Art & Design Director, April 2008 - March 2012
After mixxer folded I was eager to continue exploring the startup world. Facebook and Facebook games were taking off and I believed making sports games in that space could be a great match for me. It was.
I was hired as Art Director to do UX and design work for a huge suite of games at Atomic Moguls (note: in the games world "Design" is the title reserved for game designers. UI/UX historically falls in the "Art" ladder). As part of a lean eight person studio I worked with the programmers and a producer to design and build literally hundreds of games for Facebook, MySpace, Bebo, and any other social platforms with promise.
Many of the games were variants of a type that used real-world sports statistics to generate users' results. My challenge was to present lots of data to the user in a way that showed their status immediately and also exposed any trends, plus I sought to make their performance as relevant to them as possible. For example, a user in our fantasy football game may have scored 81 points this week. We'd compare that to how they performed in previous weeks, how it compared to all users, how it compared to their friends, what the top score was, and what lineup the top scorer used.
We also created a suite of simulation games where a user builds a roster and chooses tactics for their team, then selects other user-created teams to play against. A simple algorithm decides the winner and awards points and game currency with which to upgrade their roster, etc. In addition to collaborating on the game mechanics I designed the patterns for displaying team attributes and status. The trick was to expose enough information for the user to feel they were making informed decisions but to leave enough ambiguity for times when the algorithm returned a loss. Likewise, the games were presented visually with simple animations and graphics showing the dynamic action (yardage, 1st downs, and scores in football; shots, goals, and cards in soccer, etc.) in a broadcast-like experience disguising the fact the engine could simply return a result in fractions of a second.
The common thread in all our games was the presentation of simple data in a way that told a story and created an enjoyable immersive experience users would return to daily.
If you're making an online-only game, make it evergreen. Users will continue to pay as long as there are new levels and new things to do. Plan your game with this in mind from the start as it's much more difficult to add onto a game that initially had an endpoint. It sounds obvious but in 2008 many of us were approaching the new "freemium" paradigm with ideas from the previous way of doing things. There's a lesson here for VR design and design on other new media.
For some reason people will readily spend $50 on micro transactions in a shallow Facebook sports game when they could buy a full, robust, AAA console sports title for about the same. I still don't fully get it.