How to Make Your Video Games Memorable with UX

the acagamic tip tuesday Mar 07, 2023
Two players looking at each each, comic style, female and male.

Some video games don't keep people interested after the first hour or so of gameplay. The problem is that there aren't enough memorable and exciting things for players to take away from the game. Sometimes, the game falls directly into grind mode. To fix this, it's vital to give players accurate and consistent feedback, cues, and reminders of their progress, goals, and tasks as they play.

In the AAA games of today, players can play a massive variety of gameplay styles. So, game developers need to make experiences that people will remember. If people don't like a game, they'll move on to the next one quickly. For a game to be a huge hit, it must be fun and leave players with a lasting impression.

Some game designers try to solve the player retention problem by adding more content, features, or flashy graphics. However, these approaches often overlook the importance of providing precise and consistent feedback, cues, and reminders of players' progress, goals, and tasks throughout the game. Something that UX designers are pretty familiar with.

Flooding players with information or alerts is not the right way to solve the problem. This method can quickly become too much and take away from the fun of playing. Players must understand what information they are getting and how it relates to their progress and goals.

To best solve the problem of facilitating memorability and retention in video games, UX designers in games should follow these simple steps to design a better game UX:

1. Identify the goals and tasks of the game

The first step is to determine the game's main goals and tasks. This includes goals for the immediate and overall gameplay (i.e., what to do right now and what to do to achieve the main goal). Think of this as phases vs. sessions. It must be clear what to do for each stage in the game (whether that’s an encounter or something else that happens regularly). And also, for each session (e.g., level or chapter or larger unit of play), you have to tell players why they are in the situation they are in and what to do about it. Players must know how to move forward in the game and reach their goals. By laying out the goals and tasks, designers can make a clear path for players to follow and give them clear feedback on their actions. Also, this makes each chunk of the game easier to test.

2. Provide feedback on progress

Once the goals and tasks have been identified and broken down into their chunks in the game, designers need to provide feedback on players' progress. This feedback can be in the form of visual cues, sounds, or text.

  • A sound cue could be a chime or a voice that indicates when players have completed a quest or unlocked an achievement. In "The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild," players receive visual and audio cues when discovering new locations or completing objectives. When players find a new shrine, for example, a loud chime plays and the shrine's location is marked on the game's map.
  • A text cue could be a pop-up message or a dialogue box that shows the players’ score, rank, or rating. In "Minecraft," players are given achievements for completing specific tasks, such as "Taking Inventory" for opening their inventory for the first time. These achievements are displayed in a list that players can access at any time to see their progress.
  • A visual cue could be a flashing screen or a player avatar that signals when players are in danger or low on health. Or it could be a progress bar that fills up as players complete objectives. In "Assassin's Creed: Valhalla," completing specific quests fills up a meter that tracks the player's progress toward the next skill point. This meter is displayed on the game's HUD, giving players a visual cue of their progress.
  • A mix of positive and negative feedback could be a reward system that gives players coins, items, or bonuses for doing well, and penalties, losses, or setbacks for doing poorly.
  • A feedback system that shows progress towards goals could be a map that highlights the players’ location, objectives, and landmarks. “The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim” features a map that shows players' location, objectives, and landmarks. The map also includes a compass that points towards the player's current objective, making navigating the game world easier.

The player's journey isn't complete without feedback. It keeps them interested and keeps them going during the game. Feedback also lets the player know they are on the right track and gives them a sense of accomplishment.

3. Create meaningful rewards

Rewards are a powerful tool in video games, but they must be meaningful to the player. Some video game examples with meaningful rewards are:

  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild: In this action-adventure game, shrines are small challenge/puzzle-filled dungeons found all over the game world. Completing shrines can lead to significant rewards. When players finish a shrine, they get a spirit orb that they can use to improve their hearts/health or stamina.
  • Hollow Knight: In this 2D platformer, players can beat bosses and explore new areas to earn rewards that matter in the game. When players beat a boss, they get a new skill or upgrade that helps them get around the game world and beat more challenging enemies.
  • Super Mario Odyssey: In this 3D platformer, players can get good rewards by collecting power moons, which are used to power the Odyssey, Mario's spaceship that looks like a hat. Each power moon a player collects gives them access to a new area or challenge, giving them a sense of progress and discovery.

So, the most meaningful rewards in games are new abilities, items, or access to new areas. Designers can incentivize players to continue playing and achieve their objectives by providing meaningful rewards in a scaffolded sequence throughout the entire game, broken down into meaningful chunks at a time.

4. Remind players of their progress and goals

During a game, players often have more than one goal, and it's easy to forget what they need to do next. Players can stay on track if reminded of their progress and goals. This can be a pop-up reminder, or a list of goals players can view at any time. Here is how some games create progress reminders:

  • World of Warcraft: This massively multiplayer online role-playing game (MMORPG) has a quest log that players can check at any time to see their current goals and progress. The game also includes quest markers and a minimap that highlights the location of objectives, helping players stay on track.
  • Grand Theft Auto V: In this open-world game, players can look at their current goals and progress on a phone menu. The game has a minimap that shows where to go to complete tasks, to make it easier to travel around.
  • Assassin's Creed Valhalla: Here, players can access a quest log that displays their current objectives and progress. Here also, a minimap is available in the game to show players where they need to go to complete specific tasks.

Most games use a journal or menu to let players know where in the task or quest progression of the current game chunk they are at. This makes it easier for players to get back into the game if they’ve stopped playing for a little while.

5. Use storytelling to create a memorable experience

Finally, storytelling can be a powerful tool for creating a memorable gaming experience. Our brains respond to stories extremely well, and they are a way for us to make sense of information. Some games are excellent at telling compelling stories:

  • The Last of Us: There is not doubt about the greatness of the story here with it recently being turned into a hit HBO TV show. The game features a gripping story that follows a man and a teenage girl as they navigate a post-apocalyptic world filled with infected creatures and ruthless survivors. The game's characters and story have been praised for their emotional depth and realism. The dynamic between the two main characters is powerful.
  • Bioshock: The game's original plot is set in the underwater metropolis of Rapture. The game's story, which has been acclaimed for its immersive world-building, delves into Objectivist concepts and the repercussions of uncontrolled ambition.
  • Gone Home: The main character of this game is a young woman who, after returning from an overseas trip, discovers that her family has vanished. The game's story and characters have received high accolades for their relatability and realism in depicting the dynamics of a family.

It's impossible to exaggerate the importance of games' narratives. A well-told story can set a game out from the competition and make it stand out in the player's mind. Developers may construct a world that players care about exploring and the characters they root for by carefully balancing these three elements: characters, plot, and setting.

Memorable and engaging video game experiences require more than adding content or features. Your job as a UX designer in a game is to provide precise and consistent feedback, cues, and reminders of players' progress, goals, and tasks throughout the game. Following the five steps I’ve outlined above should get you started with creating a more memorable experience for players and setting your game up for success.





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