User Experience or Player Experience?

The common job title for the role of understanding, and optimising how people feel when playing games or using software is ‘User Experience Designer’. Although factually accurate, I believe that this term is neither appropriate, nor flattering for designing experiences, particularly for games.  Instead, I prefer the term ‘player experience’.
Read on to discover why! (…and read even further on to find the comments section, and tell me why I’m wrong)

Why ‘User Experience’

‘Experience’ is simple enough – the object is to design how the person who uses your product feels when they use it – essentially, how they experience it. Simples.


My kind of experience

The aspect of the title that I feel isn’t accurate, is ‘User’. The ‘User’ in User Experience is rooted in traditional computing terminology, derived from authentication requirements, like a log-in, to access directories and applications. The computer’s ability to have multiple people access the same system, and hence create a multi-user environment solidified the term, and the effects of the internet, and hence a worldwide network of authentication has made the term common place.

As such, you can see why the generic term to call someone who uses a computer has become ‘user’. And, even when playing games, this term is still currently used. But maybe it shouldn’t…

Why not?

Why don’t I like the term ‘user experience’ for games? More so than with the web, or applications, gaming suffers from the association with the other main connotation of ‘user’ – drug use, and addiction.

Unfairly, computer games have often been compared to addictions and drug use (and not the nice drugs either!).  The press often cover stories such as “Gaming as addictive as cocaine”, “Addicted to Xbox”, or Gaming Addiction Clinics.

computer addiction

I hated family holidays...

And everyone’s heard about the people who live in World of Warcraft, ordering food through its pizza delivery service, and eternally grinding, letting their ‘real’ life fall to pieces. Social games in particular, through excessive positive reinforcement and social competition, aim to get player’s ‘hooked’, and keep on playing. So, you can see why gaming comes off unfairly when compared to drug use, through the term ‘user’.

I say unfairly as, like most things, gaming is psychologically addictive. In that, if you like doing it, you’ll do it again. But then, so are all the fun things you enjoy, like petting the cat, or reading a book. Addiction is doing these things to excess, and it’s the excess that’s bad, not the activity. Hard drugs on the other hand are chemically addictive. Which is completely different and creates dependence.


So, to avoid these comparisons with the other types of users, I prefer the term ‘Player Experience’. Not only does this remove the unsightly comparison, but it’s more accurate than the term user for playing games.

Computer Gaming has little to do with authentication, and exists independent from the platform – as an activity it is closer to games than computing. The designer is crafting the game to change the player’s experience, rather than crafting the computer, and hence the term should reflect gaming’s prominence in this relationship.

Hence I believe that ‘Player Experience’ is a more accurate, and nice, term for describing what is being designed within games.

(I also have a vested interest in the term as I’m on the first page of Google for ‘player experience’, and miles down the list for ‘User Experience’ – that said, more people come to this blog having searched for User Experience.)

However, for the web, and applications, I’m not so sure. Obviously ‘Player Experience’ doesn’t fit. And does computing in general suffer from the negative public image with regards to addiction that gaming does? If not, maybe the term shouldn’t be changed.

Other alternatives, for software, could be ‘Customer Experience’ – however this is rather corporate, and not universally applicable, or simply using ‘Experience Design’, and dropping the user. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts, or alternative terms, or if you prefer ‘User Experience’ as a term. Comment, or add me on Twitter, and let me know what you think!

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