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The Challenges of Creating An Open Ended UI Design For Multiplayer Games

I take a dive into explaining the challenges that come with creating a UI that game developers can customize themselves.

As the resident artist and UI designer for Grantoo, I’ve been lucky enough to assist in the design of a unique product: a multiplayer SDK that brings asynchronous play to mobile games. One of the things which makes the SDK unique is its ability to be skinned, it is designed to take on the look and feel of the game instead of taking the player out of the core experience.

The tech can achieve this because it offers up many customizable images and options. Developers have control over background image, button colours (both an up and a down state), menu colours, icons, loading screen as well different banners which are used throughout the SDK, all of which can updated through the admin panel and changed on the fly.

When we began development, the level of customization we were promising developers introduced us to some serious design challenges. We needed to figure out how to design a UI that looks just as great labeled as a cute kid’s game as it does as a sleek racing title. Added were the challenges of receiving conflicting feedback from a variety of different sources, each with their own needs and problems that needed to be addressed.

Here are a few things I have learned during this past year:

Game Art Matters

It is amazing how the assets can drastically change the look of the experience. High quality backgrounds and banners really do make the difference. Since the UI structure of our product is pretty generic, it is only as good as the artwork that surrounds it. The best results are achieved when graphics are fun, aren’t too busy and clearly show the game brand.

Helping developers achieve this level of quality with the assets has been a work in progress. I discovered that putting together detailed documentation and guidelines on how assets fit within the SDK has certainly helped produce some great results.

Managing Feedback

Sorting through feedback from multiple sources is difficult. In my experience, people aren’t always clear when it comes to explaining what bothers them about a design. It always helps to dive deeper and ask more questions, try to get to the root of the problem and separate a functional problem from personal opinion.

For instance, some people might prefer a round button and some may prefer a square. Which is correct?

The best advice I can give is to ask why they prefer a different shape. You may find that it isn’t the shape that bothers them but something different. I like to ask for visual examples of work they do like. After taking a look at actual examples it may become clear that what they really wanted was in-fact a smaller button and the shape didn’t really matter at all.

Analytics Help. A Lot.

Another problem with feedback and personal opinion is that it may not address the problem. I’m lucky enough to have access to our analytics to steer us in the right direction. When testing a new look or feature, we often find that what we think will happen and what happens are different. Sometimes the only way to know for sure that what you designed works is by watching it in action.

Don’t Take Things Personally

As they say, you can’t make everyone happy all of the time. You need to make the tough calls and decide on a feature or look that the majority can live with, even if it may put-off a few.

Whether this decision is made based on feedback, analytics, tech constraints or just a gut feeling, you can only steer the solution in the best possible direction. Some may not be entirely content, but they’ll usually understand it’s creating the best outcome with what you have.

A fantastic thing about being a designer at Granoo is that we can learn from and quickly correct our mistakes. We are able to change things on the fly which gives us more freedom to experiment with our design until we find the solution that makes the most sense. Design challenges will continually roll in, but when you create something that allows a greater amount of freedom for your clients, you know those challenges are worth tackling.

To see more about the tech that I've helped build, you can check out blog.grantoo.com

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