A person plays video game

The Complete Guide to Game UX

There are several components to a game that make it extraordinary or even good. Beyond details like a storyline and graphics, one crucial component is the game user experience or UX. 

This can effectively determine whether a game is a hit or a miss. So, if the game has excellent UX, it has a good chance of becoming a wide success. Here’s a guide to understanding Game UX and everything else about it. 

What Is UX Design?

Game UX is a branch of UX design. As such, getting familiar with UX design in itself is vital to laying a solid framework for understanding game UX. 

UX design is primarily concerned with the experience a user gets when interacting with a product or service. It’s a comprehensive concern that begins from the moment the user first encounters the product or service to how they feel afterward. 

So, UX design goes beyond just putting designs together to understanding exactly what would resonate with users. This involves understanding their needs, behaviors, patterns, preferences, and other elements of human psychology. 

It is different from user interaction or UI design, which is mainly concerned with aesthetics and visuals. UI is concerned with the product’s interactive areas — including components such as layouts, icons, colors, and typography. 

Essentially, UI design wants the product to look great and easy to understand and use. UX design is concerned with how the product looks and how the user feels about the product. 

What Is Game UX?

Game UX, leading from UX design in itself, revolves around the sort of experience that a player gets from playing a particular video game. It comprises the full suite of the user’s experience, including the following: 

  • Game interface 
  • Gameplay mechanics 
  • Controls 
  • Audio 
  • Visuals 
  • General design 

Game UX aims to make games as enjoyable and engaging as possible to keep players hooked. While game UX and regular UX design have certain similarities, there’s a key difference. The main goal of traditional UX design is to take away any challenges that users may face when interacting with a product. 

Game UX, on the other hand, sees designers building challenges that players must surmount within the game in order to move along. The tricky part is that there needs to be a middle ground between the difficulty and the reward for surmounting the difficulty. 

A mix of reward and challenge is part of what keeps players engaged and makes them enjoy the game. Once they start to feel high levels of stress from the challenges set before them, the balance has clearly tilted. 

Game UX Progression 

Back in the day, the experiences of game players weren’t particularly great. The controls required a good level of skill, the challenges were really stressful, and signposts within the game were oblique, implying that they were easy to miss. So, many players would miss their way within the games. 

In recent times, game developers have focused on designing game worlds that can be navigated with little hassle. These intuitive and responsive worlds also comprise challenges that do require a measure of effort, and the reward is complementary. 

Since the competition is tough, each entity strives to outdo the other and retain the attention of users. As such, they know that they would have to design the games in such a way as to elicit an emotional response from users. This gets them hung up on the game, and they talk about it to their friends and social media — word-of-mouth advertising. 

This is why UX is more important than ever. Since games have grown much bigger and have become entire productions, game companies now have in-house game UX designers who collaborate with traditional developers, game testers, and artists.

Ball point pen on a notebook.
Ideation in game UX usually requires a lot of putting pen to paper.

What Is the Difference Between Game UX and Game UI?

It is crucial to note the distinction between game UX and game UI, although they are used interchangeably sometimes. Game UI covers the user interface area, including icons, buttons, and notifications that pop up to guide the player in navigating the game world. 

Game UI focuses solely on visuals and appearance, while UX extends to consider all areas of the user’s experience while gaming. 

What Is Game UX Design? 

Game UX design is a comprehensive process that comprises making a prototype of the game or application, releasing it to potential users for testing, and then making design adjustments based on feedback received. 

It is a comprehensive process because each time the results are not the desired ones, a new prototype would have to be developed. In other words, it is done iteratively. 

UX game design has only recently become popular because of the increase in mobile gaming. 

Components of UX Game Design

UX game design has various vital components that all contribute to making it what it is. Without any of these components, a game might feel ‘incomplete.’


The role of signals is two-fold. First, to manufacture a sort of rich and overarching engaging experience that allows players to be drawn into the game and keep paying for hours.  

Signals could either be visual or auditory cues to inform the player of what is happening around them. Visual cues could comprise colors, icons, animations, or even texts that carry warnings or instructions. This informing bit is the second role that signals play.

Signals in games intend to bolster the player’s understanding of game mechanics, help improve their navigation, and guide them toward achieving their goals. Some excellent signal examples are ‘victory sounds’ when a level is successfully cleared or the sound after defeating an enemy. 


Feedback is supposed to show just how interactive the game is. It is basically pre-programmed responses in the game to the actions of the player. It comprises any form of communication between the game and the player to notify them of what the result of their choices or actions can be. 

For feedback to be effective, it has to be timely, clear, and useful to the player in order to enhance their enjoyment or engagement. Feedback isn’t always positive. While positive feedback spurs the player, negative feedback constitutes a warning, allowing the player a chance to restrategize. 

A good example is a player falling from a great height, and the character dies. This action indicates that the character is mortal, so the player should tread more carefully. 

Signals and feedback in video games strongly enhance the player’s emotional connection to the game world. 


The hallmark of a great game is its ability to immerse you in gameplay for hours or days at a time. Think of it as being hooked or temporarily addicted to the game. To make this happen, the controls must be easy to figure out and the game interface easy to navigate. 

The controls must be arranged and structured ergonomically such that it doesn’t cause physical discomfort to the player. For instance, having to reach out to a solitary part of the controller or needing to crisscross the fingers somehow to access a function isn’t ideal. 

After a while, players would feel discouraged and likely drop the game.


The onboarding process is a critical one because it’s a make-or-break thing for the player. If the process is easy, and the player finds it enjoyable, albeit slightly challenging, they can stick with it. However, if the game tutorial features a cluttered interface and complicated controls, there’s no motivation to keep at it. 

Nobody really wants to do a deep dive into researching a game they want to play for relaxation purposes. Therefore, a critical component of game design is designers working to ensure that the process of learning the game for new players is smooth and enjoyable. 

Right from the learning point, the player’s interest should be piqued, and they should look forward to getting into the main gameplay. Proper onboarding ensures that the player isn’t frustrated before getting into the real thing. 

To hold player attention, a measure of creativity is necessary such as interactive tutorials and guided experiences. UX game designers also have to gradually familiarize the player with rules, controls, and objectives. 

In addition, it might help to provide players with tips and new controls at the point where they need it when they start playing the game. This way, they’re not bombarded with way too much information that leaves them overwhelmed. 


To get the most practical results, it is crucial to test the game with real users. Carrying out playtests allows designers to review crucial feedback from users that can be implemented to adjust sections of the game design and enhance the general experience. 

Beyond the feedback provided by players themselves, designers can observe how players interact with the game and glean information on how the mechanics and gameplay systems function, note areas that can be improved as well as any changes that should be made to the entire design. 

Playtests, similar to prototyping, can help designers recognize areas that have bugs or ergonomic challenges. This, in turn, ensures that players can engage and enjoy the games better.

What Are the Stages of UX Game Design?

Different UX teams adopt various processes based on preference and other factors. However, the teams all have certain similarities. Here are some of the stages of UX game design that would cut across the board: 

  • Research and planning: this is the initial stage that focuses mainly on understanding the target audience via research and information gathering. In this stage, the target audience’s needs and requirements are figured out and used to determine the game’s features, mechanics, and objectives.  
  • Conception and ideation: this is a brainstorming stage that sees ideas gathering for crucial details like the game storyline and mechanics, amongst others. After this process follows prototyping and assembly of ideas into a form that can be used. 
  • Design and production: this is a key development stage because the game interface, sound, graphics, and other related components are determined. Typically, there would be a design document or wireframe detailing the specifics. Coding and running tests on the game happen at this stage too. 
  • Testing and iteration: this is the stage where a sampling of the target users would playtest a prototype of the game. Feedback and comments would be compiled regarding user experience and usability. A more improved prototype would be released afterward, and the process would repeat. 
  • Launch and post-launch: the game launch sees its introduction to the general public which could be via a ceremony, and then marketing and promotion would commence. At this point, the job of the UX game designer would be working on updates and improvements users request as well as continuous support and maintenance.

What Is the Role of the Game UX Designer?

The game UX designer plays a critical role in ensuring that the end-user or the player is actually able to make sense of the rules and mechanics of the game. This basically sees the designer putting themself in the shoes of the user and viewing the game through their eyes. 

More often than not, developers are caught up in the more complex and as such, may not be able to imagine the reality of what a novice gamer would experience. This is why a major aspect of UX is ensuring that the process of player onboarding is as seamless as can be. 

Beyond the design skill in itself, game UX designers understand the psychology of the players — their thought processes and behavior. The prototype testing that sees the use of actual target players also contributes to providing more insight, thanks to feedback received. Some of the channels used for feedback gathering include: 

  • Interviews 
  • Surveys 
  • Online forums 
  • User testing sessions 

Suppose multiple people highlight the same thing — whether an issue or a feature that they like, it is clear that such an area would have to be worked on or enhanced in either case. Ultimately, the users determine whether a game works for them, and as such, they must be catered to.

holding game controller in front of TV


Game UX design is a major make-or-break activity for any game. It is practically one of the backbones of any game, and the better the UX design, the better the chances of good reception. Of course, other factors like storyline and characters are important as well; however, they still tie into the game’s UX. So, the importance of game UX cannot be overstated. 

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