Videogames and the user experience

By Philip Morton

When we talk about user experience, we’re often referring to websites and applications on desktop computers and mobile devices. A game’s user experience is extremely important in video gaming but is often overlooked.

On the whole, the objectives users have when playing videogames and the way in which they interact with them is wildly different to, say, booking a holiday online. Yet in some games, menu systems outside of the core gameplay comprise much of the user experience and here lessons from the web and other applications can be applied.

For instance, time spent in FIFA 11’s Career Mode is almost equally split between playing football and navigating menus to perform other tasks, such as managing your team. It may come as a surprise then, that while its gameplay offers one of the most realistic simulations of football to date, the UX outside of these matches is extremely poor.

Perhaps the best example of this is the choice you are presented with when you first start FIFA 11’s Career Mode. Many people will want to play a career where they control the entire team in matches, plus all of the team management and transfers outside of them. This is the most traditional way to play the game, but which option would you select to do this?

The first option appears to map to one of the game’s features where you control a single player. The second mentions picking squads and tactics, but nothing about controlling your team in matches, so this implies that you would adopt the sole responsibility of being a manager. The third option, then, seems the most reasonable choice.

If you choose this third option, as many will no doubt do, you won’t get the Career Mode you’re expecting. With this, you’d manage the team, but only control a single player in matches. The correct choice for many who want a traditional FIFA career is the second, ‘Manager’, even though its description mentions nothing about playing football.

It’s no secret that the videogames industry does a lot of testing, with many full-time employees dedicated to it. Yet this testing appears to focus almost entirely on the core gameplay and technical issues, not the overall user experience. If a high profile, multi-million pound game like FIFA 11 has such basic UX issues, you can imagine how many other games have similar problems.

In recent years, the videogames industry has made a move to expand their market by attracting ‘casual gamers’. If they’re serious about retaining these new customers, then developers and publishers need to test not only technical aspects of games, but the user experience too.

Read review of FIFA 11 (opens in new window)

Philip Morton

I help businesses create better products and services by putting customer insight at the heart of the design process. In the last six years, I've worked with the likes of Sony PlayStation, HSBC, Sega, Tesco and TSB. In that time, I've seen our research, design and strategy work improve both the experience for customers and commercial outcomes for clients.

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