08 July 2020
I’m going to do something a little bit different with this article. 2020 has been a rough year, and I’ve been struggling with it as much as the next person. Instead of diving into a code example, I want to talk about the importance of user experience (UX)1. I love jumping in and wiring something up, but I’ll be the first to admit that the user and their experience is not always the first thing on my mind when I’m writing a new feature. I’ve been trying to be more conscious of UX in every code decision that I make because I am also a user.
One thing that has been helping me through the train wreck that is 2020 is Animal Crossing: New Horizons. It’s a wonderful game that has a calming effect, but for all of its successes (really, it’s a FANTASTIC game), there are some noticeable shortcomings in the UX that would make a big difference in how it is ultimately perceived. Let’s take a look at some examples and the impact they have on the overall experience.
A big part of the latest Animal Crossing entry is crafting. Collecting recipes and materials and then crafting tools, furniture, and miscellaneous items like fish bait are a big part of the gameplay loop. At the moment though, you can only craft one item at a time.
This can become especially apparent when crafting something that you really want to have in bulk. A good example of this is fish bait. You can gather clams and use them to craft bait which will spawn a random fish. I’m never crafting just one piece of fish bait. So I have to set aside a bunch of time to go through my inventory and craft each piece of fish bait one by one instead. It’s time consuming, and it actively discourages me from crafting fish bait unless I desperately need to try and catch a new fish before it disappears at the end of the month.
Less impactful, but a noticeable improvement would also be when crafting items that that require a lower tier as a material. For example, the mid-tier fishing rod requires a piece of iron ore and the lowest-tier fishing rod for materials. Why can’t I just craft the mid-tier fishing rod directly and it will use the total materials it would have used for the lower tier?
I think one of the most helpful of all though, would be letting you access the storage in your house when you are crafting. Right now, crafting only looks at the materials that you have in your inventory. A lot of the furniture items require large amounts of materials that I wouldn’t regularly have on me. So instead of just being able to use materials that are in the storage in my house, I have to look up the recipe and the required materials, go to my house and get in the storage, remember what I needed for the thing that I wanted to craft, find those and move them to my inventory, and then go to my crafting bench. It just adds unnecessary steps when I already have the materials.
I know users complain a lot about the number of clicks it takes to carry out different actions. Sometimes, as an unempathetic developer, I scoff when I hear these complaints. And then I sit down to play some Animal Crossing, and I understand what the user I scoffed at was complaining about.
Saharah is a lovely traveling camel who sells rugs, wallpaper, and flooring when she stops by. These items are exclusive and can only be obtained from Saharah, so of course when she stops by I’m going to buy everything she has. Unfortunately, I kind of dread Saharah showing up because there are an absurd number of menus to go through to buy everything. Each interaction completely ends the conversation so you have to start up again from scratch.
Saharah brings 3 rugs, 1 flooring, and 1 wallpaper when she comes. That means 5 full interactions to step through, and it really adds up. In update 1.3.0 Nintendo has apparently addressed this and made it easier to purchase multiple items with less dialogue though!
A reddit thread entitled This fishing tournament is like something out of a saw movie summed this up better than I ever could:
You need 300 points for the gold trophy. You get only three minutes to fish which means around like 6-12 points average depending on luck after spending all fish bait. And between every session there’s 3 DIFFERENT DIALOGUES TO GO THROUGH! — u/bearwolfz
The fishing tourney is supposed to be fun. But if you want to get all of the items and the gold trophy from it, you’re going to be going through A LOT of dialogue and A LOT of menu navigation. This actually was too much for me. I got all of the items, but quit before I made it to the gold trophy.
It was controversial when TLoZ: Breath of the Wild did it, but Animal Crossing decided to continue the trend and add degradation to your tools. While it makes sense with the theme of crafting and DIY, it gets old after a while.
After completing certain milestones, you can earn recipes for the highest tier of tools, the golden tools, which require a gold nugget to craft.
It would be nice if, after putting in the time and effort to hit these milestones, you could be rewarded with tools that would never break. That is not the case, however. While gold tools last significantly longer than the mid-tier tools (and mid-tier tools last significantly longer than the lowest-tier tools), they too will break after a certain number of uses. Some people have decided that gold tools are worth crafting once for completion purposes, but continue using mid-tier tools after that.
The worst part about the tool degradation is that you have no way of knowing how worn out your tool is and when it might break on you because there is no meter. It could break when you’re far away from a crafting station or the store and you have to backtrack to craft a new one. You could be hitting the day’s money rock and your shovel could break partway through, causing you to lose out on precious bells. More than anything though, it’s just an inconvenience to have to backtrack because your tool broke unexpectedly. After the novelty of crafting tools wore off, I was left wishing that there was an endgame of not having tools break. Diving (added in the 1.3.0 update at the beginning of July) may be one of my new favorite activities simply because your wet suit can’t break.
I know I just complained about a lot of aspects of Animal Crossing. And I am not alone in this! There is a reddit thread with A LOT of responses about ways the game could be improved. It’s important to remember that these complaints - and complaints about products or services that we as developers work on - are not coming from a place of malice. I love Animal Crossing and play it a lot, so I want to see these improvements. Users are interacting with our products and services frequently, and so they are noticing pain points that we may not when building them out.
The good news is that we can address these pain points both as a response to feedback and by trying to put ourselves in the shoes of the user as we go through the development process. And as far as Animal Crossing is concerned, Nintendo has also embraced updates for the game and minor improvements are steadily working their way in!
The takeaway from all of this is simple: Always consider the user’s experience and try to empathize with the user. Our perception of an experience is a summation of micro interactions. Make those micro interactions positive.
the overall experience of a person using a product such as a website or computer application, especially in terms of how easy or pleasing it is to use. ↩