While the idea of applying UX and usability principles is becoming fairly widespread when it comes to software and website design, but in fields like video games, UX is still a fairly unexamined aspect of game development, especially in the early, even pre-prototype phases. Thankfully, according to a wonderful conference I had the pleasure of attending, that conversation is about to change.

The Game UX Summit took place in Raleigh-Durham, NC on May 12, and was organized by Epic Games, creators of the Gears of War series.

There were a wide variety of speakers at the event, with about an equal number of academics and game developers, all giving their insight on how applying UX principles can enhance a game’s experience. UX in games is an interesting proposition, since it comes with a unique set of challenges. While many UX designers for websites or software aim to deliver a product that is, ideally, completely free of frustration, challenge, or friction in the user’s journey, games are built on exactly those things. A game with no challenge is boring, and even the best games have some degree of frustration built in as the player tries to pass a difficult section that could keep them stuck for hours.

But, one place that games shouldn’t feature frustration is in the actual operation of the game. One speaker, Anders Johansson, who worked on Ubisoft’s The Division, talked about the ways that they made the game more easy to navigate by creating a dynamic map that highlights different objects at different zoom levels, mimicking Google Maps’ method of making sense of the massive amount of data that could be present on a map at any time.

The highlight of the conference came from keynote speaker Don Norman, a true living legend in the UX world (he basically invented the term), who delivered an incredibly insightful talk about the need for UX in games, and in a broad sense how games can benefit from Design Thinking.

Norman pointed to some major issues facing the video game industry in terms of UX. As the industry currently stands, UX designers and developers are often at odds with each other, leading to an antagonistic relationship with developers seeing UX designers as “fun police”, trying to remove the unique aspects of their games. Norman pointed out that this lack of trust is mainly due to the fact that UX designers often come in too late in the game’s development, usually after many prototypes have already been made. He made the case for multidimensional teams, because it builds trust from the beginning. These kinds of multidimensional teams are seen in other industries, but they’re still fairly rare in the gaming industry.