Monday, March 20, 2017

Usability Issues with Battlefield 1 & EA Origin

By Troy D’Angelo

Online gaming communities are social networks built between players who share an interest in a game. The game Battlefield 1 allow players to organize themselves into squads, the purpose of a squad is to complete team-based objectives directed by their squad leader, while the compilation of multiple squads achieves the entire game objective. Players can invite their friends to ‘game parties’ where the party can play in the same squad - allowing for a personalized squad-team. Thus, the formation of squads amongst peers is critical to success within the game, however, several usability issues are present that hinder the ability for successful task completion and form the motivation for the user study.

This user evaluation features three participants who are all active gamers (1+ hr. per day) and focused on the task completion of forming a squad from a list of friends and entering a game together.  This blog post contains a summary of usability issues indicated within the study conducted. Two tasks are featured in the post: Formation of a Game Party & Joining a Game.

1.0 Formation of a Game Party

1.1 Problem: Controller Incompatibility

Battlefield 1 is launched with full controller support; however, participants were unable to access the game party menu (highlighted orange - figure 1) when using a controller. Most of the UI available in the main screen of the game (highlighted blue – figure 1) may be navigated using the analog stick or directional pad controls. The error was propagated from the participants abandoning use for the controller after numerous attempts and resorting to keyboard-mouse interactions until they were in-game. Additionally, participants reported difficulty locating the game party menu due to an inconsistency in design between other primary UI elements such as the navigation tabs (highlighted green – figure 1).


Figure 1: Battlefield 1 – Main Screen – shown is furthest access point by controller

Error
Severity
Error Category
Error Type
Frequency
Unable to select UI elements using controller
Severe
Human-Computer Interaction (Physical) Error
Interaction Element Problem
Every use. Demonstrated process is the only option

Recommendation
Full controller support needs to be implemented for the game. Whether this requires retooling how controller inputs are handled or updating the UI, the error simply should not exist. This would allow users to scroll from either the panel or tabs to reach the game party options. Another possible solution would be to integrate a Friends tab in the taskbar -the main elements of the game are accessed through this method. Adding a tab would allow more intuitive and familiar option.

1.2 Problem: Lack of Game Party Feedback

Participants faced task completion failures when attempting to successfully accept a game party invite. When invited, the participant is prompted to press SHIFT-F1 to pull up the Origin Overlay (Figure 2). They are then presented with a menu where they must navigate to the Friends List index (highlighted blue – figure 2). Upon selection, a dialog (highlighted orange – figure 2) is shown where an arrow icon (highlighted green – figure 2) is to be clicked.  There is no indication (feedback) to the participant that they have joined the party or even successfully clicked the button resulting in participants to believe the task was incorrectly completed and causing them to navigate through other options and menus.


Figure 2: Battlefield 1 – Origin Overlay – shown is party invite accept dialog, no feedback is given

Error
Severity
Error Category
Error Type
Frequency
No feedback given to user when confirming the joining of a game party.
Severe
Overly Complex UI and Lack of Feedback.
UI (Client) Issue
Interaction Element(s) Problem
Every use. Demonstrated process is the only option

Recommendation
Integrating a party system within the game itself would eliminate most the errors within the task or the UI needs to be redesigned to allow for a logical workflow. Navigation through multi-dialog pop-ups while effectively minimizing the game in the background results in user confusion, frustration and detracts from gameplay. Addition of a direct method to accept the party invite from the game such as pressing Shift-F3 (unused key binding) would provide a method that is familiar (Shift-F1 launches the Origin Overlay) and prevent errors from dialog navigation. Implementation of feedback is additionally required - including a small prompt indicating successful joining of the game party would result in the UI aligning with traditional Heuristic guidelines.

2.0 Task: Joining a Game

2.1 Problem: Queues

Upon selection of joining a friend in game there is a significant chance (20% Chance, 10 trials) that the joining player will be placed in Queue (Figure 3). This is a result of games that are available within the area having only one spot available. Available games are decided by location, skill and rank, having a party with two varying player’s increases difficulty of finding an appropriate server significantly. Often the waiting player will be placed in Queue, entering the game when another player leaves. Once exiting the queue the joining player may be placed on the opposing team rather than within a squad with their friends.


Figure 3: Battlefield 1 – Game Queue Screen

Error
Severity
Error Category
Error Type
Frequency
Game party members may be relegated to wait in queue while other members play
Severe
Bug or Functionality Defect with Quick Match
Conceptual Model Problem (Game Algorithm)
20% (N = 10)

Recommendation
The algorithm should be updated or redesigned to integrate squads into games. Several algorithmic option that could be implemented are:

  • Reserve the queue for squads - eliminating the issues where a player waited in Queue spot #3 (shown Figure 3) when part of a two-person group. Single players would not be allowed to queue ahead of a party when one member of that party was already in-game. 
  • Place all users into the queue for a new matchmaking game - often new games take 2-3 minutes to completely fill, and the game party can form their squad correctly from the beginning of the match (eliminating the opposite team scenario)
Proposals will not fix all issues within matchmaking decision making, however, considering the difficulties involved for a two-person squad were to such an extent - a change needs to be made to improve social playability.

Conclusion

Battlefield 1 features a content rich and immersive gaming experience – coupled with EA’s Origin platform gamers from across the world can partake in the epics of WW1. However, with respect to the social networks in the game – they are easy to construct but difficult to maintain. A talk-out-load heuristic evaluations was conducted with two participants. Tasks included adding a friend, forming a game party and joining a match. The results found participants experiencing difficulties with joining a game party, navigating vague UI’s and culminating with not even joining the same side on the battlefield after lengthy waits in Queue. The final recommendations of this report to DICE and EA are to implement an alternative to the Origin UI with respect to formation of game parties or greatly simplify the process of squad formation. 


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