E01 - UX Design in The Video Game Industry

Explore UX Design with Anna Brandberg, Senior UX Designer on Candy Crush
September 30, 2019 | 01:12:14
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Learn from Anna Brandberg, Senior User Experience Designer on Candy Crush Saga - the puzzle game loved by millions around the world.

We go deep into how games are made, and cover the lessons Anna's learned in her career as a UX Designer in the Video Game Industry.

There's a lot of practical advice on offer for User Experience Designers starting out in the games industry.

Some questions I ask

  • How did you get your start in the games industry? (02:26)
  • What is UX/UI Design and how does your work fit into making a game? (13:25)
  • What are the challenges of designing for different audiences across different devices? (20:48)
  • How do you deal with impostor syndrome, self-doubt or overcome negative self-talk? (55:16)
  • What is some bad advice you have received that proved to be completely wrong? (1:01:18)

In this episode, you'll learn

  • The different types of games that are emerging (12:37)
  • What UX Designers do on a video game (13:38)
  • The key differences between mobile and desktop gameplay (20:53)
  • How design roles in the games industry are different to design roles in other industries (28:35)
  • How to overcome self-doubt (55:16)
  • What to do if you are struggling with a design (1:00:14)
  • What UX Designers need to be mindful of (1:03:19)

Also mentioned in this episode

League of Legends (LOL)

Splatoon

Legend Of Zelda

Need For Speed No Limits

Call Of Duty

The Sims Mobile

PubG

Adobe XD

Twitch

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Mike Rowe: Hi, my name is Mike, and this is “The Goods.” On this show, you’ll meet designers of all kinds, and go behind the scenes of their design process. You’ll discover what inspires them, what drives them, and how they adapt when things don’t go to plan. You’ll hear stories of their greatest successes, favorite failures, and key a-ha moments, and get practical advice you can use to bring your next design to life.

 

My guest today is Anna Brandberg. Anna is now a Senior User Experience Designer at King, a video game developer, who have created more than 200 titles played by people around the world. Anna has a background in print design, having started her journey in games doing art direction for a board game company in Sweden. But she quickly realized that her passion lay within UI, and exploring how people interact with digital games.

 

She then moved to Australia, where she landed at EA Firemonkeys, working on “The Sims FreePlay,” and the “Need for Speed: No Limits” franchise. Anna was selected as a 2018 Next Gen Leader by the International Games Developers Association, and won a two-year scholarship to GDC in San Francisco. She was also listed on MCV Pacific’s top 50 women in games for 2018.

 

Anna is an active advocate for diversity in the games industry, and regularly speaks at conferences, schools, and universities about UI and UX design, and how to create diverse and inclusive games communities. She is one of the co-founders of the skateboarding collective GeekSkate, where she helps teach women and non-binary games developers how to skateboard. She is also a “League of Legends” player, who streams regularly on her Twitch channel, “The Hangry Games,” and has recently started “Ladies LoL,” a streaming series collaboration aimed at teaching women to play “League of Legends.”

 

You can find Anna on Twitter or Instagram @Annabrandberg, online at annabrandberg.com, or on Twitch at “The Hangry Games.” Without further ado, please enjoy my conversation with Anna Brandberg.

 

Anna, welcome to the show.

 

Anna Brandberg: Hello.

 

Mike Rowe: So we’ve known each other for quite a while.

 

Anna Brandberg: Mm.

 

Mike Rowe: But for those who don’t know, how did you actually get your start in the games industry?

 

Anna Brandberg: I started off in board games actually, and for those who don’t know, Mike and I have actually known each other a very long time, since back when we were at uni. And you actually knew me when I first started off, even if I was in a different country. So, yeah, Mike is the person that I’ve known the longest here in Australia. It’s my oldest Australian friendship.

 

Yeah, I started off in board games after I finished uni, moved back to Sweden, graduated, and started off I was offered a job doing art direction for a board game company. And I… that was an incredible first job, learnt lots, but I was a little bit frustrated working in print design. And also, just the idea that like you make a product, and you put it out there, and you can’t fix it. If you look back at it in a, you know, a year later or something you can’t change anything.

 

Mike Rowe: Well, you can’t iterate on that.

 

Anna Brandberg: No, exactly. And also, you don’t know what the reception is. You know, do people like it? Do they not like it? You have no idea cause you don’t have a dialogue with your players. The only thing you can really look at is sales, and even then, most of the time it’s shop sales, and you don’t have access to those numbers.

 

So, yeah, so sometimes, sometimes it’s a little bit difficult to know how like good your product is, or you know, what you’d need to change, or grow as a designer. So, yeah, when I moved down to Melbourne, I then got a job working in digital games. I got a job at EA as a UI artist, and yeah, it was just really rewarding to have a job where I actually had that conversation with the player base, with you know, the people who were consuming the product that I make.

 

And I totally did not answer your question, I just went off on another tangent, and this is the first question. Boy, this podcast is gonna be a lot of fun.

 

Mike Rowe: For those who don’t know, like can you tell us a little bit about what a UI artist on a video game is?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yes, absolutely. So my first job in the video games industry was as a UI artist, and that is the person that does the UI, which is the user interface. So that is anything that you look is which is 2D on top of the 3D games, so your menus, your icons, anything on the actual on the top of the screen that you interact with. Anything that gives you information, or anything that you use in order to interact with the game. All of that is the interface, and yeah, someone makes those things, and most of the time that person is me.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm, and how did you land this job at EA coming from print being your background in Sweden? Was it easy? What were the kind of challenges that you faced?

 

Anna Brandberg: So I actually had it real easy, like surprisingly easy, and I didn’t realize at the time what a big deal it was. Cause I kind of joke, and I say that I tripped and fell into the games industry completely by accident. Where other people will work since, you know, since they’re teenagers, you know, they would give an arm and a leg to work at a games company.

 

And for me, it was a friend of mine that worked as a 3D artist at EA, and they needed people, and he knew that I had a background in graphic design, and working with games—even though it was in another form. But yeah, so he’d seen my portfolio and he told me to apply for the job. And I was convinced that I was under qualified, under talented, under skilled, under experienced, all of the things. And he basically pepped me up, and he’s like, “No, man, just apply for the job anyway.”

 

So yeah, so I applied for the job, cause I’m stubborn as all heck, and got the job. And surprised even myself in that, yeah, 20 minutes later they called me up and asked me for an interview. So I was really blown away, but yeah, kind of got the job, and I didn’t realize how big a deal it was at the time. I was mostly like, “Well, you know, heck, if EA wants to give me a job, yeah, sure, I’ll work at a big games company, this sounds like fun.” And it was only after that you’re like, “Wow.” Now that I’m in the industry, and I kind of know the industry a bit better, I’m like, “Wow, I got real lucky.”

 

Mike Rowe: Mm. And did that first job, like, trigger a passion for games for you? And have you found like developing a career in the games industry?

 

Anna Brandberg: Those are two different questions. I will get to the first one first. Yes, it absolutely triggered a passion in me. I grew up playing games, I had two older brothers, so I would play all of the things that they brought home. You know, I played “Civilization,” and “Age of Empires,” and “The Sims”—even though they didn’t bring that one, I found that one myself. But yeah, “Need for Speed,” “NHL,” like all the old games that we played as kids I played everything. And then growing up as I became a teenager, there’s all these social pressures, societal pressures on teenage girls, and you kind of you learn that games are for boys, and girls don’t play games, we’ve got far more important things to worry about like make-up, and what boys think of us.

 

And yeah, so I stopped playing games. Even my friends who also played games, they all stopped playing games as well. Which is really sad, which is incredibly sad, and I see that still happens today. Not as much, thankfully, we’re slowly changing that mentality. But yeah, so when I applied for this job, if anyone had asked me if I was a gamer, I would have said no.

 

And I had pretty much stopped playing games, and then getting back into it, I started playing games again. Because, obviously, this is my industry now, I’ve got to get to know, you know, the industry. And rediscovered my old passion from my childhood, and yeah, started playing “League of Legends,” and it all kind of went downhill from there. Became a rabid LoL player, started playing every single day—lunchtimes, and evenings, and yeah, just it’s a lot of fun.

 

Mike Rowe: And when did that transition occur when you didn’t self-identify as a gamer, but I imagine like from the way that you’re talking about it, like you do now, and like do you remember the moment that that occurred?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah. It’s that weird thing of how like there’s this stereotype of what we think a gamer is, and if you ask, you know, a normy, if you ask a casual person on the street what a gamer is, they’ll say, “You know, it’s a kind of a neckbeard who lives in his mom’s basement, and fucking play ‘World of Warcraft.’” Oh God, I just swore, I don’t know if I’m allowed to swear.

 

And it’s so not true, if you look statistically, I know the GDAA, the Game Developers Association of Australia and IGE—what is it, Interactive Games and Entertainment, I’m not quite sure on the acronyms. But they’ve done surveys on the kind of the player demographic, and… oh man, I feel like I should have had these numbers off the top of my head. So, forgive me, these numbers are going to be inaccurate, but like something like 46% or something of the player base was actually female. And people think that teenaged boys are the largest demographic, like that’s what you think when you think of the term gamer, but in fact, the largest demographic is actually middle aged women.

 

And so we’ve completely debunked that, and even my ballet teacher, if you’d asked her if she was a gamer, she’d say no. But ask her what she does every night before she goes to bed, she plays “Legend of Zelda” in bed for an hour before she sleeps every night. And so like by definition, she is a gamer. And so yeah, it’s really interesting to work on that and kind of debunk the stereotypes.

 

I feel like I’m rambling now, forgive me if I ramble. Cut if you want to. But whenever I speak at primary schools, I really love doing this. Even high schools, whenever I speak with younger people, I really love opening my talks with starting by asking the entire class, like, “Who here is a gamer?” And all the guys will put their hands up pretty much, and then you know, maybe two, three of the girls. And I go, “All right. Cool. Who here plays ‘Fortnight’?” And everyone puts their hands up. Who here plays “Minecraft”? Everyone puts their hands up. Who plays “Splatoon”? You know, most of the people put their hands up. Who plays “League of Legends,” ba ba… And you keep going, who plays “The Sims,” or “Candy Crush,” or whatever it is.

 

And then you go, “All right, cool, so if you play games regularly, and you enjoy playing games, and this is a thing… yeah, if this is one of your hobbies, then per definition, you are a gamer. So let’s try that question again. Who here is a gamer?” And literally, everyone will put their hands up, and then you go, “Cool, all right. With that in mind, now I can begin my presentation.” And it just changes the way the students like engage with the presentation. It means that, by the end when I get to question time, I’m getting questions from the girls as well and not just the guys because they realize this is a viable career path for them as well.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. And that’s something you talk about quite a lot, right? It’s like career paths, women, games.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yes, absolutely.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, and can you tell us a little bit about like maybe that assumption that men are only gamers, or gamers… you can only be a gamer if you’re a guy. Like that like you mentioned out in the world there’s this like occurrence that… this perception that men play games and maybe women don’t. But it seems to me like gaming’s a very like personal kind of experience as well.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, God, yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: What do you notice as a UI/UX designer is the type of gaming that… Maybe this is not the right question, but like do you think now gaming, because it is more accessible, it’s opened up possibilities for new players and new demographics to show up?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, we’re seeing an emergence of different kinds of games now as well gain popularity and traction. So back in the day, we kind of assumed that games were mostly like shoot ‘em up games. You know, you’ve got your “Call of Dutys” and your “Counterstrikes,” and your “Battlefronts.” But nowadays there’s more and more games that are non-violent games, and they’re winning awards left, right, and center. And so it opens up absolutely different demographics cause it’s not just the stereotype of young boys who like shoot ‘em up.

 

And it’s not just, by the way FYI, I’ve got plenty of female friends who love shoot ‘em up games, so just that stereotype is rubbish. But it also means that people who aren’t into violent games also have their avenues within the gaming community as well. So that’s really growing.

 

Mike Rowe: Maybe what we could do is like shift gears a little bit and like maybe you can tell us a little bit about like your role as a UI/UX designer and what that means, and kind of the different career paths and possibilities that are available.

 

Anna Brandberg: Mm-hmm. Yeah, so I am a UI/UX designer, and for.. I know that I explained UI earlier. UX design means user experience design, so that is any kind of analyzing the way that people interact with games and interact with any product really, not just games. For me, in particular, it’s gaming, but UX designers work on every aspect of anything, any kind of product that exists in the world. There’s probably a experience designer who’s worked to create that.

 

But for games, specifically, it’s about analyzing how do people group information, where… what menu would you go to, to find a particular thing? If I just want to do that one thing, where do I click in order to do it? Or once I know what it is I want to do, like how do I… how many clicks does it take for me to be able to do that one thing? So if I load up a game, and I just want to play it cool, what is this game, how do I play? Like where is the information about like how do I start a new game? How do I fix my settings?

 

If I have a disability, for example, so say I only have four fingers, or say I struggle with hearing, I’ve got a hearing disability. Where do I modify those things to adjust my game play immediately before I even start playing again? Where does that information sit? But yeah, so how many clicks does it take for me to be able to open up a game and then get into game play and be able to play the game?

 

And then once I’m in the game, how do I set goals for myself? And goals can be anything from “I want to complete level one,” or could be, “I need to find a particular weapon, equip the weapon, and know how to use it.”

 

Mike Rowe: So it’s like the mechanics, and the structure, and like the how to do the things, right?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, exactly. Like I just want to do that one thing, how do I do the thing, and so someone has to streamline that entire experience and make sure that the game is as easy to play as possible. So if you’ve been able to play a game and not once wonder how you play the game, if you’re able to just jump into a game and start playing, great, the UX design has done a great job. If you’re getting frustrated because literally all I’m trying to do is figure out what currency I need, and I don’t know where my currency is, and I’m low on currency. I just need to top up my currency, how do I do that? And you’re able to continue, or complete your purchase, or level up your health bar or whatever it is, then clearly the UX design needs a bit of work.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm, so like that’s a blocker in that state, right?

 

Anna Brandberg: Exactly.

 

Mike Rowe: Cause like you can’t progress forward, you can’t get to the thing that you’ve come to do, like the actual game play.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: Interesting.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, so that is a very long explanation to what a UX designer is. So, yeah, I specifically do both UI art and UX design. At some studios, that is a hybrid role. You’ll find at, yeah, particularly in smaller studios that will often be a hybrid role. In the games industry, UX design as a title is relatively new. It’s only in the past, I don’t know, maybe ten years that that’s kind of really been a thing, and it’s grown… it’s gotten a lot of traction in the past couple of years, whereas in other areas of tech UX designers have been around for ages.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

 

Anna Brandberg: But, yeah ,in the games industry this is only really starting to become a thing that people are more and more mindful of, and so at bigger studios you will have a dedicated UX designer and a team of… often, a team of dedicated UX designers or a team of dedicated UI artists where they are very specifically separated.

 

And then because I started off with UI art and then migrated into UX design, I kind of enjoy straddling that hybrid role. So where possible I try to still kind of do both, if I can. It keeps work interesting, but yeah, I guess it all depends from studio to studio.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, and maybe like something I’d find really interesting is like why do you think games of all the different industries were kind of late to adopt and add UI/UX designers to the process of making a game?

 

Anna Brandberg: Because people, I think traditionally—and like the stereotype kind of exists still that game developers are generally only one of three roles that you think… when you think of how to make games. And I notice this in the education system still when you’re looking at games degrees, often people think that there’s only you are either a programmer or you are an artist, a 3D artist, or you are a game designer. So you are the person who writes, who creates the visions of the games.

 

And so it’s, yeah, the notion that there are only three jobs in the games industry, which is completely untrue. There’s like more specific and broad job descriptions than I’ve got, you know, fingers and toes. There are so many different kinds of job descriptions just in one studio. And so, yeah, so UI art was never really a priority really if you look at—I mean back in the day. So if you look at some of the original games, UI artists will joke about how like engineer, like programmer UI is a thing. And people would think, “Oh, you know, it’s just a button, anyone can make a button.”

 

And it’s only lately now that we’ve gotten a bit better at analyzing how we interact with interfaces that we’re realizing that the way that we interact with software is so important, and that streamlining experiences is very important. And I guess it’s become more of a thing lately because we have such short attention spans nowadays. Because there are so many things fighting for our attention, there are so many other games to play. There are so many apps, there are so many things happening everywhere all the time. The internet is full of stuff that is grabbing your attention, so you have got a teeny tiny little window. And if it’s difficult to use something, you give up straight away, you’d rather go on something else that’s easier to use.

 

So I think nowadays there’s been more of a focus into UX design and making sure that people are able to use something intuitively and instinctively without having to struggle with using a product. Cause if I struggle, I’m going to uninstall that up straight away and get another one. So I think that’s probably why it’s become more of a thing. And, yeah, people realizing that UI is incredibly important, and that engineers are amazing people, but you know, art is probably not their strong suit. They’re engineers, they’re programmers, and let people do what they’re good at.

 

I can’t program to save my life, so why should I try program? Instead, I’m gonna stick to what I’m good at, and programmers should just stick to what they’re good at, and therefore studios should hire people to do the visuals who actually know how to do visuals. And so, yeah, so nowadays that is obviously a thing. But if you look at games 20, 30 years ago, it’s a very different interface to what we’re used to today.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, very different devices as well.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah

 

Mike Rowe: Which might, like, lead into my next question around the different types of gameplay on different devices as well. Cause I imagine like the way that you play on a mobile or a handheld device is very different to how you play on a desktop.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: Or how you play on a console.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: Can you tell us a little bit about like the differences in what you see in your work?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, absolutely. So I’ve worked primarily in the mobile game space. And it kind of ties into what I was saying before about attention spans, and needing to have quick, very efficient game sessions. Because when you play on a mobile device, often you know, as a UX designer you need to think about where and when people are playing your game. And so, for mobile games, often people are playing on the train on the way to work for example, or on the toilet. Realistically, where are people playing mobile games?

 

And so, you generally craft game sessions that are ten to 20 minute bursts that need to feel meaningful and useful, that you need to feel like you’ve accomplished something. Even if you’ve only opened the game for five minutes, those are five minutes that you’ve killed on the train, and you want to feel like you’ve actually done something, this has been a fun experience.

 

Whereas if you design your game for a desktop or a console, you know that the person is going to set aside three to four hours, and shut the world off, and put their headphones on, and focus completely on this one game, and immerse themselves entirely into this world. So you’ve got a different attention span than what you would for a mobile game. So you can design much more intricate games in that sense. And also because, you know, people are completely invested in making this games experience work. And also, often, because those are the kinds of games that you’ll have spent $50, $60, $70 on if it’s one of the bigger, kind of EEE games.

 

But even smaller games, like you’ve bought a game for $20, so you want to get your money’s worth for that game, you’re gonna try, you’re gonna invest yourself in that. Whereas many games on mobile they’re free to play so if it doesn’t feel rewarding in five, ten minutes, again, you know what happens, uninstall. So the way that you design things is very different in that sense.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, and say like how would you design one game across multiple devices? Like I see games like “Fortnite,” and “PUBG,” and they do like mobile game play. And it seems like they do it very well, but they also have, form what I understand, like console or desktop kind of versions as well. But they’re that one game holistically, like what’s the nuances and the challenges that you see around, or that you face, when you design one game that has to be applied or used across multiple different devices?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, I haven’t actually played the mobile phone, I haven’t played “Fortnite” at all, to be honest, I should probably do that. But yeah, you need to be mindful of the way that you interact, like the way that you play. So again, as a UX designer, you need to think, “okay, what are the tools in which players… like what are the tools players have to play the game?” So on a PC you have a keyboard, you have a mouse, and you have a separate screen. You’ve got two hands that are fully equipped to press all the buttons and do all the movements.

 

On a mobile phone, you literally just have a touchscreen. And, generally speaking, you have two thumbs that are available, that’s it. So where do you place your buttons on the screen? How are you able to move around in the world without hindering your game play? Like how do you place the buttons without hindering the vision, or the movement, of the game on the screen as well? And how do you… how do you get people to do jumps, and you know, change weapons? How do you shoot and aim? How do you focus your sniper shots? All of those things where you would be able to do that with, you know, maybe a button on the keyboard with, you know, your ring finger, or your pinky finger, or something because you’ve got all those fingers available.

 

You don’t have that on a mobile phone, so then you need to start look at gestures, at swiping at, you know, tilting a phone perhaps to change directions. You know, you need to think about the way in which people interact with their devices. And, yeah, that’s a bigger challenge than people realize. And, yeah, it’s a UX designer’s job to consider that.

 

Mike Rowe: Interesting. And like, you mentioned it’s like it’s a bigger challenge than people realize. How do you go about, like what’s the process behind identifying what gestures or how people interact with a mobile? Like is there a particular like method or process or practice or way of working that you go about like testing things? Like can you tell us a little bit about what that looks like?

 

Anna Brandberg: So I personally haven’t really worked on games where you would do that, more than your basic gestures. So I’ve worked on “The Sims,” “The Sims” for mobile—“Sims Free Play.” So you’ve got your basic things of moving, like you touched somewhere to move your sim towards that. You zoom in by pinching, and… what’s the opposite of pinching a screen?

 

Mike Rowe: Zoom and pinch zoom.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, pinch zoom, zoom… zoom pinch, so that one. So like you’ve got your basic kind of commonly known gestures, and there is a term for this that I have completely blanked on now. But there’s a name for general design patterns that are universally known or accepted already. And so there’s a thing where you don’t need to completely reinvent the wheel all the time, you don’t need to create a brand new fancy way of like, you know, a new gesture. You don’t need to create a new mechanism if there is already an established way in which you know your players are used to working or to use or navigate, whatever, use that.

 

Don’t complicate unnecessarily, because again, you’re overloading the process in which a player gets to learn your game, yeah, to play. You want to make it as easy as possible for a player to get in and just do their thing. And if they need to constantly learn new gestures and new ways of interacting with something, it’s again, it’s cognitive overload. And a player can only really learn one thing at a time, you want to like master this one thing, so streamline, make it as easy as possible.

 

So, yeah, and that goes into organizing information as well. These conventions where we know that like… all my players setting, my basic settings sit under a cog wheel for settings, like we know what a cog wheel is or the hamburger icon. Even the fact that we know that three lines together means that that’s a burger icon, then that means menu, and that’s where your settings are.

 

Mike Rowe: Menu, yeah.

 

Anna Brandberg: Like these are design conventions that are already like the players have already learnt that from previous experiences. Don’t reinvent the wheel, if you can make it as simple as possible, stick to that. And that’s often something that’s very frustrating when you see people trying to, you know, be… Like there’s a difference between being a trendsetter or game-changing, or just being unnecessarily complicated for the sake of being different. And a lot of the time that will work against you, so by all means, be innovative, find new creative ways to work, but don’t do that at the expense of the player’s experience.

 

Mike Rowe: And you mention before that with the games industry, people commonly assume that there’s like three tiers of work. I think you mentioned art, programming, and maybe business. Can you tell us a little bit—and design, sorry—can you tell us a little bit about the nuances. Cause it sounded like there was a whole lot more involved and a whole lot more people involved that people listening might not actually know about.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah. And so I guess I can explain a little bit about design as well, because I’m assuming that someone listening to a design-related podcast assumes that design in the games industry is the same as design elsewhere, and it’s really not. In the games industry, a game designer is not someone who works with visual design. A game designer is often someone who writes. So they will design the experience—sorry, the journey of the game. And as you mentioned, there are so many different roles within every category as well.

 

I feel like I should be backtracking and say there are so many more categories than just those three, but I’ll get to that in a sec. But yeah, so game designer is usually the person who decides what kind of a game it is we’re creating. You know, is it a 2D platform, or is it, you know, like a “Super Mario” run and jump? Or is it a 3D world, first-person shooter. Is it a fantasy RPG where we run around and slay dragons? Or like what kind of a game is it that we’re creating?

 

So they’re usually more of a author, I guess, would be like a layman’s term. So they’re writing the script of the game, they are the ones that then write like the rules for the game. This is your character, this character’s background is this, these are the characters that they interact with. What is the background story? What are your plot points? What is the final destination of the game? What is it we’re trying to accomplish? What environment are we in? What is the world? Are we in a post-apocalyptic kind of battlefield? Or are we running around in a jungle on a foreign planet?

 

Where, you know, all of these kind of setting things are done by the game designers. And so they do not do any visual art, or design, or anything like that. If anything, they’ll do a little bit of UX work because they may often do like flows from screen to screen. So on this screen, we’ll have this information, on this screen, we’ll have this information. But they don’t visually create like, “Oh, this menu is gonna look like this.” It’s more just what is the content on this screen. And then they’ll palm it off to me to make that stuff visual, so a UX or UI designer will then take the content from the game designer and they’ll make it visual.

 

Yeah, so that’s a bit of a disclaimer. Game designers, when you talk about design in the games industry, it is that role, it’s more of a writing role rather than a visual role. And, yeah, so even within, so in these base three kind of umbrella categories, you’ve got design, art, and code, which is the stereotypical like that’s what people think game development is. And within all of those umbrellas you’ve got, you know, a narrative designer, a system designer, you’ve got so many different kinds of designers. Within art you’ve got 3D art, you’ve got UI art, you’ve got technical artists, you’ve got animators, you’ve got all of it, like so many different things. Even within 3D art like are you an environment artist, are you a character artist, are you a VFX artist? So many different kinds of art.

 

And then within programming are you… like are you a UI programmer? Of course that’s my go-to thought. Do you do just… God, I know so little about programming, this is all magic in my world. Do you do like system stuff? Do you do engine programming? Do you do—I can’t even speak about program, they’re amazing, they’re all incredible. I know nothing about programming. But there’s lots of different kinds of programmers, that’s the TL;DR.

 

And then you’ve got all the invisible jobs, and you touched on that before when you mentioned business. So every… every game studio you need a producer, you know, who holds the glue together to insure that this team is able to function. Who has the vision? what is the final product that we’re trying to create? What is our player base that we’re trying to target? You need people who’re looking at deadlines, people who are looking at your money, people who are looking at your workforce. Do we have enough people? Do we have enough engineers in order to hook up all the things that we’ve created? Do we need someone that looks at scope? Have we completely blown out our scope for the time that we have available? What is our budget? Can we employ more people or do we have to reduce our scope because we literally don’t have enough people to make what we’re trying to make?

 

And then once you have a product, you need marketing, you need social media managers. What about audio? Where is the sound? Who’s taking care of sound for your game? Who’s writing the music? All of these things are, yeah, what we generally call the invisible jobs that people forget about because, I don’t know why, because they’re not there, tangible? Yeah, I don’t know why. For me, it’s so obvious, they’re so crucial to any team. But, yeah, they’re often the ones that people don’t really discuss.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, they’re perhaps like expected, but they go unnoticed.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, exactly.

 

Mike Rowe: In a way.

 

Anna Brandberg: Our invisible heroes.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, and so yeah, so when I speak at schools, kind of touching on what you said before, like I encourage people to pursue so many people different aspects of game development. And people often think—oh yeah, concept art is another one people think as well. I’m just gonna be a concept artist. And the concept artists are incredibly important, but there are so many other things within art than just that. And, yeah, so I encourage people to really look at all the different roles that you have in game development and find something that you’re good at and niche in onto that thing.

 

I think this is a whole other question that I can talk about endlessly, but we can maybe do that towards the end because that feels like an end question.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, for sure. I’m really interested to like unpack a little bit about like what your average—or typical, most typical day would look like as UI/UXer in a game or on a game, sorry.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, that kind of depends on what team you’re on. So on “The Sims,” for example, which I spent most of my, my time working on “The Sims.” So we would do six weekly updates cause it was a mobile game, so every six weeks-ish—give or take—there would be a new process. We’d do some pre-production beforehand, and then once the six weeks begins, you start off with… I’ll start off with my like UX designer hat on. So in preproduction we’ll do… I’ll chat to the producers and the designers—game designers, as I mentioned before. We align on what is it that we’re actually making.

 

So every new… every update there’s a new theme. So on “The Sims” it was like is it are we adding puppies and kittens? Or is it a pre-school update? Or is it a career update where we teach people, you know, new career options? What is it that we’re doing? Are we doing a home renovation update? So what is it that we’re creating? What is the content? What are the prizes that we’re unlocking? Do we need any new interfaces? Do we need any new like menus? Is it a new like special event that we’re doing where people can unlock special content? So basically, just aligning on what is the work that’s actually gonna be done for this update.

 

And then, yeah, I’ll start prototyping up, I’ll start sketching up a couple of interfaces, or icon ideas, or whatever it is. Probably not icon ideas, I haven’t done that yet, but yeah, it’ll start off with just basic wire frames. Wire frames, for those who might not know, wire frames are generally line drawings of what a screen looks like. So there is no text, there is no content, it’s just squares and lines of, you know, over here we have a menu, over here we have a box that says “content.” Over here there is a prize, there is no drawing of what the prize is, it’s literally just a box with an X in it that says “prize.”

 

And it helps us visualize what the content’s gonna be, how are we gonna organize this information, where in the interface is this going to be accessible from, how do we unlock it, what are the milestones in which that players need to reach in order to unlock it. How do we present the restrictions? Like time, you know, is there a timer somewhere showing you how many days you have to unlock it or whatever it is. So you kind of plan out that, and then if I need to, I’ll create a bit of a clickable prototype so we can click through the entire event. And doing this means that we’re able to create like the back bone, the skeleton of the event without having to use any code or art time.

 

So I don’t want to waste anyone else’s time in the studio. Like it’s an inefficient use of resources to be investing the art team, and the code team to hook up a bunch of stuff. And then we realized it’s broken, it doesn’t work, it’s confusing, players don’t understand what’s going on. So it’s just me, maybe one or two other people from the UI/UX team, will create these prototypes, click through it, we realize what works, what doesn’t work, and then fix it, iterate, throw the whole thing out, start over from scratch, do the whole thing over and over again until it works.

 

And then once that has been approved, then that’s when you can start throwing things onto art and code. Then we know what it is we’re creating, everyone is aligned, everyone knows exactly what we’re making, that’s when the team can start on actual production. And we’ll create all the screens, the interfaces, it’ll be all pretty, and flashy, the art team can start making the actual assets for the game. You know, if we’re unlocking puppies and kittens, then you know, what are the different puppies you can have? And then the animation team can start creating interactions. You know, how do you pat your puppy? How do you cuddle your puppy, et cetera, et cetera. How does a puppy run, jump? How does it, you know, curl into its basket?

 

And then the code team works on hooking up all the interfaces or the… the dialogues, sorry, and hooking up the actions as well, obviously. And then while that is happening, I’ll put on more of a UI art role, so then I’ll start looking at iconography. You know, what does the event button look like? How do we communicate that this is a home renovation update in 20 pixels? Where on the screen is this button going to sit? Where do we nest in this information in the category of indie like home reconstruction section? How do we add the icon like where does it sit in like in context with the rest of the game?

 

And then yeah, once all the stuff has been hooked up, and plugged into the game, then… Oh, that reminds me of another massive part of the game team that’s crucial that people forget is QA—so quality assurance. So then we need to test everything, make sure that everything runs properly. Are there any bugs? Does the puppy accidentally walk straight through the basket without acknowledging there’s a basket? Is there clipping in the animations? When you’re holding a puppy, does the tail accidentally go right through the sim’s arm? You know, weird things like that you need to make sure that everything functions like it’s supposed to. And, yeah, you test it, you fix stuff, and then you push an update.

 

Mike Rowe: I’m curious, can you maybe tell me about an update that didn’t go as planned?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah. That happens all the time. Game development is hard, whoda thunk? I mean the first thing that kind of springs to mind is when we introduced death into the game. This was just as I was first kind of joining the games industry, joining…

 

Mike Rowe: I’m sorry, just for people that don’t know, which game? It’s “The Sims”?

 

Anna Brandberg: I’m sorry, this is on “The Sims,” yeah. So the mobile version of “The Sims.” So death has always been an integral part of the PC version of “The Sims,” and it’s kind of funny cause you can make these characters. Like you can make all kinds of characters all the time, and then you can bring in the grim reaper, and you know, it’s almost a bit of like a gimmick, it’s a joke how like all the weird and morbid ways that you can kill off your sims, and you get a little tombstone in your yard, and it’s like it’s almost funny.

 

But death wasn’t originally in the mobile version of “The Sims,” and so that became quite a big thing for the team. So when you first create a sim, instinctively you make yourself, right? That’s generally what people tend to do. You design yourself, you design all the… you create all the people in your life, all the people that are most important to you. If you have a dog, you make your own dog. If you, you know, if you dream that you want to live in a beach house, you make a little fancy beach house, and you basically craft your dream world. And if you’ve always wanted to be a painter, then you know, your sim gets to be a painter.

 

And so, yeah, so the game had been out for a couple years already, and people have invested all this time, and money, and emotional energy into crafting their ideal families, and game experiences. And then suddenly an update was introduced where suddenly people die, and naturally, this is very traumatic. And especially when these are people that you care so… like even though they’re sims, like they’re based off of people that you care about. So suddenly—

 

Mike Rowe: Or yourself, right?

 

Anna Brandberg: And probably yourself, yeah. And so when suddenly death comes along, and your favorite characters die, that’s traumatic, of course that’s traumatic. Yeah, and so that became a very big thing, and players were very upset about that, understandably. And we immediately—I mean, I wasn’t part of the decision-making process, unfortunately. I hadn’t quite joined at that point, but like the team realized that that was not the best option, that wasn’t the ideal solution. So eventually, they updated and you were given an opportunity to get life orbs and to reduce the aging cycles, you get to reset your aging cycle.

 

And now, I’m pretty sure you can have sims that live forever if you want to. And so like that was all kind of adjusted, and fixed. And, yeah, what you learn is that you have to listen to your player base, and you have to test things beforehand. And you don’t… yeah, you can’t always implement something just because you think it’s a good idea. And it’s very, very, very important to test things like big, big, big game changing things. It’s so important to test off before you push it live.

 

And if it’s something that you don’t know if players want or need, then yeah, absolutely test it. And if you realize that this is something players actively hate, maybe don’t implement it? Or implement it in a different way so that it becomes a constructive, entertaining part of the game, the way that it was in the PC version of the game. So it becomes like a bonus thing that enhances your game play, rather than a destructive thing that destroys your gaming experience.

 

Yeah, so that was something that we learned the hard way. And that happens, game development is hard, you need to listen to your player base, and we always learn, and try and improve. And that’s the joys of working in mobile as well, is that it’s every six weeks there’s a new update, so it’s an iterative process. You can constantly like update and improve the game for your players.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm, that’s a really interesting, too. Like I think that concept of testing that people listening might not be familiar with designers doing, right? So can you tell us a little bit about what testing looks like on a game?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, so often at bigger studios, so at EA for example we had the luxury of having a UX research lab. So we had a lab web we could get people to sign an NDA, and they’ll come in, and test an early prototype of a game, or anything really. It can just be a couple slideshows, it can be any kind of things. If you’re trying to get information in preproduction about an update you would like to do in the future, you can have just a bit of information, some text, whatever, ask some questions. And you can kind of see whether like what it is that people would like to do.

 

So, for example, when we were developing the pregnancy update for “The Sims,” where we would allow players to experience like pregnancy as a whole kind of journey. Then, yeah, we did some testing to find out what it is generally that people want. Like are you more interested like the visual? Like is it important that you have a big belly for a certain amount of time? Or is it just that you want to like decorate the home? Are you more interested in creating a room for your baby that is coming? Do you want to paint your entire room in lime green and have little like toy monsters everywhere? Like what is it that is actually important for you in your kind of pregnancy journey for your sim? And so that helped, that information helped us then design the update, because we know what it is our players want.

 

Also, I guess I shouldn’t forget to mention our amazing community managers. Because people will constantly let you know what it is they want by commenting on all your socials. So we knew that pregnancy was something that players really, really, really wanted. It was the number one most requested feature of all time because they kept asking for that on all of our socials. And every time we’d push a new update people would be like, “Give us pregnant sims!” So like we already knew that that was important. So yeah, listen to your community managers, they’re a crucial, crucial, crucial part of your team. And they will often be able to tell you specifically what kind of things people have been requesting as well.

 

So that’s one kind of thing that you can do. Then later on in the process if you have like an early prototype of your game, you can test that way as well, again, in a lab. So for another game that we had, you would… yeah, we had an entire database of players thanks to… I think it’s like EA Play Testing. I can’t remember what it’s called, but people have already signed up to test things, and it’s important that you pay people who come and test. I know that like EA obviously has a luxury of being able to do that, but so even if you’re a smaller studio with very few resources, always compensate your testers in some way, even if it’s free access to your game, or you know, snacks or whatever it is. Like always make sure that you’re compensating your testers.

 

But, yeah, so you get them to run through an early prototype of your build. And then you can immediately see what’s working, what isn’t working, is it fun, is it engaging, what are they struggling with. Is it difficult to drive this car? Is it difficult to turn corners? How do you brake? Are you… is it engaging? Like do you know how to set goals for yourself? What is it you’re actually doing? So all of that kind of stuff you can test and watch players play the game, and get feed back on that, in order to improve your process as well.

 

And also, there’s like even if you don’t have access to people outside that you can come in and test things, you can test internally as well. So when we were creating some of our live events for “The Sims,” we would create paper prototypes, and we would test that on our own employees within the studio. Or I would… when I was designing the pregnancy update a little bit after we… Oh, God, let me rephrase. Or for example when I was designing the pregnancy update, I created a clickable prototype, and I would ask people on other game teams in the studio. So you’re not on “The Sims,” you don’t know already what the process is, but you have an insight into how “The Sims” works.

 

So that’s relatively equal to, you know, a player base that like you know how the game works. So we get them to click through the prototype and make sure that everything’s coherent, everything functions. Because as the person designing it, I know what’s going on, I’m not the person who should be testing anything because obviously I know where the information is, obviously I know what the milestones are. So it’s very, very, very important to get someone else to click through your thing and to make sure everything’s coherent. It’s like in different stages of the development process there’s different kinds of testing you can do.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm. Circling back, what I find really interesting is this update of pregnancy, right? I’m curious about like what was the thigh tat people wanted out of that update? Like what was the cool feedback from people that they valued in that experience?

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, that was that weird thing that like as someone who has never been pregnant and has very little interest—or actually, zero interest—in being pregnant, this was all very foreign to me. So this was an enlightening experience for me. But people just wanted to have the big belly, to have morning sickness, to like go through the struggles of being pregnant. And this blows my mind because in a world where you can be a rock star, you can build a mansion, you can you know, live in a house full of puppies. The one thing that people wanted to do was be pregnant. It was just like so foreign to me.

 

But you know, you have to… as a UX designer again, you have to put yourself aside, and you’re not creating a game for yourself, you’re creating a game for your player base. It’s your job is to listen to your players. My job is to have empathy for my player base and to craft an experience that is meaningful for them.

 

So yeah, it was learning that players wanted to have their big belly to walk around in the anticipation. I guess it’s that feeling of anticipation, of like, “I am bringing into the world a new member, a new like extension of me.” And it was that anticipation, and hype, and excitement of the baby arriving. So yeah, so you really crafted the thing, the struggles as well of like morning sickness, and not being able to walk properly. And everything, your sim walks around slower than it usually does, and they lose their energy faster.

 

And, you know, they wanted it to be realistic in that sense, but also you know, telling people that you’re going to have a baby, and building a little baby room with your cot and all the things. And like going to the doctor and having all your little check-ups, and you know, that was a thing. And it’s simulation game, people are just trying to reenact a real world experience. They’re trying to create their ideal fantasy life. So, yeah, they just wanted that anticipation and excitement of bringing a baby into the world.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm, that’s great. You mention before as well, like, the importance of testing. And it sounds like you have to have a system in place to like test or remove your own bias.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yes.

 

Mike Rowe: So that what you’re designing is developed for that end user.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yup.

 

Mike Rowe: How does that like process of like checking your own biases look like in your work as a UI/UX designer?

 

Anna Brandberg: I guess the first step is finding players to—like your testing database, your pool of testers needs to be people that actually are reflective of your player base. So you can’t just test with your friends, even though yes, that is important as well, but generally speaking, make sure that you’re testing people that are reflective of the people who are actually gonna be using your product, and not just people that are similar to yourself. Cause, yeah, it’s so easy to think that, “Well, I would do this, I would do this, I would do this.” That’s your own bias showing really. So get people that are accurate rather to test that, and then listen to them. Don’t imbue your own interpretations into what they’re saying. When you’re testing, don’t ask leading questions.

 

Mike Rowe: Can you give us an example of what like a leading question would look like?

 

Anna Brandberg: So asking people, “What did you like most about the puppy?”

 

Mike Rowe: It implies that they like the puppy.

 

Anna Brandberg: Implies that they like the puppy, exactly.

 

Mike Rowe: Got it.

 

Anna Brandberg: Maybe they hated that puppy. Maybe I like puppies generally, but this puppy you’ve given me sucks. So you can ask things like, “What did you think of the puppy?” And then, you know, get them to paint the picture for you, instead of you holding their hand in the direction that you want them to go. Cause maybe what you’re realizing that, you know, actually they don’t want puppies in the game. So, I mean, I love puppies, so therefore I want them to love this puppy update. But, really, they have no interest in puppies, they just want, I don’t know, babies.

 

But, I don’t know, like naturally, everyone loves puppies, and the puppy update was great. So that was, yeah, that wasn’t actually what happened, but yeah, make sure you’re asking questions that are open-ended and let your players guide the testing process themselves rather than you holding their hand and leading it in the way that you want it.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, got it. And like you touched on very early in the conversation about when you first applied at EA, you experience like a sense of self-doubt.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: And I’m curious if that like shows up now for you, or how that might have changed over time?

 

Anna Brandberg: All the time.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, and maybe like yeah, cause it’s something that I think we as designers, like we get looked to for the answers, and then we’ve got to provide the answers. I want to kind of unpack a little bit about, like, your experience overcoming and dealing with doubt, and how it shows up for you.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah. I mean, we all—especially as creative, and as artists—like we all live with crippling anxiety and crippling self-doubt. And we all hate all the work that we create, and it’s only when someone else looks at it, and they’re like, “Hey, you’re good at the thing.” You’re like, “What?”

 

I have a friend who is an amazing artist, and she once said to me, she’s like, “Yeah, it’s not finished until I hate it.” And I’m like, “What? Like you’re incredible.” And, yeah, we’re so self-critical, and… Yeah, and I guess it’s also because like if you’re an engineer, there is a right and a wrong. If it functions, it’s right, if it doesn’t function, if it’s buggy and broken, then clearly it’s wrong. Whereas in art, it doesn’t work that way, there’s no right or wrong answers, it’s just, you know, is it are you creating meaningful experiences for the people trying to, you know, consuming it?

 

And that’s hard, as artists, and as creative, but it’s important to surround ourselves with people who keep us in check and to realize… surround ourselves with people who are able to validate ourselves as people as well. As creative, we often put a lot of our self-worth into our art, and so if we’re not producing content that’s up to our own standards, we beat ourselves up. And so it’s important to be around a team of people who are able to tell you and be straight with you, and just be like, “Actually, this is really good. This great, and what you’re doing is good.”

 

And have a supportive network of people around you who are able to just like sing your praises is real nice for your own confidence. Because we’re the worst, we are always our worst critics, and yeah, your friends are often able to recognize our talents better than we ourselves are. But also, like if that’s not an option for you, I mean I know that I can’t just randomly show my friends the work that I’m working on all the time because it’s under NDA.

 

So something I’ll do as well, I’ll just put it away for a couple of days. I’ve created a bunch of icons, I hate them, because this is what I do, I hate everything I create initially. And then you put it away for a couple of days, or if you don’t have that luxury of a couple of days, you know, leave it for the day. Go do something else, work on something else, get your mind in a different state of mind, and then you come back to it, and then you’re able to analyze a bit more why is it not working.

 

What is it that’s making me hate it? Oh, it’s this little thing, or it’s this little thing. Or you come back and you look at it, you’re like, “Actually, it’s pretty good. Actually, it’s fine.” But yeah, it’s easier to analyze something once you’re not as frustrated involved with it, so yeah, if you’re being really hard on yourself, just put it away for a little bit and then come back to it in a little while.

 

And then something I’ve done, generally speaking, in terms of my own kind of imposter syndrome I guess as well, is to speak to other people about it. Because it’s so easy for us to look at other people and think that everyone else is doing really well, and that we’re the ones who are the terrible ones. And you realize that literally everyone is thinking the same thing. We all think that we don’t belong, we all think that we suck, and that art sucks, and that you know, we have no idea what we’re doing. Newsflash: nobody knows what they’re doing, and it’s fine, like we’re all just winging it.

 

And so speaking to other people about their experiences is really good. Go to conferences, and like listening to other people’s thoughts on Twitter, and podcasts, and you know, all the other stuff. Like just speaking to people, read other people’s experiences, and you realize we’re all struggling with the same things. And that doesn’t make you any less talented, or important, or useful. Like you are still useful, and your experience is still valid, and getting over your own self-doubt is just a part of the process really.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm. Yeah, I think in my work I’ve been lately thinking about just overcoming the need for certainty, and to just having it be okay that things are uncertain.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: But the process is trying to unlock that, trying to figure out the next step. And that’s, for me, there’s been a bit of a mental switch where I start thinking about it like a puzzle. Like how do I assemble the puzzle? Or how do I solve the problem? So it’s then not about me, and it’s more about just the work itself. And that’s something, I think, as designers we typically take on as well. It’s like our work is a reflection of ourselves, and therefore criticism, or if things aren’t working, that’s a reflection of us not working, but I don’t think that’s the case.

 

Anna Brandberg: No.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

 

Anna Brandberg: Absolutely not. And like an easy way to do that if you’re struggling, like you said, if you’re struggling with a particular thing, test it, put it in the hands of someone else. And like we will overanalyze our own design solutions because we sit there twisting and turning like on something until it’s completely warped in our own brains. And the best way to like step away and get a better objective view of something, just put it in the hands of someone else, you’ll see immediately what they struggle with.

 

And then you go, “Ah, cool, so that’s the problem. Great, I know exactly how to fix that.” Immediately that becomes a solution in your head. If you’re torn between two different things, and you know, one person on your team wants one thing, and you want something else, and you don’t’ know how to move forward with that, that’s fine. Put it in the hands of like someone else, test it immediately, see what they say. Like that is how you fix those like those struggles on a day-to-day basis; just test it, test everything.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah.

 

Anna Brandberg: That should be my catchphrase, like catchphrase for absolutely everything: just test it.

 

Mike Rowe: That’s the slogan you put on a billboard somewhere.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, I mean, general like UX life lesson: just test it.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm-hmm. I’d like to shift gears a little bit and like ask you a little bit about some bad advice that you might have received as a younger designer that proved wrong that other new young designers should ignore.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, I think the main thing I’ve learnt—I don’t think this was like tangible advice that someone, no one would explicitly said this to me. But this was general thing that I learnt when I was younger, and that I’ve realized now that I’m a bit more experienced is completely wrong. And that is that you should not have to sacrifice your entire life and emotional and mental well-being for your dream job. You should not do that, absolutely not. And people think—especially in the games industry—because people want… You know, the people who want to work in games want to do it so badly, and they’ll take unpaid internships, they’ll work disgusting amounts of crunch hours because this is their dream job and this is what’s expected of them.

 

And so like what I tell people always: do not do that, absolutely not. You’re setting… not only are you setting a precedent for other people coming after you that they should be doing this as well, but also like no job is worth your mental health, no job is worth your physical health, it’s just a job. And I understand that it might be our dream and your passion, but that should not come at the expense of your sanity.

 

And especially in the games industry, because it’s so notorious for crunch, as well as something that I care very passionately about is removing that culture of crunch where we expect people to do overtime just because. And that goes back into like more production and scoping of like learning to be smarter about what your game is and how you’re working. Because crunch isn’t actually going to make your game production any better, you’re just gonna burn out your people, and you’re gonna lose employees.

 

Instead, if you’re finding that people need to do crunch, you should be looking at, you know, are we over scoped? Are we understaffed? You know, how else do we do this? Do we need to adjust our goalposts? So yeah, don’t accept crunch, don’t… I mean, a little bit of crunch, obviously, is like is okay if it’s like a teeny, teeny, teeny, tiny amount here and there, and you are definitely paid for it or compensated for time. You know, obviously that’s fine if you’ve got a massive deadline coming up or something, but it should not be a normal thing. So yeah, don’t sacrifice everything for a job.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm. And what are some things that emerging UI/UX designers in the game space should be mindful of?

 

Anna Brandberg: Hm… Be able to shift from macro to micro very quickly. Learn the ability, practice the ability, to step back, look at something, look at a flow or a system from a more holistic point of view. Like this is how we’ve organized our information, is this coherent? Does this make sense? Is this a realistic or useful way to present our information? And then be able to immediately snap into micro and be like, you know, is this icon unintuitive? You know, should this button actually be top left instead of top right? Is using color actually terrible because people with colorblindness can’t see the differences in these colors?

 

Or, you know, be able to kind of shift mentality from those very quickly. It’s okay to be pedantic, sometimes. You know, it’s okay to sit and push pixels left-right, but also know when to stop. Cause some of the stuff, I mean I’m definitely guilty of this, where I can sit and push pixels left-right for hours, and be like, “No, this one actually needs to be two pixels to the right.” And the fact of the matter is, nobody is going to notice it. Literally, the only person who is ever going to notice that is you. And sometimes it’s okay to let something be a few pixels off if that means that you don’t need to boot up the entire software again. You know, move the… open up all your layouts, move the thing a few pixels, save everything, export everything, master all your builds, integrate it into the engine, master your texture packs. Like all of that’s gonna take so long. Instead, maybe you should just go home for the day. You know, and that’s fine, so learn when it’s okay to be pedantic, and learn when it’s okay to just let go and move on.

 

Mike Rowe: Yeah, great. And do you have any requests of the people listening today?

 

Anna Brandberg: Play games. Play games that are different to what you would usually play. If you want to be a game developer—and you should, because it’s great, games are awesome—also people who become game developers learn very quickly how difficult it is to make games. I want all gamers everywhere to try and make a game, and they’ll immediately stop complaining as much about the way the games are made. They’ll quickly realize how difficult it is to make games.

 

Yeah, like play games, play games that are different to what you’d usually play. It broadens your kind of view on how you curate experiences and how you make things. If you… I guess this is like turning into general advice for people wanting to do this, but like practice different styles of things than you would usually do. Even if you want to work at Blizzard and your entire portfolio is curated for Blizzard. You know, what happens one day when you realize you don’t want to work at Blizzard? Or what happens if you get a job offer from a studio that does something completely different?

 

So learn to adapt to different styles. If you want to be a concept artist, amazing, focus on that, but then learn lots of different styles. If you want to be an environment artist, great, learn how to do lots of different environments. If you want to be a programmer, great, like sit and learn all your different languages, practice, be able to you know, read that in your sleep. But, yeah, learn lots of different things, and learn that different experiences are gonna always gonna enhance the way that you do your one job.

 

For me, as a UI/UX designer, I try and play different—I mean, I say this, I say that I try and play different games, but we all know I mostly just play “League.” But I try, I try to play other games. And it means that then when it comes to creating a new update I can go, “Oh, you know, how do we organize timed deadlines on an update as well as juggling and introducing a new form of currency, and also being able to hit five different milestones? How would I present that in a game?” Oh, actually, I just played a game that had a really great mechanism where they had currency in this particular way, and you know, you’ll always implement those things into your design process, so it’s important to try lots of different things.

 

Mike Rowe: Mm, and where can people find you if they’re curious?

 

Anna Brandberg: So, they—oh, I was going to add, wait, before we move onto that, another thing I was gonna say to people wanting to get into like game development, join game jams. Game Jams are a great, great, great, great, great way to learn how to make games. For those who don’t know, a game jam is a like short burst of creativity. It’s usually over the course of like a day or two, sometimes over a weekend, where people will get together and you’ll be put into a team with, often, perfect strangers.

 

You’re given a theme, and then you have to just make a game on that theme from scratch for two days. And then by the end of it, you have—hopefully—you’ll have a game. And it’s a great way to get portfolio pieces, it’s a great way to meet people, it’s a great way to like network, and make friends, and industry kind of connections. And, yeah, so it’s a great way to just kind of get integrated into your local network. Yeah, so game jams good.

 

But, to answer your question, you can find me on the Twitters— twitter.com/annabrandberg. I’m sure Mike is gonna drop links into descriptions. I’m on Instagram as well, that’s mostly my kind of personal things. There’ll be… I don’t really talk about work on Instagram, but if you want to follow that, you’re welcome to. I stream a lot, I have a stream called “The Hangry Games,” where we mostly play “League of Legends,” but I’ll play lots of different things. And sometimes I do UX workshops, so a fair bit of my viewer base are game developers, so I like teaching people about UX design and about, you know, prototyping, and the importance of this, and how easy it can be to prototype something.

 

So even if you are not a UX designer, so many of my viewers are programmers, or 3D artists, and they’ll find it incredibly important and useful to learn how to do this. And it’s easy to get into, you know, Adobe XD and slap some boxes together. Actually, doing the prototyping is easy. It’s understanding the rationale behind it, understanding how people engage, that’s the hard part, but that you practice, you learn. But being able to just prototype something up is quick, and easy, and is important, and everybody should do it.

 

So, yeah, jump on my stream occasionally if you feel like it. I mostly play “League,” and swear a lot, and have lots of political rants. But I know… and we listen to a lot of metal, so if you’re into that, come hang.

 

Mike Rowe: Great. This has been a really awesome conversation. And I’d love, in the future, to be able to do a round two.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah, absolutely.

 

Mike Rowe: Maybe down the line. I just want to say thank you for coming on.

 

Anna Brandberg: Thanks yourself!

 

Mike Rowe: And like being so generous with your time.

 

Anna Brandberg: Of course.

 

Mike Rowe: It’s been a really interesting conversation to learn more about like what it actually does to take to make a game.

 

Anna Brandberg: Yeah.

 

Mike Rowe: Cause I, like many others, had a lot of assumptions that like it was hard, but I didn’t realize just how hard it was. So, thank you.

 

Anna Brandberg: No, thanks yourself.

 

Mike Rowe: Hey there, it’s Mike again. I wanted to say thank you for your time, attention, and listening this far. So what’d you think? If you liked this episode, and want to hear more, you can subscribe to “The Goods” on Apple podcasts, or Google podcasts, Spotify, or get “The Goods” on your favorite podcast network or listening apps.

 

This podcast only exists with the support of people like you. If you got valuable advice, a great insight, or see potential in the show, I’d really appreciate it if you’d consider leaving a rating and review. Thank you and practice good design.


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