Photo Agent

Working as Part of a New Team to Build an Exceptional Game Experience Piece by Piece


As the 12th employee to join Amazon Game Studios, I was part of the team during its earliest stages. Our primary focus at the time was developing Facebook games. However, in just four years, I witnessed an incredible expansion of the organization, with more than 250 in-house employees and four development studios. This growth led to a diverse and impressive game catalog that included over a dozen titles across mobile, console, and PC platforms.

'Photo Agent', one of Amazon Game Studios' initial projects, was a casual jigsaw puzzle game that immersed players in the exciting world of photojournalism. Through a series of photo assignments presented as puzzles, players traveled the globe, photographing wildlife, cuisine, historic landmarks, and other subjects to build their professional portfolios. As players progressed through the game, they earned experience points, coins, and ticket vouchers that increased their reputation and enabled them to purchase necessary items to take on more complex assignments. Each successful completion provided a sense of exploration and fulfillment as players advanced their careers and evolved within the captivating universe of 'Photo Agent'.

Problem Statement

As a new team coming together to form a thriving game studio, our very first objective was to develop a captivating jigsaw puzzle game. To do this, we needed to establish an effective collaboration process so that we could create seamless and intuitive navigation, menu, and currency systems that would enhance the user experience and ensure enjoyable progression throughout the game. As our plans evolved, we also recognized the need to rethink Facebook's sharing feature and how it would be used to promote player acquisition without overwhelming players' social networks with unwanted game invitations.

Target Audience

Our research team's initial insights revealed that a vast majority of Facebook's casual gamers were based in the US and UK, aged 18 years or older, and primarily consisted of women, though men still accounted for a significant portion of players. The research also showed that most individuals played Facebook games to fulfill their needs for relaxation, stress relief, creative expression, personal achievement, and social connection with friends and family.

Leveraging this valuable information, our team set out on developing a game that would cater to the motivations of Facebook gamers while focusing the appeal of our designs slightly more towards women aged 25-45 living in the US.

My Role

As the Senior UX Designer, I spearheaded the design process by developing the game's information architecture, wireframes, and early prototypes. I played a key role in establishing the direction of the game's visual style, including its color scheme, typography, icons, and UI elements. I also set up and facilitated playtesting and integrated feedback to ensure that the game delivered a smooth and delightful user experience.

Design Process

To ensure a clear and intuitive structure for the game and its mechanics, I mapped out gameplay loops, plotted user flows, and sketched information architectures. To maintain the team's alignment with my vision, I displayed much of this work on whiteboards in our hallways to provoke feedback from engineers, artists, animators, and senior leaders. This collaborative approach enabled us to iterate rapidly on ideas, pinpoint areas of concern, and refine our design decisions.

Image - Planning the main gameplay loopImage - Sketching user flowImage - Very rough, very early sketch of screen layoutImage - whiteboarding user flowsImage -  Whiteboard planning menu systems

Collaborating closely with the Creative Director and game artists, I helped shape the game's visual direction by creating mood boards that served as a source of inspiration and reference for the team.

We wanted the game to have a tactile quality to it, so we pulled inspiration from the activities of travel, photography, and jigsaw puzzles:
Image - Mood board textures
We also wanted the game to aesthetically harken back to the golden era of travel while also feeling contemporary and fresh:
Image - Mood board art styles

I then produced wireframes and prototypes to conceptually experience user flows, information architecture, and stylistic direction. I shared these with the team daily to collect feedback, validate design direction, and ensure the team's vision remained aligned throughout the entire process.

Image - Screenshot of early prototype exploring menu systems
Image - Screenshot of early prototype exploring gameplay transitions

After establishing the foundational architecture, I dove into visual design explorations. Drawing inspiration from our mood boards, I employed a "cast way out and reel it back in" approach. This involved incorporating multiple elements and styles before simplifying, which fostered a holistic understanding of our initial inspirations, streamlined decision-making, promoted efficient workflow, and encouraged creative experimentation. By embracing this approach, I was able to hone in on engaging and innovative design solutions while optimizing the overall design process within just a few weeks.

Image - Early visual exploration showing the "cast way out" stage of the process
Image - Visual exploration showing the "reeling it back in" stage of the process
Image - Visual exploration showing another screen from the "reeling it back in" stage of the process
Image - Visual exploration showing gameplay


I established and conducted playtests regularly, with every team member required to observe at least one session per round of testing. This collaborative approach, which involved analyzing player feedback and team observations, enabled us to identify pain points and opportunities regularly and make valuable improvements to the game experience almost daily.

Image - Observation screen for playtestingImage - Team observing playtestingImage - Notes taken from playtesting

Notable Contributions

Rewarding Players with Postcards:
After conducting playtests and receiving feedback from a significant number of participants who expressed their reluctance to play Facebook games due to concerns about spamming friends and family with unwanted game requests, I realized the need for our team to reassess our player acquisition strategy.

Collection of "Stop Sending Game Requests" memes

Rather than following these conventional examples of game share notification tactics like we had originally planned...

Image - 1st example of a conventional game share promptImage - 2nd example of a conventional game share promptImage - 3rd example of a conventional game share prompt

...I proposed implementing "Customizable Digital Postcards" as an alternative. This new feature rewarded players with the ability to send the puzzle's image, along with a personalized message, to anyone in their network after earning 3 or more stars at the end of a puzzle. By fostering stronger connections between our players and the people they cared about, this approach resulted in a positive sharing experience for everyone involved.

Players loved the digital postcards, with many finding them to be a motivating factor for continued gameplay, which ultimately contributed to the overall success of the game.

Boosting Engagement with Humorous Magazine Covers:
One of my most enjoyable contributions that I got to work on was designing the in-game magazine covers. As players moved up the ranks from amateur photographers to professional photojournalists, it was critical that the cover designs reflected the growth and improved quality of the publications they worked for. I put my creativity to the test by tailoring each design to the appropriate level of professionalism, crafting polished and captivating layouts for high-end publications and intentionally more amateurish looks for lower-tier ones. It was all about ensuring the players felt a sense of accomplishment and advancement as they progressed through the game.

Image - Screenshot of magazine display

Designing the magazine covers was an absolute joy for me. It allowed me to experiment with a wide range of visual elements, from various layouts, fonts, styles, and images, to hilarious and witty cover titles and article topics. The covers were amusing parodies of popular magazines, and the humor and satire injected into the designs had a fantastic effect on the game's postcard sharing feature. Our team found that by incorporating playful puns and cheeky innuendos into the cover designs, players were inspired to be more imaginative and expressive in the messages they wrote on the postcards, leading to an increase in player engagement and interaction.

Magazine covers - Set 01Magazine covers - Set 02Magazine covers - Set 03Magazine covers - Set 04Magazine covers - Set 05Magazine covers - Set 06Magazine covers - Set 07Magazine covers - Set 08Magazine covers - Set 09Magazine covers - Set 10

The Results

The launch of 'Photo Agent' was a massive success, and it was a testament to the careful planning and execution that went into the game's development. By establishing a clear and intuitive structure, developing a unique and engaging player acquisition strategy, and fostering a playful and fun experience, our team created a truly enjoyable game that appealed to a wide range of gamers.

In addition, the design and development processes of 'Photo Agent' served as a steppingstone for our studio, allowing us to expand beyond building Facebook games and venture into creating experiences for mobile and console platforms. The collaborative and inclusive approach taken during the game's development solidified several UX activities as standard procedures for our game development processes going forward. Regularly seeking out the team's feedback and keeping everyone informed throughout the design process ensured a strong shared vision, fostering involvement and alignment while navigating the four stages of group development - forming, storming, norming, and performing - with ease. Despite not being commercially promoted, 'Photo Agent' stands as a testament to the power of meticulous planning and execution in crafting an engaging and enjoyable game experience.


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