Fairway Solitaire Chat
Designing a mobile game chat experience
Big Fish Games needed a designer to be a usability expert for Fairway Solitaire in light of a large feature being implemented very quickly to response to a competitor eating market share.
The UX Team needed a designer to advocate for a more rigorous design process due to the company having grown and matured without a UX design presence.
- 1 UX Designer (me!)
- ~20 other staff members
Big Fish Games
Work Released to This Point
After joining Big Fish Games, I was able to quickly work with my team to release a social feature and iterate on it.
See Progress Quickly
Country Clubs homepage, where players can see their club’s progress immediately.
Compete To be the Best TEam
End of event prizes. Clubs can receive up to 5, depending on how well they did.
revamp Positive reinforcements
Initially the moment a player would receive the prizes was a sequence of 5 unexpected popups. I quickly identified that this needed to be corrected, along with several other moments of incentive reinforcements.
Improve Leader Agency
Initially, people who created a club were not able to leave a club without destroying it for everyone — a flaw of the off-the-shelf system we used. It was less than ideal, but we implemented a method by which leaders who got tired of their club experience could leave without killing the vibe for everyone else.
Resulting Impact of Initial Work
By keeping focused on releasing features on time and working with my team improve the game, I was able to help make an impact quickly.
The Part Not yet Done: Chat
Despite all the work we put in so far, our main competitor still had a feature our game did not: chat.
Design and release a chat feature that allows players to build relationships and strategize.
Our Chat Solution
With a lot of thoughtful design and engineering work, we were able to release our own chat feature in a few months.
If I wanted to make sure user needs were taken into account, I needed to collaborate with my game team of 20 people to make that happen.
At the heart of that challenge is to make positive and organic relationships with my team members so that talking to our users was not seen as the “UX Process”, but as just a more effective way of developing a game.
In general, I worked to apply as much as possible the process below on any new game initiative.
Target Audience for Chat
It was a slow ramp-up in results, but over the course of my time at Big Fish Games, I was able to make sure the social feature we were releasing was as user focused as possible. There were many different facets of the experience: the initial MVP, becoming the best team in the leaderboards, and strategizing in club chat to win prizes.
Using literature authored by Daniel Cook and Raph Koster, we used the below principles to guide the design of the game’s chat feature.
Put players in serendipitous situations where they regularly encounter other players. Allow them to recognize one another across multiple play sessions.
Create shared identities, values, contexts, and goals that ease alignment and connection.
Enable exchanges (not necessarily material) that are bi-directional with benefits to both parties. With repetition, this builds relationships.
Further grow trust in the relationship through disclosing vulnerability, testing boundaries, etc.
Aligning Stakeholders & Brainstorm
I pulled the team product managers, game designers, engineers, and artists into an ideation workshop so the team could get aligned on what would be in scope for the the initial chat feature.
Roster of all 10 club members
Players can be identified with an avatar, name and role description
Visual differentiation between messages
Ability to mute and report bad actors
Chat tab icon changes if there are new messages to be seen
Accessible from any screen in-game.
Test A|B|C Hypotheses
Though all stakeholders were aligned around the specific information and features the chat interface would have, I still needed to design the layout and usability of the feature.
However, even after doing so, there were some remaining questions that needed to be answered to move forward.
Where do Users expect to send a message?
Mobile games tend to put the text input field in unorthodox places. I checked with my users to determine what suited their expectations the most.
Hypothesis 1 turned out to be the best performing version of the interface.
Though simple in many ways this feature was simple from a design point of view. The implementation of it was quite complicated. I worked with the many engineers on this project to work through feasibility concerns and get it released on time.
I knew that chat would need to be iterated on once telemetry data could be reviewed. The next steps I had planned out:
Collaborate with User Researchers to find out how players react to chat. Because chat is ultimately an avenue for players to create an experience for each other, it can easily become a way for players to decide they do not want to play in that particular club and churn from the game. I wanted to find out what pain points existed for players with chat, and to determine what I could do about it.
Expand System Messages. The system messages are a tool beyond simple notifications of previous events. They are a way to engage each club member in different ways so that chat can be not just a way to strategize, but to also have fun.
Positive relationships are key. More than anything else, the tenor of my relationships with other stakeholders on the game team determined how effective I was. It is so important to build a trusting and positive relationship as quickly as possible.
Designing for a live product is hard. There is so many things that can go sideways on a product team: changing business priorities, surprise feasibility constraints, long research lead-times, managing it all was a huge learning experience. Big Fish Games was a great experience, and I came out of it a better UX designer.