Video Game Website Design Is How It Works Not Looks

by Justin Carroll

Picture of an arcade game with Photoshop on the screen.

Does your game’s website look amazing? Here’s a little marketing secret, your video game website design doesn’t matter nearly as much as you think.

What most people call design is actually visual design or style. Design solves a problem. When there’s a home button on your phone that’s within comfortable reach of your thumb, that’s design. How that button looks, that’s style.

Too many game developers and publishers are focused on how their websites look when they should be far more concerned with how it’s designed. Why? Because design sells games more than style.

Let’s dig in, for the sake of brevity, with three examples where style often takes precedence over design and what developers can do to turn that around for themselves.

1. Almighty Desktop Version

It’s not uncommon for people to just pop open Photoshop and start going to town on the desktop version of their next best game website. If I’m honest, I’ve definitely been guilty of this in the past.

But the internet has changed a lot since it was all CRT monitors and dial-up modems.

Upwards of 30% of all internet traffic is mobile, the average game player is 31 years old and 90% of American adults own a smartphone. That cocktail of statistics means your website’s mobile traffic is probably more than the standard 30%. And most all game developer traffic analytics I’ve sifted through have proven that theory.

The future of the Web is mobile – laptops, smartphones, tablets, phablets and apparently wearables.

It no longer makes sense to design a website exclusively for the desktop. If your website doesn’t have a mobile responsive version you’re definitely losing sales.

A best practice in the Web design industry is to start with your smallest most common device and scale the design up. The buzzword for this is mobile first.

When you approach a website design with its desktop version first there’s a tendency to design however you want because there’s little to no constraint. However, when you approach a design mobile first it’s easy to feel just how important every piece of content, every line of copy, really is. And that’s part of the beauty in a mobile first approach, to help ensure what you’re doing makes the utmost sense for the goals you have.

To help you focus more on design over style try taking a mobile first approach to your next video game website design.

2. Gimmicks Such As Sliders

In the early 2000’s the carousel slider reared it’s then-beautiful head as the newest in Web design trends. Somehow a series of images shown one after the other in slideshow fashion completely blew our minds. Expert Javascript developers packaged up their carousel slider code for other developers, such as WordPress plugin developers, who then further packaged their code to sell or giveaway.

Carousel sliders of all varieties spread like a virus, and furthermore they mutated.

Soon enough everyone had a carousel slider on their website. In fact, I remember building the new Infinity Ward website for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 which had multiple sliders on one page. Those were the days.

It was clear everyone thought this was cool, but no one stopped to ask the hard question, “Is this the right tool for the job?”

Turns out it wasn’t.

Many usability studies since that time have proven that no one really clicks on carousel sliders. And when they do, they’re interacting with the first slide about 90% more than any other.

In other words, carousel sliders don’t work.

Don’t be deceived by website design trends or whatever the cool kids are using. Make design-minded style decisions, constantly asking yourself if what you’re doing is the right technique for your goal and seeking evidence to support those decisions.

What would’ve sold more games in years past is if developers had simply focused on one featured image, the one they wanted their audience and potential audience to click on the most.

3. Big Fat Resources

A hit Kickstarter game that had over $300,000 in pledges tweeted about their brand new website. I was stoked because their game is awesome, so I clicked to check it out.

It took about 15 seconds for anything to render on the page and about 20 seconds for the page to finish loading.

I stared at a white screen for 15 full seconds and was served an incomplete page which left me wondering if the website was broke. I’ve tested this website numerous times since (even now as I write this) just to see if it was an anomaly. It was not.

Website speed, or page load time, seems trivial given the incredibly fast internet speeds we experience today. But ecommerce research proves long page load times have a devastating effect on sales.

A 1 second delay in page response can result in a 7% reduction in conversions. How much revenue came from your website last year? Now, reduce that by 7%. That’s how much this matters.

And it’s not just revenue.

How many people took an action, subscribed to your newsletter, downloaded your press kit and so on? Just take all your unique traffic for the year, decrease it by 7% and kiss that activity goodbye.

When too much focus is placed on how a website looks there’s a tendency to champion big resources, juicy animations from fancy Javascript libraries, huge high resolution background images and bloated frameworks for which you’ll only be using a small part of anyway.

Conclusion

I’ve seen a website built using Front Page generate over $100,000 in annual revenue. Now, there’s a lot of reasons they’re experiencing that kind of revenue, but clearly they don’t need to look good to turn a profit.

There’s a lot of really ugly websites out there that make money. Visual design or style doesn’t matter nearly as much as design.

Before I leave you to your thoughts I want to be clear what I’m not saying. I’m not saying your video game website design doesn’t need to reflect your game’s brand or that it shouldn’t look good.

I’m saying that a great user experience is more important than how your website looks.

The goal is to have both, but what I see a lot of is game developers and publishers spending the vast majority of focus on just looking good, or doing something fantastical, and completely missing the mark on experience which has a direct correlation with sales.

As you revisit your existing website designs or begin to work on the website for your next game, make design a priority over style or visual design. And if you have a minute I’d genuinely love to hear what you’ll do differently this time.