Designing a mobile social gaming experience for Gen-C

Update 21-03-2008: I’ve added some images of slides to allow for some more con­text when read­ing the text.

This is a rough tran­script of my lec­ture at GDC Mobile 2008. In short: I first briefly intro­duce the con­cept of expe­ri­ence design and sys­tems and then show how this influ­ences my views of mobile casu­al games. From there I dis­cuss the rela­tion of casu­al games with the trend Gen­er­a­tion C. Wrap­ping up, I give an overview of some social design frame­works for the web that are equal­ly applic­a­ble to mobile social gam­ing. As a bonus I give some thoughts on mobile game sys­tems mobile metagames. The talk is illus­trat­ed through­out with a case study of Playy­oo—a mobile games com­mu­ni­ty I helped design.

  • I’ve includ­ed a slight­ly adjust­ed ver­sion of the orig­i­nal slides—several screen­shot sequences of Playy­oo have been tak­en out for file size rea­sons.
  • If you absolute­ly must have audio, I’m told you will be able to pur­chase (!) a record­ing from GDC Radio some­time soon.
  • I’d like to thank every­one who came up to me after­wards for con­ver­sa­tion. I appre­ci­ate the feed­back I got from you.
  • Sev­er­al aspects of Playy­oo that I use as exam­ples (such as the game stream) were already in place before I was con­tract­ed. Cred­its for many design aspects of Playy­oo go to David Mantripp, Playyoo’s chief archi­tect.
  • And final­ly, the views expressed here are in many ways an amal­ga­ma­tion of work by oth­ers. Where pos­si­ble I’ve giv­en cred­it in the talk and oth­er­wise linked to relat­ed resources.

That’s all the notes and dis­claimers out of the way, read on for the juice (but be warned, this is pret­ty long).

Con­tin­ue read­ing Design­ing a mobile social gam­ing expe­ri­ence for Gen-C

Finding playful patterns at dConstruct 2007

Fortune cookie with design wisdom and dConstruct 2007 bag

I didn’t announce it on this blog, but if you’re fol­low­ing me on Twit­ter or Jaiku, took a look at the Upcom­ing event page or share trips with me on Dopplr you’re prob­a­bly aware that I attend­ed dCon­struct 2007 in Brighton.

By way of a short con­fer­ence report I’d like to list some of the ref­er­ences to games and play that jumped out at me dur­ing the day. It might be that I’m slow­ly but sure­ly going a lit­tle crazy or that have real­ly dis­cov­ered the secret order of the uni­verse, but either way I was pleas­ant­ly sur­prised that most talks sug­gest­ed that suc­cess­ful expe­ri­ence design ben­e­fits from an under­stand­ing of the dynam­ics of play. Here goes:

  1. Game design is a sec­ond order design prob­lem, mean­ing you can­not direct­ly design the expe­ri­ence of play but only the ‘stuff’ that facil­i­tates it. Jared Spool point­ed out that suc­cess­ful expe­ri­ence design is invis­i­ble, it’s only when it’s done wrong that we notice it. This makes good expe­ri­ence design hard to sell, and I would say the same goes for great game design.
  2. The prac­tice of game design is very much a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary one, with a lot of spe­cial­ties on board. Sim­i­lar­ly, there is no way you’ll be able to do good expe­ri­ence design when you use a relay-race-like pro­ces. You need to have peo­ple from a lot of dif­fer­ent back­grounds solv­ing prob­lems col­lab­o­ra­tive­ly (or a few peo­ple who can do a lot of dif­fer­ent stuff real­ly well.) Jared Spool briefly point­ed this out, Leisa Reichelt gave a lot of good sug­ges­tions on how to facil­i­tate this with wash­ing-machine method­olo­gies and Tom Coates fin­ished his talk encour­ag­ing cross-dis­ci­pli­nary col­lab­o­ra­tion too.
  3. Because good expe­ri­ence design (like game design) is a sec­ond order design prob­lem, and it can only be done mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary, you can only do it in an iter­a­tive and incre­men­tal way. Good games get play-test­ed to death to ensure they’re fun, good expe­ri­ences (on the web or wher­ev­er) need the same treat­ment. Leisa Reichelt had some inter­est­ing ideas on how to actu­al­ly pull this off: Intro­duc­ing UX to Agile, by hav­ing design and devel­op­ment teams both work­ing in the same rhythm, but han­dling dif­fer­ent stuff in their own iter­a­tions, with a lot of hand-over and com­mu­ni­ca­tion back and forth. Well worth try­ing out I think.
  4. More thoughts on the invis­i­ble nature of expe­ri­ence was pro­vid­ed by Peter Mer­holz, who used a quote from Tim O’Reilly: “Design­ing from the out­side in”. Start with the UI and then fig­ure out the data and log­ic. I wouldn’t equate user expe­ri­ence with user inter­face (because — again — the expe­ri­ence can­not be direct­ly designed) but I think it’s a good quote nonethe­less. I liked Merholz’s empha­sis on the impor­tance of an expe­ri­ence vision most of all.
  5. I was great to hear Denise Wilton and George Oates talk about B3ta and Flickr. A lot of peo­ple are prob­a­bly aware of the gamey ori­gins of Flickr but it was enlight­en­ing to final­ly see some of it on the big screen. It came as no sur­prise to hear that Ludi­corp’s process in mak­ing Flickr was very much wash­ing-machine style (although they did 0 user test­ing for a long time!)
  6. Matt Webb was per­haps the speak­er who most explic­it­ly drew par­al­lels between game design and expe­ri­ence design. (He men­tioned Raph Koster’s A The­o­ry of Fun, for instance.) He also point­ed out that cus­tomi­sa­tion is vital to any expe­ri­ence, that a prod­uct should be able to recom­bine with oth­ers in its ecosys­tem, as well as allow for per­son­al­i­sa­tion. Both cus­tomi­sa­tion and per­son­al­i­sa­tion encour­age play. Tom Coates lat­er men­tioned some­thing very sim­i­lar — that your prod­uct (which as he was eager to point out is more than just your web­site) should be re-com­bin­able and extend­able with and by oth­ers.
  7. One of the major themes in inter­ac­tion and game design for me is behav­iour, the way prod­ucts encour­age behav­iour in their users and the kinds of behav­iours they have embed­ded in them­selves. Matt Webb also men­tioned that peo­ple love to tell sto­ries about the expe­ri­ences they’ve had. This is very true of gam­ing, which is all about verbs, actions, doing stuff. Game design is not sto­ry­telling, the sto­ry­telling hap­pens after the game.
  8. I had com­plete­ly for­got­ten about Dis­co, the CD burn­ing app with sim­u­lat­ed smoke effects that serve no pur­pose besides play. So thanks to Matt Webb I now have an exam­ple to com­ple­ment the Wii Help Cat! (Come to think of it, the dis­cus­sions sur­round­ing Sta­men Design’s Twit­ter Blocks might be anoth­er good one.)

In con­clu­sion, I think it’s great that Clear­left used this year’s edi­tion to intro­duce the web devel­op­ment com­mu­ni­ty to the won­der­ful world of expe­ri­ence design. I was also very hap­py to see a few peo­ple on stage I had not seen present before, but knew had a lot of good stuff to say. The pre- and after-par­ty were both a lot of fun (thanks to Media Tem­ple, Yahoo! Devel­op­er Net­work and the BBC for spon­sor­ing those with free drink and food.) And if you’re curi­ous, I under­stand there will be pod­casts of all the ses­sions online soon, so keep an eye on the site.

Reboot 9.0 day 2

(Wait­ing for my train home to arrive, I final­ly have the oppor­tu­ni­ty to post this.)

So with Reboot 9.0 and the after-par­ty done, I think I’ll briefly write up my impres­sions of the sec­ond day.

Stowe Boyd — Good talk as always, offer­ing a new def­i­n­i­tion of ‘flow’. I guess his attempt to have peo­ple open them­selves up to the ben­e­fi­cial sides of being inter­mit­tent­ly con­nect­ed was a suc­cess.

Marko Ahti­saari — Inter­est­ing char­ac­ter with a good sto­ry to tell. His free mobile oper­a­tor for teenagers scheme made a lot of peo­ple curi­ous. (Free stuff always does that, it seems.)

Lee Bryant — Very fit­ting to the theme of human?, a touch­ing sto­ry of how for­mer inhab­i­tants of a Bosn­ian town used social soft­ware to recon­nect and rebuild the town.

Julian Bleeck­er — Cool stuff on new ways to inter­act with com­put­ing tech­nol­o­gy beyond the util­i­tar­i­an and effi­cient, into the realm of play.

Dave Win­er — An inter­est­ing char­ac­ter hav­ing a nice con­ver­sa­tion with Thomas. I enjoyed his off­beat remarks and dry wit.

Guy Dick­in­son — Anoth­er round of micro­p­re­sen­ta­tions, this time with me par­tic­i­pat­ing. I stum­bled sev­er­al times. Next time I’ll pre­pare a cus­tom talk for this. The oth­er pre­sen­ters were awe­some.

Ras­mus Fleis­ch­er and Mag­nus Eriks­son — Two cool young anar­chists with inter­est­ing ideas about file shar­ing and the future of music. Too bad large parts of their pre­sen­ta­tion were read from a sheet.

Leisa Reichelt — A care­ful­ly put togeth­er overview of ambi­ent inti­ma­cy, what it is and what it’s for. Next step: com­ing up with design guide­lines for these types of ‘tools’.

Matt Webb — Deliv­ered on the expec­ta­tions raised by his per­for­mances pre­vi­ous years. Inter­est­ing to see him move into expe­ri­ence design ter­ri­to­ry and hear his take on it. Very much applic­a­ble to my dai­ly work in design­ing web ser­vices.

Din­ner and the after-par­ty were great (although it seemed that the reser­va­tions scheme had gone awry, they had no place for us at our cho­sen restau­rant). I guess drink­ing and talk­ing into the night at Vega with a lot of con­fused locals around was a fit­ting way to end anoth­er great Reboot.

European IAs are three years behind on their US counterparts*

War­ren Hutchin­son thinks this year’s Euro IA Sum­mit was way behind on the US big broth­er con­fer­ence in both con­tent and form. I can’t con­firm or deny this (as I’ve nev­er been to the US sum­mit) but I’d say any sum­mit is bet­ter than none, and it’s clear we’re still build­ing a prac­tice.

He also bemoans the preva­lence of con­ser­v­a­tive, ‘lit­tle IA’ think­ing and a pas­sive con­sumerist atti­tude with the major­i­ty of con­fer­ence goers. True as this may be, putting your­self on a pedestal look­ing down on those that have been less for­tu­nate than you in their devel­op­ment and expo­sure to big IA (or EA) thought is hard­ly the most pro­duc­tive path to take IMHO. Also, Hutchin­son implies he has a tighter bond to the US sum­mit and in some ways seems to deny a rela­tion­ship with the EU design com­mu­ni­ty, which I feel is a bit sus­pect and in some ways per­haps symp­to­matic of UK design thought.

I’d rather see Hutchin­son take up the chal­lenge of being an exam­ple for Euro­pean IAs, design­ers and what­not, as he did with his great pre­sen­ta­tion on work­shops (or is that work­shop on work­shops?) and not slap his eager stu­dents in the face because they haven’t yet got­ten the point entire­ly.

Just to be on the safe side: please take some of this crit­i­cism with a grain of salt. Lets have a healthy con­struc­tive dis­cus­sion.

* As you can tell I don’t agree (com­plete­ly) with this post’s title, which is inspired by one of the com­ments on Hutchinson’s post by Jonathan Mul­vi­hill.