MMORPG user interface standards

Last weekend I was running some tabletop gaming using Fantasy Grounds 2, and I was reminded just how quirky the user interface is. This virtual tabletop software re-invents a lot of controls and concepts that are already well established for Windows software and is less intuitive to use as a result. Standards in MMORPGs are pretty varied but I do have a few examples of things I consider to be fair expectations for the UI in a modern/current game, and games in mind that try to do things differently for no good reason:

1. Moveable windows

Fixed windows, especially in position or size (width x height) are a pretty unforgivable sin in my opinion. Still in 2018 certain windows in World of Warcraft cannot be freely dragged around the screen when open – especially annoying if you want to follow chat and have your character sheet. Sure you can load some ultra custom UI to work around such limitations but in such a long-established and feature-rich game why hasn’t the UI been properly modernised? SWTOR did a pretty impressive remake of the awful, inflexible original UI by contrast.

WoW: default UI windows are fixed and block other elements

2. UI scaling

Not everyone has perfect vision, not everyone plays at 1024×768. If the UI isn’t easily scalable then that’s going to cause some players a problem. If the fonts and font colours can’t be adjusted then that’s equally bad. When playing Dungeons & Dragons Online we were trying to fix this as the text and party nameplates are so small on a modern high-res monitor, but the forum threads we found answered it wasn’t possible.

DDO: lots of tiny text

3. Screenshots made easy

If devs make it easy to take screenshots in their game, then bloggers and social media fans will literally promote the game for free! If screenshots bug-out, lack a hide-UI option or are highly restricted (no screenshots in cut-scenes), then you’re making it harder for us to share our gaming adventures. Sure there are third-party solutions like video capture programs or graphics card company overlays, but why should I be going to external software for such a basic function? As an aside make it easy to find the screenshots afterwards, don’t bury them in a folder in the install directory, by default they should go to a user profile specific folder – not everyone has a computer to themselves…

Neverwinter: won’t take a screenshot if certain UI windows are open…

4. Windowed mode

If like me you play with two monitors, forced full-screen games can be a serious annoyance. I want to be able to jump my mouse over to easily my secondary screen to control streaming content or to look at wikis (mandatory with some MMOs!). The game shouldn’t lock the mouse to the game screen, auto-minimise or suffer a major stress if I do this. Having the game sound continue when in the background is also a related option that I appreciate so that your character doesn’t get ambushed while you’re looking things up! Although Shadowrun Chronicles is the first game that springs to mind for this issue, I have had MMORPGs crash when minimised as well.

There are other options I could have listed, for instance proper mouse and keyboard customisation is common but not always fully supported in every game. Likewise not all games make it easy to standardise control schemes between characters, being able to save UI layouts and control settings and easily import them on new characters is a nice feature that’s rarer than it should be.

What are your UI standards for the MMORPGs you play and which games break them?

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2 Responses to MMORPG user interface standards

  1. Shintar says:

    Huh, I didn’t know that about Neverwinter – only that it doesn’t let you take screenshots of the UI itself, which is nice most of the time but annoying when you actually want to show something from the UI.

    SWTOR of course has the issue with print screen simply not working a lot of the time to this day… as long-time player I’ve got the workaround of third party software of course, but like you say, that’s a really basic thing to get wrong!

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