The Work Process
Every company has their specific work process, so no studio operates exactly the same. Christina explained that on her old team at Blizzard, they relied on the traditional waterfall approach which evolves as different stakeholders become involved. Much of the user testing and user experience design is left to the team’s discretion. On the other hand, she said companies like Twitch operate in an agile environment, relying on iterative design processes and user testing to inform much of their work.
Similarly, Riot also works in an agile environment as this is common to most modern software development teams. Alicia shared that the inherently interdisciplinary nature of the work creates the challenge of utilizing all of the different team players involved and their talents. While the more granular processes are left up to each respective discipline, Riot operates in a way that allows them to pivot and move forward with speed.
“We care about and obsess over every part of the player experience. From your first game to your thousandth win, from installation to player support to esports broadcasts — every interaction point matters.” — Riot Manifesto
At Counterplay, John explained that the high-level workflow involves a weekly stand-up where everyone checks in with what they’ve done and what they will do. This allows for productive meetings and room for autonomy, making work-life balance great for him personally. He caveated this saying that although this structure benefits independent people, it is worse for junior designers who might need more guidance.
From a design perspective, there is not as much room for UX in games yet since the traditional game development approach relies on all team members to collectively contribute to the user experience, regardless of their role. As game companies continue to grow, I hope to see more weight on defined UX roles.
Regardless of the method, these game companies are seeking the same thing: deliver what the users want. In these environments, employees must balance the encouragement for innovation and the clash of their visions defined in the name of the player. Because every employee has a hand in the experience and is a gamer themselves, teamwork and collaboration are the pillars for progression.
Games as Work
In speaking to all of these designers, one takeaway was certain — working in games has been a truly fun experience for them. Not only that, being able to care about the products on a personal level and empathizing well with the end-user go a long way towards building great experiences. Working with other gamers in the industry means geeking out with them and sharing experiences outside of work.
But the darker side is that it’s true working in games is extremely competitive. The industry is littered with people who are truly passionate and care about their products. Game studios build world-class teams to create experiences that become hallmarks in game history. That means people are working around the clock to deliver quality on time. The amount of polish that goes into these products is no joke, and this often means going into overtime.
Alicia gave a last bit of great advice for designers seeking entrance into the world of games in general that I want to pass on:
- Don’t let the tools define you. You define the tools. Use what you’re comfortable with, and learn to adapt when necessary. Take the time to prioritize what skills you will need for the job, how best to tackle it, and pivot when necessary. Don’t be overly concerned with what you’re using to get there, but how.
- If you’re just starting out, follow your passion but reject the notion that anyone has to specialize in anything. Try everything out, see what works for you. While you’re young and have time, it’s better to be flexible and open-minded to new opportunities. Oftentimes the best fit for you can be elusive simply because you never knew of its existence.
- Find great people to work with. To optimize for growth no matter who you are, try landing a job where you can be surrounded by people who are better than you. Whether that means more experience or better talent, working with colleagues that know their stuff will seriously impact your professional growth. You might get a bad case of impostor syndrome, but it’s worth it!
In terms of design growth, there has been increasing dedication to user experiences within games or around game-centered products. One of my personal hopes is to see more dedicated UX roles being defined at game studios, and more female faces in the largely male-dominated tech industry.
Being able to discuss the industry as a whole with these amazingly talented designers has only affirmed my love for it even more. If you’d like to contribute your own thoughts on the matter, feel free to reach out to me at t firstname.lastname@example.org. I’d love to grow the amount of resources out there for young designers looking into games.