Celia Hodent, psychologist and UX designer: “For a Fortnite or a Minecraft, many games fail”

Celia Hodent is a freelance psychologist and UX designer. She has worked for many video game developers such as Ubisoft. It was during her time at Epic Games that she participated in the design of Fortnite, the most downloaded game on PlayStation in 2021. She was at Creative Campus in Montpellier for a user experience conference on Tuesday, May 17th.

How to describe the profession of UX designer?

My job is to make sure the user experience is the best it can be. We’ve moved away from our point of view as a designer and focused primarily on player perception. We are not going to make a “dark pattern”. Dark defaults only take into account commercial interest. For example, people who buy train tickets sometimes don’t realize that insurance costs have been added. And they pay because they didn’t pay attention. When we do UX, we know that people aren’t going to read every line.

What makes a game attractive?

It is very difficult to make a fun and entertaining game. For a Fortnite or a Minecraft, there are many games that fail. There is no miracle recipe, but we have ingredients. We have a process that we can put in place. Once we start seeing a game, we prototype it and test it to see if the game is understandable, usable, and engaging. When working on a UX approach, we look at motivation, the activities for which we gather competence, autonomy and affiliation. For example, at work, when you get promoted, you feel competent. But we feel less empowered if our leader tells us what to do. We are part of a team, of something bigger than ourselves. Video games are the same.

How does this translate into the game?

When we “level up” in a game, it means we increase our skills. If we play a game and die, we can immediately try again. And if we improve, it means we have progressed. When you play a game and you don’t understand why you died, you stop playing. If there are challenges, but we know how to solve them, we increase our skills. Games are very satisfying for that. Autonomy is building games like Fortnite. Building what you want in Minecraft too and playing Star Wars spaceship is like legos. In these two examples, there are the dances that interest us, we can customize our characters. It is important that games are inclusive: choose your character, your skin color, your style and recognize yourself. There is affiliation in team games, for example Fortnite and its “save the world” game, which is played by four. It’s like football, it’s a competition, but also teamwork.

What do you most want to see appear or disappear in video games?

It’s a little bit the same people who create the games, it’s the big thorny point of video games. We already need inclusion in the development teams. There are 20% of women working in the middle, they are always white, from the same culture (Europe or the United States), the gaming industry is not diversified. The game should be accessible to people with disabilities, but we’ve come a long way. Recently Ubisoft has improved (Naughty Dog, Last of Us 2, Forza). 8% of the male population is colorblind, if we don’t make sure we design the game around colors we are not inclusive. In accessible games, we should be able to change all controls because those with disabilities have alternate controllers.

With an average of 24 million players a day, did you think Fortnite would do well?

No laughs)! It’s very rare for video games to get it right. I knew we hadn’t completely lost because we had a process where we involved players from the start. We asked them to test very new versions of the game and we changed it based on their feedback. Then, good luck. It was at the right time and there were personalities who broadcast the game like Drake or professional football players. There are many things you cannot predict.

What do you think of the debates surrounding video game addiction? Especially in children?

It’s a very important debate, but there are two things that are often confused: the addiction itself and the dark patterns. We have people who suffer from gambling addiction or whatever, it’s a very small percentage of the population. In between, there are still a lot of debates depending on whether or not we can talk about video game addiction strictly speaking. Developers’ responsibilities are at stake when they create mechanics that keep players coming back. For example: there is an event. And if you’re not there right now, you’ll miss a reward and never get it again. It creates a system that punishes disengagement and raises ethical questions. There are ethical issues to be resolved. Children and teenagers are more fragile populations, their brains are not fully mature. It’s harder for them to control their emotions. That’s why they need their parents to help them.

What role should parents play?

Parents can be helpless because it’s complicated after work and during a pandemic. The line is fine between addiction and fun. Parents need to be interested in the games their kids are playing. Also, they can be very interested if the child plays soccer. But if he’s playing, the parents don’t have the same questions because they don’t know that world. If we see that the game affects your social life, your school results, we can start to worry and we should consult. Video games are part of the culture. Today it is an art form, a passion.

What are your next projects?

I just released a second book in French on the UX approach, “L’UX, c’est quoi exact?”. Highlight the dark pattern and make people understand what it is, to protect themselves from it. And in terms of video games, I started an initiative called “Ethicalgames.org”. The idea is to get into the nuances and see where the lines are. When they become unethical pressures on players and how do you ensure players are protected. But also to make sure the developers are protected because the public doesn’t necessarily know that it’s a very masculine and difficult environment. There is a lot of unpaid overtime. If you’re a woman and you’re not white, it’s harder to have a career in video games. My goal is to develop an ethics charter. But it starts with science, research with scientists, and not just about psychoses.

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