One of the most satisfying aspects of design is seeing your idea evolve and improve through interaction with users. I’ve been doing this for decades in my day job as a user experience strategist, putting our products in front of users to ensure it not only meets business (and design) goals but most importantly satisfies (and hopefully delights) our customers.
I was fortunate enough to work at WMS Gaming for five-plus years, and I learned a lot from the game designers and artists there. But we always made the most strides in our designs by sitting WITH users while they played our games, watching and listening carefully. Playtest, learn, iterate, repeat.
Without this step in your process, your game design (or product design) will never reach its full potential.
For my game tentatively titled Railway Clash, I’ve been able to sit through multiple playtesting sessions, and it’s already interesting to take a look back at the prototype trail of the train cars to see the evolution.
The first card has all the necessary information and was primarily used to see if I had a game concept worth playing. The play session was so successful, it blew me away. The players would not stop talking about the game! This was encouraging, but there were some valuable lessons learned – not just from players said but also by what I observed.
(Note: this first prototype was printed on business card stock at home)
- The information hierarchy needs clarity. The plain design made it hard to distinguish what information players needed and when they needed it.
- The name took up the space that could be used to make the game more fun.
- Players REALLY wanted the trains to connect when laid next to each other.
That led me to the second version:
The goal of this card was to make the buy price and value clearer, and put the bonus information under the value (where they could add it up together). Additionally, I planned on using the “body” of the train car for something fun. To begin with, it would be just something to make cards look unique.
I also move the flavor text quotes up below the car name. This version playtested well, and once again I learned a couple things:
- Cars have different night and day values, and it was hard to read all the cards to figure this out (this particular car has no night bonus).
- Player’s wanted more differentiation in the information layout.
- They LOVED hooking the cars together!
Taking these lessons, I evolved the card once again:
The use of color blocks was an attempt to clarify the meaning of information and allow for easier scannability. A big change was just showing the day / night values for the cards. This eliminated the need for players to add up numbers, which was a big bonus.
The green (or orange for cars with warnings instead of bonuses) section under the day/night values allowed them to easily find any bonuses and arrive at a car’s total value at the end of the trip. I also played a bit with the name font (a bit early in the design process for this, but I wanted to see how it looked).
This card played well, but there were a couple things that needed adjusting:
- That’s a lot of colors. At my current job, we have a saying for this: Don’t “Taste the Rainbow.” Too many colors (or colors not thought out well) can be confusing.
- I don’t know why I put the night value first, having day first is simply more intuitive to most people.
I took those two lessons into version 4:
The card is starting to feel more cohesive and easy to read. The buy price is coupled in color with the category and day comes first, making more sense. I made the unique car designs/logos a bit more refined just to get a feel for how more it would look. This is the current version I’m testing, however there’s already a version 5.
This next version is based on car design by my friend Wouter Goedkoop. It’s just the beginning of some exploratory designs to upgrade the car design, but it allowed me to play with some ideas.
The car is more real looking and sits lower. The car design itself may be too busy here – the first version didn’t have the funny characters in it, and I’m just playing around here. There are other design directions to go here, and this is just one idea.
But the information up top is starting to feel good. Unnecessary information has been removed. Reading the buy price and the category is very clear. Under the the day/night values, the connection bonus has been simplified so the player knows when to add money when connected to another car type – in this case, passenger.
The icons are next to the category name (Dining). While this hasn’t been playtested yet, I have high hopes for the idea. The key will be to see if it violates the principle of Recognition vs. Recall. Icons can be troublesome if there are too many to remember or memorize.
While this may seem like a lot of progress (and it is good progress) there is still a long way to go. As designers, it’s important we put in the work in testing and iterating our designs until the problems disappear and the delight surfaces.
After all, the goal is FUN, right?