The Game UX Interview Series
Interview #3: Taylor Wright
Welcome to the Game UX Interview series! This is a series in which one UX Designer interviews another.
I got to know Taylor via Mike’s Design Guild. Ah, a love of UX (and Blizzard games.) He was inspiring to chat with. And I asked him if he would share his experience and perspective with a larger audience. I’m glad he agreed to and hope you enjoy getting to know him!
What is your current role?
I recently moved to Austin, Texas from Southern California to join a VR startup called TheWaveVR as their UX Designer. I’m helping design creative tools for musicians and visual creators, as well as systems that allow creators and audiences around the world engage with each other in new and exciting ways.
How did you get started in the industry?
I had been doing web and advertising in the Bay Area for almost a decade before deciding to follow a personal passion into games. Even though I’m squeamish about horror and gore, seeing the UI / UX for Dead Space was a real turning point for me. They were exploring all these bold ideas about interface and presenting it in ways I had never imagined possible… I knew I had to get involved with games.
They were exploring all these bold ideas about interface and presenting it in ways I had never imagined possible… I knew I had to get involved with games.
With a solid background in web and interaction design I found my way into online social games for a couple years. During that time I also became more analytical about the games I was playing at home and how to speak about their UI and gameplay in a critical manner. As I became more familiar with the industry I started to check the job boards for the AAA studios I was interested in.
What projects and games have you worked on?
Most notably I worked on GTA V, which astounds me with its continued appeal and success 5 years later. I was located at Rockstar San Diego where the game team was focused on minigames. My role as a UI Programmer (though more of a UI/UX generalist in practice) was helping build UI for any of the 15+ minigames and making sure it all looked, felt, and worked in consistency with the rest of the game. I also contributed to larger systems and features across the game (leaderboards, pause menu, ~80 in-game websites, internal tools). On an average day there were 800+ people around the world contributing to the project. To have even set a stone in this monument was an honor.
More recently I was at Blizzard Entertainment working on Heroes of the Storm. Heroes is Blizzard’s take on the Multiplayer Online Battle Arena (MOBA), which is a genre spawned from community mods of their prior Real Time Strategy (RTS) titles like StarCraft and Warcraft. As a long time fan of Blizzard, Heroes’ production, mechanics, and lore called to me in a way that its competitors hadn’t.
One of my first tasks on the team was designing the experience for a new game mode called “Heroes Brawl” which allowed the game team to come up with fun new weekly “brawls” that challenged the existing rules while still being inviting and accessible to players of all levels.
Working on a live title with patches every few weeks meant I got to work on a lot of different aspects of the game. The area I found myself most interested and invested in were features that supported the game’s community and esports efforts. Through that I was able to engage with an incredible group of people around the world who were super invested in the game and had great insights… insights I wouldn’t always have the skill to discover myself. Having a chance to meet fans and pro-players at BlizzCon was a real honor and definitely one of the highlights of my time on the team.
Did you end up playing more Heroes of the Storm once you were working on it?
I had been playing Heroes for a little while before starting on the team and had spent a lot of time playing the original DotA mod for Warcraft 3 in college (which was the origin of the MOBA genre). Once I joined the team the game became more of an obsession, with near 2000 games played and well over a hundred hours logged. I’ve been taking a break from the game recently, but some of the recent updates have me itching to play again. There’s also a lot of people I knew mainly from playing the game so it’d be nice to reconnect.
Have you designed non-game experiences?
I had been doing web and advertising work since 1999, along with personal design and art projects over the years. Throughout college I was making websites at some capacity.
Lately one of the things I’ve become passionate about outside of work and gaming is Modern Quilting, particularly the minimal and abstract design compositions. My wife introduced me to the craft and after being inspired by so many remarkable craftspeople I decided to give it a try myself and have found it very rewarding.
What are the biggest differences in the ux discipline between games and other areas of design (e.g. web, apps)?
The answer is going to be different from studio to studio. If you look at mobile and social games they’ve really grown alongside their tech counterparts, where UX is often a vital component to the dev cycle. For example, on Live products, you’ll often have Business Intelligence (BI), User Research (UR), and UX teams that are able to quickly identify and respond to issues over the course of a few patches. This is a newer approach to development that hasn’t quite made its way from tech to AAA games, especially for larger studios that release titles over much longer timelines.
Most studios have well established art, game design, and engineering teams, but it’s harder to find dedicated UI teams or determine where those teams fit in the organization (since UI often touches art, game design, and engineering). Game studios that struggle to find a place for UI often find the idea of UX Design even more foreign. As a whole I see an industry that’s very interested in User Experience as a discipline but still trying to figure out how to integrate it.
How do you network?
I tend to be a gregarious person who’s interested in getting to know people and what they’re passionate about. I’ve found being willing to throw myself out there (and knowing when to reel myself back in) is a big part of networking. It’s also important to be dedicated to doing good work; networking can open a conversation, but good work is often what will seal the deal.
I’ve found being willing to throw myself out there (and knowing when to reel myself back in) is a big part of networking.
One thing I’ll do as I complete a game is take the time to watch the credits in full: first, as a way to pay homage to the teams making the games I love; second, I’ll take note of the people working on the UI and UX teams. With their names in hand I’ll see if I can find their online portfolios or twitter accounts. Sometimes I’ll reach out to send my appreciation, and when appropriate I’ll ask about their process and journey with the project. Most people have been very welcoming in their responses, though it’s good to keep the time and privacy of others in mind when attempting to interact.
What’s the best advice you’ve given and received?
The best advice I’ve ever given: “Less chat, more splat.”
The best advice I’ve ever received: “Less chat, more splat.”
This advice came to me after a particularly bad presentation I gave during design school. I was over-explaining what was a bad idea and the teacher called me out on it. Once my ego recovered (much later) I began to realize the importance of investing in the process. When you put in the work it will speak for itself. I’m sure there are more eloquent ways of conveying this idea, but in my case it took a rather strong message to get through my youthfully stubborn head.
Thank you Taylor for sharing your story and insight! We’ll be following along with your work in VR and hope you will continue to share your experiences.
If you’re interested in learning more about this series and want to get involved, read here!