How to Make a Good Game UX

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What is Game UX and Why It is so Important

UX or User Experience is often paired with UI or User Interface. It is common in graphic design, but in game design the things are different. While UI describes an overall usability of the interface, the UX is needed to make it more clear for the player what’s going on. Like in Call of Duty: big red button “NO AMMO” and blood stained screen for “LOW HEALTH”.

The main difference between UI and UX is that the players must read the UI like a book. For example, look at the lower left corner and read the numbers to know how much health is left. A good UX will make the game itself tell it to the player without distracting him from gameplay. We’ll explain how it works.

So what is the game UX

The UX is needed to make a game fair to the players. “Unfair” means that the players might lose just because they didn’t get vital information in time. Or got it but it was impossible to read  during gameplay. The right way to tell the players something important is to make the game literally yell it with sounds, colors and visual effects.

Let’s return to an example with a health bar. Almost every game has its own health interface: Zelda series shows it with hearts, third person action games use long bars and first person shooters use precise numbers.

game ux ui example

In the middle of a fight the player is too busy  to look for the numbers or count hearts. So the “fair” game will warn the players more effectively:

  • play the loud warning sound;
  • make the edges of the screen turn red;
  • turn the screen black and white;
  • make the health bar blinking to attract attention.

This is the first kind of a game UX — a sign. It means to tell the players that something is happening and will happen if they won’t react to the warning. And if they don’t react then it’s their fault — not the game’s. Play the video with sound to hear the low health warning.

The second kind of UX is feedback. A feedback tells the players what they have done in a last moment and how it affects the game now. For example, the game must show when the player has activated a double damage bonus or loaded powerful bullets. The UI will display it with some fancy icon, but the UX will set the character’s fists on fire or make the gun shoot blue instead of orange traces.

The third kind of UX is a reward. A reward is shown when the player does something right. For example, an enemy can wobble or lean back after a successful hit, or the puzzle board can blow up with sparkles after the solution was found. Or, if UX is combined with UI, the crosshair may turn red for a second to show a hit and show additional marks to report a headshot. Notice the crosshair change when a player lands a headshot in Battlefield.

By adding these the game designers will help the player to understand the game better. Also it somehow simplifies and deepens the gameplay simulationesly. In first Assassin’s Creed there was an option to disable the interface. The player could orient without minimap by looking at landmarks and listening to the people, see Altair’s health by his posture and how much throwing knives he has by looking at the knife belt.

How to use UX to make a game better

There are two ways of using the UX: to give the player information and joy and to give him feelings.

Information and joy — these are all of the UX kinds described above. It’s only about a game designer’s fantasy to choose the particular way of warning, rewarding and giving feedback.

For example, in the Batman Arkham series Rocksteady Game Studio decided to focus on UX.

The players can beat the enemies just by pushing two buttons, but they still consider this combat system as one of the best. The reason is a good UX:

  • a warning — you can clearly see when the enemy tries to attack because of lightning markers above his head;
  • a feedback — you know that you’ve hit the enemy when he’s flying away from the Batman;
  • a reward — when you knock out an enemy the game slows down a little so you can taste that moment.

There are many games with better combat systems like Devil May Cry, Bayonetta and Assassin’s Creed Origins, but they don’t have such a great and informative UX.

Feelings — the game can involve the player into the plot by highlighting some emotional moments. For example, all action games and especially the Call of Duty series has some well directed cinematographic moments.

If the game lets the players turn their heads during these scenes, the players may just miss the important moments. To force the player to look where you need them to you can just highlight important parts, lock the camera or make it turn where you want the players to look.

And there is one sneaky trick left: to play a properly positioned sound. The curious players will turn their heads to locate that sound and will see what you’ve prepared for them.

Why does UX matter

A proper UX design helps the players to prepare for upcoming troubles and challenges. Here’s the prototype of Ori and the Blind Forest: notice how the orange layer of lava pops up and the screen is shaking before it bursts. A person who plays this game for the first time will notice it too and use it to plan moves and pass the level.

A UX also can help with onboarding or the First-Time Player Experience. Psychologists agree that people learn and remember better when the process of learning gives them emotions. Games in general provide two types of emotions: happiness and anger.

The player can experience happiness in Half-Life 2 by grabbing a saw blade with a gravity gun and launching it into a zombie. In other conditions it would take 6-8 pistol rounds to take off that zombie, but a single sawblade just cuts it in half. The player is happy: he learned that he can easily kill zombies with throwing objects on them.

And the anger may be experienced in any strategy game. If you build some infantry men to fight tanks you’ll have a hard time and a lot of anger. After getting in such a situation you will remember about tanks vs infantry for a whole lifetime. And now imagine, that you’ve read a hint “A bunch of soldiers won’t defeat a tank!” on a loading screen. We doubt you’ll remember it after a few minutes of dealing with other hints.

How to make a good UX for a game

At first you need to understand that the UX must help the players to come up with solutions for specific fresh tasks. Remember that lava from Ori and the Blind Forest prototype.

Now try to think about visual and sound effects which can help the player to find the solution. If you have no ideas — try playing the games of similar genre and look how they solved your problem. Ask yourself, if the players will be able to catch a hint from UX.

And when you solve the UX problem in prototype, let someone play it and watch their reaction. It will help you to improve UX further.


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