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长文:从用户体验和玩家心理的角度分析《堡垒之夜》的成功

发布时间:2019-09-04 08:44:35 Tags:,

长文:从用户体验和玩家心理的角度分析《堡垒之夜》的成功

原作者:Celia Hodent 译者:Vivian Xue

《堡垒之夜》是史上最成功的游戏之一,它的成功也引发了许多人的好奇和思索:为什么它能够成为一款现象级游戏?作为前Epic Games用户体验主管,我在2013-2017年间参与制作《堡垒之夜》,我想从用户体验的角度谈谈团队一路走来采取的策略,它们如何造就了如今这款现象级游戏。我的心理学专业知识背景、我从事的用户体验师这一职业,以及我个人在这款游戏开发中所做的工作,可能导致我的观点存在些许偏见,毕竟人很容易受到潜意识中偏见的影响。然而,与先前发表的分析文章不同的是,这篇分析的内容直接来源于《堡垒之夜》发行前我在游戏开发者大会(GDC)上所做的数次演讲,以及我在2017年出版的书籍《玩家的大脑:神经科学和用户体验如何影响游戏设计》(The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design)。

《堡垒之夜》团队在开发游戏时抱着明确的目标,并与用户体验团队紧密合作,打造一款忠于目标并能得到不同类型玩家青睐的游戏。我认为《堡垒之夜》的成功离不开他们时刻站在用户体验的角度思考设计。我写这篇文章的目的正在于解释如何建立这种思维模式、如何制定用户体验策略,帮助世界各地的游戏开发者更快获得成功。这对于独立开发者来说尤为重要,因为他们拥有的资源更少,却要和每年发行的数千款游戏竞争。

Building in Fortnite(from gamasutra.com)

Building in Fortnite(from gamasutra。com)

我将详细说明我们在制作《堡垒之夜》的过程中,建立用户体验思维最重要的3个步骤:

-理解玩家的大脑
-遵循一套用户体验设计准则(游戏可用性和参与性的指导原则)
-应用科学的方法&建立用户体验流程

大脑学习过程:

感知(输入)→信息处理(影响因素:注意力、情感、动机)→记忆(突触可塑性)

1. 理解大脑的运作

建立用户体验思维的第一步是理解大脑的运作方式。人们发现和体验一款游戏,包括其他产品,这个过程发生在脑海中。因此,要想预测玩家将如何体验一款游戏,关键在于弄清大脑的主要能力和限制。对思维过程(比如注意力和记忆)的研究被称为认知科学。上面这张简图展示了我们学习或处理信息时大脑的运作过程。

这个过程从对输入内容(比如一段教程文字)的感知开始,当我们处理通过感知器官(我们拥有超过五种感知器官)传递的信息时,我们的记忆很可能发生变化。当我们开始学习新知识时,大脑中将产生新的突触——神经之间的连接——或者原本的突触被增强。你在日常生活中做的任何事——读一本书、看一部电影、和朋友聊天、阅读文章等等——都将“重新书写”你的大脑,因为大脑内的连接不是一成不变的,而是可延展的。正因为这种可塑性,我们才能够适应变化的环境。从感知外界刺激到形成调整后的记忆,我们的大脑中发生了许多变化。值得注意的是,我们的学习结果会受到许多因素的影响,比如注意力、动机和情感。

人们在处理信息时的注意力程度是影响信息的学习和储存的关键因素。你的注意力越集中,你就越能有效地处理和储存周遭的信息。我将解释感知、记忆和注意过程存在的限制,以及我们在制作《堡垒之夜》时是如何解读这些限制的。注意,大脑是极其复杂的。我们处理信息的过程并不像上图中展示的那样简单,它不是一个线性的过程,甚至不算一个过程。我们在解释大脑运作方式时,经常用电脑作比喻,因为它是一个非常生动的比喻。但大脑的运作方式和电脑并不一样。它更复杂,科学家们也仅仅初步了解了这个运作过程。接下来我要简要地解释这些思维过程的限制,如果你想进一步了解这些方面,你可以阅读我2015年游戏开发者大会演讲的记录。

感知

感知是一种思维的构建,是一个主观的过程。请看下面这张图。你觉得它是什么?色彩条纹?也许是一个个人?《街头霸王》里的角色?人们对同一输入内容的感知是不尽相同的,取决于他们对游戏的了解程度和个人的感悟。如果你是色盲,这张图对你来说毫无意义(如有冒犯请见谅!)。无论我们设计的是什么,我们必须让产品或系统被所有人理解。这也解释了为什么我们不能仅靠色彩来传递信息。

感知是一个主观的过程。取决于我们的DNA、知识背景、期待、文化和语境等因素。这也为电子游戏制作带来了诸多问题,因为我们希望玩家按照我们预期的方式理解游戏。如果感知是主观的,我们该怎样确保游戏中的视觉效果和声音效果按照我们预期的方式被理解呢?简单来说,我们做不到。这也是为什么我们必须进行用户体验测试,邀请目标玩家体验正在开发的游戏。用户体验测试的形式有很多,但我们主要通过调查来确定目标玩家是否按照我们的期待理解游戏。例如,2013年时,我们邀请了一群玩家试玩游戏模型,我们询问他们游戏图标代表的意义。结果玩家们对陷阱图标产生了不同理解,有人觉得它代表弹药、或者树。因此正如我在2014年游戏开发者大会上谈到的,图标设计者对图标的理解和玩家的理解存在偏差。由于陷阱是《堡垒之夜》的一个主要功能,我们必须修改这个图标,消除玩家可能产生的误解。在用户测试结束后,我们决定把它改成一个类似捕熊夹的图案。《堡垒之夜》中并没有捕熊夹这个陷阱,但所有测试玩家都能理解它的意义。这个案例表明人们对同一件事物的理解是不同的,无论是用户界面元素、角色设计、声音效果、视觉效果还是环境。

记忆

记忆是另一个值得我们考虑的重要元素。我们拥有记住大量信息的能力,有时我们可以记住很久以前发生的事情。然而我们也会忘记许多事。18世纪末期,德国心理学家赫尔曼·艾宾浩斯发现了记忆快速下降的规律。他将这一规律制成了著名的“遗忘曲线”。为了绘制这幅曲线图,他强迫自己一串毫无意义的音节(避免熟悉因素的干扰),并在某些时刻回忆这些音节。下面这张图展示了他的研究发现:当他记住所有音节后,他可以立即把它们复述出来,此时成功的记忆量是100%。

19分钟后,记忆量降低至60%,24小时后降低至30%。这意味着如果你学习一些毫无意义的东西,并且未采用任何方法,你将在第二天丢失70%所学的东西。这一点对于电子游戏来说是相当不利的,特别是那些需要数天、数周甚至数月或数年才能打完的游戏。鉴于人类的记忆是有限的,我们注定会遗忘许多东西,我们要怎样确保回归游戏的玩家不会忘记所有关键信息呢?许多游戏采取了相应策略,例如通过教程重新提示玩家。然而,防止遗忘最有效的方法是减少玩家的记忆负担。始终显示的信息越多,玩家需要学习和记忆的信息就越少,因此一个优秀的HUD很重要。

HUD减轻了玩家的记忆负担,比如记住当前携带的枪支或技能是什么,还剩多少弹药,下一个目标是什么。在《堡垒之夜》中,许多信息始终显示在屏幕上,例如切换某个物品/功能应按什么键。玩家不需要记住这些信息,它们总是显示在用户界面上。另外,我们允许玩家自定义HUD,玩家可以将自己感兴趣的物品合成配方挂在屏幕上,他们不需要记住需要采集多少个原材料,他们只需要专注于实现目标。我们的记忆很容易出错。当我们回到一款很久没打的游戏时,忘记了操作方式、目标或者某些系统的运作方式令人很受挫。减轻玩家的记忆负担至关重要,我们不希望玩家因为记不住关键信息而失去兴趣。

注意力

最后,让我们谈谈注意力。即便我们认为自己的调查环境的能力很强,我们的注意力仍然是有限的。我们无法扫描周遭发生的一切,注意力的作用方式就像聚光灯;我们将注意力投注到某些事物上,同时过滤掉其它刺激因素,就像你在一间吵闹的酒吧里试图听清朋友在说什么。这意味着我们无法有效地同时进行多个任务,尽管大多数人认为自己可以。当我们同时进行多个任务时,我们会错失很多信息,并且意识不到自己犯了错误。

YouTube上有个视频Test Your Awareness: Do The Test,测试结果涉及到一个现象“非注意盲视”:当我们集中注意力处理一件任务时,我们无法注意到与该任务无关的刺激现象(即便是一个意外事件!)许多游戏在挑战玩家的注意极限,当玩家掌握了游戏后这样做当然没问题。然而,让玩家在学习和探索的过程中同时进行多项任务,可能会导致他们错过重要信息,例如,在战斗过程中突然弹出恢复血量的教程。玩家因被打扰而感到恼怒倒还好,最糟糕的情况是,他们因此跳过了弹出的关键信息,更别提处理和记忆这些信息了。由于人的注意力有限,游戏开发者应时刻注意避免造成过度的记忆负担,特别是在教程部分,因为这部分需要的注意力更多。

总结一下,当我们在学习和处理信息时,我们的感知是主观的,我们的注意力是有限的,我们的记忆会出错。这也是为什么我们必须站在玩家的角度设计用户界面。

Fortnite(from apple.com)

Fortnite(from apple.com)

2. 用户体验设计准则

“用户体验”是由唐纳德·诺曼(苹果公司前副总裁,著名书籍《日常用品设计》作者)在上个世纪90年代创造出来的术语,它指用户使用某一项产品、系统和服务的整个体验过程:包括第一次听说产品、购买或下载它,与它交互,以及最终对它产生的印象。我们将重点放在玩家体验游戏的过程上。为了预测所有由非设计问题导致的挫折,从而创造最具吸引力、最有趣的游戏,我们在设计用户体验的过程中遵循两大准则:“可用性”(usability)和 “参与性”(engage-ability)。

用户体验=可用性+参与度

1. 可用性

可用性指的是游戏可以被使用的能力,这意味着我们必须考虑到玩家的感知、注意力和记忆的限制。可用性是一个众所周知的用户体验支柱因素,并且多年来工业设计和电子产品设计行业已经建立起了明确的指导原则。最著名的是雅各布·尼尔森提出的“可用性准则”。我对这些准则进行了调整,使它们更适用于游戏开发,更贴近游戏开发术语。游戏可用性准则如下:

-图标与反馈
-清晰
-形式服从功能
-一致性
-最小化负担
-防止错误操作和错误操作恢复
-灵活性和简易性

如果你想要深入地了解这些准则,我建议你阅读我2014年欧洲游戏者开发大会演讲记录。这些准则的目的是确保游戏尽可能人性化、易使用。我们努力消除一切由非设计问题造成的玩家挫败感,比如浏览菜单困难,不好理解的图标,或者令人困惑的系统。游戏中所有的刺激元素(也就是“图标与反馈”)必须清晰、一致并且能够按照预期被玩家理解。我们试图最小化玩家的认知负担(比如记忆和注意力负担)和体力负担(比如完成一个动作需要点击鼠标多少次)。我们还努力确保玩家不会遇到令人沮丧的错误,或者当这些错误并非我们想有意为难玩家的地方时,玩家可以轻易地从中恢复。举个例子,在《堡垒之夜》中,我们希望考验玩家能否策略性地生存,同时完成战斗、采集、制造和建造。然而,我们不希望玩家在弄清如何装备物品或者制造武器上犯难。最后,我们试图提供多种选项——例如自定义操作界面、字幕,以及色盲模式——确保任何玩家都能享受游戏。在《堡垒之夜》的开发过程中,我们进行了无数次用户体验测试,从而不断地提升和打磨游戏的可用性。

2。 参与性

可用性对于任何产品来说都很关键,包括游戏,然而一款游戏可能上手简单(人性化的用户界面,玩家能轻松地理解目标、完成动作)但很无聊。与工具类产品不同(如浏览器或办公软件),电子游戏不是一种实现目的的手段,一般人打游戏纯粹只是为了享受乐趣。因此,如果游戏不够吸引人,即便再容易人们也不想玩。唐纳德·诺曼提出一个叫“情感设计”(Emotional design)的概念,指出任何产品的意义不仅在于实现功能。但对于游戏来说,情感设计不但重要,还是关键所在。游戏开发者经常讨论乐趣或沉浸度,而我倾向于使用参与度(engagement)来指代游戏的吸引力,因为这个概念更加具体易分析。和可用性相比,参与性是一个更模糊的概念;因为我们永远无法完全预料或理解为什么人们会做某件事。因此,在提高参与性方面并不存在任何详实的指导原则。根据我在Ubisoft、 LucasArts和 Epic Games的工作经验,我认为影响参与性的三大支柱因素为:

1. 动机(Motivation)
2. 情感(Emotion)
3. 游戏流(Gameflow)

如果你想详细了解它们,可查看我2017年的游戏开发者大会演讲。

1. 动机

我们做任何事都出于某种动机。因此动机是参与性的核心。然而,即便存在无数有关人类动机的理论,我们仍然无法对所有人类行为做出解释。在所有重要的动机类型中,我们重点关注最适用于游戏的两类动机:外在动机和内在动机。

当你进行某件事的目的是为了另一件事时,你的行为动机就属于外在动机。比如,在游乐园里排队玩项目。排队是一种达成目的的手段。电子游戏常常对外在动机施加控制:玩家必须完成任务、行动或者采集足够的资源才能得到奖励。明确的目标和奖励对于保持玩家的参与度来说至关重要,例如完成挑战后可以得到什么奖励、解锁什么技能。但这是不够的。

游戏开发者还应考虑内在动机,即我们做某事的动机只是为了享受乐趣,而不是外在奖励。有关内在动机最可靠的理论是“自我决定理论”(Self-determination theory)。该理论表明当某件事满足了胜任(competence)、自主(autonomy)和关系(relatedness)三种心理需求时,我们更有可能发自内心地去做这件事。

胜任主要指一种进步感,无论是能力进步(比如建造速度更快了)还是非能力进步(比如升级并购买使自己更强的技能)。若我们在进行某项活动的过程中(比如学习吉他和减肥)感受不到进步,我们很容易放弃。这也解释了为什么我们喜欢进度条,不仅在于它预示着完成关卡后能获得奖励,更在于我们能见证自己朝着目标迈进,对自己越来越有信心。

自主在于自我表达。自由选择肤色、胜利动作或完成挑战的方式使我们感觉更自主。这也解释了为什么沙盒游戏(例如《我的世界》或《侠盗猎车手5》)是如此吸引人,因为它们提供许多自定义选项(并且这些选项对玩家都是有意义的)。

最后,关系指玩家在游戏中与其它人建立有意义的联系。人类是社交动物,多人游戏通过竞争或合作模式满足玩家的关系需求。尽管如此,合作比竞争更吸引人,这也是为什么大多数竞技游戏都提供合作模式(如团战或团队对抗团队)。

2. 情感

游戏中的情感包括 “游戏感(game feel)”和提供新内容两个方面。“游戏感”指玩家与游戏互动时的感觉。游戏感与视角、操作和角色有关。它是一种“身临其境的感觉(sense of presence)”,能够带来这种感觉的有:对玩家行为做出恰当反应的AI角色,一个有意义的故事或优质的配乐等等。它还与游戏的真实感有关,这里指的是游戏整体内容的真实可感,而不是画面的写实性。情感还在于为玩家提供惊喜和新鲜感,我就不详细讨论这个方面了。我们偶尔需要一些新鲜事物打破无聊。这也解释了为什么在线游戏需要不断推出新的内容、活动、模式、皮肤或者赛季。

3. 游戏流

游戏流(Gameflow)来源于心理学概念——“心流 (Flow)”,心理学家米哈里·契克森米哈赖对“心流”进行了探索研究。当他在寻找快乐的秘诀时,他发现那些快乐的人更经常处于“心流”状态中。当你专注于某件有意义且具有挑战性的活动时,你便进入了“心流”状态,比如在工作中发挥创造力(画画、编织、演奏),或者玩某些游戏时。对游戏流进行广泛探索的代表游戏是陈星汉的《浮游》、《花》和《风之旅人》。游戏流的一个重要组成部分是挑战。一款游戏必须拥有适当的难度曲线,既不会太简单(令人无聊)也不会太难(令人过于紧张)。这正是游戏和其它产品的区别所在:在设计游戏用户体验时,你必须挑战用户。游戏开发者必须小心地设计“摩擦 (friction)”——玩家需要克服的阻碍。这也是为什么多人游戏必须完善匹配机制,使技术相当的玩家对抗。秒杀或者被人秒杀都不好玩。

游戏流还在于节奏,即游戏对紧张和压力节奏的把控。一款游戏需要一些紧张的时刻,也需要一些休闲放松的时刻。比如在动作游戏中敌人分批进攻,而在吃鸡游戏中,玩家在搜集物资时相对平静,随着地图缩小卷入一次次对抗中。最后但很重要的一点是用户引导,用户引导对游戏流来说同样至关重要。为了达到“心流”状态,玩家必须理解游戏的意义以及如何成功(至少懂得如何在游戏过程中提升表现)。这也是为什么正确地引导玩家很关键,优雅地与游戏融为一体的教程能够极大地提高沉浸感。用户引导的意义在于确保玩家能胜任游戏。当然他们会出错,可能还会挂掉好几次,但如果游戏使玩家了解发生了什么,下一次如何提升,他们将取得进步。正如前面所说,进步感是主要内在动机之一。若你想了解更多关于用户引导的知识,你可以看看我在2016年游戏开发者大会的演讲。

这些可用性及参与性支柱因素共同构成了一套用户体验设计准则,为游戏开发提供了有效的指导。我们根据这些准则寻找最需要调整的问题,以及导致游戏无法达到最佳状态的缺失功能和元素。成功的游戏没有固定公式,但这些准则为我们提供了创造一个可行有趣的游戏体验的关键原材料。开发者可以利用这些原料,根据他们想要创造的体验和目标受众,调制出自己的公式。

应用科学的方法&建立用户体验流程

了解了人脑的限制并遵循用户体验设计准则,我们的游戏开发就获得了良好的开端,但运用科学的方法,建立一个用户体验流程,从而寻找并优先解决用户体验问题同样很关键。解决问题相对来说是容易的,寻找真正的问题并解决它困难多了。由于人不可避免地存在偏见,受到主观认知、有限注意力和易出错的记忆的影响,仅仅依靠团队成员(有时甚至是高管)的直觉将严重耽误问题的解决。这也是为什么我们必须依赖用户体验调查来寻找和优先解决问题。用户体验调查员通过科学的方法与游戏团队合作提出假设,并设计相应的实验方案,然后收集和分析数据同时尽可能地消除偏见因素。一旦发现了一个重大的问题,团队必须思考它产生的原因。

例如,在《堡垒之夜》开发早期,在alpha封测结束后,一些玩家抱怨游戏太肝。他们感觉升级过程中采集物资制作高级物品耗费的时间太长了。这个问题从何而来?难道是游戏的设计出了问题吗?系统设计师重新验证了数据,确认采集和制造系统的平衡性没有问题。那么为什么玩家们会产生这种抱怨呢?为了解决这个问题,我们进行了长期调查。如果不是设计导致的,那么有可能是玩家的主观感知导致的。因此我们审查了许多元素。其中之一是游戏的用户界面中的一个叫做“弱点 (weak point)”的功能。在《堡垒之夜》中,当玩家采集资源(比如一堆石头)时,物体上将显示一个 “弱点”,鼓励玩家点击它。如果玩家点击“弱点”,他们就能更快地摧毁物体获得资源。但在我们的早期用户体验测试中,我们发现玩家完全无视这些“弱点”。这个问题看似微不足道,却引发了严重的连锁效应,由于整个采集系统的数据平衡都基于玩家点击这些“弱点”,因此,如果玩家不点击它们,那么采集时间就会比我们预计得要长,这也导致了玩家对采集耗时长的抱怨。因此团队对于这个小小的用户体验元素进行了多次修改。首先,“弱点”从视觉效果上被放大、更显眼。当“弱点”变得更显眼后,玩家终于注意到了它,但他们以为这是在提示他们当前操作的物品。最终,设计师在“Save the World”模式(PvE模式)去掉了“弱点”,把它变成了一个可解锁的技能。这个技能瞬间变得有意义,得到了许多玩家的好评,基本上解决了这个问题。大部分玩家在新版中开始点击“弱点”。至少在“Save the World”模式中……

我们之所以能够对这个功能进行修改,是因为《堡垒之夜》团队建立了一个有效的用户体验流程,我的前同事希瑟·钱德勒(《堡垒之夜》前资深制作人)和我在2016年的游戏开发者大会演讲中介绍了这个流程。我们应用科学的方法防止自己受到开发者身份产生的偏见的影响,并在开发过程中通过严格的用户体验测试和在线测试,客观地寻找问题并优先解决问题。用户体验调查是流程中的关键一环,我们团队制定了任务,解决一切在用户体验调查中发现的问题。团队将改善用户体验作为工作重中之重。

总结:制定用户体验策略

理解人脑的基本运作方式,遵循用户体验设计准则,运用科学的方法,建立一个用户体验流程将帮助开发者更高效地实现目标。

当你从用户体验的视角分析《堡垒之夜》,你将看到我们为了提升游戏可用性、尽可能避免造成误解以及消除一系列非设计问题造成的挫败感所付出的努力。我在这个视频中介绍了一些例子。就参与性和玩家动机而言,在PvE(Save the World)模式中,《堡垒之夜》让玩家时刻朝着明确的目标前进。在吃鸡模式中,失败的玩家能迅速重新开始,在下一轮中取得更好的表现。游戏的装扮和胜利姿势选项提供了自主性,还有一个“创造模式(Creative Mode)”能够让玩家自由建造任何东西。《堡垒之夜》有效满足了玩家的关系需求,玩家可以在游戏中竞争、合作甚至聚会玩耍。它不仅是一款游戏,它还是一个能够让玩家聊天、跳舞、发挥创意甚至一起看演唱会的社交平台。此外,许多知名主播和明星很早就开始直播游戏,使玩家们纷纷尝试 (当然这一点是我们在开发过程中没有料到的——有时运气也是成功的因素之一)。在情感方面,《堡垒之夜》的制作使人感觉很精致,与环境的互动令人满意。游戏世界画风搞笑滑稽,鼓励玩家探索尝试,正如游戏的创意总监达伦·苏格在欧洲游戏用户体验峰会上谈到的。游戏中还充满了各种惊喜和神秘感。例如,新赛季到来前,游戏中会出现一些神秘元素,从而刺激玩家的好奇心。最后,游戏流十分完善,特别是在“Save the World”模式中,我们精心设计了用户引导(详见2015和2016年的游戏开发者大会演讲)。

尽管行业对用户体验和用户心理仍然存在一定误解,但越来越多的工作室尝试建立用户体验策略,因为它能够提供一个非常客观的指导。制作游戏是困难的,游戏竞争是激烈的。用户体验提供了一系列帮助我们更高效达成目标的工具。对于一个项目乃至整个工作室来说,建立用户体验策略不仅在于运用某些工具和方法论,它应该成为贯穿整个开发过程的理念。归根结底,它是一种将玩家(而非盈利)放在首位的思维模式。

参考引用:

Celia Hodent, The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (CRC Press, 2017)

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (MIT Press, 2013)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008)

你可以在我的网站celiahodent.com/resources上找到更多有关游戏设计、用户体验、心理等等的参考资料。

本文由游戏邦编译,转载请注明来源,或咨询微信zhengjintiao

Fortnite is one of the most successful video games in history, and this success fascinates and confuses many people who have made efforts to account for how a game could have become such a phenomenon so quickly. As the former Director of User Experience (UX) at Epic Games, where I worked on Fortnite from 2013 to late 2017, I would like to share the different steps that were taken by the Fortnite team to build what would later become the phenomenon we now know, through the lens of UX. My background in psychology, my occupation as a UX strategist, and my personal work on the game likely bias my perspective since we are all susceptible to unconscious biases. However, this analysis, unlike those that have been proposed thus far, is a firsthand account that was presented in several Game Developers Conference (GDC) talks that I gave before Fortnite was released, and in my book The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (2017).

The Fortnite team had a precise vision and collaborated very closely with the UX team to deliver a game that would be true to this vision and that would appeal to many different types of players. My contention is that the success of Fortnite is linked to their efforts in adopting a UX mindset. My goal here is to explain how to develop such a game UX mindset and build a UX strategy to help game developers around the world find success more quickly with the games they are crafting. This is especially crucial for independent developers who have fewer resources yet still compete with the thousands of games released every year.

I will detail here the three most important steps to develop a game UX mindset, which were taken during the development of Fortnite:

-Understanding the player’s brain
-Following a game UX framework (guidelines to usability and engage-ability)
-Applying the scientific method & establishing a UX pipeline

UNDERSTANDING THE GAMER’S BRAIN

This success story narrated through the lens of UX starts by understanding how the brain operates. Discovering and experiencing a video game, like anything else, happens in people’s minds. Thus, to anticipate how players will experience a game, it is critical to know the main capabilities and limitations of our brains. The study of mental processes (such as attention or memory) is called cognitive science. The diagram above shows a simplified version of what is going on in our brains when we learn or process information.

This process starts with the perception of an input (for example, a tutorial text) and as we process the information conveyed by our many senses (we have way more than five), our memory is likely to change. When we learn something, new synapses — the connections between neurons — are created or are strengthened. Everything you do in life — reading a book, watching a movie, chatting with friends, reading this article, etc. — is going to “rewire” your brain, because our brains are not hardwired in the first place. The brain is malleable, and thanks to this plasticity, we are capable of adapting to our ever-changing environment. Between the perception of a stimulus and the modification of our memory, a lot of things happen. Notably, the quality of learning will be affected by many factors, such as our attention, motivation, and emotion.

How much people pay attention when they process information is a critical factor to the quality of learning or retaining that information. The more you pay attention, the better you will process and retain what is going on around you. For each of these mental processes — perception, memory, and attention — I will explain our main limitations, and how we accounted for these limitations during the development of Fortnite. Keep in mind that the brain is extremely complex. We do not have independent linear channels that process our surroundings as shown in the diagram. It’s not even a process. We use a lot of terms from computers to explain how the brain works because computers offer a compelling metaphor, but the brain does not work like a computer. It is much more complex, and scientists are only just starting to understand how it works. I’m going to briefly explain the main limitations for these mental processes, but you can read more about this in this transcript of my GDC 2015 talk.

Perception

Perception is a construct of the mind, and one that is subjective. Take a look at the picture below. What do you perceive here? Color stripes? Maybe people? How about Street Fighter characters? Depending on your knowledge about this game, and even your personal connection to it, you are not going to perceive this input in the same way. And if you are colorblind, like about 8% of the male population, you rightfully feel excluded from my example (please accept my apologies!). No matter what we are designing, we need to make our product or system accessible for everyone; this is why, for example, we should never convey information exclusively through color.

Perception is subjective。 It depends on our DNA, our prior knowledge, our expectations, our culture, the context, and many other factors。 This situation is problematic when we make a video game, because the game represents a series of stimuli that we want players to perceive the way we intended。 If perception is subjective, how can we be sure that all the visual and audio cues in a game will be perceived as intended? To put it simply, we cannot。 This is why it is very important to run UX tests, whereby we invite people from our target audience to test the game in development。 Many types of tests exist, but to determine if our audience perceived the main elements of Fortnite as intended we mainly used surveys。 For example, in 2013, we invited a few people to play through a prototype of the game, and then we asked them to tell us what they believed the icons were communicating。 The original symbol that was chosen to represent traps in the game was not perceived as such by all players who tested the game then。 Some players thought it looked like ammunition, or trees。 Thus, the icon was perceived differently by the person who designed it and by the target audience who interacted with it, as I explained in my GDC Europe 2014 talk。 As traps were a key feature in Fortnite, it was important to tweak this icon so that no player would be confused by this stimulus。 After the UX test, we decided to change the trap icon to look like a bear trap。 There are no bear traps in Fortnite, but in our continued testing, all the players we invited to test the game understood the new symbol。 This situation underscores that people will have multiple perceptions for any given reality。 This situation necessitates testing the main elements in a game, whether they are UI elements, character design, sound design, visual effects, or environment design。

Memory

Memory is another important component to account for. We are able to memorize a lot of information, and sometimes for a very long time. However, we also forget many things. In the late 18th century, the German psychologist Herman Ebbinghaus uncovered the exponential nature of forgetting. He established the now famous “forgetting curve“. To come up with this curve, he taught himself a list of syllables that didn’t have any meaning (to avoid any familiarity effect) and he varied the time in which he had to recall them all. The figure below illustrates what he found: once he knew the list of syllables by heart, if he recalled them immediately after he had 100% success rate.

After only 19 minutes, his success rate dropped down to about 60%, and after one day it dropped down to nearly 30%. This means that when you learn something that is not meaningful, and with no method of any kind, you are likely to lose about 70% of the content learned from one day to the next. This is pretty inconvenient, especially for video games since they are usually experienced over several days, sometimes weeks, or even months or years. Given that the human memory is limited, and that we are bound to forget many things, how can we ensure that returning players are not going to forget key information over time? Game developers apply many tactics to avoid this caveat, from repeating information to displaying contextual tutorial tips. However, the most efficient methodology to avoid the impact of the forgetting curve is to reduce the memory load in the first place. The more information is always available to players, the less there is to learn and remember, which underscores the importance of having a good heads-up display (HUD).

The HUD prevents players from remembering elements, such as what gun or abilities they have equipped, how much ammunition they have, or what their next objective is. In Fortnite, a lot of information is always displayed, such as what key to press to search an item. Players do not have to remember this information; it always pops up in the UI for them. Another example is the option for players to pin a recipe they are interested in crafting in their HUD. They do not have to remember what ingredients they need to harvest; they can simply concentrate on their objectives. Our memory is fallible. It can sometimes be very frustrating to come back to a game and not remember the controls, objectives, or how certain systems work. Alleviating players’ memory load is thus important to ensure that they won’t quit a game because they don’t remember some critical information to have fun.

Attention

Finally, let’s talk about attention. Although we believe that we are good in analyzing our surroundings, we actually have pretty limited attentional resources. We are not able to carefully scan what’s going on around us. Rather, our attention works like a spotlight: we direct our attention to something in particular while we filter out other stimuli. Just like when you’re in a loud bar and you concentrate on only listening to what your friends are saying. This means that we cannot efficiently multitask, despite most of us believing that we can. When we try to multitask, we are missing a lot of information and we make mistakes, even though we might not realize it.

Watch this video for example:

Did you notice something surprising in the video? Most people don’t. This is what we call “inattentional blindness” in psychology and it’s a very powerful phenomenon: when we are focused on a task, we fail to notice stimuli that are not related to the task (even when a very surprising event happens!). Many games challenge players’ attention, which is fine once players master the game. However, asking players to multitask as they are discovering and learning about a game can lead them to miss out on important information. This is why it’s critical, for example, to avoid tutorial text about how to regenerate health as players are combating zombies. At best, players are going to be annoyed by the distraction; at worst, they won’t be able to realize that some information has popped up, let alone process and remember it. Since our attentional resources are scarce, game developers need to mind the cognitive load they put on players at any time, and more specifically when players are learning about something new, as this requires even more attention.

In summary, when we learn and process information our perception is subjective, our attention is scarce, and our memory is fallible. This is why having a UX mindset, which places the end users at the center of the development process, is key to offering the intended experience.

A GAME UX FRAMEWORK

User experience is a term coined by Don Norman (former Vice President at Apple, author of the renown The Design of Everyday Things, 2013) in the 1990s to account for the whole experience the user is having with a product, system, or service: from the first time they hear about it, to when they buy or download it, when they interact with it, and what they later remember about it. Here we are going to focus exclusively on when players interact with the game. In an effort to anticipate all the frustrations that players can have with the game that aren’t by design, while offering the most engaging and fun experience, we use two main UX pillars in games: “usability”, and what I call “engage-ability”.

Game UX = Usability + Engage-ability

Usability

Usability is about the ability of the game to be used, which entails taking into account human limitations in terms of perception, attention, and memory. Usability is a well-known UX pillar and very precise guidelines have been established throughout the years in industrial design and digital product design. The most renowned list of usability heuristics (i.e. rules of thumb) was put together by Jakob Nielsen. In my game UX framework, I’ve adapted these heuristics to be more relevant and, well, usable to game developers who use their own vernacular. These game usability heuristics are as follows:

-Signs and feedback
-Clarity
-Form follows function
-Consistency
-Minimum workload
-Error prevention and recovery
-Flexibility and accessibility

If you’re interested in diving deeper in these heuristics, I invite you to read the transcript of my GDC Europe 2014 talk. The goal of these heuristics is to ensure that the game is going to be as intuitive and easy to use as possible. We work to remove all the frustrations players might have that are not by design, such as difficulty navigating menus, unintuitive icons, or confusing systems. All the stimuli in the game (aka “signs and feedback”) need to be clear, consistent, and perceived as intended. We aim to minimize the cognitive load (i.e. memory and attention load) as well as the physical load (e.g. how many clicks to accomplish an action). We also try to ensure that players are not going to experience frustrating errors, or that they can easily recover from them when these errors are not where we want to challenge players. For instance in Fortnite, we want to challenge players in developing a strategy to survive while managing combat, harvesting, crafting, and building. We do not want, however, to challenge them in figuring out how to equip an item or to craft a weapon. Lastly, we try to offer various options — such as remapping of controls, subtitles, or colorblind mode — so that everyone can play. Throughout the development of Fortnite, we conducted countless UX tests to improve and polish the usability of the game.

Engage-ability

Offering good usability is critical for any product, including games, yet a game can be easy to use (i.e. the interface is intuitive and players can easily understand their goals and accomplish actions) yet boring. Unlike tools (such as a web browser or a software we use for work), video games are not a means to an end. We typically interact with games solely for the pleasure of playing them. Thus, if a game is not engaging, we are more likely to stop playing it, even if it’s easy to use. Don Norman speaks of “emotional design” to highlight the importance of any product to be more than just about functionality. But for games this emotional design is not merely important; it’s critical. Game developers often talk about fun or immersion. I prefer to use the term engagement and to refer to the ability of the game to be engaging, as it’s a more concrete concept to break down. Engage-ability is a fuzzier concept than usability; since we can never fully predict or understand why people do the things they do. Therefore, there aren’t any solid guidelines to achieve engage-ability yet. Throughout my work at Ubisoft, LucasArts, and Epic Games, there were three pillars I considered in order to improve the engage-ability of a game:

1. Motivation
2. Emotion
3. Gameflow

If you are looking for more detailed information on these engage-ability pillars you can check out my GDC 2017 talk。

1. Motivation

We do not accomplish any action unless we are motivated to do so. Thus, motivation is at the core of engage-ability. However, countless theories of human motivation exist, and we currently do not have any motivational theory that can account of all of human behaviors. Among the most important types of motivation, we can focus on two that are the most applicable to games: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic motivation is when you do something in order to get something else. It’s when, for example, you wait in the queue to get into a ride at the fair. Waiting in line is a means to an end. Video games often master extrinsic motivation: players need to accomplish quests, actions, or harvest many resources in order to be rewarded. Precise goals and clear rewards associated to these goals are very important to keep players engaged, such as what reward(s) can be redeemed after completing a challenge, or what abilities can be unlocked in a skill tree. But this is not enough.

Game developers also need to account for intrinsic motivation, which is our motivation to do certain things just for the pleasure of doing them, not to get something else. The most reliable theory of intrinsic motivation we currently have is the self-determination theory, or SDT for short. This theory explains that we are more likely to be intrinsically motivated to do an activity when this activity satisfies our need for competence, autonomy, and relatedness.

Competence is mainly about having a sense of progression, whether this progression is skill-based (e.g. getting increasingly skilled at building fast) or not (e.g. leveling up and buying new skills that make us artificially more powerful within the game). If we do not feel that we are progressing when we engage with an activity, such as learning how to play guitar or trying to lose weight, we are very likely to abandon. This is why progression bars are so compelling. It’s not only because of the promise of getting a reward once we reach a new level, it’s also because we can see ourselves progressing towards a goal, and getting increasingly competent.

Autonomy is mainly about self-expression. Being able to choose your skins, your dance moves, or how you can overcome obstacles allows you to feel more autonomous. This is why sandbox games (e.g. Minecraft or Grand Theft Auto V), and games offering a lot of cosmetic options (when these options are meaningful to players) are often engaging.

Lastly, relatedness is about having meaningful relationships with other people in a game。 Humans are a very social species, and multiplayer games often offer compelling relatedness。 This can be either through competition, or cooperation。 Although cooperation is often more engaging, which is why most competitive games offer cooperative options (e。g。 playing in a squad, or playing in a team against another team)。

2. Emotion

Emotion in games is mainly about what we call “game feel” and about offering new content. Game feel refers to how good it feels to interact with a game. It’s about its camera, controls, and characters (often called “the 3Cs”). It’s about the sense of presence, provided by an AI (artificial intelligence) that reacts adequately to what players are doing, a meaningful story, or great music, among many other things. Lastly, it’s about the physical reality of the game; how believable it is (rather than its photo-realism). I won’t get into any detail here, but emotion is also about the surprises and novelties that are offered to players. We need something new every now and then otherwise we get bored. This is why online games constantly need updates, new campaigns, modes, skins, or seasons.

3。 Gameflow

Gameflow comes from the concept of “flow” in psychology, investigated by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi。 As he was trying to find out the secret to happiness, he noticed that those who were happier in life experienced the state of flow more often。 You’re in a state of flow when you are deeply concentrated in doing an activity that is both worthwhile to you and challenging。 You can experience this state at work, when being creative (e。g。 if you like to draw, knit, or play music), and when you play certain video games。 Jenova Chen is the game designer who has extensively explored gameflow, through games like Flow, Flower, or Journey。 One of the main components of gameflow is challenge。 A game needs to have the right level of difficulty so that the game is never too easy (otherwise we get bored), or too hard (otherwise we get too stressed out)。 That’s the main difference between the UX of a game and the UX of other products: in games you need to challenge the user。 Game developers are carefully implementing frictions that are by design: players are going to encounter obstacles they will need to overcome。 This is why multiplayer games need to perfect their matchmaking so that players at the same level of expertise and skills are matched together。 Neither being destroyed in no time, or winning too easily is fun。

Gameflow is also about pacing, the rhythm of stress and pressure. A game needs some intense moments, and more relaxing ones. Many action games have “waves of enemies” for example, and in battle royale games players have relatively calmer moments to prepare, alternated with moments when encounters are forced as the map is shrinking. Last but not least, onboarding is paramount to gameflow. In order to enter a state of flow while playing a game, you need to understand what it is all about and how to succeed (or at least how to get better at playing). This is why onboarding players properly, through elegant tutorials that feel part of the game, will greatly impact the feeling of immersion. Onboarding is about making sure players are going to be competent in playing the game. Sure, they will make mistakes and probably die a few times, but if the game allows them to understand what happened and how to get better, they will be able to progress. Having a sense of progression is one of the main pillars of intrinsic motivation, as explained earlier. To learn more about onboarding, you can take a look at the transcript of my GDC 2016 talk dedicated to this topic.

These usability and engage-ability pillars constitute a game UX framework that is very useful and practical to follow when developing a game. It can be used as a checklist to identify the most critical issues to fix, as well as the missing features or elements in the game to reach its full potential. There is no known recipe for successful games, but this framework offers ingredients that we know are critical to craft usable and engaging games. Game makers can use these ingredients to make their own successful recipe, depending on the kind of experience they want to offer and on the audience they are targeting.

SCIENTIFIC METHOD & UX PIPELINE

Knowing the main human brain limitations and following a UX framework is a great start, but it’s also critical to apply the scientific method and establish a UX pipeline in order to find and prioritize the biggest UX issues to fix。 Solving problems is relatively easy。 Finding and solving the right problems is what is difficult。 And since humans are biased, relying on the gut feeling of different members of the game team (or even sometimes executives), all having their own subjective perception, scarce attention, and fallible memory, can lead to costly setbacks。 This is why is it important to rely on UX research to identify and prioritize issues。 UX researchers use the scientific method to pose hypotheses with the game team, design experimental protocols accordingly, and then gather and analyze data while removing as many human biases as possible。 Once the most important issues have been identified, the team then needs to figure out why they are happening。

For example, in the early days of Fortnite, during the closed Alpha online tests, some players were complaining that the game was too “grindy”。 They felt that it took too long to harvest the ingredients they needed to craft more advanced items as they were leveling up。 Where was this coming from? Did the game have a design issue? The system designers verified their math and concluded that the harvesting and crafting systems were correctly balanced。 So why were players complaining? This issue kicked off a long investigation to find out why this was happening。 If it was not originating from the design, then the hypothesis was that it could originate from players’ (subjective) perception。 Many elements were thus investigated。 One of them was the UI (user interface) for a feature called the “weak point system”。 In Fortnite, when players harvest an object in the world (say, a pile of rock) a weak point appears, encouraging players to aim at it。 As they scavenge the object, if players aim at its weak point they destroy it much faster。 The problem was that in our early UX tests, we were observing players completely ignoring these weak points。 This issue could be seen as trivial, but it potentially had a relatively huge impact in ripple effects, as the whole harvesting system was based off players using the weak points。 Therefore, if they were not using it they were taking much longer than designed to harvest anything, which could in turn obviously impact their perception of the harvesting speed。 This is why the team iterated a lot on this tiny UI element。 First, it was made bigger and more obvious, as initially players were not even realizing that it was there。 Once it was standing out more, players were spotting it but then thought it was a cue indicating to them which item they were currently targeting。 In the end, designers removed the weak point from the initial experience in the “Save the World” mode (the player-versus-environment mode), so that players would have to unlock it in the skill tree。 It thus became a meaningful reward with more fanfare, which overall did the trick。 A majority of players were finally hitting the weak points after this change。 At least in “Save the World” mode…

This iterative process was made possible also because the Fortnite team established a strong UX pipeline, which my former colleague Heather Chandler (former Senior Producer on Fortnite) and I explained in a GDC talk in 2016. We applied a scientific method to avoid falling prey to our biases as game developers and to objectively find what problems we needed to solve in priority during development, through careful UX testing and continuous online tests. UX research was entirely part of the production pipeline, and the team was tasked into fixing bugs related to UX research feedback. Having a strong UX focus means that it needs to be a priority for the team.

CONCLUSION: DEVELOPING A UX STRATEGY

Understanding the basics of how the brain works, following a UX framework, applying the scientific method, and establishing a UX pipeline allow game developers to reach their goals faster and more efficiently.

If you analyze a game like Fortnite through this UX lens, you can identify all the efforts that were made to make the game usable, to avoid as much confusion as possible, and to remove as many frustrations that were not by design. I explain a few examples in this video made with Ars Technica. In terms of engage-ability and motivation more specifically, Fortnite is a game where you always progress towards specific goals in the player-versus-environment mode (“Save the World”). In the “Battle Royale” mode in which players compete against each other, those who lose can quickly start again and hopefully get better the next round. The cosmetics options and dance moves offer good autonomy, as well as the “Creative Mode” in which players can build whatever they want. Relatedness is very strong in Fortnite: it’s a game where players can compete, cooperate, or just hang out. It has become more than a game; it’s a social platform where players chat, dance, are creative, or even watch a concert together. Also, well-known influencers and stars streamed the game early on, which made the game a must-try (although this is not something that can be anticipated during the development — luck also has a role). Regarding emotion, Fortnite has a very polished game feel: it is quite satisfying to interact with the environment. The world is goofy and encourages experimentation, as explained by Darren Sugg, Creative Director of Fortnite, in this Game UX Summit Europe keynote. The game also offers many surprises and mysteries. For instance, there is often something mysterious before a new season, which is raising players’ curiosity. Lastly, the gameflow of the game is polished, more specifically in “Save the World” mode where the onboarding has been carefully planned (see the transcript of my GDC 2015 talk and GDC 2016 talk explaining our onboarding plan and process).

Despite some lingering misconceptions about user experience and psychology, increasingly more studios are now trying to adopt a UX strategy, because of the objective guidance it offers. Making games is hard, and competition is fierce. UX offers a set of tools to reach our objectives faster and more efficiently. Building the user experience strategy for a project or a studio is more than merely applying certain tools and methodology; it’s a philosophy. All in all, it is about being in the mindset of placing the players (and not the business) first.

References:

Celia Hodent, The Gamer’s Brain: How Neuroscience and UX Can Impact Video Game Design (CRC Press, 2017)

Don Norman, The Design of Everyday Things (MIT Press, 2013)

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008)

You will find references on game design, UX, psychology, and more, on my webpage celiahodent。com/resources(source:)

 


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