What Video Games Teach About Design: Discoverability

Randall Parrish
- 2 min read

Video games and websites can seem like potentially scary undertakings for the untrained user. But that doesn’t mean you need to oversimplify or over-explain your interface to ensure user understanding.

Trust Your Users to Understand the Mission

A parallel between video games and websites is how users get started—tutorials in video games, onboarding in the web world. Whether you’re creating a website or a video game, the goal is to have your users figure out what the purpose is and where they stand. But sometimes, designers have a tendency of not trusting their users to make the correct decisions.

This can lead to over-explained interfaces that do more harm than good. Giving your users the freedom to discover different elements of a website or video game adds a new perspective to the experience that doesn’t feel clunky or forced.

Journey’s Minimal Approach to Introductions

Created in 2012, Journey is an adventure game where players control a robed figure in a desert environment. The player sees a large mountain in the distance, but no explicit objectives are offered. Most video games use tutorials to train the player to become familiar with the rules of the particular game. But although Journey doesn’t give you any instructions, there’s no need for panic. Journey does a really beautiful job using unobtrusive symbols and gestures to guide users without force-feeding them overwhelming amounts of information.

I’m an advocate of discoverability when it comes to experiencing technology. I like to recommend solutions that allow users to dig deeper into area they are interested in, rather than forcing too much at one time. Website users and video game players don’t want massive manuals or 10-minute tutorials. They want to jump in quickly and feel smart about their interactions.

With web applications, the goal is to be so intuitive that you don’t need to explain why an element is there. The purpose to be immediately clear.

And, What Not to Do: Animal Crossing

Now, on the opposite spectrum let’s take the game Animal Crossing, which has a painfully tedious onboarding process. For the first 4 minutes, the player engages with a talking cat sitting on a train just to figure out what the player’s name is and whether the player is a girl or a boy. Four whole minutes. And the process feels a little clunky, as if Animal Crossing wants to force all this information on you at once. There are instructions, and then there are instructions. The balance between informational and insulting is very fine. Unfortunately, Animal Crossing’s onboarding process crossed the line.

Other Resources:

Want to see what other websites do a good job on user onboarding? I really like this resource on Onboarding Teardowns. Interested in getting a website project started? You’re in the right place—drop us a line today!

WDG is located at 209 The Strand, Alexandria, VA 22314. We have also just opened a new WeWork location in Chinatown!

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