Obviously, supporting the retelling of experiences is important. After all if you’re offering a cool product or service, you want others to know about it. A passionate user is probably your best advocate. It only makes sense for you to create easy ways for her to share her experiences with others. It can also deepen a user’s own experience — making the product or service part of a story wherein she is kicking ass can create a positive feedback loop.
Games have picked up on this, of course. They’ve employed numerous ways for users to retell their play-sessions. In Rules of Play, Salen and Zimmerman list a number of them:
The replay — found in racing games for instance — literally replays the actions of the player after she completes a track, stage or level. Sometimes this is done in ways that wouldn’t be practical in the game itself1 in all cases it is done in a way that fits the feel of the game, the experience the game aims for.
Other games take this one step further and allow players to control the view of the replay themselves. They’ll also allow users to redistribute the recording of their actions. Doom did this, it was called the recam.
A logical progression is found in the machinima phenomenon, where the play of a game takes a back-seat to the retelling of play, effectively making the game a tool for personal creative expression. A famous example are the many soap opera episodes produced by players of The Sims.
Finally, with the advent of more embodied interactions in gaming there’s an upsurge of online videos of game-play. Having an embodied interface makes it much easier for bystanders to ‘read’ what’s going on, effectively opening the way for play to become like performance2.
How does this translate to the design of user experiences in digital and physical products? I think there are a few things that are important in the retelling of experiences:
The protagonist is the user, not your product. Your product or service is the enabler for the user to look cool in a story.
The way in which you enable retelling should be well-integrated with the experience you’re aiming for. The recam made sense for Doom because it allowed players to boast about their achievements.
You don’t have to create all the storytelling tools yourself. You should try to play nice with the stuff that’s already out there, such as pod-casting services, video-blogging tools, sketch-casting, photo-sharing etc.
Have good examples of products and services that help their users tell stories about their experiences? Let me know in the comments!
For instance using different camera angles, lenses or filters for a more dramatic look. [↩]
Following up on an earlier post about short-session games here are some comments on a recent Gamasutra article by Ian Bogost (it’ll be in the link post for tomorrow). It’s titled ‘Casual As In Sex, Not Casual As In Friday’ and in it Bogost argues there is quite a bit of unexplored space in the casual games domain.
In the article, Bogost points out that casual games are usually seen as easy to learn but hard to master, like Go. They are commonly cheap (or at least cheaper than typical console and PC titles) and easy to get. Finally, control of the game is often simple and limited to few inputs. (Bogost recommends only using the mouse on the PC, I wonder what he’d recommend on a mobile…one button?)
Bogost points out that a typical casual game-play session might be short, but that the overall model of casual gaming (both the distribution and the game mechanics) actually encourage repeated play over a long period of time whereby a player achieves an increasingly higher level of mastery of the game (which arguably is the antithesis of casualness.)
What we rarely see are games that are explicitly created to be played once and never revisited. Bogost mentions September 12th and Zidane Head-Butt as prototypes for these types of casual games.
This is all very interesting to me because in a current project I have been discussing this notion of snack-sized games quite a lot. I am convinced there is a market for games that are consumed once and are then discarded, but there are some challenges to overcome. Bogost mentions these as well: They need to be ridiculously simple to access, as cheap as possible (ideally free) and instantly learnable.
One point Bogost doesn’t raise is: Who will feel compelled to create these games? Because game creation always involves some effort, typical game developers might not see much profit in releasing their games into the wild for free. What’s in it for them? I think the key there is the democratization of game creation. Giving ordinary users fun tools to create these short-session, snack-sized, casual-as-in-sex games as a form of personal expression.
I thought I’d post a short summary of the argument I made in my Euro IA Summit 2007 talk, for those who weren’t there and/or are too lazy to actually go through the notes in the slides. The presentation is basically broken up into three parts:
Future web environments are becoming so complex, they start to show emergent properties. In this context a lot of traditional IA practice doesn’t make sense anymore. Instead of directly designing an information space, you’re better off designing the rules that underly the generative construction of such spaces.
IAs tend to argue for the value of their designs based solely on how well they support users in achieving their end goals. I propose supporting experience goals is just as important. From there I try to make the case that any powerful experience is a playful one, where the user’s fun follows from the feeling that he or she is learning new stuff, is kicking ass, is in flow.
Game design is not black magic (anymore). In recent years a lot has become understood about how games work. They are built up out of game mechanics that each follow a pattern of action, simulation, feedback and modelling. Designing playful IAs means taking care that you encourage discovery, support exploration and provide feedback on mastery.
I’ve just finished reading an excellent series of post by two video game journalists on the apparent revival of short-session games. (What’s not to love about an article that finishe by asserting that Desktop Tower Defense beats BioShock at its own mechanic?) It’ll be in tomorrow’s link post but here’s the link anyway. Being involved with a casual gaming project myself lately, I’ve spent a some time thinking about what the design challenges for this sub-genre are. In other words: what make short-session games hard to pull off? I think it breaks down to these things:
You need to get the player in flow as soon as possible. This means you can’t bother him with lengthy intros (or even menus). It also means the game’s mechanics should be as self-explanatory as possible. I’m reminded of the first time I started up Elite Beat Agents the other day and was given a super-short tutorial on how to play the game, then was dumped into the action right away (this is good).
No stories please. Short-session gaming forces you to design for play, not for narrative (as it should be, in my opinion). It’s about giving the player an engaging activity and interesting choices, nothing more.
Traditional distribution models make no sense for small games. Luckily, we now have network connectivity on virtually all gaming devices (not to mention PCs and mobile phones). The wait is for an open platform for game developers to experiment on while at the same time being able to make a buck. But even now, networked marketplaces on consoles have encouraged experimentation.
The visual layer does not have to be retro. Although most short-session game experiences remind us of the good old games from the beginning days of electronic gaming, there’s no reason why these games should look retro.
Throw some of that processing at the rules, not the visuals. Short-session, small and simple don’t necessarily mean crude. Don’t go all-out on my 4th point’s visuals without forgetting about all the cool complex behaviours you can create with today’s processors.
There’s much more to think and talk about, but I think these are the highlights. Particularly getting people into flow ASAP and coupling this with interesting distribution mechanisms is I think worth some more discussion.
I’m still trying to get a grip on why I think games are such a good reference point for IAs and IxDs. I’ll try to take another stab at it in this post. Previously I wrote about how games might be a good way to ‘sell’ algorithmic architectures to your client. Even if you’re not actively pushing your clients to adopt ideas such as on-the-fly creation of site navigation, sooner or later I’m convinced you’ll find yourself confronted with a project where you’re not asked to develop a definitive information architecture. Instead you’ll be charged with the task to come up with mechanisms to generate these procedurally. When this is this case, you’re truly facing a second-order design problem. How can games help here?
One of the defining characteristics of games are their complexity. A few years ago Ben Cerveny gave a brilliant talk on play (MP3) at Reboot 7.0 and mentioned this specifically — that much of the pleasure derived from game-play is the result of the player coming to terms with complex patterns. This complexity is something different from pure randomness and most certainly different from a ‘mere’ state machine. In other words, games show emergence.
There are many examples of emergent systems. The Game of Life springs to mind. This system isn’t really a game but shows a remarkable richness in patterns, despite (or maybe because of) the fact that it is based on a set of deceptively simple rules (which apparently took its creator, John Conway, over 2 years to perfect!) The thing is though, The Game of Life is not interactive.
A wonderful example of a complex emergent system that is interactive is the real game Go. It has a set of very simple rules, but playing it well takes a huge amount of practice. The joy of playing Go for me (an absolute beginner) is largely due to discovering the many different permutations play can go through.
So getting back to my earlier remark: If you’re convinced you’ll need to get a better handle on solving the second-order design problems presented by the design of complex emergent systems, games are an excellent place to start learning. They are emergent first and interactive second, the perfect twin to the web environments we’ll be shaping in the future.
I’ve been trying to regularly post some thoughts on the topic of playful IA here. Previously I blogged about how games could be a useful frame for thinking about complex algorithmic architectures. Last week I posted some thoughts on the application of game mechanics in web apps. There, Rahul was kind enough to point me to the fascinating blog of ‘Danc’ , titled Lost Garden, where there is one post in particular that resonates with my own pre-occupations lately.
In ‘Short thoughts on games and interaction design’ (which honestly isn’t that short) Danc looks at some of the ways game design techniques can be applied to the interaction design of web apps. In summary, according to Danc game design techniques allow you to:
Create an engaging experience that goes beyond simply completing a task efficiently.
Support free and deep exploration and introduce and teach new interactions that violate conventions.
Some things you shouldn’t borrow from games without giving it a lot of thought are:
These are some of the things most people think of first as characteristic of games but really, they are only surface, superficial, not determinant of the actual interactivity of the system.
I think one of the greatest arguments for a deeper understanding of games by interaction designers, information architects and other user experience specialists is that they are the medium that is all about the aesthetics of interactivity. It is true that they have no utilitarian character, they aim to create a pleasurable experience through systems of risks and rewards, restraints and freedoms, nested feedback loops and on and on. As a UX practitioner, it can never hurt to have a deep appreciation of the aesthetics of the medium you work in daily (beyond simply supporting user goals, or selling product, or whatever).
A while ago there was a discussion on the IAI members list about game mechanics on web sites. Andrew Hinton pointed to the Google Image Labeler and LinkedIn’s ‘profile completeness’ status bar and asked: “Can anyone else think of a use of a game mechanic like this to jump-start this kind of activity?” (Where “this kind of activity” is basically defined as something people wouldn’t normally do for its own sake, like say tagging images.)
I was thinking about this for a while the past week and seem to have ended up at the following:
On LinkedIn, having a (more or less complete) profile presumably serves some extrinsic goal. I mean, by doing so you maybe hope you’ll land a new job more easily. By slapping a status bar onto the profile that gives feedback on its completeness, the assumption is that this will stimulate you to fill it out. In other words, LinkedIn seems unsure about the presence of extrinsic motivations and is introducing an intrinsic one: getting a 100% ‘complete’ profile and as such making a game (in a very loose sense of the term) out of its professional network service. A good idea? I’m not sure…
On Google Image Labeler, the starting point for its design was to come up with a way to have people add meta-data to images. Google actually ‘bought’ the game (originally called The ESP Game) from CAPTCHA inventor Luis von Ahn, who before that did reCAPTCHA and after went on to create Peekaboom and Phetch. Anyway, in the case of the Image Labeler (contrary to LinkedIn) there was no real extrinsic goal to begin with so a game had to be created. Simply having fun is the only reason people have when labelling images.
Note that Flickr for instance has found other ways to get people to tag images. What happened there is (I think) a very nice way of aligning extrinsic goals with intrinsic (fun, game-like) ones.
‘Pure’ games by their very nature have only intrinsic goals, they are artificial and non-utilitarian. When you consider introducing game-like mechanics into your web site or application (which presumably serves some external purpose, like sharing photos) think carefully about the extrinsic motivations your users will have and come up with game-like intrinsic ones that reinforce these.
One of the concepts I plan on exploring in my talk at the Euro IA Summit in Barcelona is ‘possibility spaces’. It’s a term used by Will Wright to describe his view of what a game can be — a space that offers multiple routes and outcomes to its explorer. That idea maps nicely with one definition of play that Zimmerman and Salen offer in Rules of Play: ‘free movement within a rigid structure’. Some examples of possibility spaces created by Wright are the well-known games Sim City and The Sims.
I think the idea of possibility spaces can help IAs to get a firmer grip on ways to realize information spaces that are multi-dimensional and (to use a term put forward by Jesse James Garrett) algorithmic. Algorithmic architectures according to Garrett are created ‘on the fly’ based on a set of rules (algorithms) that get their input (ideally) from user behaviour. The example he uses to explain this concept is Amazon.
I’ve found myself in several projects recently that would have benefited from an algorithmic approach. The hard thing is to explain its charms to clients and to get a unified vision of what it means across to the design team. I believe games might be a useful analogy. What do you think?
So I’ve been busy uploading stuff. The slides to my Reboot 9.0 talk are up at SlideShare. I uploaded a video recorded by Iskander with his N70 to Vimeo. Finally, since SlideShare still doesn’t import the notes that go with the slides in PowerPoint, I’ve also put up a big PDF (almost 50 MB). Please refer to the notes in the PDF for all the Flickr photo credits too.
I’ve just submitted my proposal for a talk at Reboot 9.0. It’s on the three areas I am most fascinated with at the moment: mobile, social software and gaming/play. After attending this great conference twice it’d be really cool to get the opportunity to present there.1
Take a look at it and let me know what you think2, I’d love to get some feedback up-front so I can maybe work that in there. What do you want to know about this topic?