Hi there, Anna Brandberg, Senior UX Designer on the Candy Crush Saga team. So nice to get this opportunity to get to know you better. You’ve been with us for a year and a half now, and have already made quite an impression in your role and via your social media accounts. You’ve been working tightly with us in QA and also with the Women@King network. I want to know how it all started, how did you find your way to King?
"I was actually living on the other side of the world at the time, in Melbourne, when King approached me and flew me over to visit the studio for my interviews. What attracted me to King specifically was the fact that they have a really diverse community working here, and that they placed such large value not just on my experience as a UX Designer, but on the things that I was passionate about outside of work as well. I’ve spent a lot of time speaking at schools about game development, getting involved with mentorship programs for women and young girls within games and tech, developing the local game dev community, pushing for change in our industry, etc. All those things that were very important for me were things that King really prioritized in their interviews — and when they said that they wanted to hire people that pushed them to grow more as a company too in these areas, that was ultimately what made me choose King."
What was your relation to Candy Crush Saga before you started to work here?
"Well, everyone’s played Candy Crush, right? Everyone and their mum — and sometimes even their granddads too! (I know a few...) It was super exciting to get the opportunity to work on a franchise that most people across the whole world have played, or at least know of."
Did you play Candy Crush Saga yourself?
"Yeah absolutely. I played it back when it first came out on Facebook. I remember going to a tech convention, you know, one of those look-how-innovative-we-are this-is-how-we-use-technology-these-days type of events, showing off how games can be played now? Well, I went to one of those and they had these massive circular reclining chairs that curved up over your head with a screen built into it, in front of your face, that had Candy Crush Saga on it. So, you could just disappear into this supercool recliner, and you’d be enveloped in this cozy nook with just Candy Crush Saga... Needless to say, I spent most of the night in that chair."
What does a day look like working in the Candy Crush Saga team?
"It’s a bit difficult to answer since my days are so scattered depending on where in the development cycle we are. I sit in a pre-production team that supports different production teams, and catering to their UX needs. So the UX Designers on my team can sometimes be involved in three or four different projects at the same time that will all be in different states: doing preparatory work covering the UX requirements for upcoming features, doing active feature design on our current projects, and continuing to support any (or all) of our features that have already gone into production. Some days I get to sit and immerse myself into my prototyping tools and my wireframes, and some days end up just being meeting-days. Some days I can spend the first half chatting with one team and aligning on an upcoming feature’s direction, and the second half I’m chatting to a different team about what our priorities are for a different feature that’s already designed and about to go into production."
What’s the most important thing to remember as a UX Designer?
"As a UX Designer, my job is to be the players’ advocate, so I’m representing people who can’t advocate for themselves within the game development space: the players themselves. My job as a UX Designer is to remind the team of who we’re creating the game for, and why we’re creating each particular feature because we don’t make our game for ourselves — we’re making it for other people. And so it’s my job to ensure that the user’s needs don’t get forgotten among the business needs. In fact, the two are not mutually exclusive; they go hand in hand."
What's special with working with Candy Crush Saga from a UX perspective? Are there any specific opportunities and challenges?
"One of the biggest challenges with working with Candy Crush Saga is that you’re working with a game that has nine years of legacy content. Also, designing for mobile is always going to be a challenge, since portable devices are evolving so rapidly. The challenge here is to keep the game up-to-date and accessible for the ways in which people are playing games today. Things like — if you consider that the size of our phones have grown physically in size — how do we place everything within reach for people using their phones with one hand, where do we place our buttons and other important things on our screen? But also design conventions have changed, like the ways in which we physically interact with the interface, and how we expect to have information organized visually. Nowadays people are more used to digital apps and mobile games, meaning we can make more complex gameplay features and things that we weren’t able to do before. Just this one single mobile game can now have multiple gameplay mechanics, have actual metas for different features, and even features that overlap with other things in the game, meaning that it’s now far more complex than it was just a few years ago. And keeping the game current and interesting is definitely also a big thing. How do you make sure your game stays exciting nine years on? We have die-hard fans that have been playing Candy Crush Saga since day one, so how do you make sure that it is still rewarding and fulfilling for them a whopping nine years later?"
But here’s a good question, how can good UX change the world?
"UX isn’t a separate discipline that only UX Designers do — it’s a mindset. Everyone on the game dev team should be able to put on a “UX hat”, because the user's experience is something that everyone should be considering every step of the way. Sure, it’s my responsibility on paper to be the players’ advocate, but that doesn’t mean that other people can’t also be considering the player’s experience. Everyone *should* always be considering the player’s experience. So, if we for example consider the statement that we often hear, that “games are for everyone” — that means that everyone should be able to actually play our games. If everyone on the development team adopts a UX mindset, it means everyone starts thinking about, say, different accessibility issues, which by the way, affect 1 in 4 people. That’s 25% of our player base! So how can I, as an artist, ensure that my level is playable for people who are colour blind? How can I, as a narrative designer, ensure that my feature’s instructions aren’t too complex for people with cognitive disabilities? How can I, as a programmer, ensure that my code is standards-compliant, so that blind people can play using a screen reader? We all have a shared responsibility for thinking about how we can make our spaces more diverse and inclusive. And in doing that, we can ensure that our games cater to players’ different needs. And that’s not just about accessibility issues — that goes for everyone. It means that players who perhaps want more complex and competitive features can access more complex and competitive features, and those who perhaps want more straightforward, relaxing game sessions can find features that cater to their needs too. If everyone adopted a UX mindset, we would make the world more accessible, intuitive and enjoyable for everyone."
Nice! Now I’m imagining a little UX hat with lots of little buttons with well-made instructions…
"Yes, there could be different buttons that trigger different UX-related checklists! If we push the, say, accessibility-button, it prompts you to ask, “Have we considered colour blindness for this UI yet? Text legibility? What about cognitive overload? Which buttons are placed where on the screen? Do tutorials vanish or can people go back and check the instructions again later? Everyone should always have a bunch of checklists to check their games against before launching to ensure that the games we make are accessible, intuitive, and enjoyable. For everyone."
What did you wish you knew two years ago?
"The importance of setting boundaries. It’s in your interest — and your company’s too — that you maintain a healthy work-life balance. And also to promote more UX thinking across the team from the very start of a project. If things like, say, the importance of user testing, are understood, prioritised and scoped in from the beginning, with all stakeholders aligned, it’s easier to actually get the time to implement those things later. Because we should all care about those things, not just UX Designers. Having a UX mindset leads to creating a better product, which leads to improved business results. By meeting your user’s needs, you’ll consequently be meeting your business needs too. Ideally, the two should be synergetic."
What surprised you the most with King?
"I was so pleasantly surprised by how many women there were here! I’ve had work meetings with 7-8 people, and mid-meeting I’ve looked around the room — nowadays it’s the Zoom-room — and realized that we’ve got, like, a producer, programmer, QA, an artist, a UX Designer, etc, all talking about our latest feature and OMG we’re all women. It’s that weird thing that you don’t think about until it happens. I was so taken aback by it. And I’m sad that that’s a thing that still has to surprise me in our industry, but on the flip-side, I’m really glad that it’s a sign that things are changing at least!"
Written by Gabriella Hammarin, QA at King and a tech/text/event enthusiast