18 Oct 2014
How playing video games is influencing my design thinking
Many of my teenage years were made up of playing video games. My education and other social activities fell by the way side as I spent most of my time connected to the virtual world. I wasn’t necessarily addicted but I could quite easily play a game for 8–12 hours straight. As I got older other priorities muscled their way in. I began to spend more time on my university degree and less playing games. Then upon starting work, less again, until I played no games at all. Recently I have got back into video games. I don’t play as much as I did in my teenage years but I do spend a significant amount of my spare time playing games. The key here being spare time, it’s now something I only do if I have down-time.
I now have a completely different mind set when it comes to games, my game choices haven’t changed but the way I view them has. Playing games was always an enjoyable way to pass time, giving me the opportunity to be transported into another world. I could become immersed in a way that I never could in a film. Now I have a more analytical approach to playing games seeing not only the current mission but the design choices made behind the game. This started with my trip to Lionhead Studios where I did work experience to test a game called Fable 2. I played the same part of the game over and over again, reporting bugs and offering suggestions. This was the first time I saw another side of the video games industry.
I began to admire the finer details of video games, from the moment you are introduced to the game to the intricacies of the mechanics that leave you with a lasting positive experience, which encourages you to play more. Having studied design, and from working in the web industry, I began to view video game design as I would a website. This then lead me to think how the design choices in video games has potentially influenced my thinking in designing for the web.
One factor to a games success which is often overlooked is its user interface. Without a well thought out and easy to use UI a game can become frustrating to play, even if it has a great story or a good combat system. If navigating the various menus and HUD isn’t intuitive then the rest of the game suffers as a result. The same could be said for apps and websites, when navigating the product isn’t clear then the whole experience can fail, no matter what other great systems are in place.
Video games a are great way of seeing how creative you can get with a user interface without hindering the experience. Destiny is a prime example of this, it has a very clean and simple UI which uses a cursor to navigate the screen (this is not a standard convention for video game consoles).
This design invites the user to explore and discover the areas of the interface, using subtle effects and transitions to create delight while navigating. Yet it doesn’t hinder the experience of the game as the options available to you at any one time are limited. Overloading the design with options would ruin its intended purpose of exploration. It’s a great example of an effective way to encourage the user to take a journey through your product, leaving the experience of discovery with them.
Could this approach have the same effect with apps and sites? I believe so. We are always looking at ways to encourage our users to take a journey of exploration and discovery through our products. Why not look at a system that already achieves this? Yes the web has different restrictions to video game design that sets it apart, but the thinking is already in place. We just need to find a creative solution to applying this design thinking to other disciplines of interactive design.
I have only scratched the surface and plan to explore this idea further, looking at other areas of game design. Hopefully this encourages you to play video games and see how it could influence your decision making with other areas of design.
by Ben Darby — @ben_m_darby