Increasing game excitement

To keep a daily free-to-play game fresh, a bit of user research was required.

The problem

Prize Machine, Sky Vegas’ daily free-to-play game, had been live for a few years, and the excitement of the experience had stagnated. The product manager wanted to introduce some modifiers that would add suspense to the outcome reveal.

Kicking off

I was assigned to this project to perform the user research only, and only a couple of days were given to me before I had to move on to something else. For these reasons, it felt right to use microstudies to get this done.

Microstudies is a word I made up as a joke once, and it just stuck in our team. It’s the act of sending out quick surveys or task-based research that produce results within 24 hours. They allow for quick decision-making, especially when finding it hard to choose the right approach between a few ideas.

My expected output was to have three modifier concepts that could be built with a high degree of confidence that users would enjoy them.

Comparator research

To get inspiration for the various possible modifiers I could test, I looked at some popular slot games and looked for the modifiers they had.

One of the cascading modifiers I looked at.


The product manager and I got together to explore which of the comparators modifiers could work for us, as well as come up with a few of our own concepts. We narrowed them down to six ideas for testing, so I quickly mocked them up to see if they could work on a visual level. Once the product manager and I had agreed on them, I moved to the next stage.

Sky Vegas' Prize Machine with a firework explosion concealing the final reel.
A firework explodes in front of the final reel, revealing a win behind it.
The last reel of Prize Machine turning to change the result.
The final reel turns to change the result.
Sky Vegas' Prize Machine with a spotlight shining on the final reel.
A spotlight shines on the final reel, suspensefully changing to a win.
The reels of Prize Machine have shattered.
All reels shatter several times until a winning result is shown.
Sky Vegas' Prize Machine with a scratch card in place of the final reel.
The final reel is scratched away by a coin, revealing a win behind it.
The reels of Prize Machine have frozen over and cracked.
The reels freeze over, then the ice shatters and falls away, unveiling a winning result.

The stimuli

I wanted to provide videos of the ideas to the participants, because I thought screenshots and a text explanation wouldn’t give them enough context to provide useful feedback. So I opened up After Effects and brought the concepts to life.

A cascading reel modifier.
A spotlight re-spin modifier.
A firework modifier.
A block-turn modifier.

The questions

The survey was hosted on UserZoom and we screened for people in the UK who have used Sky Vegas. This increased the likelihood that they already knew what Prize Machine was, allowing for better context. For each of the six ideas, I asked the same questions.

Firstly they were asked how exciting the modifier was, using a Likert scale for their answer. This gave me comparable metrics I could use to see which of the ideas gave the participant the biggest thrill. If they gave a very low score, a follow-up question gave them the opportunity to explain why.

They were then provided with a list of sixteen emotive words and asked to choose the three they most associated with the modifier. Some of the words we were looking for in a concept were “exciting”, “fun”, and “suspenseful”. Seeing as the goal was to add some excitement to Prize Machine, capturing their emotions was key.


In under 24 hours, the survey had been completed by all 100 participants. I compiled all the findings in to a PDF and shared them with the product manager.

The results showed that the three most exciting ideas were the Cascading Reels, Spotlight Re-spin, and Firework modifiers. This was because they scored highest on the Likert scale, and “Exciting” and “Anticipation-filled” were selected regularly in the word association.

A page from a document showing the participant's response to the spotlight modifier. The results are mixed.
An example of the survey reporting for individual concepts.
A page from a document showing the order of preference the participants had regarding the modifiers. The firework modifier is the most popular.
The results of the Likert scale questions.


This was the end of the project for me, as I had to move on to something else. However, handover was pretty easy because I’d already made the videos for the survey, so they could be shown to the game designer. They were pretty self-explanatory so after a quick chat he was able to get on with it.

I made sure I kept an eye on the project though, having meetings with the game designer to ensure the excitement and suspense factors of the animations remained intact as he built them in Spine. We discussed some small changes that had to be made for the sake of keeping file sizes low to optimise load times for users, but nothing dramatically changed from the initial concepts.


Really useful insight can be gathered in a day. This project rested entirely on quickly finding out the right thing to do, and it wouldn’t have been possible without a microstudy.

A tiny team of people is all that’s needed sometimes. Between myself and the product manager, all the decisions got made quickly. If more people had been involved, it likely would have taken a fair bit longer.

Video is powerful in studies. Providing the participants with video stimuli gave them far more context than a still image ever could, allowing us to gather more useful feedback.