Insomniac Games

For my Master's thesis, I collaborated with Insomniac Games to understand how console video game settings can evolve to better meet the lived experiences of players.


August 2022 - May 2023


Product Designer
User Researcher


Tyler Norman
Greg Parker


Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Photoshop

Evolving the console video game settings user experience

Western AAA game studios have implemented robust settings focused on accessibility and inclusivity for players with disabilities who have been excluded from gaming. While these offer heightened accessibility and customization, players must opt in through time-consuming adjustments to optimize their experience. Many settings often go underutilized, especially by players without disabilities, and detract from desired immersion. Insomniac Games wanted to understand this problem to develop an evolution of the video game settings experience for forthcoming game development.

The final design is an evolutionary prototype of the  console video game settings experience that allows players to better understand how settings impact their gameplay and to more efficiently optimize settings to match their assets and needs. This is accomplished through an interactive setup that encourages proactive optimization, prompted settings that allow context-based adjustments, and adjusted settings that reduce menu information architecture complexity.

How might we develop a more intuitive means of presenting in-game settings to evolve the current console video game experience?

Before beginning the process of research and design, the Insomniac Games team laid out the primary challenges they wanted to address in the established problem space:

Increasing immersion and optimization

The design solution should increase players’ immersion in gameplay while increasing the effectiveness of their settings optimization process.

Including players with and without disabilities

The design solution should tangibly improve the video game settings experience for players with disabilities as well as for players without.

Maintaining developmental feasibility

The design solution should be able to be developed under existing game development constraints while remaining financially viable.

Ensuring scalability and translatability

The design solution should be able to be scaled to include all game settings and be translated to fit other titles and genres.

After establishing the problem space and additional challenges, my team and I conducted secondary research involving an in-depth literature review and comprehensive competitive analysis to orient ourselves to the current state of settings implementation in console video games.

Furthering understanding through primary user-centered research methods

Once a foundational understanding of the current console video game settings experience was established, my team and I transitioned to a phase of primary user research that included surveys, user interviews, card sorting, and gameplay observations.

The data from these methods was synthesized into these overarching research findings:

Prior experiences define player expectations

Players tend to approach settings adjustments with pre-established expectations based on their prior gaming and current lived experiences.

Onboarding is the window for optimization

Players usually prioritize the first start-up experience when beginning a new game to optimize the settings to best fit their current needs.

Direct feedback eases settings adjustment

Players prefer to receive immediate feedback when adjusting settings to understand what settings do and how they impact gameplay.

Settings changes rely on learning and memory

Players must learn how to optimize the settings for each game they play and remember which settings they previously adjusted for that game.

Translating research findings into design requirements

Before transitioning into the design process, my team and I translated our research findings into the following actionable design requirements:

Be inclusive of experience and ability levels

The design should enable players to efficiently and effectively optimize settings to fit their needs, no matter their experience and ability levels.

Prevent remedial settings adjustments

The design should prioritize beneficial settings optimization adjustments up front to reduce the occurrence of later remedial adjustments.

Provide feedback to maintain immersion

The design should provide direct feedback of what setting was adjusted and how it affects gameplay to keep players immersed in the experience.

Guide and inform to reduce cognitive demand

The design should offer guided suggestions to help players understand what settings mean and how they impact the gaming experience.

Constructing the settings sandbox

The settings sandbox feature is a fail-state-free area to adjust settings in real-time to understand how that affects the experience. By adjusting in the sandbox rather than navigating the settings menus, players can more efficiently adjust settings to fit exact requirements without missing gameplay or narrative experiences.

Developing prompted settings

In-game pop-up settings prompts offer the ability to engage with the prompt to enter the settings menu or sandbox to adjust settings for the current in-game scenario. These prompts recommend settings that most benefit players based on their location in-game with menu shortcuts that allow players to seamlessly enter the settings menu through a guided process.

Expanding through  settings supplements

Additional settings enhancements address existing settings paradigms to ensure players have more control in optimizing settings while reducing the time spent in menus adjusting settings. By providing shortcuts and micro-features, players can more efficiently and effectively adjust settings in existing menu information architecture.

Establishing a connected user flow for high-fidelity iteration

After evaluating the low-fidelity prototype with players and Insomniac team members, my team and I established a rough design system and complete user flow to guide our development to high-fidelity. The intention of the user flow was to clarify the route through which users would navigate the prototype to ensure that they were able to interact with the most valuable features of the design.

Centering the settings sandbox in the interactive setup

The settings sandbox design was shifted to be the central feature of the interactive onboarding setup experience. Rather than offer all settings for testing, only a curated list of commonly used settings and accessibility presets were made available. Additional supporting information was added to further player guidance when onboarding a new game.

Transitioning to diegetic prompts

All non-diegetic settings adjustment prompts were removed due to feedback as these negatively impacted player motivation. Players can now dismiss pop-ups or interact with them to adjust settings in a guided experience in the sandbox or settings menu. Supporting iconography and additional guiding elements were added to further support players in their setting adjustment process.

Refining supplements into active settings

The favorite settings and settings history features were removed as they created challenges in information architecture and operational logic. The active settings were refined based on feedback as these provided the most value for settings optimization. The active settings menu was moved to the settings menu home and received supporting images and information to further player understanding of each setting.

Creating the design system for final iteration and handoff

Following high-fidelity evaluations with players and Insomniac team members, my team and I established a formal design system to apply to the prototype for our final iteration. With this design system, we sought to have a production-ready finish that could be handed off for reference and implementation in future Insomniac game development processes.

Further expanding the interactive setup

The interactive setup was further iterated upon to emphasize interactive playability in the settings sandbox: menu sizes / locations were adjusted, additional HUD elements were added, and the ability to close the window was further emphasized. Settings categories in the interactive setup were also expanded to include deeper drill-down functionality.

This final design enables preemptive settings optimization when beginning a new game to spend less time and effort adjusting during gameplay and narrative experiences.

Enhancing diegetic prompt interactions

The settings prompts were further enhanced by adjusting the pop-up location and aesthetic to be less intrusive while also transitioning to timer-based dismissal to reduce extraneous player input. Additional HUD and subtitle elements were also added to denote player control of the character. Upon interaction with the prompt, players now navigate directly into the sandbox rather than the settings menu to make guided adjustments.

This final design enables the effective optimization of relevant settings when players encounter new gameplay elements that shift their current assets or needs so that their experience remains optimal.

Transitioning from active to adjusted settings

The active settings were renamed to adjusted settings to further clarify the functionality of this feature. The previous shoulder buttons-based top navigation structure was removed due to accessibility concerns; in its place, a drill-down information architecture was established for the settings menu hierarchy. The overall color contrast was increased, background textures were removed, and fonts/layouts were adjusted to improve user readability.

This final design promotes the more efficient location and adjustment of previously changed settings so that players spend more time experiencing gameplay and narrative.

Continuing to evolve the console video game settings user experience

While my work on this project came to a close at the end of my Master's thesis, the final design and supporting research will continue to serve as an essential foundation for the next evolution of development of the console video game settings user experience at Insomniac Games.

Development and implementation of the design will include:

Further iterating to improve usability

The prototype should will be further iterated upon to improve its usability based on the findings of more rounds of expert and player evaluations.

Developing functional prototype in game engine

The prototype will be developed in an actual game engine to fully demonstrate the developmental feasibility of its utilization.

Integrating design framework into best practices

The prototype framework will be adopted by Insomniac Games as a current best practice approach for implementing settings for gamers with and without disabilities.

Implementing in game development roadmap

Following the adoption of the prototype framework as best practices, Insomniac Games aims to implement this approach to game settings in forthcoming game development.

During my experiences working on this project, I saw how bringing accessibility to the forefront of the design process is essential for creating equity and inclusivity of all users as users with disabilities are often barred from engaging with digital experiences. I was also fortunate to learn how each user has an entirely different lived experience that directly shapes how they interact with and understand a design, which is why this must be centered throughout the design process.

My sincerest thanks to Cooper Colglazier and the team members at Insomniac Games for providing the opportunity to explore this project, the participants who took part in our user-centered research, and Dr. Richard Henneman and Dr. Carrie Bruce for their support and guidance throughout the Master’s thesis process.