Design Vs. The End User

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For the last several months, I’ve been playing a strangely addictive video game called AdVenture Capitalist, a simple game available to play online and on mobile devices. AdCap, as it’s known to its fans, is barely a game at all; it’s an “idle” game, part of a genre that seemed to explode in popularity online (or at least on the hosting site Kongregate) in 2014. Idle games require the least amount of player interaction to play: one simply makes a few choices and leaves the application. The game then literally plays itself for hours on end, meaning that you see progress when you decide to play again. It’s a bit like a plant, in that you supply a few decisions and watch your results grow.

A screenshot from AdVenture Capitalist.
A screenshot from AdVenture Capitalist.

AdVenture Capitalist sees the player buying companies and then setting their operation in motion, letting the in-game companies make profits by themselves. Every interaction the player makes speeds the rate of income, earning more money. Thus, AdCap doesn’t need much in the way of graphics. The user interaction screen is pretty much just a menu of buttons, with the options to buy into one of eight types of business.

Here’s where something interesting happened: the late 2014 UI redesign made the the game more slick-looking, but also left no space for a game notification element. See, when the player reaches certain milestones, they’re given a bonus that awards them even more profit. A notification banner appears briefly to inform the player reaches these milestones, but the current design pops this banner in such a way that it obscures one of the buttons used for purchasing companies.

Normally, this would be a UI nightmare. After all, the interface is hindered by the program itself! But on the other hand, this banner only ever appears once per achievement, and only stays on screen for three seconds. Whose problem is this?

Honestly—and I note this with the greatest of reluctance—the developers of AdCap shouldn’t have designed their interface the way they did. A UI has to work when the user expects it to. The AdCap design was later modified so that the banner obscures less of the interface and therefore better serves gameplay. The big “but” is part of the problem that all designers face: how much designing must one do before one decides to leave it up to the whims of the user?

Maybe I’m nitpicking, but AdCap is a free video game that the player can’t actually lose, or even win; unlike plants, this idle game doesn’t penalize you for ignoring it, nor does it have a definitive ending. It takes weeks, even months to reach the upper levels of the game, requiring the smallest amounts of interaction to actually make a difference. Is it really such a problem that the user has to wait three seconds before they can interact with less than 15% of the interface? There is no right answer, but I personally don’t mind waiting the three seconds. You can only hold the designer accountable for so much.

You can play AdVenture Capitalist on the official site of the developers, Hyper Hippo Games.

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