Fantasy Football & Mobile UX: Less is Not More

I’ve been a player of the Fantasy Premier League game for seven seasons now (in 2016 I’ll be having my fantasy testimonial!). The obsession started back when I was at university, and while many of my bad habits formed at uni have faded over time (such as drinking on a Sunday night, devouring greasy takeaways after a night out, and placing ridiculously massive accumulator bets); fantasy football has remained a stalwart of my weekend.

For those that aren’t familiar with the Fantasy Premier League game, the concept is fairly simple. Each player is given a budget to buy a squad of Premier League players that will accumulate points based on their real life performances. Fixtures are arranged into Gameweeks, during which managers can alter their starting line-up or transfer in fresh recruits to help boost their chances of scoring points.

Van Persie with a goal and an assist. Thank you very much

Van Persie with a goal and an assist. Thank you very much!

One of my major grips over the last few years has been the lack of a mobile optimised version of the site. Many a Saturday morning has been spent on my iPhone awkwardly trying to navigate the site as I attempted to make last minute transfers.

Last month I thought my prayers had finally been answered; after many years of frustration, a mobile version of the game was launched. No longer would I have to worry about beating the 11.30am deadline on a Saturday as the latest team news trickled through, I could now manage my team regardless of what the weekend threw at me.

Unfortunately while the navigation and interaction of the site is greatly improved, the makers of the game seem to have blindly followed the belief that less is more when it comes to a mobile site.

On a mobile device the game users are restricted to changing your starting line-up, making transfers, and checking your points and league standings. There is no way to access any of the vital player information that helps make the game so compelling to the millions of players around the world. The seasonal data that would help you decide which players to choose such as the point breakdown, past performances and upcoming fixtures is inaccessible.

Desktop site

Desktop site

In the desktop version of the site, transfers prospects can be sorted in a number of different ways, such as price, overall points, points per game, goals, assists and form, to name just a few attributes. They can also be sorted in a way that gives an indication of the behavior of other users by looking at the number of times a player has been transferred in and out that Gameweek, or over the season. The mobile version limits sorting to probably the least insightful attribute: the price of the player.

Mobile site

Mobile site

Much like the equally addictive Football Manager series (which has been cited in at least 35 divorce cases!), the game’s most endearing qualities lie in the complexity of the decision making that can make or break your performance. Being a fantasy football manager is a bit like being a being a Digital Marketer; having good instincts is great, but ultimately it’s data that should be informing your decision-making.

I recently wrote about how we are guilty of making assumptions about user intent and context when creating mobile experiences. In this case the assumption is that users mainly want quick and easy interaction through their mobile device. When designing for mobile, it’s essential to put the users’ needs first. Making assumptions that a mobile user is happy not to have access to certain features is a losing proposition. Instead the makers of the game should have focused on delivering the same great experiences of the desktop version.

‘Content vs Context’ is a debate that often rears its head when discussing mobile usability. The supporters of content driven mobile strategies usually adhere to the principles of the ‘One Web’ which in turn is often linked to the ‘Responsive Web Design’ movement. They will argue that content should be fluid – taking on the form of the container holding it. While on those on the other side of the fence believe that content should take a back seat and let context do the driving.

The issue with letting context dictate a mobile strategy is that it’s practically impossible to define mobile context these days. It’s also becoming increasing difficult to predict how context will influence how users interact with sites. The makers of the Fantasy Premier League game should have realised that by removing features, they are effectively taking away from the very experience that makes the game so engaging and addictive.

With over 2 million players, it’s obvious that there will be a wide diversity of users who play the game. Some might not be as active as myself and will appreciate the quicker way of manage their team on their mobile device. Perhaps the best way of tackling this (pun not intended) would be to keep the interface simple and usable for the more basic user while hiding the advanced options for those users, like myself, who want to delve into the data.

About the author: Kristian Bannister is currently ranked 40,849 out of 2,604,499* players in the Fantasy Premier League. He is currently topping the Black Lion pub league which will win him a £20 behind the bar.

*Figures accurate as of 9th May 2013.

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