Recent data from Nielsen shows that nearly half of the United States population (162 million people) owns at least one video game console, and nearly everyone has played a video game at some point in their lives. Additionally, data from a survey in 2019 shows that on average, people spend over 7 hours each week playing video games. So, what can we as website designers learn from video games and their popularity? It turns out that some of the concepts that make the best video games so popular and easy to learn apply to your website as well!
What happens when you first land on your website? Is there any clear direction for what you want your users to do? Are you guiding your users to the content they’ll find most valuable or the content you want them to see first? Do you continue to guide them through the site?
Video games are a great example of leading your user to content and guiding them through the progression of content. Most video game missions, quests, or objectives require the player to complete tasks in order. In linear games, the player is directed to proceed through content by non-player characters, impassable obstacles, or cutscenes, while in open-world games players are guided by waypoints, markers, and other means of directing the action, to help them achieve the goal while still allowing exploration and improvisation.
Think of your website as a mix of the two types of games. You have some users who want to forge their way, jumping from page to page, while others want to be lead from one piece of content to the other. For the “open-world” users, they’ll find their way on their own time, but we can guide them through suggestion. For other users, providing call to action buttons on every page, directing them to the next step of their journey through your site is a great way to keep them engaged and navigating to the ultimate goal. In the end, all paths should lead to your end goal, whether that is a phone call, contact request, or purchase.
When you first start a new videogame, you’re likely to be unsure of all the controls and features. Often new games, even within the same series, have new features or additional controls that you have to learn, and who actually reads the manual? Well-designed video games often use the first few objectives to provide a tutorial for new and returning visitors that highlights the basic controls and any new functionality. Many games also stick with the “if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, using common controls across games, such as dialogue using “A” or “X” for “Accept” and “B” or “O” for “Back”, and using the left analog stick for movement.
Likewise, your website should adhere to common web conventions, such as using a hamburger menu icon to represent a menu if your site uses the traditional mobile navigation convention, placing content in the expected orientation for left-to-right reading audiences, and using green or another “affirmative” color for buttons that submit forms or accept downloads.
If your website does something uncommon, such as horizontal scrolling, or uses a “negative” or “warning” color such as red, orange, or yellow as a primary button color, provide context for users, through subtle animations or text to encourage the behavior, or the wording on the button.
What makes a video game like World of Warcraft or The Elder Scrolls Online so popular and long-lasting? The story and content! The Elder Scrolls Online is an excellent example of how continuing to produce content not only keeps users engaged, but also brings new users into an already thriving experience that converts them into customers, just like a website should.
The game keeps the 2.5 million monthly players entertained and encourages new players to subscribe and return month after month through robust content additions that provide brand new storylines, characters, and worlds to explore. Annually, a new expansion pack is announced, featuring a new primary questline in a new location, often that has never been seen in the games before. This new content excites die-hard fans as well as drawing in new players who may be drawn to new settings or storylines. This living world that is always expanding is key to helping a game continue to grow for years and not lose players over time.
Similarly, your website should be a living marketing machine, providing new content regularly, to keep returning visitors to your website engaged, and to draw new visitors. Often a blog is the best way to maintain a steady stream of content. A regularly updated blog encourages users to return to see the latest article or dive into past articles to find a topic they are interested in. In addition to engaging returning users, a consistent blog provides an opportunity to increase your organic traffic from search engines, which can result in new users finding your website and becoming regular visitors.
Video games of all kinds are pervasive in our culture and often offer excellent examples of how to attract and retain a user base. From guiding your audience, helping them navigate your content, improving your site with new content, and more, there is a lot that video games can teach us about web design! The next time you visit your site, think of it as a video game and ask yourself, would I know what to do, and what would keep me coming back?
What are some of the ways you’ve seen video games influence websites or your industry? Let us know on social media!
Written By: Clayton Pollard