CHI 2023: User Experience Design and Research in Games (C05)

Participants of the Virtual (Online) CHI 2023 Course


This online course trains how user experience (UX) methods are used in a game context. The course consists of three units: UX design for games, games user research, and game analytics. The course material comes from the “Games User Research” book published by Oxford University Press, and the book’s editors will teach it. This course focuses on UX design and research for game development. Students will learn the skills they need to recognize, analyze, and understand player feedback so they can make valid decisions about how to design games. Through exercises and assignments, participants will learn how to identify factors that affect how a player plays a game and how to incorporate feedback into their design process. Participants will learn ways to get information from players, such as through direct observation, interviews, and surveys. Participants will be equipped with skills, knowledge, and tools to understand players to create engaging games.

Apr 12, 2023 10:00 AM — 2:00 PM
Virtual Event (CHI 2023)

Course Introduction Video

Welcome to this course on user experience (UX) design and research in games. We are delighted to have you with us and hope you will find the course both informative and engaging. This lesson will provide a comprehensive overview of the topics we will cover, as well as an introduction to your course instructors. We will also engage in interactive activities and exercises to help you practice and refine your skills in UX design and research for games.

Course Outline

  1. Introduction and Icebreaker Activity
  2. UX Design for Games
  3. UX Research for Games: Methods and Activities
  4. Game Analytics

Throughout the course, we will adhere to the following schedule, although minor adjustments may be necessary:

  1. Introduction and Icebreaker
  2. UX Design for Games
  3. Coffee Break
  4. UX Research for Games: Methods and Activities
  5. Lunch/Dinner Break
  6. Game Analytics

Our goal is to make this course as interactive and engaging as possible. We will ensure that the content is not dry and provide regular breaks to help you stay focused and have an enjoyable experience.

Instructor Introductions

Lennart Nacke

Lennart is a full professor and a leading researcher in human-computer interaction (HCI) and games. He leads the HCI Games Group, which focuses on high-quality research in this field. Lennart has received numerous accolades for his work, including being listed as a top 2% most cited scientist globally and a top 20 most influential scholar in HCI over the past decade.

Pejman Mirza-Babaei

Pejman is a faculty member at Ontario Tech University, specializing in user research and interaction design. With extensive experience in the industry, Pejman has worked as a director of user research and has been involved in publishing over 20 games. His expertise ranges from delivery robots to augmented reality and virtual reality design. He has co-authored two books: Game User Research and Game Designer’s Playbook.

Anders Drachen

Anders is a professor and director of the SD Metaverse Lab at the University of Southern Denmark. With over 20 years of experience, his research focuses on ultra-large-scale behavioural analysis and data science in games. Anders has co-authored the books Game User Research and Game Data Science.


UX Design vs. UI Design in Games

Presented by Lennart Nacke

In this short presentation, Lennart Nacke explained to you how to effectively design and implement User Experience (UX) and User Interface (UI) in video games.

By mastering UX and UI design, you’ll be able to create more engaging, enjoyable, and accessible gaming experiences for your players. This can lead to increased player satisfaction, higher player retention rates, and ultimately, greater success for your game.

Unfortunately, many game designers struggle to fully understand and incorporate UX and UI design principles in their projects. This is due to a variety of factors:

Lack of clear differentiation between UX and UI

  • Confusion about the differences between UX and UI design
  • Misconceptions about the roles and responsibilities of UX and UI designers
  • Overemphasis on one aspect (e.g., visuals) at the expense of the other (e.g., usability)

Some other common reasons for struggling with UX and UI design include:

  • Inadequate understanding of the target audience and their needs
  • Insufficient focus on accessibility and inclusivity
  • Lack of attention to detail in designing UI elements and game mechanics
  • Inability to effectively integrate narrative and gameplay elements

Not to worry though, Lennart guided you through the process of overcoming these challenges and presented how to create captivating gaming experiences through effective UX and UI design with examples.

UX Design: A Holistic Approach

UX design focuses on creating enjoyable, accessible, and engaging player experiences by considering all aspects of gameplay, from controls and mechanics to narrative and aesthetics. It is a holistic approach that helps you understand and improve how players interact with the game and respond emotionally to its elements.

UI Design: Focusing on Visual and Interactive Components

UI design, a specific sub-element of UX design, focuses on the visual and interactive components of the game interface, such as menus, icons, and HUD elements. The goal of UI design is to make these components clear, intuitive, and aesthetically pleasing, as they influence the user experience and the hedonic aspects of the game.

Examples of UX and UI Design in Games

Narrative Anchoring: The Last of Us

In the game “The Last of Us”, the narrative anchors the gameplay. The relationship between the characters Joel and his daughter is established early on, and the player experiences the game from different perspectives – first as the helpless daughter, then as the guardian. The narrative’s emotional anchor sets the pretext for the rest of the game, influencing the player’s experience throughout.

Heuristics and Game Accessibility

Heuristics, such as the Game Accessibility Principles (GAP), ensure that all information in the game is accessible to players. In “Fallout 3”, the targeting system (VATS) effectively presents information to players, such as the chance of a successful attack and the amount of damage dealt to enemies.

Non-diegetic and Diegetic UI Elements

In games, user interfaces can be either non-diegetic (not part of the game world) or diegetic (part of the game world). For example, “Tomb Raider” features context-sensitive instructions baked into the environment, guiding the player through the game. The game also uses highlighting colors to show where the character must go, effectively integrating UI elements into the game world.

Level Design and Weenies

Weenies, a term coined by Walt Disney Imagineers, are cues that guide players to different locations within the game. They are often used in level design to direct the player’s attention and provide a sense of direction. In “Half-Life 2”, the Citadel serves as a weenie, drawing the player towards it throughout the game.

The Synergy of UX and UI Design in Gaming

Understanding and implementing UX and UI design in games is crucial to create an engaging and enjoyable player experience. The examples given above like narrative anchoring, heuristics, diegetic and non-diegetic UI elements, and weenies, help designers enhance the user experience and create a more immersive and captivating game.

UX Research on a Budget: Methods, Tips, and Considerations

Presented by Pejman Mirza-Babaei

Why Address UX Research on a Budget?

This topic is included in the course because many questions arise from students, academics, and game companies—particularly smaller companies—about conducting UX research on a budget and where compromises can be made. As someone who has consulted with smaller companies that lack extensive research teams, this subject is particularly important to me.

Today, we will discuss the reasons for considering budget-friendly UX research, common issues, and tips for conducting better UX research.

Common Misconceptions in UX Research

In my experience working with game companies, there are several misconceptions about what constitutes UX research or usability testing. Here are some common ways game companies refer to playtesting or testing in general:

  1. Internal dev testing: Developers play their game to evaluate the progress of implemented features. This type of playtesting can be helpful, but it doesn’t always align with academic definitions of UX research or usability testing.

  2. Expo demos: Studios showcase their games at expos or events, where players give feedback on their experiences. While this involves playtesting, it focuses more on marketing and appreciation analysis than actual UX research.

  3. QA testing: Quality assurance personnel or consultants test games to find bugs and offer usability suggestions. This is another way some companies refer to testing, but it is not the same as academic UX research.

  4. A/B testing: Companies compare two different versions of a feature to determine which one is better. This method can be useful, but it is not the same as UX research or usability testing.

  5. Ideation testing: Participants engage with the product, but the company is not looking for specific feedback. Instead, they are seeking ideas for the design or development team to consider.

  6. Usability and appreciation testing: This is what most academics consider UX research, focusing on the user experience and satisfaction with the product.

Balancing Resources and Data Collection

While all these methods can help improve a game, the question is whether they can be combined to save resources. For example, if a small company is marketing their game at an expo, can they also collect data to help improve the game?

The key question to consider is how to differentiate between good, reliable, valid data and bad, misleading data. In my experience, many companies make mistakes in this area, drawing inaccurate conclusions from demos or internal dev testing.

As UX research experts, it is essential to help companies understand the reliability of their data and make informed decisions.

Lennart Nacke, PhD
Lennart Nacke, PhD

Hey there, I am a Professor and the Research Director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo in Canada. I am a world-leading expert on what makes games engaging and how we can use them to improve products, systems, and services. My research is widely discussed and recognized by the New Yorker, Forbes, MIT Technology Review, CTV News, New Scientist, The Daily Mail, PC Gamer Magazine, and elsewhere. I have edited a textbook on Games User Research and authored hundreds of academic articles in gamification, user experience research, human-computer interaction, and game design.