New chat dialog showing off Multi-User Chat

Origin Multi-User Chat and Voice Chat

Launched in June 2013

About Origin

Origin is a PC game platform by Electronic Arts that allows users to purchase, download, and keeps installed games up to date. The service also supports social features like chatting with friends and broadcasting their gameplay to Twitch.tv.

About the Project

When I started on improving the social features of Origin, users could only have 1-on-1 chats, the average user had 1 or 2 friends, and users were not joining their friends' games at a rate that we would have liked.

The Problems with Chat

Users were relying on third-party services to communicate with their friends via group and voice chat while playing games on Origin since we didn't provide those features. We wanted to increase social engagement on Origin by addressing these needs.

Our Goals

Why this matters to the business

Improving the social experience in Origin is a key business objective. We know from our data that users with more friend connections used the client more frequently and for longer periods of time. Our data also shows a strong correlation between the amount of time spent in the client to revenue generated from an individual. Therefore it is extremely profitable to provide a service to help them make friends and keep them engaged with their friends in Origin.

Why this matters to the users

It is clear that users really enjoy chatting and playing games with friends since they are using 3rd party software to do so. Having these critical features integrated into Origin means that they won't need to rely on an outside service and can connect to any friend on the platform. Also, some games can be very difficult to play with friends if there is no voice chat to coordinate your gameplay.

Outcome of this Project

The continual improvements on Origin's social features resulted in a 60%-70% increased utilization of chat, longer user sessions, increased the average number of friends from 1-2 friends to 4-5 friends, daily active users increased, and resulted in increased monetization.


Team composition

My Role

I was the lead User Experience Designer on this project. The tasks I performed included researching the space, wireframes, user flows, documentation, assisting in the user research and validating the implementation. I also worked closely with Engineering, Production, and QA throughout the process to keep them informed of the designs as they evolved and to assist them in accomplishing their tasks to make awesome social experiences.

Additional Team Members

  • 1 Visual Designer / Prototyper
  • 1 User Researcher
  • 1 Producer
  • 3 Engineers
  • 2 QA Testers

The Design Process

Kickoff

In the initial kickoff for this project, we discussed how to best address the lack of group and voice chat in the Origin client. Our core guiding principle was that we needed to make it as simple as possible to get a small number of friends into a chat with each other. This chat space that we wanted to create became known as a Multi-User Chat.

What exactly is a Multi-User Chat?

The idea behind a Multi-User Chat (or MUC as we called it for short) was to take a simple 1-on-1 chat and add friends to it. Friends that join a MUC will continue to be apart of it until they closed the chat window.

There are several different types of ways people communicate. Multi-User Chats are for small groups of friends. Chat Rooms are for large groups of people who may not all be friends.

Multi-User Chats are small, temporary groups of friends. Chat rooms are a permanent place where a large group of people can hang out.

But Why Not Create Chat Rooms?

We initially considered enabling users to create permanent chat rooms, but we realized that Multi-User Chats would be better if we wanted to focus on easily creating small, intimate chats with friends. Chat rooms would require a bit more effort to setup, use, and would be better for larger groups of people. The smaller scope of MUCs also meant that we could develop it faster and get it into the hands of our users to see how they would use it. If MUCs were a success, we would evaluate adding permanent chat rooms to Origin.

Research of how friends play games together

A game of Battlefield 4 with several squadmates playing together

Games like EA's massively popular Battlefield 4, shown here, encourage you to collaborate with other real people to achieve a single goal. Voice communication here can really make a huge difference in these kinds of a game.

To better understand user's behavior when playing games together, I observed how friends communicated while playing games on PC, Xbox, and PlayStation. I was able to do this on all these different platforms via Twitch.tv, a website where players broadcast their gameplay for everyone to watch.

Through watching people play games together, I verified two key assumptions. The first is that when people play games together, they will do it typically in small groups of 2-4. Players are also likely to utilize the platform's join game feature to play together. This research confirmed that MUCs would support the existing users' behavior and that we didn't need to build out permanent chat rooms at this time.

Creating a Multi-User Chat

All chats got an 'Invite Friends' button so users could always add new friends to the chat.

All chats have an "Invite Friends" button so users could always add new friends to the chat.

In order to allow users to quickly and easily create a Multi-User Chat, a "Invite Friends" button was added to the chat dialog. This would allow users to invite friends to the chat via a flyout menu. A flyout menu was chosen so the user could continue to see the chat while they were picking who to invite. Once the invite was sent, the dialog transforms from a 1-on-1 to a Multi-User Chat. This friend enters the chat once they accept the invite.

Encouraging users to join a friends game

Before I started on this project, if a friend was playing a game, the chat dialog displayed an actionable banner at the top of the dialog. While this worked for a 1-on-1 chat, this pattern could not extend to support Multi-User Chats where different friends could be playing different games at once. We needed a solution that would work in a 1-on-1 chat as well because at any point in time it could be upgraded to a Multi-User Chat.

New wireframe shows an inline banner for joining a game

The new joinable game notification will work in all chats, regardless of the number of users.

To encourage friends to game together in either 1-on-1 or Multi-User Chats, I created large inline banners that would appear in the body of the chat when a friend started playing a game. After this was implemented, we saw a significant increase in the number of friends joining games together.

Voice Chats in Multi-User Chats

Voice chat in a 1-on-1 chat is very simple since it behaves like a phone call. For a Multi-User Chat, it gets a little more tricky. We had to consider issues like happens when a user hits the voice chat button, does it call everyone in the group? What happens if a user blocks someone else in the chat, who could hear who?

With regards to joining a voice chat in a MUC, the user would enter into the audio channel, and a small, subtle inline message would inform everyone else in the chat that someone entered the voice chat as a way to encourage anyone else not in the voice chat to join.

If someone is blocked in a MUC, then both text and voice chat is cut off between the two parties.

Make It Easy To Accept An Incoming Call

Wireframe of the call incoming toast notification. User has the option to Accept or Ignore the call.

Wireframe of the incoming call notification.

When a friend calls you over voice chat, we didn't want it to be challenging to find and answer the call. To simplify this time critical action, I designed a new actionable toast notification. From this notification, the user can choose to accept or decline the call. While we had notifications before, this is the first time where the user could interact with it to perform an action.

User Testing

I was heavily involved in the user testing process throughout this project. My process for each test was to identify when we were at a point where we should run a user study, gather a list of questions that I and others had, create a script for the study, work with engineering to make sure that we had everything ready to test if necessary, and then prep for the test with the user research group.

During the tests, I took notes and provided feedback to the user researcher in between testing sessions. I would send out a summary of my findings that evening to the rest of the team so they could quickly get the highlights of the test. A full report the next week would be sent out by the user researcher to fill in additional details and findings.

Tests were run every few weeks to make sure that we were on track and verified that fixes for previous issues did, in fact, address the problem we previously uncovered.


Summary

New chat dialog showing off Multi-User Chat

Results

These updates helped grow all of our key metrics. The utilization of chat over the years increased by 60%-70%. The average number of friends grew from 1-2 per user to 4-5 per user. Chat sessions also increased significantly and the join game inline banner increased the rate at which friends played games with each other.

Voice Chat had a bit of a rough start due to lower than desired audio quality. Our awesome developers continued to improve the sound quality of the service after launch. As quality increased, user adoption quickly skyrocketed by 400%. These adoption rates were so high that our producers had to double check the numbers to make sure they were accurate!

Lessons learned