When Animations Hurt The User Experience

So, 3 years after its release, someone finally beat Threes, a puzzle game that’s been close to my fingertips since I first discovered it. It’s everything a mobile game should be: easy to learn, playable in quick bursts, and just enough challenge to keep players engaged. The result: an addicting experience that I’ve played a lot. Just look at the games counter on my stats screen:

Like much of Threes, this screen is slickly animated. And this animation has a huge problem. It’s unskippable and cannot be sped up.

Animations in UI are wonderful tools. They give users feedback about what the app is doing and inject some delight into the experience. But all animations need to be tuned to users’ goals and that’s not the case with the stats screen. Players come here to evaluate their performance and they can’t do that until the animation completes. This is made all the worse when it’s revealed the animation gets longer with more games played. In my case, it takes up to 40 seconds to finish. That’s time spent waiting, not reviewing stats, or you know… not playing.

The oddest part of this is that Threes’s team has implemented the ability to speed up animation on other screens. Here’s two versions of how a score is tallied at the end of the game. The first counts the score of each tile at a more deliberate pace, while the second zips right along.

One of the best things about this is that it gives the player control over the speed of the animation. Tap once for the slower version; tap twice to get on with it and jump right back into playing. So it is possible in Threes to speed up animations. Just not the one that gets longer over time.

There are two takeaways from this:

  1. There is such a thing as too much animation. Designers and developers should make sure users won’t become frustrated. Animations should only be as long as necessary or have a way to skip them altogether.
  2. Avoid inconsistencies and user frustrations by establishing guiding principles for designing an app (animation or not, this still should be done). In Threes, a principle like “all animation outside of gameplay must give players the ability to speed it up” would have highlighted that the stats screen works differently from the scoring screen, and brought them in line with each other.

I still adore Threes. Countless times, I’ve unlocked my phone only to find it was the last app I used before putting my phone down (this literally just happened when I was trying to think of this sentence). But even the best apps can serve as illustrative examples of both good and bad practices. Threes does just about everything right, and has just one small misstep that only impacts obsessive players. Any game that can achieve that should be rewarded in the only way I know how — by playing it constantly.

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Carlos Delgado’s story.