UI Overload on Mobile
2017 | Goodgame Studios
This freemium mobile massively multiplayer online strategy game focuses on complex research and economic cycle. Inspired by Mobile Strike and Game of War, it still takes its own direction with additional gameplay layers (e.g. mining, rallying). (Empire: Millennium Wars).
Leading the UX design with a wild cluster of highly skilled UI artists that never really heard about UX design in gaming
A 30+ team with fluctuations and changing scopes.
Up to 5 UI artists were working together without critical tools like style guides or scalable design pipelines.
I joined the team pretty far down the road, when the team realizes that the UX needs improvements.
What I've achieved
Critical UX improvements in all main dialog flows
Better tools for the design team
Better visual alignment within the team
Clear UX guidelines for new features
Improved consistency and accessibility across all interface components
What I've learned
Sometimes more people doesn't increase the production speed, especially when the workflow does not scale well.
Documentation and communication is the most critical asset if you want to save costs and develop faster.
Interface animations are not fluff or additional luxury - they are critical components of a great user experience - especially in games.
Tying Your Shoes While Running
When I joined the team, five UI Artists were working on the product. The main architecture was already developed and a lot of interface elements were implemented. The design team was working without a style guide and without a shared UI library.
Different tools let to different deliverables and developers were often not sure which was the latest version of a design. Five game designers were doing the wireframes which were approved by different people. Before I could take care of any UX related tasks, I knew that I had to remedy this situation.
Redefining the design process
After observing the project dynamics and sprint results for two weeks, I set up a meeting with the design team to discuss and agree on several necessary action items:
Creating and committing to a single product vision
Establishing a single source of truth for any design deliverable (including update loops)
Simplify approval loops
Integrate UX as a facilitator between product management, UI artists, Game Design and Development
Regular small sync meetings for the first couple of weeks to align all designers
After a couple of days playing the game and analyzing competitors with a similar core loop and UI cycle, I wrote a 20 pages report with live examples of all crucial pain points. Together with Game Design and Product Management, we went through the list and prioritized the action items.
Based on the approved list, I could start working on solutions and new features.
Building scalable interfaces and world items that remain usable throughout all stages of progress heavily relies on testing and scale up scenarios with real content. A big challenge in games is often user generated content and its constraints. Designing with scalability in mind means more than character limitations or providing enough white space.
Sample - Monetization optimation
Flow sample - Base building
Manager panel - quick improvements
Inventory screen - quick improvement
Readability issues with user generated content.
Classic example of UI art without UX consultation. Users have trouble identifying the different selected and states in this progress tree.
Once the product vision was defined, I had a better understanding of how the interface should be recognized. Interactive demos helped us with internal playtests and feature evaluations. A better interface feedback allowed us to minimize certain areas that were necessary beforehand to guide the player through the task. The whole onboarding flow was iteratively prototyped with Framer before implementation.
Sample - micro animations to communicate status changes.
Empty states and server response times needed a solid feedback too.
This prototype helped us to test different lengths and flows for the on-boarding experience.
Play the game
That was a piece of hard work. The more we worked together as a team and provided constructive feedback the better the output and speed. I joined the team when user experience was a fairly new discipline in the studio an most of the product design work was done by game designers without a different focus on the outcome. Game designers were happy to let go of some critical interface design tasks in order to focus on more deep game related topics like monetization, end game scaling and the complex economy cycle.