Browser games - The nightmare of UI design
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Posted 25 September 2011 - 08:24 PM
I'm working on a browser game and being a developer I know very little about UI design. I know my way around Photoshop but when it comes time to doing wire frames it's always trial and error. With that in mind I've been looking around at a lot of browser games currently on the market to take notes from. What I've noticed is that very few actually look decent and even less have good UI design.
The main issue I have with a lot of browser games is in how they completely overdo the designs in order to look more 'game' like. This means you tend to end up with browser games that look like:
There's something about the overly airbrushed, in your face graphics I always find off-putting. It's almost always style over function, making the actual use of the website confusing. I think the same reason I dislike these overly designed browser games is the same reason 99% of the winamp skins around are completely useless.
I was reading this article the other day and while I think the author has a good point, it didn't come across very well. The key message seems to be 'stay consistent', echoed on this site as well. The application he is focusing on failed because it's not consistent with other apps. I think that key message got lost in the replies of the article
Taking that into account, I think the biggest issue when designing a website for a browser game is that it needs to be two things at once. It needs to be consistent with the rest of the web, which means looking like a clean, well made website. On the other hand, it's a game so it needs to look more flashy, have more graphics, set a stronger theme on the website, more animations. The problem is this is completely opposed to the way you would design a post-1999 website, so the rest of the internet that are not games (as in, websites you interact with as a game) clash against your website and it immediately comes off as an inconsistent.
Another issue I see with a lot of browser games is that in setting a tone/theme for the website, they tend to focus on one color, for example, deepolis:
In an attempt to set an underwater theme, everything is one color. Trying to find what items are buttons or which areas are more important than others fly in the face of the most basic UI design rules I've come across. For example, even GDnet uses a mix of blue green and white for its navigation buttons.
This all being said, Duels is probably the best design I've come across:
It's nothing fancy, but all the trappings are there. Good artwork for each page (eg. the armory) to set the scene, very obvious uses of color for page layout, a design that doesn't rule the UIX (I learnt that one the other day, "user interface experience" eh?) and a layout that is consistent with other websites.
Now it was around here I was going to post some concepts I have so far, but just writing this post I've realized mine could do with some work. SO, while I work out the problems does anyone else here know of any browser games that have good UI? Any websites that break all design conventions that need to be burnt to the ground? Anything to add to my theory above on why browser games have such a hard time being usable and looking like a game?
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Posted 27 September 2011 - 10:51 PM
In fact, I don't see the problems in your examples as you pointed them out, but I appreciate your insights, as something I would have to consider if I manage to land a UI design job, which I have been looking into.
I also have a few more problems to consider: 2 different screens, even from the same manufacturer, will display colors differently. Different web browsers will display web pages differently, and may support different features, all complicating the process.
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Posted 28 September 2011 - 12:54 PM
I thought this was precisely the point, to draw the user away from a standard web experience into something that would feel more like a desktop\stand-alone game (common for having adornments all around the screen).
The main issue I have with a lot of browser games is in how they completely overdo the designs in order to look more 'game' like.
Compare those Deepolis screens with a Starcraft 2 one: http://i56.tinypic.com/j5y2hk.jpg
What I realize from this is that perhaps the most important part in browser-games UI design is consistency with the game's theme rather than if it looks like it's being played from a website or not.
EDIT: I see now how that Starcraft 2 screen differs from the Deepolis example you posted. It has a more balanced color scheme and composition.
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Posted 28 September 2011 - 01:28 PM
Personally, I think less is more. The OP is pretty much spot on, those sample sites simply overload the audience with visual clutter. Making important navigation elements clear and easy to find is paramount. Additional stuff should appear in a contextual manner, if possible.
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Posted 02 October 2011 - 09:40 PM
those sample sites simply overload the audience with visual clutter. Making important navigation elements clear and easy to find is paramount. Additional stuff should appear in a contextual manner, if possible.
This is probably a better way of putting it =)
In fact, I don't see the problems in your examples as you pointed them out
I agree that browser game websites often look nice, but it's the usability I have issue with. For example, take the SC2 screenshot. It's very pretty, but the actual layout is quite simple. The background is quite soft while all items you can interact with a very obviously highlighted. Functionality is also grouped into areas that the eyes can focus on with the more fancy areas (like the logo) out of the way of where your eyes might be scanning.
In contrast, if we look at Nemexia or OGame, they certainly look nice but my eyes go into a seizure every time I look at them. Items are scattered all over the place with no obvious grouping. In the case of OGame, I'm willing to bet most people don't even notice the verticle list of planets on the far right or the email icon in the top left. While these two are more of an example of poor layout, there's also games like THIS monstrosity. I have to ask, what is going on anywhere on this screenshot! This one is not far behind either. In an effort to stand out they've made a website that is near impossible to use. It reminds me of web development sites that are often trying to do the same thing - trying to hard to stand out by looking amazing rather than making a website that works.
Now I realise that this is not specific to browser games, it just seems much more common. An example of a video game ditching all good UI for over the top designs being XCom 1 vs XCom interceptor.
I think a big part of these crazy layouts is maybe just the medium of web. In a video game going through a few screens to find some information is expected. In a browser game that's a whole other 3-4 page requests which could take seconds each to load. It's more work on the servers end, it's more work the developers end to track your location in the windows (since hotkeys are not used as much navigation is more important) and its more bandwidth on the clients end. I think because of this there's a compulsion to put everything the player might want to do in one screen. I've also noticed that a majority of these games were developed before modal windows were common place and the use of new popup windows was forbidden, therefore giving them less options of where to put information. This also goes for simple menu/navigation animations that used to require flash that are now done in HTML5 or jQuery.
I think part of the reason I also dislike over designed browser game interfaces that video games tend to give a lot more feedback to the user through animations, highlights, rollovers and sound. While a simple 'click' noise as you roll over an element in a video game is amazingly helpfull, any noise feedback in a browser game is very poorly looked upon. I think the experience playing something like gratuitous space battles in a browser would be a completely different level of feedback and interface design.
Now that all being said, this is just of course my opinion. I know less about UI design than I do raising horses. What this post is hoping to ask is:
A) Are these designs needed? If a browser game looked clean and simple to the point where you barely even notice it, is that dooming the game from the start?
B) With no flashy graphics to fill up the screen, are over the top designs unavoidable?
C) If you are playing a browser game, does having an over designed layout immerse you in the game anymore than a simple layout? Is it all for naught anyway?
D) Should browser game layouts and UI be treated the same as any other website on the internet?
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Posted 05 October 2011 - 04:37 AM
It's horrible. One should never subject the audience to a blank white screen, with nothing but a percentage counter ticking, or hourglass/ball spinning, etc. That is a really good way to frustrate people, or make them lose interest in the site. Deliver content to the audience as quickly as possible. Even if there is a lot data in the page, try loading the skeletal structure first, then the visual fluff later. In other words, progressively build the page as it loads. The reason why you want to do this is because web users will scan and read the page immediately as it loads. This keeps them occupied while the page is constructed and hopefully they will be distracted. Sometimes the user doesn't even wait for the page to finish loading, the user navigates around the site quite spontaneously.
It reminds me of web development sites that are often trying to do the same thing - trying to hard to stand out by looking amazing rather than making a website that works.
Interestingly, there was a survey was done on user perception for site responsiveness, but unfortunately I lost the reference. The experiment involved various sites that took equally long to load. However, some pages forced the user to wait for until it loaded completely, while other pages were the progressive kind I described earlier. Turns out, users thought the progressive loading sites were heaps faster compared to the one with the stupid percentage counter. Something to keep in mind.
Regarding your other questions, it's about having a good sense of web styling. The design does not need to be barren, but you may need to compose your UI elements in such manner that the decor is not distracting. In other words, the visual fluff should be mostly in the background and the important elements should dominate. If you spend more than 2 ~ 3 seconds looking at the site, just to find a key UI navigation point, then you are doing something wrong. One effective example for getting the focus right, you could borrow tricks used in photography, see here and here. For instance you may have important UI features nice and sharp, while not important styling completely out of focus (blurred) in the background.