UX design principles apply to game systems and design as much as they do websites and apps. They can help players know where to go, what to do next, what they can interact with, and generally improve their understanding of game systems and play experience.
Disclaimer: As of the time of writing Bungie was in the final preparations for the release of their next major annual expansion (The Witch Queen) which included significant systems changes including item crafting. These were my thoughts as an outsider. I had no visibility into their plans aside from what was publicly released. If this matches any upcoming or past release, I’ll call myself lucky. If someone from Bungie stumbles across this and decides it’s a good idea, let’s talk.
For those who are unaware, Destiny 2 is a looter-shooter video game published by Bungie – and it’s my current go-to game. You shoot various varieties of aliens in defense of the remnants of humanity to get new weapons and armor to attack more difficult content and earn yet more gear. It’s been my go-to game for the last year. In that year, I’ve learned that despite being able to hold over 750 items per account (between on-character inventory and your account’s Vault), you’ll find yourself regularly filling every available inventory slot. You will, sooner or later, before forced to stop playing, return to a central in-game hub, and manually clear out items. Eventually, this will be a regular interruption to your gaming experience.
- Players eventually reach a point where loot drops are a hindrance to play.
- Players cannot regain most gear if deleted, so they hoard weapons and armor.
- Players lack the affordances necessary to quickly and easily manage a large inventory.
I’ve created a low-fidelity prototype in Figma that illustrates how all of the following works together. Clickable items are highlighted in blue and hover actions are replaced by clicks to ease prototype navigation.
Sources: The wailing of the internet, the Gamers With Jobs Destiny clan, and personal experience.
Starting with the most generic info, we can quickly find the category (energy weapon), type (auto rifle), and traits (adaptive frame in the lower left and stats in the lower right) inherent to this weapon. This will be the same for every example of this weapon – every Gnawing Hunger will be an adaptive-frame auto rifle. Next, we see the power level (currently 1056, with a max of 1360 according to this screenshot). This directly impacts your ability to access in-game content. Mods are applied by the user - they add extra abilities, raise stats, or provide a way to raise the power level of a weapon by consuming materials and a weapon of a similar type (but higher level). Traits are inherent to that specific weapon. While some weapons have a static set of perks, this is an example of randomized perks. Each weapon has a pool of perks it may receive. A weapon with higher rarity will have more and better perks, with the possibility of selecting between perks, as in this case.
All of this helps the user decide if this is a weapon they want to keep or discard for in-game materials.
Your weapon has two main areas of variability: power level and perks. Your character’s overall strength is, generally speaking, determined by an average of the power of your currently equipped gear. In the simplest case, if that average power is too low, your ability to survive in a given activity will be reduced. Conversely, if it’s high, you’ll take less damage while dealing more damage to your enemies. An item with lower power can be raised (to a limit) by sacrificing another item of the same slot (energy weapon, in this case) and a consumable item. You’ll need to hang on to some extra gear to support this, but this is rarely a major problem.
Perks, on the other hand, can make-or-break weapons by their effects, and players will often spend a specific amount of time repeatedly completing content (called farming or grinding) to find the best perks that synergize with each other. Additionally, the sandbox – the set of rules that govern gameplay – is constantly changing. Some weapon types and perks will be “buffed,” or made stronger. Others will be penalized or otherwise fall out of favor – they'll be “nerfed.” In general, this is good. A game with a static sandbox would result in a single playstyle winning out. However, this also results in users hoarding weapons and armor, just in case a particular combination comes back into vogue. There are ways to regain some items - those with static perk rolls - but this is a minority of weapons. Meaning, a player focused on endgame content is obligated to keep as many items as possible - at least until they can no longer have their power level increased.
Players' on-character storage gets filled as they play. The excess goes to a temporary mailbox. The player must eventually return to the central hub to prevent the mailbox from overflowing, causing them to lose items. The player must then make space on their character, dismantle items, or move them to the bank. The player’s storage slowly gets filled, resulting in them needing to dismantle gear to earn consumables and open up space. There are currently only 2 ways to do this without relying on third-party apps:
- Open your on-character inventory and delete any on-character junk items. This will probably only get you a couple of free spots per item type, as most players carry a variety of gear for different situations.
- Return to the main quest hub (on a console, this takes several minutes due to loading times) and go to your Vault. One at a time, you may dismantle any item.
You can cheat this a bit by using a mobile app (provided by Bungie or a 3rd party) to transfer items one at a time from your inventory to your character and dismantle them. These apps almost invariably have better sorting and search mechanisms, but you can’t dismantle items directly from them and it doesn’t solve the main issue in the first place.
Reduce the need to exit the main gameplay loop.
- This game is a power fantasy about protecting the last of humanity, not juggling inventory. Make returns to the hub to clear inventory less frequent.
Make inventory management less painful.
- When you do need to search through your inventory, it should be as easy to find the item you're looking for, or identify and remove excess inventory.
Don’t break the core gameplay loop.
- Players must still be incentivized to play the game in order to get more gear.
Destiny 2 is available on Windows, Playstation, and Xbox. While some things will be easier on a PC, we should assume that any gamer, on any platform, may be using a controller – if it’s easy for them, it will be easier for mouse & keyboard users. My examples will use a PS4 controller, but the functionality should be the same regardless of the platform.
No apps allowed
We can’t count on the player having a particular app downloaded, and even if they do, the player shouldn’t be forced to shift their attention from the game.
I propose a suite of changes to the UX of Destiny 2 that each chip away at the problems while preserving the fun.
The mailbox is accessible everywhere
There is no logical reason in-game why we must return to the main hub to collect items from our mailbox. If some mechanism in the game world can magically send these items across the solar system, why not send them to your spaceship in orbit, where you can manage your inventory at your leisure.
Character Inventory Screen
Cosmetic items don’t take up space
Shaders (color customization) and ornaments (full visual re-skins) can already be regained at little or no cost. Cosmetic items shouldn’t take up space in your inventory.
Auto-dismantle junk items
Good weapons have a combination of high power levels, interesting perks, and desirable attributes. Exotic and legendary weapons are available at higher power levels - generally, up to whatever the current power cap is - although the last few levels will require specific activities. All other weapons - rare, common, and uncommon, and useful only as you’re initially leveling your character. Even then, common and uncommon items are generally discarded within the first hour or two of play. Rare items are more useful as the player levels up, but as you approach the level cap generally serve two functions: boosting the power level of older items via infusion, and taking up valuable space. Even the utility of power level boosts from rare items will run out as you reach higher levels as they will never drop within 10 levels of the current power cap - you’ll use your less desirable legendary weapons for that.
Many players suggest a setting that allows you to automatically dismantle low-quality items, turning them into useful materials. This is a good idea, but it hinders your ability to boost items as you level. If we modify this so that it only impacts rare, common, and uncommon item drops more than 5 levels below your target power level, you’ll always have some items available for power level boosts, but not so many your inventory becomes unmanageable. We can prompt users to enable this when it becomes a meaningful option, in addition to making it available in their gameplay settings.
Auto-dismantle confirmation modal that appears after completing an activity.
Better vault behavior
Within the vault, your items are displayed in a single, massive list. Default sort ordering is a mix of power level (high to low) and category (kinetic weapons, energy weapons, and power weapons, followed by the various armor slots). But, to be honest, none of these really work, at least by default. With no ability to filter or see any categorization - you’re stuck trying to pick out gear from a massive list of thumbnails, hovering over them one at a time.
The default Destiny 2 vault
First, we will replace default sorting with power level sorting. To improve the overall organization, we’ll explicitly divide each horizontal “page” by category, and scroll vertically through each item in that category. This holds through ANY sorting method. To further simplify the view, we can offer the ability to auto-collapse duplicate weapons into a simplified view, which can be expanded on demand. We can also allow filtering by energy type (where applicable) or item type.
An updated Destiny 2 vault screen with sorting and filtering controls
The last thing to solve is how to handle inventory hoarding due to perks. Remember, each weapon has a pool of perks it can drop with, and if they’re random perks, you may find a weapon that has one you want, but not another. We can’t entirely eliminate perks, as they make the item chase worth it. I propose giving each legendary (purple) weapon 1 empty perk spot per row. These are the major areas of variation for most weapons, and the ones that often see the biggest buffs and nerfs. It can’t stop all hoarding, but it does mean you get a little more flexibility in your weapon perks, and reduce the need to have 10 nearly-identical weapons in your inventory.
Imagine you have two of the same weapon. Weapon A has a perk in column 3 you want. Weapon B has a perk in column 4 you want. The player may expend weapon B and some consumable materials and instead of raising the power level, you may add one perk from weapon B to weapon A’s empty perk slot. This could be somewhat expensive - and by limiting to a single additional slot will still incentivize grinding to find some unique combinations of perks - but without a user feeling compelled to have 10 nearly-identical weapons in their inventory.
Select an item, select the perk to add, and craft your weapon
What not to change
One major limitation of apps is that the external API does not allow item deletion. I assume this is largely for security purposes, and under that reasoning, I agree.
Random rolls stay. Without random rolls, there’s no need to repeat content, and reduced ability to personalize your gear.
Vault management remains in the central hub. The current hub is an underutilized space for social gather - it mostly exists as a place for players to pick up quests and perform utility actions. It should continue as this, but instead be further enhanced as a social space for players to see and be seen.
No pulling random rolls from collections. You have to earn your weapons. Sorry.
Thoughts? Email me, or find me on Destiny 2.