Users First: UX At DigiPen

If a tree falls down in a forest and no one is around to hear it did it ever really fall? If a game amazing but its UI/UX makes it impossible to play, is the game any good? An all too common issue with video game developers is the lack of focus on the people playing their games and instead of the game itself. This issue is all too common at DigiPen Institute of Technology where students are creating beautiful games with innovative mechanics, stunning visuals, and emotional soundtracks with no way for someone to experience it.

January 14, 2019

UI/UX is generally an under appreciated field within the video game industry as it is not commonly seen as vital to the experience. The base idea being without UI/UX the game can still be played. But a game cannot be played if there are no users to play it. What great UI/UX does is push a game forward to a professional and accessible benchmark. It is vital to the overall product just like the combat system, music, art, cutscenes, and etc. Here we take a look at two images:

These are taken from my senior game project at DigiPen: Takowana County. It is clear what good UI/UX will do for a game. When you look at the default thrown together UI you feel like the game is cheap. That it is just a student indie game thrown together and there isn't much to it. When you see a polished and fitting UI you feel like the game is done. That this is a product the team cared about and everything was lifted to a higher standard. Furthermore, the UI helps drive the guidance of the player experience so they can play the game. That is the power of great UI and UX.

"People ignore design that ignores people"

-Frank Chimero, Designer

During my mentorship for the junior level teams at DigiPen I found an all too common issue: no one cares about UI. Each team you ask brushes the idea aside saying it it’ll be done in a week or there is too much else to do. It is an uphill battle to convince the team of why UI must be a focus. The problem stems from the obsession to

create more. There is a societal idea that quantity is better than quality. That employers will see how large your output is and be impressed. The teams want to make everything they can and put it all in the game, leaving no room for anything else! Their hamartia, tragic flaw, makes it so no one will be able to play their games. No one will want to play them because they do not look complete or polished. They put the game first and the user second. That is the tragic flaw with DigiPen game teams.

What could be done to help then? If teams do not want to listen to the important of UI/UX then how do you improve the games being produced? The possible solution is a combination of several actions all with the common theme of giving students more time:

- Reduce the credit load at DigiPen

- Allow designers to specialize early in their fields

- Limit the size and scope of games being made

Secondly, allowing designers to specialize is vital so that these students can develop a portfolio focused in what they want to do. Teams do not need general designers, they need ones hired for specific reasons. If designers are allowed to specialize early they will find what they are good at and more UI/UX developers will be available to spread around the different teams.

Each one of these changes contributes to the overall issue of neglected UI/UX in DigiPen games. Firstly, there are too many credits that students are required to take. 154 was the minimum needed to secure my graduation with semesters of 20 credit loads bearing down on my 4 year career. There is no need for that amount of credits in order to have the information and skills you need to be a successful and amazing developer. There are a lot of classes that could be cut out reducing workload and producing more quality levels of work. 

"Design used to be the seasoning you'd sprinkle on for taste; now it's the flour you need to start the recipe"

-John Maeda

Lastly, the professors in charge of the game projects must limit the size and scope of the games teams are making. Traditionally, game class was more of a free-form, do what you need to do type of development style. In the world, however, developers do not get to make decisions on how large the game is and how many things they can put into it. Producers and executives cut from the top and professors at DigiPen should be doing the same in order to ensure polished and higher quality products. 

DigiPen has produced a lot of games and amazing developers, but it does not mean they can't do better. With a lifted workload, and restructuring of curriculum, the game teams at DigiPen can excel producing professional levels making users wish there was more to play. The potential of the games is immense but due to a lack of time, and disciplines, there is not enough of a focus on user experience causing them to remain as just student games. Change this mindset. Focus on the the user because they are the ones who will decide what your game is. Cater to them, be accessible to them, and always put them first.

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