JUST LET ME DRIVE

Taking a stab at improving the UX Design in Forza Motorsport 7

MATTI RICHOUX 28.03.2019

So close, yet so far away.
I like Forza Motorsport 7. It's an exciting and engaging racing game with the latest and greatest in cars, tracks, graphics - you name it. In fact, the core gameplay is great - it's a top notch car racing sim with plenty of challenges.

Sadly, the greatest challenge in Forza 7 presents itself before you're anywhere near the asphalt - namely, navigating its user interface without running out of patience. Forza Motorsport 7 suffers from some baffling choices in its UI.

In this article, I'll identify some of the bad aspects Forza Motorsport 7's User Experience Design. I'll solve its problems, and also talk a bit about the design principles behind my choices.

🖐 I would like to point out that in this article, I make no distinction between myself as a designer and as a user. In a 'real' scenario, User Experience Design should be backed up by qualitative and quantitative user research!

Problem #1: Picking a car is a hot mess

All right, so you want to race, do you? Then you need a car. You would think that Forza Motorsport 7 would make it easy for us to pick a car.

Sadly, it's not. In this game, they are hard to find, purchase and keep track of in your collection.
What's going on here?
Have a look at the above picture, and tell me what you think the difference is between "Car Collection", "Buy Car" and "My Garage". For example, if you're like me, you'll probably think that "Car Collection" should be your car collection.

It's not.

"Car Collection" is a place where you can buy cars. It's a kind of overview of all cars in the game, grouped by 5 tiers, which is about 120 cars per tier. The problem is that you would never buy a car based on its tier. You would buy a car based on the division type of race you want to enter, for example: American Muscle cars races or Formula 1 races. Therefore, this space doesn't help us at all.

Let's say I want to join an American Muscle cars race. I need an American Muscle car. I press "Car Collection". How am I supposed to find anything in this screen?:
Who on earth greenlighted this?
Instead, if you want to find and buy a car, "Buy Car" is where you need to go.
Look, a clear label!
In "Buy Car", you are able to filter cars by manufacturer, division, year and class, to make it easy for you to find a car for your race division. Sadly, this page is troubled by a filtering system that does more to frustrate you than to help you (see below)

  • What was the difference between "Division" and "Class", again? Is that the same as a tier? These names are not intuitive just because they are used a lot.
  • There is no way to favorite a car or a manufacturer to ease your next visit to the shop.
  • The filter resets every time you exit the screen.
  • Why do I have to press X to "Apply Filters" when I am done? (We will go more into detail about this later.)
  • There is no easy way to see whether I already own one of the cars I see in the shop. This leads to accidentally buying multiple copies of a car.

Speaking of cars I already own - let's say I want to go into "My Garage" from here (which is where my cars are). I then have to go out of "Buy Car", back the main menu, and press "My Garage".
Surely "Buy Car" and "My Garage" could be combined into one? 🤔
Interesting fact! The designers of Forza Motorsport has combined "Buy Car" and "My Garage" another place in the game. For example, in the pre-race screen, these two areas are connected. You press "Car Select", and there you can further toggle to "Buy Car".

A solution in plain sight.
I get the feeling that the creators of Forza wanted to fill up the tiles under "Cars" in the main screen. Unfortunately, this is at the expense of usability for the user.

My solution:
  • Remove "Car Collection" altogether: it's pointless and confusing.
  • Consistently implement the design where you can both see your own cars, and buy new cars in one.
  • Be able to favorite cars and manufacturers.
  • Don't reset the filtering each time you go out of the "buy cars" or "my collection" screen.
  • Clearly label cars in the shop as owned.
  • Remove "class" from cars and classify them to divisions alone.

  • This should make the whole ordeal a lot easier.

Problem #2: Inconsistency in the mental model

Imagine your office gets a new toaster. You stand in front of it, holding your untoasted slice of bread, eager to try the new machine. Here's the funny thing. Most probably, you know how to operate this toaster despite having never touched it before. How? Because you have a mental model of how a toaster works. As long as this toaster works like any other toaster, you'll be good to go. You know how a toaster should work.

The same thing happens when a user navigates an app, webpage, game, or any digital product with an interface for the very first time. He or she will heavily rely on his or her mental model to do so. When a user interacts with an interface, he or she will have a set of preconceptions about how to navigate it, because of previous experiences with similar products. This is a psychological phenomenon that a designer should embrace and take advantage of. That way, as a designer, you can spend less time teaching the user how to navigate your product, and more time making the product itself.
The mental model of the xbox controller in game settings: press A to choose or select something,
and B to go back to a previous screen.
For years, Xbox players have become familiar with a certain way of using the buttons on the controller. When it comes to in-game setting screens, nearly all games use the A and B buttons in the way described above. Therefore, it's fair to make the argument that it's a good idea to match this mental model when you create a game with a settings screen: make sure A selects things, and B takes the user back to the previous screen.

You can imagine the problems you would experience as a player if a game were to break this basic rule, right?

Let's have a look at how Forza 7 breaks this rule.

A to Select, B to go back.
Most of Forza's menu navigation follows the mental model of the A and B button, as you can see in the image above. However, when venturing further into the game's interface, this is no longer the case. When changing certain settings in the game, Forza's designers decided to change the way these two seemingly basic buttons work.

And this, dear reader, is where the pain begins.

In the settings screen below, you can adjust things like your camera view, damage indicators and speedometer metrics when you race. You change the adjustable option by going left or right with your joystick.

However, in this screen, pressing the A button will confirm the choices you have made and take you back to the previous screen, while pressing the B button will cancel the choices you have made and take you back to the previous screen.
The driver's reaction in the background is purely coincidental.
This does not match the mental model for the Xbox controller, which we have previously explored. Here is how the two behaviors compare:

Button Mental Model Forza 7
A Select something Accept changes and go back
B Go Back Cancel changes and go back

This is bad design, with usability-breaking consequences. I can't count how many times I have gone to the settings page, made some changes, and then pressed B wanting to go back, losing all my recently made settings.

Why do you do this to me? I just... want to race my car.

My solution: Remove the A button functionality altogether, and have the B button save changes and go back. Now, there is no chance of deleting all your previously selected options. As you can see, you can always restore to defaults with Y if you make too much of a mess. In addition to that, I have labeled the button properly in the bottom right corner, to remove any doubt as to what exactly happens when you press B.

A simple settings page requires no more complexity than that. Old dogs don't need to be taught any new tricks here. Stick to the mental model:
Clearly labeled buttons, now matching the mental model.

Problem #3: Clunky pre-race screen

All right, so we've picked our car, we've made our game settings, now we are just about to get into a race. Not so fast, hot-shot. The design of Forza's pre-race screen suffers from pretty bad Information Architecture, which makes it very clunky and hard to "get ready" for a race. Let's explore the theory behind Information Architecture a bit, before we see how it applies to Forza 7.

Information architecture is all about organization of information in a clear and logical way. Such organization follows a clear purpose — helping users navigate a large amount of content. Good information architecture enables users to easily adjust to the functionality of a digital interface and find everything they need without big effort.

Whether you're building a web page from scratch, or want to improve existing information architecture, a good place to start can be with a card sorting exercise. Card sorting is a well-established technique for figuring out how users understand and categorize information. It's important to know how your target audience would group and label your website information in a way that makes the most sense to them. This is why card sorting is a good exercise to do with your core users.

A simple mockup of a card sorting exercise.
In Forza 7, the pre-race screen is an important screen, because it's the last thing you see before jumping into every race. Here you can do last-minute changes to your car, change opponent difficulty, check the starting grid and to other pre-race things. Unfortunately, Forza 7 has put a lot of unimportant stuff within easy reach, and put some of its more important stuff where it's less easy to find.

Let's do a card sorting exercise to solve this problem! Below, you may behold the beast, that is, Forza 7's pre race screen.
Flipping through tabs - a common pre-race ritual in Forza 7.
There are a few issues with this design. Let's first address the two tab names "Race Info" and "Setup".

The default tab is named "Race Info". However, none of the buttons in this tab relate to any "Race Info". This is confusing and inconsistent with the next tab, labeled "Setup", which has options that actually "setup" your race.

Now let's scrutinize a couple of buttons they decided to place in the "Race Info" tab, which is the default tab you see every time you get ready for a race. This is where the really important stuff needs to be!
  1. Car Collection (Buy a new car). Notwithstanding the earlier criticism towards this feature: are players really more likely to buy a new car rather than choose among the cars they already own right before a race? From my experience: rarely.
  2. Race Shop (Buy boosters to increase the score you get after a race). This page is actually just a sub-page of the "Mods" page, which is a page that is already accessible from this tab. That means, we essentially have two buttons to buy mods in this tab. Mods are used a lot, but you don't need two buttons to access them.

Considering all the different things a player might want to do before a race, we can improve the use of space here. Below is a quick card sorting exercise visualized:
A simple card sorting exercise helps us separate what's important from what's not.
  1. Define: collect all the things you can do across both tabs
  2. Sort: Sort by type
  3. Categorize based on importance for the default pre-race tab
I don't consider myself an especially atypical player, and I can imagine that the four things I marked as "important for pre-race" resonate with many other players. Here's the new design that makes it easy to get ready for a race:
This will let you race more, and flip menus less.

Problem #4: It's not easy to do basic things

All right, so we've made it through car selection, game settings and the pre-race screen. Great!

There are certain things you do in Forza very often. In the Single Player mode, the following scenario happens regularly:
  1. Start the Race
  2. Drive too fast and smash your car up real good
  3. Restart the Race
Sadly, restarting your race is anything but simple in Forza 7:
Restarting a race is a lot of work.
This loop should be drastically simplified, because it happens all the time. Here is my simple solution. Add a "Restart Race" button to the pause menu.
Restarting a race has never been easier.
Now it's easy to do basic things.

Final Thoughts

Forza 7 is a good game, but unfortunately plagued by strange UI choices that really takes away from the experience. Too much time is spent in the game's settings, fighting your way through menus rather than racing. Forza 7 could vastly improve some of its problems with a few UX design exercises and principles that make it easier for the user to navigate, understand and use its interface.

Thank you for reading.