Gaming the system: Five things UX designers can learn from video games

How gaming can be a major digital inspiration for UX design.

Video games are just a silly toy for kids, right?

I mean, ecommerce is big business and surely it doesn’t have anything to learn from those guys providing noisy distractions to twelve-year-olds who’ve had too much sugar?

Precisely wrong, my dear reader. Since 2017, video gaming has been the most-profitable entertainment industry, producing around $116 billion a year. Over 60% of Americans play games on a daily basis, and the average gamer is 31 years old, rolling in expendable income and almost as likely to be female as male.

Gamification is already a major buzz word for marketing strategy, so there must be something to learn from an industry that’s been designing gaming experiences for over fifty years.

So let’s consider five things UX designers can learn from video games:

1) Visualising information

Full disclosure: I’m a gamer myself. My game of choice is Overwatch – a team-based first-person shooting game. Teams of players compete to capture areas of a level by temporarily killing their opponents to clear the area.

Here’s a shot of what Overwatch looks like while you’re playing:

It would be a waste of your time to try and explain what all the above means, but trust me when I say, playing Overwatch will very quickly train you to read all of that information on the screen and at a glance you can tell:

  • What character you’re playing
  • How much life you have left
  • How much ammunition you have and what weapon you’re using
  • Where your objective is
  • How much time you have left
  • How much progress you’ve made in achieving your objective
  • Where your team-mates are
  • What players you just killed
  • Which of your team-mates have just died
  • … and much more…

All of this is overlayed on top of your view. Yes, it’s cluttered, but it’s still clear enough for you to see what you’re doing and play the game.

Now, if all of that information can be portrayed in one view, why do you need to make your user scroll their webpage down to see something on your site?

If clever visual design can communicate everything a player needs to know at a glance, then it can also communicate everything your user needs to know in one frame.

Amazon is a simple example:

On a single page, you can see the variations of product available, choose images of the item, see the details, click the order button, choose a quantity to order, see your delivery options, see how much you’ve spent and see where to change your account options – all at a glance.

On Amazon, there’s no need to click around the site to find the information you need, and there shouldn’t be on your site either.

2) Dynamic design

Fortnite is probably the most-played video game in the world right now. Part of the reason the game is so popular is that you can play it on almost anything.

You can play the game on a computer, you can play the game on any games console, you can play it on a Nintendo Switch hand-held gaming device and you can even play it on your phone. Not only that, but you’ll be playing the game against all the other players on all the other devices and you’ll have the same experience.

The huge success of Fortnite should show you that providing users with the same experience on any device is a key to a successful user journey. As such, your site should work just as well on desktop or mobile, and on any browser. That’s not a simple task, but Fortnite shows us that it’s worthwhile.

3) Customisation

Recently, I’ve been playing the open-world cowboy game, Red Dead Redemption 2.

Like Overwatch, there’s a lot of information displayed on the screen over the top of the game. Here, however, it can all be changed.

The little map in the bottom corner can be made larger or smaller; we can see the action in first-person, over the shoulder like here, or from further back; the killing shot from our gun can trigger a little scene showing how good our hit was, or that can be turned off.

The overall experience is the same, but we can tailor it to our needs and preferences. Your site design should do the same. Font size, language, layout, spacing, content – all these things should be customisable when beneficial to the user.

4) Rewarding correct behaviour

It’s a truism within the UX design community that users will never do what you want them to do, so you have to follow their whims. There is, however, one way around this and it’s the aforementioned gamification.

Gamification means giving your users a fun challenge and then rewarding them for completing it. Sneakily, you can ensure that completing the challenge requires acting in just the way you want your users to act.

Video games offer us the perfect example of this. Overwatch, for example, rewards players with ‘lootboxes’ for playing the game. These lootboxes provide players with new costumes and poses for their characters, something that is in infinite supply, but high demand, as they offer prestige to those players that have unlocked them. This keeps players playing the game so they can unlock new items.

Overwatch has also instituted a behavioural reward system, whereby players can quickly praise each other for showing good sportsmanship and that feedback can accumulate into extra lootboxes.

Fortnite, however, has this kind of gamification marketing down to an art. Players can buy a ‘battle pass’ membership. This then unlocks a rewards system whereby costumes and aesthetic items can be unlocked as you play the game. This means players need to both pay real money and play the game as much as possible if they are to earn the respective rewards.

This kind of thing is easy to build into your site. It can encompass everything from offering a discount to users who buy online, rather than costing you money by engaging a call centre operative; to having a little animated cartoon character pop up and give the user a thumbs up when they complete a transaction.

5) Bringing users back

For our final point, let us delve into the murky and sinister world of mobile gaming…

Mobile is essentially the Wild West of the gaming world. Tiny, semi-ethical companies pop up to churn out shoddy games that encourage addicted players to gamble for meagre rewards with real money.

One of the ways they exploit users is a simple daily reward system. Play the game today and you get fifty coins to spend on an extra life in the game; play tomorrow and you get 100 coins; play again the next day and you get 200; play all week and you get 10,000 and a sticker on your User Interface!

None of this costs the developer anything once they’ve designed the coin and sticker systems, but they have everything to gain. The more players log onto the game, the more advertising they see and the more real cash the developer earns.

Now, I’m not suggesting you addict your user to your site, but offering simple rewards to users who stay on your site or return to it time and again will theoretically increase your visits. Even just allowing your user to create an account and setting the site up to greet them by name next time they log in will improve the user experience.

In conclusion

Interactive video games are very much the future of the entertainment industry, and making your site work more like a video game will only play into your user’s other digital experiences. Not to mention, you’ll be emulating the successful strategies of the biggest digital industry in the world.

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