There are billions of gamers playing video games globally.
In 2021, the worldwide gaming market generated upwards of $178 billion in revenue. For 2022 that amount is projected to increase up to $196 billion. 😳 And as technology continues to improve these numbers will likely continue to rise.
These statistics are probably not that surprising for serious gamers and game developers. But they can sound staggering for those new to game design. So what goes into designing and developing an online gaming experience versus a standard mobile app or digital experience?
We sat with Ben Jones, Creative Director at Zenimax Online Studios, to talk about all things GAMES! This article will explore some key focus areas for game developers, effective gaming development and how to build a successful design team.
At the core of any great product design is effective UX. Where game design differs is how strongly they focus on the end-user experience. Ben and his team think about outcomes upfront and define what they hope to generate and the emotions they aim to elicit. And not only do they keep in mind their target market, but they also think about how the game will evolve to serve the market’s needs in the long term.
These focus areas are the guiding principles around which the entire product and game experience is shaped. Thinking about these questions early in the process allows teams to form and achieve tangible goals. And they serve as a guiding light that will take the experience through extensive user testing and frameworks.
On top of user experience, an added element informs the game development process — the story. Not user stories that you may be familiar with in product design but an actual narrative that gets told through the user journey. This story acts as the throughline for the product and connects its different elements.
Unlike other digital products, the story element plays a pivotal role in developing and shaping the game experience. This vision for a high-level world and the narrative told through gameplay are equally essential components in and of themselves.
The unique challenge in game design is finding and creating connections between the storyline, art and gameplay.
According to Ben:
It’s about trying to create something cohesive. You can create great art, but if there isn’t a good story to connect with that art, it’s going to fall short and vice versa. We need to do all that and create a great experience as well. So there is a lot to do in terms of interconnected parts, and each informs the other as we progress.
Once these connections are formed, it makes it much easier to reinforce or improve upon them as the development process unfolds.
Whether a development team is creating new intellectual property (IP) or building on existing IP, there are challenges associated with both. When creating new IP, there is more freedom in the development process. However, there is also more uncertainty. Without a proven product and narrative, it’s difficult to know how effective the game will be until you reach the user testing phase. When working with existing IPs, there’s less uncertainty but a greater responsibility to form clear lines of communication with all stakeholders.
The Elder Scrolls Online (ESO) is part of a longstanding game series within the ZeniMax portfolio. As a game that's been around for decades, it has an extensive IP and fanbase. When bringing fresh experiences to games like ESO, teams must communicate more closely with other IP holders to ensure that anything new added fits the current interpretation of that IP. Additionally, they need to ensure these experiences are tailored to the existing loyal fan base of the game while also attracting new market segments.
Whether working with existing IPs or creating new IPs, it’s important to have the right team for the job. Some teams gravitate toward working with existing IP and excel when there are current guidelines they need to function within. Others are more effective at creating new IPs and thrive when there aren’t as many limitations to their creativity. It’s rare when teams can do both successfully.
Connectivity and access to products from multiple devices are more important than ever. Developers need to think about how to meet people where they are. Often, that’s not in front of a TV, where gameplay traditionally has been centered around. Developers, now more than ever, should focus on how to deliver rewarding and innovative experiences across multiple devices and in various environments.
Though many games are centered around a core product or device, it will be increasingly important to allow users to maintain their relationship with that product when they only have access to a mobile device. This builds brand loyalty and helps people enjoy more entertainment throughout their day.
Trust and transparency are at the core of building effective game design and development teams. But, historically speaking, many gaming studios have lacked these elements in articulating goals and changes within operations. This has led many in the industry to focus on positive change and create more effective team environments
In regards to team building, Ben says:
The goal with our team is to take all the lessons we’ve learned over the many years of development experience and apply the best practices. We aim to take these concepts and generate a lot of energy within our community around commonly held goals. We focus on clear communication, transparency, trust and honesty. And when we can approach our shortcomings with honesty and a desire to learn from them, it makes us all better. It also leads to the creation of better products at the end of the day.
When hiring, it’s important to be open about your values regarding product development and team building. Making these known helps prospective team members understand how they are expected to interact daily with colleagues.
It’s also important to be transparent about how projects are going, the associated challenges, and recent wins. Though these conversations are usually confidential, you can share relevant details when candidates or new hires are under NDAs. This helps them get excited about projects, establishes a sense of trust and makes them feel part of the development community.
For digital products, especially games, delivering exceptional UX is a must. Developers need to focus on the experiences and emotions they want to generate from the start of any project to bring the best end products to their users. Great UX is a byproduct of building dynamic teams with common goals. For these teams to succeed, transparency, trust and honesty are essential. When these values are in place and shared by all team members, it creates an atmosphere where true innovation can occur.
If you’d like to learn more or have questions, contact us at Majestyk today!
Stay in the loop! Join our newsletter for monthly updates on industry news, company updates, recent work and job openings.
When you work with a respected development vendor that’s the right fit, you can leave any concerns behind and focus on building a partnership.
Bringing a product from ideation to complete design is a process with key phases that require detailed attention.