Image credit: Kidkinobi
UX stands for User Experience, and it often gets lumped in with UI (User Interface) because the latter significantly drives the former, but they’re quite distinct conceptually. UI is about structural design elements, but UX is inherently experiential — the name really gives it away.
In essence, UX concerns what it’s like to be in a particular circumstance of consuming and/or engaging with something designed. Whether you’re using a product or service, reading something a book, looking at some photos, listening to music, or (yes) playing a game, you react in various ways — emotionally, physically, and attitudinally.
UX design, then, is about carefully crafting something to bring about specific experiential elements, with the goal depending on the situation but almost always having the general intention of yielding more sales. And what’s more carefully-crafted and thoroughly experiential than a video game?
This line of thought naturally gives rise to the titular question, and the answer is very simple: everything. But since that isn’t very useful, and doesn’t make for an interesting article, I’m going to aim for a more in-depth answer featuring some specific elements. Let’s get started.
First impressions are very important
It isn’t so common these days, but years back most games had demos — restricted playable samples that usually let the player experience one level of a game in the hope that they would be hooked and decide to buy the full product. Today’s equivalent is probably game streams on Twitch and YouTube. By watching others play a game, people can gauge how they’d enjoy playing it themselves.
Very often, games have spectacular opening levels that set the tone and grab attention. This is for two reasons: firstly, those sections are often the first built in order to create demonstration footage (and thus get the most polish), and secondly, developers know that getting someone invested in a game will keep them playing it even if the quality later dips.
Marketers would do well to take this into account for their UX work, especially given how rapidly people make decisions in the mobile era. Make a really positive initial impression, dazzle people with your opening presentation, and you’ll be able to retain their attention while you cover the less-appealing parts of your marketing funnel.
The simplest cue can be incredibly powerful
By now, there are at least two fully-grown generations with powerful childhood memories of video games as a communal activity. Just as the smell of baking bread can send you hurtling back to that family vacation from when you were 13, a simple sound effect can evoke emotional states that you thought you gave up when you entered adulthood. So many have subtly entered public awareness already — I don’t imagine many adults under 50 wouldn’t recognize something like the Super Mario Bros. stage clear jingle. These effects stay with us for several reasons:
- They’re short. Kids don’t have great attention spans, but adults aren’t much better. Something short and simple is always much easier to remember.
- They’re bold. You might remember subtle background effects from your favorite games, but mainly you remember the really crisp, clear sounds effects.
- They’re meaningful. Those effects are tied to events and actions we cared about, so we care about them by proxy.
Game developers know that they need to iterate upon their games, so they don’t tend to stick with the same effects forever — but they do tend to build on them, ensuring some degree of stylistic continuity. Then, down the line, they can use those old elements to sell new products through the commercial influence of nostalgia.
To see how effective a simple cue can be in the wider marketing world, try reading this aloud (or just thinking it): “ba da ba ba ba”. There’s a decent chance that your mind contributed “I’m lovin’ it” as a follow-up. That musical cue has become synonymous with McDonald’s, and instantly tells you what the brand is without any further effort needed. That’s marketing power.
If you’re assembling a marketing campaign, spend some time thinking about those minor details. The tiny elements might not seem like much initially, but they’ll stay with people over time if you get them right.
Choice is valuable, but must be carefully doled out
One of the biggest reasons why games are so appealing is that they equip us to take action and do things, even if the things in question are fairly trivial. This is also why the consumer electronics industry is so packed with fast-selling items that people don’t need. That said, you run into issue when you provide too many choices, because people get analysis paralysis and don’t know what they’re supposed to do.
There’s a reason why gadget websites are a great investment in today’s business world. Offer a complex configurable system and prospective customers will need some time to think, but pitch them simple gizmos and they’ll gladly bite — just think about how many people have purchased fidget spinners in recent years. You can use a fidget spinner in a tactile sense, even though it doesn’t really do anything.
Anticipating this, games build up their mechanics over time. You start with the ability to do something basic (jump, for instance), then unlock the ability to jump twice in quick succession once you’ve shown that you’ve mastered the jump system. This ensures that players don’t get overwhelmed, because someone who gets overwhelmed is likely to stop playing altogether. There goes their potential brand advocacy, and their chance of buying the next title in the series.
Now think about the structure of a classic email marketing newsletter. How do you format the content? You could lump everything above the fold and let the reader attempt to parse it, but that would just annoy them and cause them to back out. Not sensible.
Instead, you must carefully spread everything out, taking the reader from the introduction to the content and then (and only then) to the call-to-action. Provide the CTA right off the bat and people won’t know why it’s there or what you realistically expect them to do.
If you want to know how to make people feel an attachment to your brand, look no further than the video game world. Through decades of experimentation and analysis, developers have figured out exactly how to get people playing and keep them there — and you can use their methods to get people to have a positive view of your brand.