So, who are you and what do you do?
I'm May and I’m the Product Design Director at Netspeak Games.
What’s a Product Design Director?
In short, I’m responsible for how the players interact with Sunshine Days. I started my career as a game artist, and I really wanted to be an art director when I first started.
But along the way, I realized that there was this other thing that really made me feel passionate, which was understanding player behavior - how concepts like visual language and symbolism shape player behavior, and how my work could profoundly change how players interact with game worlds, and all of that made me dig more into the world of UX - and that was the beginning of what brought me here.
What does that involve, day-to-day?
I start every day meeting with the Frontend team. We make plans for the UI of new features, break down their user flows in detail, and make sure there aren’t any edge-cases or blindspots in the design. We also work on the long-term vision for the game’s UX, which is important because our studio uses Agile development and moves really fast.
Most people are familiar with the concept of Tech Debt, but in Agile you also need to manage Design Debt. This means constantly reviewing and testing the game’s accessibility and usability, identifying pain points that users are encountering, collecting user feedback, reviewing data and running playtests.
That’s the hands-on stuff. There’s also the more high-level, holistic part of the work which is where I spend most of my time, which is about making sure the business and the design team talk and that our long-term strategy is grounded in reality and grounded in our definition of our audience, and that there is time in our roadmap to go back and check whether we’re actually making value for the players.
For example, right now it's the end of Q2. In the last six months, we have added an enormous amount of content to the game. We get a huge amount of quantitative data from analytics, but right now we haven’t got much qualitative feedback from people that have been playing the game for more than a few days. Long-term studies are more complex to organize than shorter studies, and take a lot of investment, which is why you should only do them around important milestones.
So one of my current goals is to make sure that the leadership team knows that this is a data point that it's missing, and gives us the resources to follow it up.
One topic which comes up a lot in conversations about UI/UX is so-called “dark patterns”. What’s Netspeak’s stance on these?
I am very partial to this topic, as I am sensitive to the topic of humane design. There are lots of studies at the moment about how technology affects people’s brains, and our capacity for attention, in ways that we were not expecting. There are discussions about “dark patterns”, which are user-flows and design patterns that are designed to trick people or exploit human behaviors.
One of the reasons why I am happy to work with Netspeak Games is because the company has a clear stance on these kinds of patterns, which is that we avoid them. If someone was asking me to implement a dark pattern, I would try to discourage them, as I believe most of them don’t work for the business in the long term.
Our approach to that is that we'd rather play the long game and grow a loyal player-base who trusts us, rather than exploit them for short-term gains.
Is there anything you’ve done recently that you’re particularly proud of?
I'm most proud of how my team has been working together. We are a diverse bunch, with one team member based in Brazil. I wasn't sure how it would pan out at first, given the time zone differences, but it’s actually worked really well and they’ve never missed a stand-up, despite the fact that they have to get up super early. It's amazing to see their dedication.
What I love most about my team is their huge support for each other. They go above and beyond to meet their peers' needs and tackle every situation collaboratively. It was a bit challenging initially since some of the members were relatively junior, and our technical developer had limited experience with UMG, the tool that the Unreal Engine uses for UI. But now, a year or so later, they work so well together and they’re so efficient and speedy, it’s a real joy.
How do you look out for your team’s wellbeing?
I think this has been one of my biggest focuses, because the UI/UX team can very easily become a bottleneck. Our team is very specialized - we only have one technical developer and one UI/UX designer, and they could easily become stressed out by the number of features which need their attention.
From a production point of view, there are few things that helped a lot. The first is that we work ahead of the rest of the team, getting art and designs finalized before the technical parts of the feature are finished, so there’s no waiting. We have put a lot of effort into creating an efficient pattern library of UI and UX designs and efficient UMG templates that any developer can use with little or no intervention from a UI artist. This has been very useful to enable the tech team to create very fast prototypes at a quality that can be released and tested directly in game.
And last but not least, what’s your friend code in Sunshine Days?
No, I can’t show it to you! I just deleted my account so I can play the beginning of the game again, I test the first time user experience over and over, so my house is empty at the moment. Sorry!
In that case, can we post a picture of one of your birds instead?
Absolutely, that’s much better anyway.