Slides and summary for ‘More Than Useful’

Update: The video and slides are now avail­able on the con­fer­ence site.

The con­fer­ence From Busi­ness to But­tons 2008 aimed to bring togeth­er the worlds of busi­ness and inter­ac­tion design. I was there to share my thoughts on the applic­a­bil­i­ty of game design con­cepts to inter­ac­tion design. You’ll find my slides and a sum­ma­ry of my argu­ment below.

I real­ly enjoyed attend­ing this con­fer­ence. I met a bunch of new and inter­est­ing peo­ple and got to hang out with some ‘old’ friends. Many thanks to InUse for invit­ing me.

Diagram summarizing my FBTB 2008 talk

The top­ic is pret­ty broad so I decid­ed to nar­row things down to a class of prod­uct that is oth­er-than-every­day — mean­ing both wide and deep in scope. Using Norman’s The Design of Every­day Things as a start­ing point, I want­ed to show that these prod­ucts require a high lev­el of explorabil­i­ty that is remark­ably sim­i­lar to play. After briefly exam­in­ing the phe­nom­e­non of play itself I moved on to show appli­ca­tions of this under­stand­ing to two types of prod­uct: cus­tomiz­able & per­son­al­iz­able ones, and adap­tive ones.

For the for­mer, I dis­cussed how game design frame­works such as MDA can help with sculpt­ing the para­me­ter space, using ‘expe­ri­ence’ as the start­ing point. I also looked at how games sup­port play­ers in shar­ing sto­ries and spec­u­lat­ed about ways this can be trans­lat­ed to both dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal prod­ucts.

For the lat­ter — adap­tive prod­ucts — I focussed on the ways in which they induce flow and how they can rec­om­mend stuff to peo­ple. With adap­ta­tion, design­ers need to for­mu­late rules. This can be done using tech­niques from game design, such as Daniel Cook’s skill chains. Suc­cess­ful rules-based design can only hap­pen in an iter­a­tive envi­ron­ment using lots of sketch­ing.

The pre­sen­ta­tion was framed by a slight­ly philo­soph­i­cal look at how cer­tain games sub­lim­i­nal­ly acti­vate cog­ni­tive process­es and could thus be used to allow for new insights. I used Break­out and Por­tal as exam­ples of this. I am con­vinced there is an emerg­ing field of play­ful prod­ucts that inter­ac­tion design­ers should get involved with.

Sources ref­er­enced in this pre­sen­ta­tion:1

As usu­al, many thanks to all the Flickr pho­tog­ra­phers who’ve shared their images under a CC license. I’ve linked to the orig­i­nals from the slides. Any image not linked to is prob­a­bly mine.

  1. Most of these are offline books or papers, those that aren’t have been hyper­linked to their source. []

Adaptive design and transformative play

2006APR201648 by bootload on Flickr

Allow­ing peo­ple to change parts of your prod­uct is play­ful. It has also always ‘just’ seemed like a good thing to do to me. You see this with with peo­ple who become pas­sion­ate about a thing they use often: They want to take it apart, see how it works, put it back togeth­er again, maybe add some stuff, replace some­thing else… I’ve always liked the idea of pas­sion­ate peo­ple want­i­ng to change some­thing about a thing I designed. And it’s always been a dis­ap­point­ment when I’d find out that they did not, or worse—wanted to but weren’t able to.

Appar­ent­ly this is what peo­ple call adap­tive design. But if you Google that, you won’t find much. In fact, there’s remark­ably lit­tle writ­ten about it. I was put on the term’s trail by Matt Webb and from there found my way to Dan Hill’s site. There’s a lot on the top­ic there, but if I can rec­om­mend one piece it’s the inter­view he did for Dan Saffer’s book on inter­ac­tion design. Read it. It’s full of won­der­ful ideas artic­u­lat­ed 100 times bet­ter than I’ll ever be able to.

So why is adap­tive design con­ducive to the play­ful­ness of a user expe­ri­ence? I’m not sure. One aspect of it might be the fact that as a design­er you explic­it­ly relin­quish some con­trol over the final expe­ri­ence peo­ple have with your…stuff.1 As Matt Webb not­ed in an end-of-the-year post, in stead of say­ing to peo­ple: “Here’s some­thing I made. Go on—play with it.” You say: “Here’s some­thing I made—let’s play with it togeth­er.”

This makes a lot of sense if you don’t think of the thing under design as some­thing that’ll be con­sumed but some­thing that will be used to cre­ate. It sounds easy but again is sur­pris­ing­ly hard. It’s like we have been infect­ed with this hard-to-kill idea that makes us think we can only con­sume where­as we are actu­al­ly all very much cre­ative beings.2 I think that’s what Gen­er­a­tion C is real­ly about.

A side­track: In dig­i­tal games, for a long time devel­op­ments have been towards games as media that can be con­sumed. The real changes in dig­i­tal games are: One—there’s a renewed inter­est in games as activ­i­ties (par­tic­u­lar­ly in the form of casu­al games). And two—there’s an increase in games that allow them­selves to be changed in mean­ing­ful ways. These devel­op­ments make the term “replay val­ue” seem ready for extinc­tion. How can you even call some­thing that isn’t inter­est­ing to replay a game?3

In Rules of Play, Salen and Zim­mer­man describe the phe­nom­e­non of trans­for­ma­tive play—where the “free move­ment with­in a more rigid struc­ture” changes the men­tioned struc­ture itself (be it intend­ed or not). They hold it as one of the most pow­er­ful forms of play. Think of a sim­ple house rule you made up the last time you played a game with some friends. The fact that on the web the rules that make up the struc­tures we designed are cod­i­fied in soft­ware should not be an excuse to dis­al­low peo­ple to change them.

That’s true lit­er­a­cy: When you can both read and write in a medi­um (as Alan Kay would have it). I’d like to enable peo­ple to do that. It might be hope­less­ly naive, but I don’t care—it’s a very inter­est­ing chal­lenge.

  1. That’s a com­fort­able idea to all of the—cough—web 2.0 savvy folk out there. But it cer­tain­ly still is an uncom­fort­able thought to many. And I think it’d sur­prise you to find out how many peo­ple who claim to be “hip to the game” will still refuse to let go. []
  2. Note I’m not say­ing we can all be design­ers, but I do think peo­ple can all cre­ate mean­ing­ful things for them­selves and oth­ers. []
  3. Yes, I am a ludol­o­gist. So shoot me. []

My GDC Mobile 2008 proposal: accepted!

Mobile gaming by Kokeshi on Flickr

It doesn’t say so on the site yet, but I am on the pro­gram for next year’s GDC Mobile.1 Yes­ter­day I got the email that my talk — titled Design­ing a Casu­al Social Gam­ing Expe­ri­ence for Gen­er­a­tion C — has been accept­ed. To be hon­est I was quite sur­prised. I work in the blur­ry over­lap of the inter­ac­tion design and game design fields, have no actu­al game titles under my belt and pro­posed a weird sub­ject to boot. Who in their right mind would invite me to speak? Of course I am also real­ly excit­ed about this. GDC is the pro­fes­sion­al event for the games indus­try so I’m hon­ored to be part of it.2

My talk will be close­ly relat­ed to the things I’ve been work­ing on for Playy­oo. I’ll dis­cuss how short-ses­sion mobile games and a web based meta-game can inter­con­nect to cre­ate a social game expe­ri­ence that allows dif­fer­ent lev­els of play­er engage­ment. I’ll look at the ways you can align your game design with the expec­ta­tions of Gen­er­a­tion C: cus­tomiza­tion & per­son­al­iza­tion, recom­bi­na­tion and con­nect­ed­ness. I might post the extend­ed abstract some­time in the future, for now I’m just won­der­ing: Who else is going to GDC? What would you like to see me dis­cuss?

Update: The con­fer­ence site has been updat­ed, here’s the descrip­tion of my ses­sion.

  1. Don’t be scared by the big Orc in the head­er of their site. []
  2. Now I just need to fig­ure out whether trav­el­ing to the US twice in one month is a fea­si­ble under­tak­ing. []