Using UX to Increase Retention in Competitive Video Games

October 15, 2020

Want to see the prototype now? Check it out here!

How Power Players Push UX

Released in September of 2017, Fortnite: Battle Royale became a pop-culture and gaming phenomenon due to its accessibility, free to play model, art style and unique building mechanic.

Here’s a look at what the game was like if you played it on September 26th, 2017:

Gameplay GIF from Fortnite's first month of release

The unique mechanic in Fortnite is the ability to build structures on the fly.  Developers intended for players to create bases in order to protect themselves from enemies. Like many games however, a competitive meta began to develop and players pushed the building system way further than the developers ever expected. This in-turn led to a growing Skill Gap between players, leaving the more casual audience turned off by how difficult it was to master the game’s mechanics.

The Skill Gap is the difference in ability level between a game’s lowest and highest tier of players.

Fast forward to October 2020 and this is how the game looks:

Gameplay GIF of Fortnite in October 2020, must faster and more difficult to play.

While the evolution of the game can make it seem intimidating, there has to be something we can do to bring over more players to the competitive side...

Skill Identity and Mob Mentality

Fortnite players conveniently identify themselves, and each other, based on their skill level in the game.

The Bot - Our Casual Player

The Sweat - Our Competitive Player

While these identities aren’t perfectly accurate descriptions of the player base, all but one of the players I spoke with clearly identified themselves with one of them.

Among the players that identified themselves as a ‘Bot’ they felt that competitively, the game was too fast, complicated or boring to spectate. Further questioning revealed that they never spent time learning about the games meta, fundamentals and mechanics due to lack of time and interest.

Time was a common theme between our Bots and Sweats. Our ‘Sweaty’ players expressed their love for the games competitive scene but felt they didn’t have enough time to keep up with the meta. Competitive Fortnite is led by young players aged 14-18 that have the ability to play/practice for 8+ hours per day.

How are the players with less time expected to keep up?

Practice Like the Pro’s

In order to try and understand where players were getting lost on their journey into Competitive Fortnite, I took a look into the different practice solutions being used.  Similarly to physical sports, players isolate mental and mechanical training methods then bring them together for real in-game practice.

Practice on the Run!

A mobile application for Fortnite players to train their in-game decision making ability and speed. Similarly to how players train their aim in a third party program like Kovaaks or Aimlabs, a player can train their game sense in this app and do it on the run.


Community Feedback Uncovers Issues

I created a higher fidelity prototype with the goal of gauging interest in the idea of a portable Fortnite game sense trainer.  You can try it out below:

Feedback was fairly positive and I received some critique that would become the basis for the next iteration.

One user mentions their concern over a lack of pressure during these scenarios.  In a game of Fortnite there’s an overwhelming amount of information to take in at once.  How can I recreate that feeling of stress and pressure the players would feel during an actual game?

Simulating a more Realistic Experience

The next iteration was a lower fidelity prototype created to test a timer that counts down during each question of a training scenario. If the timer hits zero then the player will lose and have to start over. Since it was a low-fidelity test, I would start a 5 second timer once the user finished reading the question as opposed to having it prototyped in.

You can take a look at the prototype here:

This test was more personal than the previous. I met over Zoom with 5 gamers that have different experiences with Fortnite ranging from Bot to Sweat. The prototype included 8 different ways to finish, 2 winning endings and 6 losing ones. I would send the participant the prototype and give them 5 seconds to make a decision on each question. If the time ran out, they would lose and have to start over.

Positive Feedback

Negative Feedback

Final Thoughts...

Many players find it difficult to get into their game of interest because they’ve never truly learned how to play it competitively. Esports lack the development structure of traditional sports. We don’t have Little League Counter Strike with a coach teaching kids how to counter strafe, we’re not there yet. I believe that creating an environment for players to learn these fundamentals and core concepts is one of the next steps toward growing competitive gaming.