User Experience for Social Games

I started a new job as a User Experience Designer at Kabam in early April, and I was extremely excited at the chance to jump back into social gaming with a new focus on user experience. The role has been extremely rewarding, but it’s also been challenging due to the lack of information out there about UX for games.

UX is a fairly new discipline in social games. During my first month at Kabam, I scoured the web looking for any reading material. While there’s material on UI Art and Game Design, there’s not very much concerning interaction design or user research specifically for games (In many companies in the games industry,the producer typically generates wireframes). Research was especially important for me because I quickly discovered that games have unique challenges. For instance, a core component to games is challenge, and preserving that challenge is instrumental in keeping the game fun. However, every project I’ve worked on as an IxD was about removing challenge and ambiguity from interactions.I thought David Kieras’s Solve Problem Button example in his paper User Interface Design for Games (PDF) was a clever example of this issue:

Software for Work versus Software for Fun

Work is less productive if the software is unnecessarily hard to use.
The user must get something done, so operating the software should be as easy as possible. Fist-fighting with the software is pointless. Save time and effort for actual work.

Games are not fun unless some difficulty is involved.
Something must be hard to learn, hard to figure out, hard to execute. The user is seeking the thrill of accomplishment.

Consider a button labeled “Solve Problem.”
Best possible design for work software. Worst possible design for game software. At best, a “cheat” function.

I think the reason user experience hasn’t been a focus in the games industry is because there hasn’t been a need so far in order to sell games. Game players are typically very much more motivated to play online games than users of other online products, and they dont mind the interface friction that sometimes results from limited ux work.

Joshua Porter, 2009 (

Joshua Porter, 2009 (

To put it in terms of metrics, at my last job, we experienced an average time on site of less than a minute, big bounce rates, and average page views were barely over 1. Working in social games, the average time on site is right under 10 minutes, with some sessions lasting into double digit hours. It’s difficult to measure pageviews in flash, but it’s hard to imaging a user in the app for 10 minutes without navigating a bit 

But I think with the focus on user experience on the web, the bar for online interactions is rising rapidly. While I cant speak for traditional console gaming, I think online social gaming companies have taken notice and have started to build out user experience teams. The UX team at Kabam is very impressive and I’m excited to be working there.

I’ve gathered a few resources based on the research I have done below, just in case anyone finds themselves in a similar situation.

UX Design and User Research in Games

Better Games Through Usability Evaluation and Testing
Upping Your Game’s Usability
Researching Video Games the UX Way – A Look at How Bolt|Peters Researched Usability for Spore

User Interfaces for Games by David Kieras (PDF)
Game Design Patterns by S Björk (PDF)

The Elements of Player Experience – UX Magazine

Gamer Personas

Gamification Design – Strategic Synergy
Personality Types – Strategic Synergy

Motivations – Strategic Synergy

Unmasking the Avatar: The Demographics of MMO Player Motivations, In-Game Preferences, and Attrition

Motivations for Play in MMORPGs by Nick Yee (PDF)

Facets: 5 Motivation Factors for Why People Play MMORPG’s

Social Interaction Design

The Theory behind Social Interaction Design – Johnny Holland
Gravity 7

Game Design

SCVNGR’s Secret Game Mechanics Playdeck – TechCrunch

Gamification for User Experience

Designing Fun: Games Design Lessons for User Experience – Adaptive Path 

Games & User Experience – Luke W