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

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. []

More than useful — outline of my Interaction 08 talk

Illustration from children's book

A while back I was hap­py to hear that my sub­mis­sion for Inter­ac­tion 08 is accept­ed. This will be the first con­fer­ence organ­ised by the IxDA. Obvi­ous­ly I’m proud to be part of that. I’ll prob­a­bly be build­ing my talk a post at a time on this blog, more or less like I did with the one for the Euro IA Sum­mit of this year. If you’re won­der­ing wether it’ll be worth fol­low­ing along, let me out­line the argu­ment I made in my sub­mis­sion:

There’s a gen­er­a­tion of ‘users’ expect­ing their dig­i­tal and phys­i­cal prod­ucts to be cus­tomiz­able, per­son­al­ize-able and re-com­bin­able. These users explore the poten­tial of these 3C prod­ucts through play. This is why I think it’s worth­while for inter­ac­tion design­er to get a bet­ter under­stand­ing of how to design for open-end­ed play. Obvi­ous­ly, it makes sense to do some shop­ping around in the the­o­ries of our col­leagues in game design. Why should design­ers both­er? Play­ful prod­ucts have deeply engaged users that can’t stop telling sto­ries about their expe­ri­ences with them.

The focus of this talk is firm­ly on design­ing sto­ries that emerge through play and enabling the retelling of those play expe­ri­ences.

Like I said, I’ll dive deep­er into these top­ics in the com­ing peri­od. If you have any views of your own on this — or use­ful resources that you think I should check out — do let me know.

Update: Today the full con­fer­ence pro­gram was announced and my name is actu­al­ly on there. The pro­gram looks real­ly cool, and I’m real­ly hap­py to see some talks relat­ed to mine in there as well. See you in Savan­nah!