It’s not me breaking down over UX, although that’s not entirely unrealistic.

One of the opportunities I have when working on games is the analysis of other companies efforts when it comes to UX and UIs. This is part of my job. I need to keep current on things like trends and developments in UIs and UX. To some extent it’s also good for my own understanding of what it is we’re trying to do and the similarity and differences between the games we create and the games already out there.

Because games do different things in very different ways, the best way to deal with an analysis of a game is to figure out why you’re interested in the game in the first place. Is it to look at a certain part of it, such as onboarding and tutorials? Are you interested in systems and progression? Are you looking at the elder game or end game of the product or are you trying to figure out the game loops?

Depending on what your answer is to those questions, the way you approach a game from an analysis standpoint will be very different.

If you’re looking to find out about the elder game, then you have the process of playing the entire game in front of you. If you’re looking to analyse onboarding you might have to figure out a way to replay 1st time experience over and over. Maybe your interest lies in finding out the differences between a console and a PC version of the game, or perhaps the difference between console versions?

I’m probably damaged beyond repair by my work, but here’s how I do it when I have a ton of games to analyse.

  1. Set aside time to play. If you want a good analysis of a game, I’d argue it takes up to at least 20 hours or more to really understand how you feel about playing it. And you have to PLAY it. Watching streams or videos will only get you so far. You have to feel the controls and feel how easy or hard a thing is to do before you can start picking it apart.
  2. Create a template. A template helps you a) take the screenshots or videos you need b) help you if you need to compare games c) speed up the documentation process. In my own templates I always record how much time I’ve spent on the game and if I actually wanted to play it.
  3. Figure out why you’re looking at a specific game. Why is this game interesting?
  4. Take screenshots, video snippets and notes. Keep in mind, you’re human! Your impressions will change over the course of the game. If you take notes – and are honest when doing it – you’ll get a nice overview of how your own perceptions of the game changed as you play.

As an example, one of my favourite games is Mass Effect. The first time I played it, I saw it as a string of never-ending cutscenes. As I played and re-played the franchise, my impressions of the game changed. I appreciated the relatedness aspect of it and got to love the story. But I also know that my first impression of Mass Effect was one of impatience.

It might not sound super fun to take notes as you go, and perhaps that’s a fair impression. For me it has been invaluable. In a way, what I’m doing is subjecting myself to diary studies1 as I play. These studies help me remember pain points, friction and delightful moments (never forget to record what you enjoy!) that will help you later in your analysis.

Yes, I know, it sounds like a lot of work. I suppose it is. As you may suspect, I’ve already done this work on a bunch of games. My following posts on this specific topic will be all about UX and UI analysis of the games I’ve played.

  1. Nielsen, Diary Studies Link