As mentioned in previous updates, we’re overhauling our virtual tabletop. The first stage of the redesign is opt-in and will begin releasing in Q2 of this year. Let’s break down the research and testing that went into this project.

Since Roll20’s inception over a decade ago, we have always made it our mission to bring the best virtual tabletop experience to our users. We wanted to provide a safe space for people to reconnect with friends and family (or make new ones) all over the world by way of a virtual tabletop. When COVID-19 hit in 2020, we saw an influx of people needing a virtual space to continue their adventures more than ever before and Roll20 was more than happy to be that solution to people. But with this great influx of people, there were demands and expectations that our VTT was not meeting at the time, especially around modernization and ease of use.

When I joined Roll20 as the UX & Product Design Lead in 2021, one of my first goals upon my entry was setting up the vision for Roll20’s future, which first foremost, started with the VTT. The VTT was outdated, to put it nicely. This was in both overall user experience, user interface, and lack of features that would make a virtual experience stand out from in-person play. This, of course, did not do any favors for players or GMs who were new to the TTRPG space in general. Let’s take you all through a journey around the user research side behind the VTT rework redesign that will land in the near future.

First, I’ll start with the problem statement. Our overall problem was the following: How might we create a VTT that feels modern and intuitive, reducing the learning curve to players and everyday GM labor? In order to attack this problem, we defined the following overarching goals:

  1. Less Menus, More Suggestions. To provide not only guidance and learnability through suggestions and auto-correction of mistakes, but providing users only what they need based on their intention at any given time.
  2. Simplification. The current VTT contains a lot of repetitive actions. Enable the user to do the same thing in fewer steps.
  3. Automation. The current VTT is very manual in nature. We wanted to streamline things like assigning tokens, having settings carry over from action to action, and much more.
  4. Player view vs GM View. Currently, the player side of the VTT looks almost identical to the GM side. We want GMs to have a guided way to build their games through menus unique to their role, while players should have an area focused on how they play the game.

These are quite ambitious goals, right? We started attacking our problem statement and goals by way of a Design Sprint. For those unfamiliar with a design sprint, a Design Sprint is a unique four or five day process for validating ideas and solving big challenges through prototyping and testing ideas with users. Basically, we took a giant goal and came up with something tangible in a matter of a week, which provides a starting vision for what the VTT could be in the future.

However, the VTT is a massive platform with so many intricacies. A design sprint alone does not provide a full solution by itself, it’s only a stepping stone to something greater. So, what was the next step?

We needed to do some basic user research.

The first step was gathering passive quantitative data via surveys on how people felt about the current offerings across the Roll20 VTT.

Summary: 32% of users who were surveyed said that the VTT would benefit the most from a visual redesign. 41% of users who were surveyed said that the VTT would benefit the most from a user experience rework to improve ease of use. 59% of users who were surveyed said that the VTT would benefit the most from adding additional features to improve quality of life and speed of actions.

In conjunction with this, we conducted interviews with real users, who consisted of the following: Experienced GMs and New GMs. We decided to start with these folks first because they are the ones who breathe life into new games. We needed to understand their pain points first, in order to understand their player’s pain points fully.

Here is just a (very small) snapshot of our gathered insights based on observations in our interviews.

We categorized our insights based on thematic problems within the current VTT and we pulled out opportunities as a result of seeing these problems all grouped together to let us see the bigger picture.

Now that we had our data to give us a good foundation to work off of, we needed to approach this problem iteratively. So how do we approach this problem with iterative solutions over time, without skipping a beat?

One word: Milestones.

We broke down the current VTT and its features into Milestones. Now that we had insights and opportunities that we pulled from our user research, we were able to really define these milestones. Each of these milestones represents a group of features that have a related theme. For example, our first Milestone was themed: lower learning curve, faster game building. This consisted of attacking base building blocks of VTT, such as the toolbar and the layer system, for example. We did this across the entire VTT, theming and grouping all of the current features (while also identifying new ones to bring in).

The Roll20 design team has been hard at work designing items in milestone 1 and beyond. In the near future, we will show you all the full designs for these items in Milestone 1, but for this post, we want to focus on the improvements we discovered when we tested the designs.

A good design is nothing without proof. We tested a decent size group of real users who were asked to complete a series of tasks. We asked them to do the same tasks within the current version of the VTT and the new version of VTT. Each one of these tests had different users in them, to make sure that the results were completely unbiased.

Here is an example of one of our test results, where we asked users to place a map down on both the current VTT and the redesigned version.

Current VTT:

New VTT:

Summary: We went from a time on task rate of 55.8 seconds from the current VTT to 16 seconds of the new VTT. Average success rate was increased from 13% to a whopping 94%! Misclicks decreased from 63% to 25% using the new design.

We will also be continuing to do these types of tests for every single future milestone, so that we can make sure that what we are designing will be loved by you all.

The design team at Roll20 makes data based decisions for every idea we create. The designs we make go through rigorous testing and iterations to make sure we can continue to stick to our promise of being the best VTT in the space.

Brittany Vick UX & Product Design Lead