Creating and Measuring the Emotional Experience in Games
You hear a lot about User Experience or UX, that mystical intangible that engages the player and leaves them wanting more. If you get it right, you’ll invoke the right emotions and the right time and your game will “feel” great to play. If you get it wrong, your game will leave players upset and angry, no matter how good the rest of the content is. So what exactly is the User Experience? How can you design for it? And most importantly, how can you measure it?
It’s All About Feelings
User Experience is officially defined as a person's perceptions and responses that result from the use or anticipated use of a product, system or service. That says everything you need to know about user experience but perhaps a more relevant term would be the Emotional Experience (EX). Mainly, how does the player feel when playing the game?
For The King is a cooperative and single player roguelike game where players experience the highs and lows of a fantastical adventure. Nailing the emotional journey that’s central to this epic adventure is fundamental to the success of the game. So during development we needed to know exactly what players were feeling throughout all stages of the game.
But before we could even consider how a player feels when playing the game, the first step was figuring out what we wanted the player to feel. Should they feel powerless or empowered? Scared or confident? Frustrated or uplifted? It’s important to lay out the beats of your game and plot the highs and the lows. It may seem counter intuitive, but sometimes you want a player to feel negative emotions like frustration or loss to make the positive emotions more impactful. This is particularly true in roguelike games such as For The King.
UX, or EX, as we like to say, dictates that we sometimes want to frustrate the players? Well, yes. And no. It’s important to draw a distinction between skill based frustration vs. design and implementation frustration. The latter, like when someone is having trouble navigating your inventory system, is almost always universally bad. Skill based frustration though is a necessary tool in any game which relies on mastery.
It’s through repeated failure that a player learns the skill sets needed to eventually succeed and master a game. Without the frustration of failure, no meaningful level of fulfillment can take place. Too much frustration and failure however can lead to players leaving your game, and a negative review, so a careful balance is needed.
I’m No Mind Reader
That’s all well and good, but how can you tell if you have the right emotional balance? Simple, just get people to play your game and read their minds. Or at least do your best job at interpreting what they’re feeling. It’s more important to properly gauge their emotional response than to listen to their feedback. Although both are important.
The best way gauge a player’s emotion response is to watch their body language and facial expressions. This last point is the most important part. You need to be watching their face, which, needless to say, we don’t often do because of the logistics and the creepiness factor. Enter online streaming.
A Stream of Emotions
By having a prolonged closed beta, we were able to actively encourage our beta testers to stream or post their videos online through sites like Twitch and Youtube. Posting play through videos really caught on and we dedicated a forum strictly for posting these play throughs so they were easy to find and encouraged others to do the same.
Roughly half the streamers would include a live webcam feed in their playthroughs which means we could stare into their eyes the entire time and not be totally creepy. Being able to see their raw emotions as they navigated through the game was the most valuable insight into the current state of the emotional experience in For The King. Best of all, players would post their playthroughs willingly which saves us time and money.
With these play through videos we could match up a player’s expected emotional response vs. their actual emotions. In essence we were able to figure out what was working in the game and what still needed work simply by watching people play Equally as important, we were able to gauge the overall emotional experience of the player. Did they actually enjoy themselves? Would they play again?
Watching people play was the single most valuable tool for tuning all aspects of For The King’s EX. We’ve learned that even if the game is perfectly fair and balanced, if it’s not eliciting the desired emotional response, it still requires tuning. We were often surprised at what in game events triggered certain emotions as well as the intensity of said emotions. Through incremental updates and patches to our beta were able able to track those experiences over time until we saw the desired responses.
Going forward we’ll continue to use streams as our primary gauge for how well new features and updates are performing. This will be particularly valuable throughout Early Access with the added benefit that these streams also help promote the game.
Planning out the beats of your game and measuring their effectiveness is the key to making a great game. By actively supporting and encouraging players to stream your game you can gain invaluable insight into the true emotional experience of the player, which is the most valuable tool a developer has.
For more information about For The King, visit our Website or Steam Store Page.