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GROWING UX MATURITY IN UFC

About UFC 

UFC is a series of fighting games based on the mixed martial arts promotion Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) developed by EA Vancouver and published by EA Sports. 

Other than game feature designs and building a design system, I also spent time growing UX maturity in UFC.

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Key Achievements

  • Drove the player archetype project to understand our players

  • Introduced the UX validation method to test design hypotheses

  • Set up a proper UX process and create documents for internal use

The Problems

Upon joining the team, quickly identified and navigated challenges in a rushed UX process with limited resources.

Some of the major observations:

  • UX is low on the priorities list, with limited resources

  • The team lacks an understanding of the multifaceted benefits of user-centered design

  • UX decisions are made based on evaluation instead of research

  • Design inconsistencies are rampant

  • "User data" collected isn't actionable or useful

UX Maturity Level in UFC team

As a result of these observations, we accessed that UFC is at Level 2 (Limited) out of 6 according to Nielsen Norman Group's UX Maturity Levels.

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UX Maturity Levels by Nielsen Norman Group

What does good UX maturity look like in UFC? 

After engaging in insightful discussions with my teammates, I identified and established the core components of Good UX Maturity within our UFC project.
 

  • UX is involved in high-level strategy planning

  • User research is conducted throughout the product lifecycle. It leads to a human-centered iterative design process

  • The team recognizes UX and taking users into account in decision-making

Building on this foundation, we began proposing innovative solutions to elevate our UX maturity.

Player Archetype Project

Understanding our players
Player Archetype Project

The initial step in our UX process was tackling the essential question: 'Who are our players?' The existing data, focused largely on demographics and monetization, fell short in painting a complete picture of our players' behaviors.

 

Driven by a desire to understand better, I delved into researching approaches used by other teams to define their player base.

Consequently, I pioneered the introduction of the player archetype process to our leadership and fellow teams. This innovative approach was key to gaining a deeper understanding of who our players are and what they do. The process encompasses the following elements:
 

  • Segment players from telemetry data

  • Perform qualitative research to understand motivations and opportunities

  • Analyze both qualitative and quantitative data to create personas of different players

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The Goal

Define Player Archetypes for UFC Console so we can target their specific needs and motivations.

Expected Outcomes

Segmenting players into different personas and listing out their behavior, motivations, pinpoints, and needs

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Recommendations

Leveraging the insights from my research, I outlined and presented the next strategic steps to our leadership team.

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Results

While the project is an ongoing endeavor, we have made substantial progress in the past six months.
 

  • Hired the first UFC UX researcher

  • Connected and collaborated with EA's data analytics department

  • Sync regularly with cross-functional groups to update the project process

  • Conducted telemetry analysis, casual player interviews, and player questionnaire research
     

This initiative has been instrumental in transforming player data into actionable insights. We are excited about the prospect of evangelizing the player archetypes across various domains, ensuring that real player perspectives are integral to our decision-making processes.

UX Validation

Testing instead of evaluating
UX Validation Process

Initially, the team's approach to usability relied heavily on the UX designers' expertise, a method that proved inadequate due to a lack of deep understanding of our players. To address this gap, I not only introduced the player archetype project but also championed a comprehensive UX testing process. This process emphasizes conducting actual usability tests with our players in the early stages, enabling us to gather valuable feedback and iterate rapidly.

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The Goals

  • To test the hypothesis made in the design stage with actual data from the research

  • To evangelize the benefit of the iterative design process with this new framework

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Recommendations

  • Test the designs before development to avoid extra dev workload​

  • Conduct usability tests on controller prototypes and iterate on designs right after the tests

  • Cost estimation and possible next steps were provided

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Results

After successfully pitching the new UX process to our product and leadership teams, we've established a close-knit collaboration, marked by several key initiatives:
 

  • Conducted 4 usability tests with the Figma controller prototypes to gather early feedback

  • Collaborated with UX researchers to conduct remote moderated tests on game build and controller prototypes

  • Iterated the major features to reflect the feedback

This shift towards continuous user testing and research has significantly refined our iterative design process. Previously limited to 2-3 rounds during the exploration phase, we now conduct 4-5 rounds of iteration throughout the production cycle. This approach has led to the creation of even more refined designs, rooted in actual user feedback.

Some other related works

  • Design system to keep design consistency

  • Weekly UX newsletter sent to wider audiences for UX work visibility

What have I learned?

Prioritization to bring maximum UX impact to the team

Faced with a tight production schedule, the team initially prioritized rapid progress over establishing standards. However, we recognized that elevating UX maturity is a collaborative endeavor, requiring collective effort and awareness.
 

To align with this ethos, we strategically prioritized tasks and integrated UX improvements with the current production workflow. A key initiative was introducing rigorous testing protocols at the point when UI designers finalized their designs. This proactive approach aimed to minimize future engineering workload and adhere to the project's overarching goal of cost reduction. By focusing on this aspect first, we aimed for an immediate, significant UX impact on the ongoing project, facilitating smoother stakeholder buy-in.

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Improving UX maturity takes time

Advocating for UX change, particularly in a large organization, is a journey that requires patience and a commitment to continuous learning in design and research.

Over the past 1.5 years, while it's premature to claim that our UFC team has reached Stage 3 in UX maturity, notable progress is evident. Key improvements include the addition of a dedicated user researcher to our team and a growing recognition among team members of the positive impact of UX on our product. These developments mark significant strides in our ongoing journey towards enhanced UX maturity.

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