MAPPING OUT THE EXPERIENCE
investigated ABANDONMENT POINTS
BUILT AN EXPERIENCE MAP TO EASILY PRESENT UI FLOW
BECAME A "CATALYST" for NUX REDESIGN
I constructed a physical Player Experience Map for War Commander: Rogue Assault's first ten levels within the current NUX in order to visualize the player's journey.
This map was invaluable during the presentation of my findings because I could physically point to the visual artifact in order to give context to the product managers and game designers. My findings/recommendations alongside a Best Practices for NUX deck nudged the team's pivot into a reworked NUX 2.0
player experience mapping / (customer journey map)
Designed surveys for the company-wide playtest and observed players during the process. Player metrics such as: last level completed, premium currency used (avg) and play session (avg) and other player metrics that could be utilized to gain insight into behavior were tracked by the game team.
THE MORTAR TURRET
The raw telemetry data showed that there was a significant number of players dropping off at level 8. Clearly there was something about this level that was causing players to end their play session.
This level was the introduction of one of the toughest enemy units in the game: the mortar turret. During usability playtest sessions it became apparent that these new turrets were the cause of much frustration that led to players quitting.
For the uninitiated, mortars in video games classically follow a similar pattern: it shoots a high damage explosive projectile that is shot up into the air and then damaging an area (also called "area of effect" or AoE) when it lands. Similarly in most video games, the projectile follows a predictable "arc" pattern that mimics real world physics.
The mortar turret unit is frustrating to players and is causing them to end their play session.
Once I notified the team that the introduction of the new enemy Mortar Turret was affecting retention and abandonment rates, the team quickly came to a solution: Nerf it. This decision was logical. The turret was wiping out the player's platoon and this made the players want to stop playing, so the only solution would be to decrease the damage output of the turret.
Case closed... or so I thought.
It quickly became apparent that players were still dropping off and that lowering the damage had little to no effect on abandonment/retention. Although the team was considering taking down the damage of the Mortar another notch, I believed there must be another confounding factor that was not being considered. Then, during a usability testing session one of the players said this:
As a gamer, I sympathized with the above quote. It also reminded me of something from my very own past.
If you have played Diablo 3, you may know that it too suffered from player frustrations surrounding mortar projectiles. What you may not know however, is that Blizzard combated this frustration by not only reducing the damage of the mortars but also adding visual indicators to their explosion radius.
Before Visual indicator
After visual indicator
As you can see in the pictures on the left, players had no indicator that showed visually whether or not they were standing in a safe location. On the right, you can see that even though over a dozen projectiles are being fired, the player knows exactly where to stand in order to be unscathed.
The difficulty against the Mortar units didn't come from its damage potential but rather the player's inability to account for where the explosion was going to happen. It's not that the player can't figure it out, they shouldn't have to. As mentioned earlier, the simple arc pattern that a mortar follows is not what's causing the problem for the player. It's that the player is processing too many different things at the same time to be able to react.
When playing a game like WC:RA a player is juggling many different types of processes:
- Spatial processing (e.g. Where should I move my units? Where is the attack coming from?)
- Executive processing (e.g. What is my plan of attack? Who should I use?)
- Motor control processing
For game mechanics like dodging, a visual indicator could unload some of the processing that the player has to do from strictly spatial processing to visual as well. Calculating the trajectory of a mortar turret shouldn't take up that much attention from the player.
Below you can see some other examples of visual indicators.
The frustration and abandonment from players does not stem from the power of the enemy Mortar Turrets but rather the player's inability to react due to a lack of visual indicators.
Build a visual indicator system for enemy turrets to display the explosive radius of their projectiles.
A new system means development time and development time means money. However, this is a core game mechanic that needs to be enhanced with this feature in the battle component of the game.
- Data and research methodologies are important but they do not result in a solution. Every method we employ as UX professionals are just tools to lead us to better understand the problem at hand.
- Look beneath the surface. Get to the core of the problem before you try to ideate solutions. A quick solution to the wrong problem is not nearly as valuable as a potentially slower approach to the right question.
IdentifIED usability errors
IncreaseD in-game clarity
War Commander: Rogue Assault was being tested internally and was preparing for a launch into the Test Market phase. In order to improve the NUX, I started by performing a heuristic evaluation followed by competitive analysis of similar titles. During this process, I identified several friction points within the UI of WC:RA.
How do competitors teach resource management, combat and base construction? During my research, I identified usability issues within the NUX/UI and organized my findings into the Action Item Spreadsheet. where I listed recommendations based on importance and ease of implementation.
One of the core gameplay mechanics for WC:RA is maintaining your platoon of combat units. However, during my heuristic evaluation and through usability playtests, I identified that Platoon Management was a friction point within the game.
Pictured above, you can see a pink arrow pointing to these attributes and icons:
Space (select platoon screen, building details screen)
MΔ (UNIT Details Screen)
Platoon Size (Building details Screen)
Space Used (Unit Details Screen, Add/remove Units screen)
Even though these attributes exist for the purpose of space management in the game, depending on the screen the attribute was called something different. This created confusion and caused users to either dismiss the information or forced them to memorize things that are essentially the same thing.
Consolidate iconography and words associated with space management.-By doing this, players will not have to remember the various attribute names. Even though technically these words hold different contextual meaning, it adds an unnecessary level of complexity for the player.
Bound by NDA, I am unable to give specific questionnaires, metrics and player data. Most usability tests were performed within our testing facilities in-house using Reflector and Morae.