Game Design vs UX Design

I am keenly interested in migrating my skills in the world of UX Design to that of game design (physical board game design in particular). I recently discovered Raph Koster’s article titled Game Design vs UX Design and it obviously rung a bell for me.

As a UX Designer it is indeed my goal and job to remove obstacles from users path to success with software. Raph hits the nail on the head in his description of what a UX Designer does. I know he is specifically talking about video game design in this article, but I suspect much of this translates over to the world of board game design.

His list of goals as a game designer struck me as very helpful as I consider my role as a game designer:

  • challenging. Often, we want the game to make the user think a lot.
  • explorable. We usually want the user to think there are always more possibilities in there.
  • scalable, so that players learn better play as they play.
  • crazy juicy, so that players are captivated by spectacle, well beyond the needs of feedback from a UX perspective
  • inviting of error. We want players to learn through mistakes.


As I attempt to adapt my skills it seems imperative that I consider, understand and embrace how goals are different and how my skills as a UX Designer can be leveraged to achieve these goals.

Timmy, Johnny and Spike and the usage of personas in game design

mtgcom_daily_mr11b_pic1_enAn important tool in the world of UX design is the persona. It is used to describe your user base by breaking them into groups and giving them key traits and names. The idea is to remind the designer or developer that they are building a product for someone other then themselves. It doesn’t matter if you the designer understand the product – of course you do, you designed it – but rather, does the user?

Game design is the exact same way. As a game designer we are making games to be played by people. Most likely we are designing games to be played by non game designers. This great article by Mark Rosewater of MtG fame shows how they user personas to keep their target audience in mind as they create cards for their game.

Although I think of them as personas, Mark refers to them as Psychographic Profiles. This lead me to discovering something I hadn’t considered before in game design, aesthetic profiles. The notion of segmenting the audience based on their aesthetic expectations. In interface design it is well established the aesthetics play a key role in the usability of an application. And of course I translated this to game design. Even in the prototyping stage I believe that aesthetics play a big role in determining if we like a game or not. But what I had not considered is the importance of creating a persona of the types of aesthetics your audience is looking for.


Twenty Years, Twenty Lessons

This presentation from the lead designer on Magic the Gathering is fantastic. He shares highlights from 20 years of experience working on MtG. I personally love how so much of what he shares relates to the world of UX Design. He has a strong focus on how the users (players) will think of things and how they will expect things to work. It strongly parallels the way I think of using UX techniques in game design.