Case study detailing the UI/UX challenges as I helped design the FarmVIlle English Countryside breeding system. Working closely with various disciplines, I came up with a method of displaying deterministic outcomes.
FarmVille needed a breeding mechanic that would deliver addictive gameplay while allowing for unlimited engagement and extensibility. We were able to develop a sophisticated procedural system, but how could we communicate it to our demographic in a simple way?
Our engineers had proven out the tech to take an animal and dynamically assign colors to both the base and the pattern. Suddenly any ram could be bred with any ewe, and the results would be true to their digital "genes" in an infinte number of combinations.
Pretty snazzy stuff, but it presented a diffictult UI challenge. In most breeding systems, it's easy to make gameplay decisions because there are only a handful of discrete outcomes: Sheep A + Sheep B = Sheep C. But with our system, there was an infinte number of possible offspring, which is difficult to represent visually. My task was to come up with a UI solution that would help the user understand the system and the potential outcomes, but without implying that there was a guaranteed result.
It was key that users shouldn't be shocked by the outcome; it was ok to be disappointed in a particular result, but it wasn't ok to feel perplexed.
The infamous “conga line” interface! I hit upon the idea of representing the parent sheep collectively dreaming of their future offspring prancing by. By running the simulation over and over again, we could effectively show what the range of results were going to be. Users were able to swap in different sheep from their farm in order to quickly gauge which parents would be a good match.
The breeding game was massively successful and became a core piece of FarmVille’s business strategy immediately. In the years since, breeding games for most other animals have followed suit. Not only was the system fun for users, but it was great for the company: it was repeatable, engaging gameplay was far less expensive to produce.