Design Dive #4

The role of UX in games

Thank you all for attending. Here are the unstructured notes for those who couldn’t make it. I’ve bolded the key points.


Paul Stephanouk - Design Director of Candy Crush. Previously EA, Zynga, Bossfight, Schell Games, Big Huge Games. 20 years experience building and running creative teams.

Kelly Tran - Game Design Professor researching games and players. PhD in learning and tech. Solo Twitch - Group Twitch - Website

Jon Radoff - CEO Beamable. Previously Disruptor Beam. Entrepreneur, game designer, metaverse builder. Founder of Game Industry Club on Clubhouse.

Jody McLain - Developer and Designer Math Facts. Previously Published and Exec Produced branded videogames and books for PBS Kids, Bob The Builder, Top Chef, Diner Dash, World of Goo and many more.

Xelnath - Game Designer World of Warcraft, League of Legends, Ori and the Will of the Wisps, Snackpass Tochi. Founder Game Design Skill.

Kristina Drzaic - Narrative Director and Game Designer. Previously Halo, Bioshock, Bioshock Infinite, Galak-Z, Twitch, Amazon Game Studios.

Ahmed Salama - UX Director Ubisoft Stockholm. Previously EA Dice, Guerrilla Games. Host Game UX Podcast. Game UX course leader at Future Games.

Coraly Rosario - Senior UX Designer Niantic. VP Puerto Rico Game Developers Association.

Sonia Leticia - UI/UX Designer. Illustrator. Portfolio

Mohamed Abdel Khalik - Co-Founder Karnak Studios, Creators of The Daily Tut webcomic and Game Director on Tut Trials, an upcoming high action 3D platformer. Fundraising.


  • UX starts at UI but goes far beyond that.

  • Make sure that all players that interact with the game always find value in what designers are showing them.

  • World 1-1 is a great example for designing a first time user experience. where players see an enemy approaching and must learn to jump over it. A visual queue in the form of a question mark block triggers the player’s interest to explore. As the player jumps and hits the question mark block a mushroom will appear and move to the right, fall of the ledge, hit the warp pipe and move towards the player. As the player jumps to avoid it they will hit the ledge and be send back down, forced to pick up the mushroom which grows the character, visually identifying to the player that powering up has occurred.

  • UI is how designers display information and data in the form of, number, text and icons.

  • UX contains the player experience as a whole.

  • UI person is usually given UX.

  • Figure out what you’re teaching and how to teach it.

  • All systems facing user have to be rebuilt throughout the production. You build it early then you go back and refine it later.

  • Even features that are locked down will be improved upon as you further develop the game.

  • Players need to see, understand, care and want to respond to the challenge in front of them. Once they overcome the challenge, designers need to reward them adequately. UI and UX is the process of testing those hypotheses.

  • Designers should collect features of the game, stack rank them in importance for the player to have fun, work with a narrative team to write them in the first part of the game seamlessly.

  • Sign posting and bread crumbing. Zelda dungeons are a great example. Players are locked out of certain areas in the beginning of the dungeon until they unlock the item which then serves as a tool that allows them to interact with previously locked off environments. This is tightly managed system that guides the player on where to go next. They can then use the item for the rest of the game and designers can create future challenges that utilize a variety of items to overcome.

  • Designers should have a system to detect when players are interacting with the wrong thing. Re-teach always beyond the tutorial. Have a system for players to access anything that was previously taught.

  • Designers should use heuristics and data to figure out the user experience and build a strategy.

  • Data is part of the story. Designers need to understand the “why?” Qualitative data is the key to figuring that out.

  • Don’t have multiple people testing, it skews the data because they feed off each other.

    Two roads to go down, teams tend to be biased.

  • Generate hypotheses organically through intuition or experience, and find the data to prove or disprove the hypotheses.

  • Hypotheses that get generated by data, by KPI metrics, cash flow, reactive elements. Numbers go up, numbers go down, let’s react.

  • Do we have to prove everything with data?

  • Designers have hypotheses and look to prove if it’s proven to be successful or not before pushing live.

  • Data should inform our thinking not dictate our thinking. This is also better for academic research design.

  • Qualitative research should NOT be turned it into quantitative research and baked into a spreadsheet, turned into a number and into a lesson.

  • Lots of our design is political and not coming from the mentality of making the product better. We need to justify our existence as designers and so we adopt practices in a small team which stems from political practices (data reports) from big companies does not make the game better.

  • UX started academia then became adopted at software companies and then games.

  • Provide a compass for players and let them make meaning from the information to forge their own path. An example are plants indicating there’s an oasis nearby in a desert, allow players to pick a direction and start going and see what they find. As they go they gain more information and calibrate accordingly.

  • UI is the first kiss of the game. It’s what brings the players in the game. It’s the first impression designers can make as it is the first interaction that players have with the game.

  • UX is not doing what players want. UX is showing the game designers what the game can look like through the player’s eyes.

  • You are not your players. Good designers understand that there is no average user. A playerbase consists of tribes of different users with different motivations.

  • Designers should work on behalf of our players and not weaponize our perspectives. It’s an easy tool to pick up and dismiss someone’s opinion.

  • Designers should practice empathy mapping in order to understand anything that encompasses another player.

  • “Why the hell would the player want to do that?” needs to be answered.

  • Player fantasy should guide the experience.

  • User stories tend to create a golden path. Game designers create smears of experience which is better served without the golden path.

  • Play testing should have someone play the game while a game designer watching immediately experiencing the pain and suffering of the player can fix those issues on the spot and run the test again. Within a handful of sessions the game goes from unplayable to pretty good.

  • Number crunching stops designers from optimizing further. Designers get stuck in a local maximum. They get results as good as A/B can get them but the right answer could be something far away from the A/B. Schools of thought don’t account for how humans react to the complexity of a game experience.

    Thank you for reading the notes, hope you found them useful. The upcoming Design Dive will tackle randomness in games. Wednesday April 7th 3pm EDT.

    Mohamed Abdel Khalik

    Co-Host Design Dive