The Number 1 Thing That Hinders A Glorious User Experience When Browsing Video Games

This is also a lesson that shows the difference between user-interface and user-experience.

I will focus on just PC games (just because), but it applies to every system.

There’s a unique excitement to be experienced when receiving an email notification from Steam that’s something along the lines of “22 items from your Steam Wishlist are on sale”. Holy smokes, there must be a big sale. I spin up Steam and start browsing, but then the annoying work begins. It doesn’t remove the excitement, but there’s nearly a universal negative experience that one must go through every time in order to answer the simplest of questions:

What does the game actually look like when playing?

Every game listed in the 700+ million games on Steam will show you screen shots of the game, but close to zero will actually display a screen shot of what the game looks like with the user-interface visible. If you are lucky, the video might give you 10 seconds of game play with the user-interface visible.

Steam will record the number of hours you play any given game in your library and a few of my games display an embarrassing number of hours played. That’s a LOT of time to be looking at and interacting with a user-interface. You’d think it would be important to show it. I imagine this is a marketing thing where every publisher is trying to show off their pixels, their shaders, or their trendy low-poly “flat” style and they all have believed that the interface gets in the way. Even if I browse the game’s website, it’s the same thing. I inevitably have to YouTube “XYZ game play” to get a proper look at the user-interface, which is the first step in understanding how a game will feel while playing.

In addition, most of the screen shots are from custom camera angles. This begs other questions about how the game will feel, such as:

  • Is the game play camera close-up third-person?
  • Is it a zoomed-out third-person game?
  • Is it a first-person game?

Often you just can’t tell. This is backwards and a lost opportunity.

Hiding the user-interface from potential buyers is a bad user-experience.

I looked at fifteen or so of the top PC games in 2017. Here’s one example of the screen shots they give you from Assassin’s Creed Origins (a franchise I have never played):

Below is what the game actually looks like while playing, and it looks nicely done. It tells me that it’s a close(ish) third-person game with a minimal user-interface that doesn’t get in the way of the action. It would have been helpful to see more of this:

Out of all the games I looked at, one publisher did it right. Below are 4 of the 12 screen shots from Divinity Original Sin 2 (Larian Studios). This happens to be the only game I’ve played and own from the pool I looked at (because how much time do I really have to play games?). I’d be lucky to see just one screen shot with the user-interface, but nearly every single shot showed the full experience. Just from the screen shots alone, one can ascertain that it is a top-down third-person party-based RPG with lots of loot, items, and a pretty involved experience: