GameDev Thoughts: The Untapped Power Of Minimalism In Game Design

Many designers encounter issues by putting too many choices in their games. All designers mean well when doing this, but in the end, all you do is simply frustrate your players. Too much choice usually becomes a problem when there are more than five options to choose from. For newbies, choice overload can cause decision paralysis, leaving them unable to make a decision, thereby halting or seriously postponing any progress in the game. You can alleviate decision paralysis by either creating fewer choices, or by categorizing choices.

There are countless psychological implications associated with too many choices within gameplay. This article will debate some of the pros and cons of having too many options, as opposed to having too few options, and details on how to reach an optimal level. No matter how many choices are present, you player should be able to make any choice decision relatively quickly, and they should feel freedom in their decision making and in control of their own destiny throughout the game.

Creating too many choices initially will lead to higher quit rates. Yet, studies have shown that the more invested the player is, the less likely they are to quit simply for this reason alone. Studies have also shown that having too many choices is not only frustrating, but that it also decreases satisfaction once a decision is reached. Perhaps the player is saddened by all the things they did not get to choose, or perhaps the player is not truly happy with their decision. Or, perhaps they were too burdened by the decision process all together to receive any real pleasure from it. Whatever the case may be, you do not want this scenario as a game designer.

This situation leads designers to carefully consider exactly how they want their players to feel whenever they make a choice, and designers then concentrate on this first. Giving your players opportunities to test all potential options until they find a good fit is one option; this will not give the player decision deferral, but it will instead prompt them to play around with various options. In this case, no decision is so permanent that it cannot be undone. This type of flexibility truly makes your players feel in charge of their own destiny.

One way to help prevent decision deferral is to temporarily reduce the number of options available. Perhaps only certain characters and weapons are unlocked at a certain point in the game, or only after a certain amount of gameplay has been completed. By being able to unlock certain attributes, your player will feel more motivated to unlock as many items as they can. This options makes the number of decisions available completely dependent on the player’s motivation to play the game. At this stage, a large number of options will not feel like a burden, but rather a privilege and an achievement that your player has earned over time.

Important Takeaways: Including too many choices for players within games can often be a problem for designers, but there are several methods to resolve this. It is possible to limit the number of decisions which need to be made within a game, and you can also reward players for the decisions they make throughout their game progress. As we know, every game will feature at least some level of decision making, and it is important for the designers to make sure players don’t get decision deferral and become frustrated with the game. It’s up to the designer to ensure the decisions players make are a positive part of the gameplay experience.

GameDev Protips: How To Dramatically Improve Your Game’s User Experience

While the core game loop is extremely important to a game, the user experience is even more so. It should be responsive, consistent, intuitive, and reactive. When possible, minimize the number of clicks and menus. An overage of button presses to get to what needs to be got to will lead to the UX being clunky and much less appealing to the player, often contributing to a player feeling like they have a lot to learn due to the expansiveness of it all. When a player feels overwhelmed, they might not stay for the long haul, which is pretty horrible for retention.

Make sure the UX is responsive, or fast. If elements on the UI take longer than a tenth of a second to change in response to the player, it’ll feel sluggish to the player. In a similar vein, make sure you are giving the player enough feedback. Animations, music, sound, error messages, alerts, force feedback, whitespace, size, and orientation of the UI can all affect the UX by guiding the player into one action or another. Good feedback won’t break immersion and is a natural part of the game. Be consistent with your UX. Don’t make the player relearn a new system in every single area of the game. Use the same UI patterns over and over with slight variations as necessary. This helps the player gain mastery of the game more quickly which allows the UI to fade into the background so that they can just play without monitoring all the various meters consciously.

The UI of your game isn’t just about visuals, but also input, the part that directly affects the UX. While there are a lot of resources on form and menu design that should be useful, as a general guideline think about hotkeys, touch interfaces, gamepads, or other control methods. If any of these are off, the player can be given a poor experience. Use an appropriate control method for each platform, and ensure that each one’s specific layout is tested extensively and found to be appropriate. Giving the player the option to change control layouts is one way to guarantee that something will work out for each player.

Even though the UI is a large part of the UX, don’t limit yourself entirely to the UI. Expand into the UX itself. How is the onboarding experience? How does a player feel when they play the game? How long does it take for a player to become proficient at playing your game? Things like this are important considerations for the UX. Also think of exterior factors. If a game is frustrating or confusing, it can break immersion even if the immersion would otherwise be perfect. Don’t try to trick the user either, as this can contribute to frustration. While this mostly applies to mobile, accidentally clicking an ad that takes you out of the game completely or having DLC that shouldn’t be there can ruin a player’s experience, since it often takes multiple menus and button presses to get out of the ad or buy the DLC, if they choose to do so.

A lot of the UI/UX starts with the player’s expectations before they ever even start playing your game, in my opinion at least. What are your game’s genre conventions for the interface? What promises does your marketing make that should be reflected in the interface? Can your game actually deliver? Don’t try to break UI conventions with some fancy new pattern unless it is clearly better and easier to use and master, as proven by extensive testing. This also applies to the text on the actual visual elements, such as saying “Get Out” rather than “Quit” or “Exit.” Controls are also fitting here, as if you are using some weird control scheme without offering the ability to change it, such as using ESDF instead of WASD, it can frustrate players and turn them away from the game before they even start. In the end, all of this comes down to playtesting. Watch how new players use the interface. See where they get frustrated and why. While they may not often have a solution themselves, they can at least point out problem areas.

Important Takeaways: Your UX, user experience, is another key factor in making the player’s experience a positive one. The user experience is similar in that you want to ensure it flows as smoothly as possible by minimizing clicks and menus, making it respond quickly, having appropriate controls, giving good feedback, and avoiding frustrating or confusing the player in general. Stick with conventions, and use other games as a guide. A lot of the elements in UI/UX design are controlled by player’s expectations before they even begin playing — don’t attempt to break the mold that exists for a particular genre if it leads to an increased potential for confusion.