[MUD-Dev] UI Design in MMOs

Sean Howard squidi at squidi.net
Sat Dec 18 20:57:18 CET 2004

Mike Rozak wrote:

> This is an example of Richard Bartle's "good short-term, bad
> long-term" user-driven features, although I don't think he was
> taking about UI design. Eye candy like this attracts buyers, but
> users pay for it in the long run by spending a few extra
> milliseconds every time they try to find the icon they're looking
> for, or are distracted by the flashy UI, or can't read the text as
> easily because it's over a marbled background.

I disagree. It's always a balancing act. I can't say the
practicality is more important than the aesthetics, but that both
support each other.  You'll be staring at that screen for a long,
long time, and the interface contributes to the feel of the game
probably more than any other single element in the game. I mean, the
interface is part of the gameplay.

Take Star Wars Galaxies. The interface has a thin, high tech feel to
it.  The 3D versions of inventory items gives you a significantly
different feel for the world than the 2D icons of WoW. Likewise, the
marbled backgrounds of WoW have a sort of "old" feel them. I don't
think they make it harder to read (the only text I have trouble
reading is in the chat window with a translucent black
background). It contributes to the feeling of WoW - much in the way
that the four skins for the four different races in Warcraft III
made an ever so subtle effect on how you perceived them.  As does
the hand drawn maps of each area - far more effective in drawing you
in than a computer generated line map like EverQuest had, but far
less precise.

I will say that you can't ignore the practicality of an interface
either.  One of the first things that turn me off to a game is a
crappy interface.  I joined the now free AO the other day, and after
three hours of patches, I logged on, and it took several minutes to
figure out how to log back off. There was a little non-descript
button marked "exit" (not "logoff" or "quit") on a solid gray
icon. I clicked it and it said I couldn't go without sitting. It
took a little longer to realize that the icon of the guy sitting on
a toilet was the sit command.

Ultimately, I think the user interface is extremely important,
possibly more important than any other single aspect of the
game. But I think that describing a pretty interface as "flashy" is
kind of misleading.  Absolutely, interfaces need to be flashy. Don't
make the mistake of thinking that flashy is only for the benefit of
new players.

- Sean Howard
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