I volunteered at MonRiverGames (MRG) for their 2023 Summer session, and amidst my excitement, quickly realized that the studio has yet to be involved with User Experience (UX) design. Having signed up to volunteer specifically to gain more experience in the field, I first doubted my decision - but soon enough - felt very grateful to have gained such an amazing experience.
Although a bit discouraging at first, the fact that MRG has done little with UX design actually gave me the freedom to pursue the subject however I wanted. I was trying to brainstorm a plan of action when I remembered the advice I received from Britt Dye, a UX designer I met at MRG’s portfolio review session earlier: write UI/UX reviews for different games or apps that interest you.
And that’s exactly what I did.
I started by reviewing MRG’s PurpleHouse, a choice and consequence plant building/maintenance game. I had never played the game, nor ever written a UX review before, so this was super exciting. I downloaded the game, created a blank google doc, set my timer….
I started playing PurpleHouse, and I scanned for what worked - and what didn’t - for each segment of the game. Soon, I amassed a large chunk of information, and decided to specify the objects/metrics I was testing for the sake of clarity. I wanted to make sure that I capture each and every element that might impact a player’s gaming experience, and eventually ended up with the following factors:
Is the layout balanced? Is it effective?
How’s the art style? Is it consistent?
Is the color choice effective?
Is there enough contrast between different colors?
Are there any grammatical errors?
Is the meaning clear?
Is the text effective in advancing the story?
Is the font effective/appropriate?
Does audio play smoothly?
Are different sound effects and audio tracks complimentary?
Is audio use effective?
Is this segment of the game effective in communicating and advancing the storyline?
Is the design intuitive? Will the player be able to learn the game mechanics easily?
Under each of the factors listed above, I would elaborate on the problem in greater detail, and I would include potential solutions for it as well. I also included images detailing the segment of the game that I was referring to, and finally created a table of contents for what became a massive, 34-page UX review document. Finally, after 7 consecutive hours of hard work, I finally closed Purple House, and the google doc, and just felt so proud. That is, until I sent the review document back to Britt. After reading her feedback, I realized how I, as an aspiring UX designer, had failed to design a user-friendly review document.
I mean, I included lots and lots of detail, searched every nook and cranny of the game for potential mishaps and opportunities to improve, and wrote everything down in the doc file. I wanted my review to make the game better so that the player can have the best experience possible.
So, where did I go wrong?
Well, I got so caught up in the experience that the player would have playing the game, that I neglected the experience of my real audience: the busy game developers and artists at MRG. After all, they were the ones who are going to use my product, the UX review doc. I made a lot of mistakes, clearly, and I wanted to redeem myself, and to improve. So, I set my eyes on the next MRG game: SpyCats.
Spy Cats Remastered is a platforming adventure game where the player is, well you guessed it, a spy cat. I took a deep breath in, downloaded the game, and started a new fresh document, but this time I upgraded from google docs to google slides 😎. This time around, I wanted to craft a UX review that assessed the gaming experience in all of its factors, while not compromising the experience of the MRG team, and their sanity, while going through my review.
I shifted my focus from providing as many details as possible, to providing the minimum amount of detail that would effectively communicate the problem. And as Britt suggested, I also opted for an issue-first approach that followed the following formula:
Issue -> Image -> Reasoning -> Causes -> Impacts -> Recommendations
Finally, I devised a hierarchy system that I used to categorize the issues into three levels of severity. This way, the developers can focus on fixing the major
issues first, rather than be lost in an endless sea of problems, like how I usually am. This categorization system is inspired by an example UX report by Steve Bromley, whom Britt recommended to me as well.
After eight hours of hard work, I finally put SpyCats to rest, and this time, I felt really proud, and thus declared myself as the ultimate UX review master. I want to thank the MRG team for being such kind, interesting, and amazing people. And of course, Britt Dye for giving me such immense advice, and literally saving my life and reputation from total ruin. And most importantly, I hope you enjoyed and benefited from this article. I designed it with you in mind, so let me know how I did!
You can find both UX review documents that I made, as well as the example report by Steve Bromley, linked below. Please feel free to reference them, and do not hesitate to reach out to me with any questions.
Thank you for reading 🌷!