A user-focused approach to creating and testing content

4 minute read

How do you create and test content to be added into new features in games? If you’ve ever wondered what creating content at Candy Crush looks like, you’re in for a treat.

Developing features for games means striking a balance between playability, engagement and, most importantly, enjoyment.

I recently helped redesign a feature that was struggling to find its identity and I used content to turn it around. I want to share my process with you in case you find the techniques I used useful.

The catalyst for needing to test content

A feature was proving popular in another game and the idea was to bring it to Candy Crush Soda. The original feature was called Nero’s Bingo and came from Bubble Witch 2.

Bringing a successful feature from one game to another doesn’t always guarantee success. We have to consider:

  • Changing the narrative, context and/or mechanics of the feature.
  • Usability testing to uncover problems and opportunities.
  • Removing or adding screens where necessary.
  • Adapting the tone and voice of the content.

The feature is this: you and two other players have to work as a team to create a column or row of ticks on a 4x4 board.

To get a tick on the board, you have to complete a task (like a quest, if you will) which could be “match 500 purple candies”.

When you complete the given task, a tick will appear on the board. The original bingo card looked like this:

Image showing a screenshot from the game Bubble Witch 2

When you and your team create a column or row of ticks, everyone wins prizes. That’s the feature in a nutshell.

Using your audiences mental models

I know what you might be thinking: this doesn’t sound like bingo at all. And you’re right, it didn’t.

For most people, bingo is matching printed numbers on a card. This feature is more like noughts and crosses (tic-tac-toe) with friends.

Nomenclature is important in user experience design. What things are called helps people to understand better what they are and how to use them.

This feature had been named Nero’s Bingo (Nero is a cat character in Bubble Witch 3) by a UX designer but it would have to change in Candy Crush Soda since there is no Nero character.

Other names that we considered included:

  • Social Bingo.
  • Connect-4 Together.
  • Lines with Friends.

The UI team reskinned the feature to match the Candy Crush Soda aesthetic and gave it the name ‘Connect-4 Together’. It was tested but players weren’t understanding it.

Players made comments like “what do I do?”, “this isn’t bingo” and “I’m confused” which is music to a UX writer’s ear. It’s these questions that prove we’ve more work to do.

These questions showed that our players’ mental model of bingo and what we were testing weren’t aligning—creating confusion and cognitive load. This is normal in the development of new features whether software or games but something we aim to reduce as much as we can.

It was at this point in the design process that I joined the project.

Changing context can help your users

Changing contexts really helped us out here.

Andrew Hinton in Understanding Context writes that our “bodies and brains developed to prefer environments in which we don’t have to think so hard about what we’re doing.”

Instead of trying to make Connect-4 or a bingo-style name work, the team and I removed this concept entirely.

We figured it would be easier to reimagine the feature using UX copy changes and techniques rather than radically changing the concept and mechanic, which would use scarce development time.

The feature was now called Mr Toffee’s Fair. Mr Toffee is a main character from Candy Crush Soda that we know our players really like.

It made more sense in the context of the game for players to go to a fair and play at a fairground stall than of a bingo.

Now we had a new name that was more in line with the games’ overall tone and voice.

This new narrative slant worked in our favour. Players were no longer as confused in usability testing—a bonus for content!

Make your onboarding clear and understandable

Then came time to renovate the onboarding from the first iteration.

Onboarding is important because it helps people understand what they can get out of the feature and it’s where UX writers really shine.

A good onboarding flow should:

  • Be clear and concise
  • Explain the value to the user
  • Show me how to use or do something

A game designer and I decided that it would be better to change the onboarding from the previous iteration so that the vocabulary was more user-friendly and easy to understand.

Starting from scratch gave us the opportunity to create something clear and concise.

Putting your users’ language inside your product

The previous iteration used complex and technical wording (like “validate”) which you can see below:

An image of a screenshot from a mobile game

First, we wanted to find a noun for what the players had to do to get their prize. By brainstorming vocabulary, looking at a thesaurus and creating vocabulary lists we came up with:

  • Aim
  • Task
  • Goal
  • Duty
  • Quest
  • Mission
  • Objective

When the feature was called ‘Connect-4 Together’ and tested, ‘task’ was a word that came up a lot from players. The team and I decided to go with that word in the end. It’s short and easy to understand.

Create vocabulary lists of words you want to use in your product

A useful tip for naming conventions is to make vocabulary lists when you watch or attend usability sessions. A vocabulary list is a list of important or relevant words you hear the participant using to describe things in a testing session.

They are a great reference to use in your work as a writer because they help you to directly mirror the language your users use.

You might be asking yourself: why do I want to directly mirror my users’ language? For several reasons:

  • It makes you sound more credible.
  • Your content will sound more familiar.
  • It will save you time thinking of vocabulary yourself.

You can make a vocabulary list in Excel or in a Google Sheet.

If you can’t attend usability sessions yourself, UX researchers usually take notes and make video recordings of the sessions.

Researchers are generally very nice people in my experience so ask them and they should be more than happy to share their work with you.

Get to the point in your onboarding flow

People are busy. They don’t have a lot of time on their hands. A well written and to-the-point onboarding is how I respect the people reading my content. I want people to get on with their lives with the least amount of friction possible.

To write the onboarding, we came up with 3 questions most players would ask when interacting with the feature and set about answering them:

  • “Who are these people I’m playing with?”
  • “What’s in this for me?”
  • “What on earth do I have to do?”

We can’t answer every player question so a good idea is to brainstorm potential questions on post-its and then order them by priority from most important to least important. We used Miro.

Image of a Miro board as a way to user test content

I ran some very informal cloze tests with other colleagues to get feedback on the onboarding before putting it into usability testing. This is to help understand how easy the text is to read. Cloze tests were useful because people read quickly on a mobile device, essentially scanning the text, so even when we removed certain words, people were still understanding the ideas behind the text.

The first iteration of the flow was made up of 3 screens but after I worked on it, we added an additional 4th screen. In the end, this is what the flow looked like. Not 100% perfect but an improvement at least:

Image from a mobile game showing improved content after testing

When it comes to content, less isn’t always more. More content is necessary to get the point across.

The first onboarding didn’t mention that this feature is social and that you’re playing with a team. We changed that and let players know from the get-go.

In the first iteration, the player would only see the onboarding once. We made sure that the onboarding would be available at all times so the design team added a small information icon that’s always present in that UI for players to refer back to (fourth screen in the image above, the blue ‘i’ button).

Image showing the onboarding content for a mobile game

What we learnt from testing content

I know that writing isn’t as easy as it looks. But what techniques can you add to your process to make the writing a little easier? Let’s wrap up with a few:

  • Create vocabulary lists to track and add user language to your product.
  • Understand the context of the feature so you can reduce cognitive load.
  • Use plain English for greater comprehension among a wide audience.
  • Capitalise on your users’ mental models where appropriate.

After I did the above, we put the feature into testing again. What did we discover? Testing showed players were understanding the feature quicker than with the previous iteration.

There were no longer questions asked or confusion raised about bingo because we removed any trace of it from the copy. Players understood that they had to work together to win.

The new flow highlighted the benefit to the player and uses plain English without the technical language and it’s consistent.

Worksheet

User Journey Map

A tool to help you plan better content for your audience and map what users are thinking, feeling, and doing.

About the author

Steven Douglas

Steven is a Content Designer and Strategist on a mission to help organisations communicate in a clear, concise and useful way. With nearly a decade of experience in digital content, he's worked with successful startups and big brands and is currently a UX Writer at King, the creators of Candy Crush Saga. When he's away from work, he can be found hiking with his dogs in the mountains or on Twitter at @constantsteven.

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