I enjoy playing a game called Hearthstone. This is an online deck-building game that can be played on desktop or mobile. The tricky part about online deck-building games is that they require a large investment of time and (optionally) money before you can play at a competitive level.
When you start off, there is undoubtedly someone who’s been playing for a few years and has been stocking up on great cards and crafting very powerful decks. This creates a problem for new users.
They are going to get beat a lot.
Hearthstone has implemented a number of methods to help alleviate this.
- Each year, a number of cards are moved to a different category (wild) and new “standard” cards are released. So someone’s super powerful deck from two years ago can’t be used against a new player, although there is still an abundance of classic cards that aren’t susceptible to this.
- When playing in “Ranked” mode, as you win you advance, so it can be assumed that if you’re new, you’ll just stay poorly ranked and play other low-ranked players.
- There are a number of single-player game modes that are enjoyable and make it easy to unlock cards without suffering constant defeat against a real person.
- There is always an option of spending a lot of real money to advance quickly.
In addition to these, there is a card called “Whizbang the Wonderful.” Whizbang implements an important UX technique — it allows the new user to participate fully in the experience without asking for a huge investment of time and money.
To get Whizbang
First, in order to get Whizbang, you must “dust” cards. This means exchanging cards you have for “dust.” “Dust” can then be used to “craft” cards you don’t have. So after playing for a short time, you should have enough cards to create enough dust to craft Whizbang. This is a small investment for the user — it took me playing twice.
How Whizbang works
When you create a deck and put Whizbang in it, it becomes the only card in your deck. When you play a game with that deck, you are given one of Whizbang’s decks to play with.
Whizbang’s decks are well-constructed decks with cards you don’t necessarily have. These decks allow a new user to play at a pretty high level, and more importantly, allows the user to experience the full thrill of the game. Additionally, they serve an educational purpose, demonstrating some basic tenants of good deck-building and showcasing interesting combos.
(As an added bonus, these decks update when new cards are released!)
Games that require an investment in order to be competitive risk abandonment. Most people don’t enjoy losing repeatedly and don’t feel like grinding endlessly to get to a competitive point. Compound that with the frustration of playing some users who spend huge amounts of actual money to improve their chances and you have a tough sell.
How this relates to UX in a non-game situation
Every digital experience requires an investment of time, energy, and sometimes money. When creating a digital experience, it is important that users aren’t expected to invest too much before giving them something of value.
Common Examples of the wrong way
- Apps that require signing in before the user can see any content
- Websites that ask for an e-mail after the user has only been on the site for 15 seconds
- Games that attempt to sell virtual currency immediately after the tutorial
And ways that we can do this better
- Letting the user experience most of the app without signing up but require signing up when the user wants to go deeper into certain areas of the app — and explain the benefits of having an account
- Ask the user for their e-mail in exchange for something — offer a discount or explain how being on your mailing list will provide them value
- Attempt to sell virtual currency when the user appears stuck on a certain level or after the user has been to the “store” X number of times (indicating a desire to purchase virtual currency)
What’s interesting about the issue of new users is the idea that in certain cases, we’re talking about large, living systems. The existing users control, to some degree, the environment for the new users, so it’s extremely important for UX Designers to create mechanisms that protect new users.
It’s important to give users value in exchange for their information, time, energy and money. It’s also important to ensure that new users are made welcome and aren’t at a disadvantage large enough to scare them away.