The Importance of Graphic Design in Video Games

In the constantly evolving world of video gaming, there are countless tools employed by developers to pull in the attention of their demographic. From the obvious, such as graphic quality and price point, to the more psychological methods employed by triggering nostalgia via noteworthy sequels or intriguing parents with educational values, the techniques used to influence consumers are limitless. One that falls out of the loop of general discussion, however, is the aspect of design.

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ESA 2015 Sales, Demographic and Usage Data, Entertainment Software Association

Though people are unlikely to use it as a primary talking point, the design techniques used within a game along with its marketing campaign play a large role in both the sales of and continued interest in a game. In fact, a recent (2015) study from the Entertainment Software Association shows that of people polled, 5% cited advertising or packaging appearance as a factor that influenced them to purchase new games (source). That percentage is higher than online play, ESRB rating, product reviews, developer reputation, and multiplayer capability. Not only is this percentage staggering in comparison to other factors, but it doesn’t even include design techniques used in the games themselves.

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Once a consumer is pulled into purchasing a title, developers then must be capable of maintaining interest in order for their game to thrive. Many elements feed into this, and once again the element of design is an important yet often downplayed factor in the continued success of a video game title. While gameplay itself does a lot to intrigue and enthrall the player, the visual aspects of a title also hold a very large stake in the continued playability of a game. For instance, an interface that is too cluttered with visual elements can go as far as distorting the actual play-style of a game while too minimal of a design leads to an overly simplified system that can cause an impaired level of difficulty. A large portion of possible players will be lost by a game that is either made too hard or too easy via a flawed interface. Instead, a medium ground must be found in order to form a system allowing notifications and information to flow freely without creating a visual nuisance (or worse, a blind spot) on the screen. Outside of the UI, you then have the environment itself being strongly determined by design decisions. Color palettes must be chosen in a way that truly exemplifies the mood of a scene while also maintaining a sense of aesthetic appeal. Without triggering visual senses in a consistent yet story relative way, a game will be far less likely to pull in the hours of playtime associated with a successful title. Gameplay and graphics may be a large force in pulling players toward a new game, but without successful design decisions that pull may not last as long as would be hoped.

From the eye-catching palettes of Remedy Entertainment/Microsoft Studio’s Quantum Break that create a field of vision unbelievably welcoming to the senses to the consistently fluid and dynamic use of type throughout Activision-Blizzard’s Overwatch that manages to merge minimalist design with an immensely vibrant environment in a way that flows consistently without interfering. Add in the streamlined navigational system of id Software/Bethesda’s DOOM and the living embodiment of color theory that is Moon Studios/Microsoft’s Ori and the Blind Forest, and it becomes apparent there’s more than coincidence behind most of this year’s best rated games also being the best designed.

Game images acquired via their respected media press kits.
Statistic chart featured is property of the Entertainment Software Association.

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