看演唱会的社交平台。此外，许多知名主播和明星很早就开始直播游戏，使玩家们纷纷尝试 (当然这一点是我们在开发过程中没有料到的——有时运气也是成功的因素之一）。在情感方面，《堡垒之夜》的制作使人感觉很精致，与环境的互动令人满意。游戏世界画风搞笑滑稽，鼓励玩家探索尝试，正如游戏的创意总监达伦·苏格在欧洲游戏用户体验峰会上谈到的。游戏中还充满了各种惊喜和神秘感。例如，新赛季到来前，游戏中会出现一些神秘元素，从而刺激玩家的好奇心。最后，游戏流十分完善，特别是在“Save the World”模式中，我们精心设计了用户引导(详见2015和2016年的游戏开发者大会演讲）。
Celia Hodent, The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (CRC Press, 2017)
Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (MIT Press, 2013)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008)
Fortnite is one of the most successful video games in history, and this success fascinates and confuses many people who have made efforts to account for how a game could have become such a phenomenon so quickly. As the former Director of User Experience (UX) at Epic Games, where I worked on Fortnite from 2013 to late 2017, I would like to share the different steps that were taken by the Fortnite team to build what would later become the phenomenon we now know, through the lens of UX. My background in psychology, my occupation as a UX strategist, and my personal work on the game likely bias my perspective since we are all susceptible to unconscious biases. However, this analysis, unlike those that have been proposed thus far, is a firsthand account that was presented in several Game Developers Conference (GDC) talks that I gave before Fortnite was released, and in my book The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (2017).
The Fortnite team had a precise vision and collaborated very closely with the UX team to deliver a game that would be true to this vision and that would appeal to many different types of players. My contention is that the success of Fortnite is linked to their efforts in adopting a UX mindset. My goal here is to explain how to develop such a game UX mindset and build a UX strategy to help game developers around the world find success more quickly with the games they are crafting. This is especially crucial for independent developers who have fewer resources yet still compete with the thousands of games released every year.
I will detail here the three most important steps to develop a game UX mindset, which were taken during the development of Fortnite:
-Understanding the player’s brain
-Following a game UX framework (guidelines to usability and engage-ability)
-Applying the scientific method & establishing a UX pipeline
UNDERSTANDING THE GAMER’S BRAIN
This success story narrated through the lens of UX starts by understanding how the brain operates. Discovering and experiencing a video game, like anything else, happens in people’s minds. Thus, to anticipate how players will experience a game, it is critical to know the main capabilities and limitations of our brains. The study of mental processes (such as attention or memory) is called cognitive science. The diagram above shows a simplified version of what is going on in our brains when we learn or process information.
This process starts with the perception of an input (for example, a tutorial text) and as we process the information conveyed by our many senses (we have way more than five), our memory is likely to change. When we learn something, new synapses — the connections between neurons — are created or are strengthened. Everything you do in life — reading a book, watching a movie, chatting with friends, reading this article, etc. — is going to “rewire” your brain, because our brains are not hardwired in the first place. The brain is malleable, and thanks to this plasticity, we are capable of adapting to our ever-changing environment. Between the perception of a stimulus and the modification of our memory, a lot of things happen. Notably, the quality of learning will be affected by many factors, such as our attention, motivation, and emotion.
How much people pay attention when they process information is a critical factor to the quality of learning or retaining that information. The more you pay attention, the better you will process and retain what is going on around you. For each of these mental processes — perception, memory, and attention — I will explain our main limitations, and how we accounted for these limitations during the development of Fortnite. Keep in mind that the brain is extremely complex. We do not have independent linear channels that process our surroundings as shown in the diagram. It’s not even a process. We use a lot of terms from computers to explain how the brain works because computers offer a compelling metaphor, but the brain does not work like a computer. It is much more complex, and scientists are only just starting to understand how it works. I’m going to briefly explain the main limitations for these mental processes, but you can read more about this in this transcript of my GDC 2015 talk.
Perception is a construct of the mind, and one that is subjective. Take a look at the picture below. What do you perceive here? Color stripes? Maybe people? How about Street Fighter characters? Depending on your knowledge about this game, and even your personal connection to it, you are not going to perceive this input in the same way. And if you are colorblind, like about 8% of the male population, you rightfully feel excluded from my example (please accept my apologies!). No matter what we are designing, we need to make our product or system accessible for everyone; this is why, for example, we should never convey information exclusively through color.
Perception is subjective. It depends on our DNA, our prior knowledge, our expectations, our culture, the context, and many other factors. This situation is problematic when we make a video game, because the game represents a series of stimuli that we want players to perceive the way we intended. If perception is subjective, how can we be sure that all the visual and audio cues in a game will be perceived as intended? To put it simply, we cannot. This is why it is very important to run UX tests, whereby we invite people from our target audience to test the game in development. Many types of tests exist, but to determine if our audience perceived the main elements of Fortnite as intended we mainly used surveys. For example, in 2013, we invited a few people to play through a prototype of the game, and then we asked them to tell us what they believed the icons were communicating. The original symbol that was chosen to represent traps in the game was not perceived as such by all players who tested the game then. Some players thought it looked like ammunition, or trees. Thus, the icon was perceived differently by the person who designed it and by the target audience who interacted with it, as I explained in my GDC Europe 2014 talk. As traps were a key feature in Fortnite, it was important to tweak this icon so that no player would be confused by this stimulus. After the UX test, we decided to change the trap icon to look like a bear trap. There are no bear traps in Fortnite, but in our continued testing, all the players we invited to test the game understood the new symbol. This situation underscores that people will have multiple perceptions for any given reality. This situation necessitates testing the main elements in a game, whether they are UI elements, character design, sound design, visual effects, or environment design.
Memory is another important component to account for. We are able to memorize a lot of information, and sometimes for a very long time. However, we also forget many things. In the late 18th century, the German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus uncovered the exponential nature of forgetting. He established the now famous “forgetting curve“. To come up with this curve, he taught himself a list of syllables that didn’t have any meaning (to avoid any familiarity effect) and he varied the time in which he had to recall them all. The figure below illustrates what he found: once he knew the list of syllables by heart, if he recalled them immediately after he had 100% success rate.
After only 19 minutes, his success rate dropped down to about 60%, and after one day it dropped down to nearly 30%. This means that when you learn something that is not meaningful, and with no method of any kind, you are likely to lose about 70% of the content learned from one day to the next. This is pretty inconvenient, especially for video games since they are usually experienced over several days, sometimes weeks, or even months or years. Given that the human memory is limited, and that we are bound to forget many things, how can we ensure that returning players are not going to forget key information over time? Game developers apply many tactics to avoid this caveat, from repeating information to displaying contextual tutorial tips. However, the most efficient methodology to avoid the impact of the forgetting curve is to reduce the memory load in the first place. The more information is always available to players, the less there is to learn and remember, which underscores the importance of having a good heads-up display (HUD).
The HUD prevents players from remembering elements, such as what gun or abilities they have equipped, how much ammunition they have, or what their next objective is. In Fortnite, a lot of information is always displayed, such as what key to press to search an item. Players do not have to remember this information; it always pops up in the UI for them. Another example is the option for players to pin a recipe they are interested in crafting in their HUD. They do not have to remember what ingredients they need to harvest; they can simply concentrate on their objectives. Our memory is fallible. It can sometimes be very frustrating to come back to a game and not remember the controls, objectives, or how certain systems work. Alleviating players’ memory load is thus important to ensure that they won’t quit a game because they don’t remember some critical information to have fun.
Finally, let’s talk about attention. Although we believe that we are good in analyzing our surroundings, we actually have pretty limited attentional resources. We are not able to carefully scan what’s going on around us. Rather, our attention works like a spotlight: we direct our attention to something in particular while we filter out other stimuli. Just like when you’re in a loud bar and you concentrate on only listening to what your friends are saying. This means that we cannot efficiently multitask, despite most of us believing that we can. When we try to multitask, we are missing a lot of information and we make mistakes, even though we might not realize it.
Watch this video for example:
Did you notice something surprising in the video? Most people don’t. This is what we call “inattentional blindness” in psychology and it’s a very powerful phenomenon: when we are focused on a task, we fail to notice stimuli that are not related to the task (even when a very surprising event happens!). Many games challenge players’ attention, which is fine once players master the game. However, asking players to multitask as they are discovering and learning about a game can lead them to miss out on important information. This is why it’s critical, for example, to avoid tutorial text about how to regenerate health as players are combating zombies. At best, players are going to be annoyed by the distraction; at worst, they won’t be able to realize that some information has popped up, let alone process and remember it. Since our attentional resources are scarce, game developers need to mind the cognitive load they put on players at any time, and more specifically when players are learning about something new, as this requires even more attention.
In summary, when we learn and process information our perception is subjective, our attention is scarce, and our memory is fallible. This is why having a UX mindset, which places the end users at the center of the development process, is key to offering the intended experience.
A GAME UX FRAMEWORK
User experience is a term coined by Don Norman (former Vice President at Apple, author of the renown The Design of Everyday Things, 2013) in the 1990s to account for the whole experience the user is having with a product, system, or service: from the first time they hear about it, to when they buy or download it, when they interact with it, and what they later remember about it. Here we are going to focus exclusively on when players interact with the game. In an effort to anticipate all the frustrations that players can have with the game that aren’t by design, while offering the most engaging and fun experience, we use two main UX pillars in games: “usability”, and what I call “engage-ability”.
Game UX = Usability + Engage-ability
Usability is about the ability of the game to be used, which entails taking into account human limitations in terms of perception, attention, and memory. Usability is a well-known UX pillar and very precise guidelines have been established throughout the years in industrial design and digital product design. The most renowned list of usability heuristics (i.e. rules of thumb) was put together by Jakob Nielsen. In my game UX framework, I’ve adapted these heuristics to be more relevant and, well, usable to game developers who use their own vernacular. These game usability heuristics are as follows:
-Signs and feedback
-Form follows function
-Error prevention and recovery
-Flexibility and accessibility
If you’re interested in diving deeper in these heuristics, I invite you to read the transcript of my GDC Europe 2014 talk. The goal of these heuristics is to ensure that the game is going to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. We work to remove all the frustrations players might have that are not by design, such as difficulty navigating menus, unintuitive icons, or confusing systems. All the stimuli in the game (aka “signs and feedback”) need to be clear, consistent, and perceived as intended. We aim to minimize the cognitive load (i.e. memory and attention load) as well as the physical load (e.g. how many clicks to accomplish an action). We also try to ensure that players are not going to experience frustrating errors, or that they can easily recover from them when these errors are not where we want to challenge players. For instance in Fortnite, we want to challenge players in developing a strategy to survive while managing combat, harvesting, crafting, and building. We do not want, however, to challenge them in figuring out how to equip an item or to craft a weapon. Lastly, we try to offer various options — such as remapping of controls, subtitles, or colorblind mode — so that everyone can play. Throughout the development of Fortnite, we conducted countless UX tests to improve and polish the usability of the game.
Offering good usability is critical for any product, including games, yet a game can be easy to use (i.e. the interface is intuitive and players can easily understand their goals and accomplish actions) yet boring. Unlike tools (such as a web browser or a software we use for work), video games are not a means to an end. We typically interact with games solely for the pleasure of playing them. Thus, if a game is not engaging, we are more likely to stop playing it, even if it’s easy to use. Don Norman speaks of “emotional design” to highlight the importance of any product to be more than just about functionality. But for games this emotional design is not merely important; it’s critical. Game developers often talk about fun or immersion. I prefer to use the term engagement and to refer to the ability of the game to be engaging, as it’s a more concrete concept to break down. Engage-ability is a fuzzier concept than usability; since we can never fully predict or understand why people do the things they do. Therefore, there aren’t any solid guidelines to achieve engage-ability yet. Throughout my work at Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Epic Games, there were three pillars I considered in order to improve the engage-ability of a game:
If you are looking for more detailed information on these engage-ability pillars you can check out my GDC 2017 talk.
We do not accomplish any action unless we are motivated to do so. Thus, motivation is at the core of engage-ability. However, countless theories of human motivation exist, and we currently do not have any motivational theory that can account of all of human behaviors. Among the most important types of motivation, we can focus on two that are the most applicable to games: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.
Extrinsic motivation is when you do something in order to get something else. It’s when, for example, you wait in the queue to get into a ride at the fair. Waiting in line is a means to an end. Video games often master extrinsic motivation: players need to accomplish quests, actions, or harvest many resources in order to be rewarded. Precise goals and clear rewards associated to these goals are very important to keep players engaged, such as what reward(s) can be redeemed after completing a challenge, or what abilities can be unlocked in a skill tree. But this is not enough.
Game developers also need to account for intrinsic motivation, which is our motivation to do certain things just for the pleasure of doing them, not to get something else. The most reliable theory of intrinsic motivation we currently have is the self-determination theory, or SDT for short. This theory explains that we are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to do an activity when this activity satisfies our need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.
Competence is mainly about having a sense of progression, whether this progression is skill-based (e.g. getting increasingly skilled at building fast) or not (e.g. leveling up and buying new skills that make us artificially more powerful within the game). If we do not feel that we are progressing when we engage with an activity, such as learning how to play guitar or trying to lose weight, we are very likely to abandon. This is why progression bars are so compelling. It’s not only because of the promise of getting a reward once we reach a new level, it’s also because we can see ourselves progressing towards a goal, and getting increasingly competent.
Autonomy is mainly about self-expression. Being able to choose your skins, your dance moves, or how you can overcome obstacles allows you to feel more autonomous. This is why sandbox games (e.g. Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto V), and games offering a lot of cosmetic options (when these options are meaningful to players) are often engaging.
Lastly, relatedness is about having meaningful relationships with other people in a game. Humans are a very social species, and multiplayer games often offer compelling relatedness. This can be either through competition, or cooperation. Although cooperation is often more engaging, which is why most competitive games offer cooperative options (e.g. playing in a squad, or playing in a team against another team).
Emotion in games is mainly about what we call “game feel” and about offering new content. Game feel refers to how good it feels to interact with a game. It’s about its camera, controls, and characters (often called “the 3Cs”). It’s about the sense of presence, provided by an AI (artificial intelligence) that reacts adequately to what players are doing, a meaningful story, or great music, among many other things. Lastly, it’s about the physical reality of the game; how believable it is (rather than its photo-realism). I won’t get into any detail here, but emotion is also about the surprises and novelties that are offered to players. We need something new every now and then otherwise we get bored. This is why online games constantly need updates, new campaigns, modes, skins, or seasons.
Gameflow comes from the concept of “flow” in psychology, investigated by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. As he was trying to find out the secret to happiness, he noticed that those who were happier in life experienced the state of flow more often. You’re in a state of flow when you are deeply concentrated in doing an activity that is both worthwhile to you and challenging. You can experience this state at work, when being creative (e.g. if you like to draw, knit, or play music), and when you play certain video games. Jenova Chen is the game designer who has extensively explored gameflow, through games like Flow, Flower, or Journey. One of the main components of gameflow is challenge. A game needs to have the right level of difficulty so that the game is never too easy (otherwise we get bored), or too hard (otherwise we get too stressed out). That’s the main difference between the UX of a game and the UX of other products: in games you need to challenge the user. Game developers are carefully implementing frictions that are by design: players are going to encounter obstacles they will need to overcome. This is why multiplayer games need to perfect their matchmaking so that players at the same level of expertise and skills are matched together. Neither being destroyed in no time, or winning too easily is fun.
Gameflow is also about pacing, the rhythm of stress and pressure. A game needs some intense moments, and more relaxing ones. Many action games have “waves of enemies” for example, and in battle royale games players have relatively calmer moments to prepare, alternated with moments when encounters are forced as the map is shrinking. Last but not least, onboarding is paramount to gameflow. In order to enter a state of flow while playing a game, you need to understand what it is all about and how to succeed (or at least how to get better at playing). This is why onboarding players properly, through elegant tutorials that feel part of the game, will greatly impact the feeling of immersion. Onboarding is about making sure players are going to be competent in playing the game. Sure, they will make mistakes and probably die a few times, but if the game allows them to understand what happened and how to get better, they will be able to progress. Having a sense of progression is one of the main pillars of intrinsic motivation, as explained earlier. To learn more about onboarding, you can take a look at the transcript of my GDC 2016 talk dedicated to this topic.
These usability and engage-ability pillars constitute a game UX framework that is very useful and practical to follow when developing a game. It can be used as a checklist to identify the most critical issues to fix, as well as the missing features or elements in the game to reach its full potential. There is no known recipe for successful games, but this framework offers ingredients that we know are critical to craft usable and engaging games. Game makers can use these ingredients to make their own successful recipe, depending on the kind of experience they want to offer and on the audience they are targeting.
SCIENTIFIC METHOD & UX PIPELINE
Knowing the main human brain limitations and following a UX framework is a great start, but it’s also critical to apply the scientific method and establish a UX pipeline in order to find and prioritize the biggest UX issues to fix. Solving problems is relatively easy. Finding and solving the right problems is what is difficult. And since humans are biased, relying on the gut feeling of different members of the game team (or even sometimes executives), all having their own subjective perception, scarce attention, and fallible memory, can lead to costly setbacks. This is why is it important to rely on UX research to identify and prioritize issues. UX researchers use the scientific method to pose hypotheses with the game team, design experimental protocols accordingly, and then gather and analyze data while removing as many human biases as possible. Once the most important issues have been identified, the team then needs to figure out why they are happening.
For example, in the early days of Fortnite, during the closed Alpha online tests, some players were complaining that the game was too “grindy”. They felt that it took too long to harvest the ingredients they needed to craft more advanced items as they were leveling up. Where was this coming from? Did the game have a design issue? The system designers verified their math and concluded that the harvesting and crafting systems were correctly balanced. So why were players complaining? This issue kicked off a long investigation to find out why this was happening. If it was not originating from the design, then the hypothesis was that it could originate from players’ (subjective) perception. Many elements were thus investigated. One of them was the UI (user interface) for a feature called the “weak point system”. In Fortnite, when players harvest an object in the world (say, a pile of rock) a weak point appears, encouraging players to aim at it. As they scavenge the object, if players aim at its weak point they destroy it much faster. The problem was that in our early UX tests, we were observing players completely ignoring these weak points. This issue could be seen as trivial, but it potentially had a relatively huge impact in ripple effects, as the whole harvesting system was based off players using the weak points. Therefore, if they were not using it they were taking much longer than designed to harvest anything, which could in turn obviously impact their perception of the harvesting speed. This is why the team iterated a lot on this tiny UI element. First, it was made bigger and more obvious, as initially players were not even realizing that it was there. Once it was standing out more, players were spotting it but then thought it was a cue indicating to them which item they were currently targeting. In the end, designers removed the weak point from the initial experience in the “Save the World” mode (the player-versus-environment mode), so that players would have to unlock it in the skill tree. It thus became a meaningful reward with more fanfare, which overall did the trick. A majority of players were finally hitting the weak points after this change. At least in “Save the World” mode…
This iterative process was made possible also because the Fortnite team established a strong UX pipeline, which my former colleague Heather Chandler (former Senior Producer on Fortnite) and I explained in a GDC talk in 2016. We applied a scientific method to avoid falling prey to our biases as game developers and to objectively find what problems we needed to solve in priority during development, through careful UX testing and continuous online tests. UX research was entirely part of the production pipeline, and the team was tasked into fixing bugs related to UX research feedback. Having a strong UX focus means that it needs to be a priority for the team.
CONCLUSION: DEVELOPING A UX STRATEGY
Understanding the basics of how the brain works, following a UX framework, applying the scientific method, and establishing a UX pipeline allow game developers to reach their goals faster and more efficiently.
If you analyze a game like Fortnite through this UX lens, you can identify all the efforts that were made to make the game usable, to avoid as much confusion as possible, and to remove as many frustrations that were not by design. I explain a few examples in this video made with Ars Technica. In terms of engage-ability and motivation more specifically, Fortnite is a game where you always progress towards specific goals in the player-versus-environment mode (“Save the World”). In the “Battle Royale” mode in which players compete against each other, those who lose can quickly start again and hopefully get better the next round. The cosmetics options and dance moves offer good autonomy, as well as the “Creative Mode” in which players can build whatever they want. Relatedness is very strong in Fortnite: it’s a game where players can compete, cooperate, or just hang out. It has become more than a game; it’s a social platform where players chat, dance, are creative, or even watch a concert together. Also, well-known influencers and stars streamed the game early on, which made the game a must-try (although this is not something that can be anticipated during the development — luck also has a role). Regarding emotion, Fortnite has a very polished game feel: it is quite satisfying to interact with the environment. The world is goofy and encourages experimentation, as explained by Darren Sugg, Creative Director of Fortnite, in this Game UX Summit Europe keynote. The game also offers many surprises and mysteries. For instance, there is often something mysterious before a new season, which is raising players’ curiosity. Lastly, the gameflow of the game is polished, more specifically in “Save the World” mode where the onboarding has been carefully planned (see the transcript of my GDC 2015 talk and GDC 2016 talk explaining our onboarding plan and process).
Despite some lingering misconceptions about user experience and psychology, increasingly more studios are now trying to adopt a UX strategy, because of the objective guidance it offers. Making games is hard, and competition is fierce. UX offers a set of tools to reach our objectives faster and more efficiently. Building the user experience strategy for a project or a studio is more than merely applying certain tools and methodology; it’s a philosophy. All in all, it is about being in the mindset of placing the players (and not the business) first.
Celia Hodent, The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (CRC Press, 2017)
Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (MIT Press, 2013)
Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008)
You will find references on game design, UX, psychology, and more, on my webpage celiahodent.com/resources（source： Gamasutra ）