24 February 2012

4 principles for the design of game interfaces

The latest issue of User Experience Magazine features a gem of an article for those looking for a very brief intro into basic heuristics for game design.  "Designing Game-Based Tools for Youth" By Sarah Chu and Constance Steinkuehler reveals findings from their research into the UX of the massively popular and massively multiplayer game, World of War Craft.   Their conclusions...


  1. Keep the interface simple at first. 
  2. Introduce information and functions as users
    need them. 
  3. Minimize the amount of written information. 
  4. Allow for interface customization. 
Progressive disclosure: Starting simple meant the users tested didn't need to read instructions and could simply jump into the action.  The interface gets gradually more complex over time as the user builds familiarity with the basics.

This is an excellent principle to carry over to learning interface design.  The less you have to learn about the technology the more you can focus on learning the content.  Being able to jump right into the action and bypassing instructions and confusion are obvious boosts to motivation and engagement, as well as a good way to manage cognitive load.

Just-in-time help - The game introduces byte-sized tutorial pop-ups that appear strictly when they are needed (chunked and contextualized.) The authors are careful to note that these are used sparingly since overuse would quickly become irritating.  Google employs a similar strategy when, occaisionally, you can respond to a gentle pop-up message that offers you the choice to learn about a new feature or simply dismiss it.  This is another excellent strategy for designing for learnability and managing cognitive load in learning programs.

In-game chat and easy access to external resources played another strong part in moving users across the learning curve in the World of Warcraft studies.

Go to the UX Magazine website to download the full article


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