Game mechanics in web apps

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:

Profile completeness status bar on LinkedIn

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… 

Screenshot of Google Image Labeler

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.

Update: Alper fin­ished the LinkedIn pro­file com­plete­ness game and was dis­ap­point­ed to find there is no pot of gold at the end of the rain­bow, mir­ror­ing the expe­ri­ence many play­ers of real games have when fin­ish­ing a game.

Possibility spaces and algorithmic architectures

A screenshot of Sim City.

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?

See me talk on mobile social play at Reboot 9.0

I got awe­some news the oth­er day: my pro­pos­al for a talk at Reboot 9.0 has been accept­ed. I’m very hon­oured (and a lit­tle ner­vous) to be pre­sent­ing at a con­fer­ence with so many smart atten­dees. Now to get my act togeth­er and cre­ate a kick-ass presentation. 

If you have any­thing relat­ed to this (pret­ty broad) top­ic that you’d want me to address, please do leave a note in the comments.

One thing’s for sure: I’ll try to build upon what has gone before at pre­vi­ous Reboots, such as Ben Cer­veny’s mind-blow­ing overview (MP3) of how play is essen­tial­ly becom­ing a new lan­guage for us to com­mu­ni­cate with and TL Tay­lor’s great talk on the dynam­ics of vir­tu­al worlds.

What I will be address­ing is still slight­ly unclear to me, but the direc­tion I’m head­ed is: 

  1. Games can be social play, which means they can be used to forge and exper­i­ment with social rela­tions in a ‘safe’ way. This hap­pens whether you design for it or not, but can be nurtured.
  2. When games go mobile, the bor­ders of the space and time in which a game is played are blurred. In this way, games bleed over into cul­ture in a grad­ual way.

Enough to chew on for one talk, I guess. Again, any ques­tions, com­ments and sug­ges­tions are more than wel­come. See you all at Reboot 9.0.

UX designers should get into everyware

I’ve been read­ing Adam Greenfield’s Every­ware on and off and one of the things that it has me won­der­ing the most late­ly is: are UX pro­fes­sion­als mak­ing the move to design for ubiq­ui­tous computing?

There’re sev­er­al places in the book where he explic­it­ly men­tions UX in rela­tion to every­ware. Let’s have a look at the ones I man­aged to retrieve using the book’s trusty index…

On page 14 Green­field writes that with the emer­gence of ubi­comp at the dawn of the new mil­len­ni­um, the user expe­ri­ence com­mu­ni­ty took up the chal­lenge with “vary­ing degrees of enthu­si­asm, scep­ti­cism and crit­i­cal dis­tance”, try­ing to find a “lan­guage of inter­ac­tion suit­ed to a world where infor­ma­tion pro­cess­ing would be every­where in the human environment.” 

So of course the UX com­mu­ni­ty has already start­ed con­sid­er­ing what it means to design for ubi­comp. This stuff is quite dif­fer­ent to inter­net appli­ances and web sites though, as Green­field points out in the­sis 09 (pp.37–39):

Con­sis­tent­ly elic­it­ing good user expe­ri­ences means account­ing for the phys­i­cal design of the human inter­face, the flow of inter­ac­tion between user and device, and the larg­er con­text in which that inter­ac­tion is embed­ded. In not a sin­gle one of these dimen­sions is the expe­ri­ence of every­ware any­thing like that of per­son­al com­put­ing.” (p.37)

That’s a clear state­ment, on which he elab­o­rates fur­ther on, men­tion­ing that tra­di­tion­al inter­ac­tions are usu­al­ly of a “call-and-response rhythm: user actions fol­lowed by sys­tem events.” Where­as every­ware inter­ac­tions “can’t mean­ing­ful­ly be con­struct­ed as ‘task-dri­ven.’ Nor does any­thing in the inter­play between user and sys­tem […] cor­re­spond with […] infor­ma­tion seek­ing.” (p.38)

So, UX design­ers mov­ing into every­ware have their work cut out for them. This is vir­gin territory:

[…] it is […] a rad­i­cal­ly new sit­u­a­tion that will require the devel­op­ment over time of a doc­trine and a body of stan­dards and con­ven­tions […]” (p.39)

Now, UX in tra­di­tion­al projects has been prone to what Green­field calls ‘val­ue engi­neer­ing’. Com­mer­cial projects can only be two of these three things: fast, good and cheap. UX would sup­port the sec­ond, but sad­ly it is often sac­ri­ficed for the sake of the oth­er two. Not always though, but this is usu­al­ly depen­dent on who is involved with the project:

[…] it often takes an unusu­al­ly ded­i­cat­ed, per­sis­tent, and pow­er­ful advo­cate […] to see a high-qual­i­ty design project through to com­ple­tion with every­thing that makes it excel­lent intact. […] the painstak­ing­ly detailed work of ensur­ing a good user expe­ri­ence is fre­quent­ly hard to jus­ti­fy on a short-term ROI basis, and this is why it is often one of the first things to get val­ue-engi­neered out of an extend­ed devel­op­ment process. […] we’ve seen that get­ting every­ware right will be orders of mag­ni­tude more com­pli­cat­ed than achiev­ing accept­able qual­i­ty in a Web site, […] This is not the place for val­ue engi­neers,” (p.166)

So if tra­di­tion­al projects need UX advo­cates on board with con­sid­er­able influ­ence, com­pa­ra­ble to Steve Jobs’s role at Apple, to ensure a descent user expe­ri­ence will it even be pos­si­ble to cre­ate ubiq­ui­tous expe­ri­ences that are enjoy­able to use? If these projects are so com­plex, can they be even got­ten ‘right’ in a com­mer­cial con­text? I’m sor­ry to say I think not…

Design­ers (used broad­ly) will be at the fore­front of decid­ing what every­ware looks like. If you don’t think they will, at least I’m sure they should. They’re not the only ones to deter­mine its shape though, Green­field points out that both reg­u­la­tors and mar­kets have impor­tant parts to play too (pp.172–173):

[…] the inter­lock­ing influ­ences of design­er, reg­u­la­tor, and mar­ket will be most like­ly to result in ben­e­fi­cial out­comes if these par­ties all treat every­ware as a present real­i­ty, and if the deci­sion mak­ers con­cerned act accord­ing­ly.” (p.173)

Now there’s an inter­est­ing notion. Hav­ing just come back from a pre­mier venue for the UX com­mu­ni­ty to talk about this top­ic, the IA Sum­mit, I’m afraid to say that I didn’t get the impres­sion IAs are tak­ing every­ware seri­ous­ly (yet.) There were no talks real­ly con­cerned with tan­gi­ble, per­va­sive, ubiq­ui­tous or ambi­ent tech­nolo­gies. Some basic fare on mobile web stuff, that’s all. Wor­ry­ing, because as Green­field points out:

[UX design­ers] will best be able to inter­vene effec­tive­ly if they devel­op appro­pri­ate insights, tools, and method­olo­gies ahead of the actu­al deploy­ment of ubiq­ui­tous sys­tems.” (pp.173–174)

This stuff is real, and it is here. Green­field points to the exis­tence of sys­tems such as Octo­pus in Hong Kong and E‑ZPass in the US. Hon­est­ly, if you think beyond the tools and meth­ods we’ve been using to com­mu­ni­cate our designs, IxDs and IAs are well-equipped to han­dle every­ware. No, you won’t be required to draw wire­frames or sitemaps; but you’ll damn well need to put in a lot of the think­ing design­ers do. And you’ll still need to be able to com­mu­ni­cate those designs. It’s time to get our hands dirty:

What ful­ly oper­a­tional sys­tems such as Octo­pus and E‑ZPass tell us is that pri­va­cy con­cerns, social impli­ca­tions, eth­i­cal ques­tions, and prac­ti­cal details of the user expe­ri­ence are no longer mat­ters for con­jec­ture or sup­po­si­tion. With ubiq­ui­tous sys­tems avail­able for empir­i­cal enquiry, these things we need to focus on today.” (p.217)

So, to reit­er­ate the ques­tion I start­ed with: are there any UX design­ers out there that have made the switch from web-work to ubi­comp? Any­one con­sid­er­ing it? I’d love to hear about your experiences.

Spatial metaphors in IA and game design

Look­ing at dom­i­nant metaphors in dif­fer­ent design dis­ci­plines I’m in some way involved in, it’s obvi­ous to me that most are spa­tial (no sur­pris­es there). Here’s some thoughts on how I think this is (or should be) chang­ing. Infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture tends to approach sites as infor­ma­tion spaces (although the web 2.0 hype has brought us a few ‘new’ ones, on which more lat­er.) I do a lot of IA work. I have done quite a bit of game design (and am re-enter­ing that field as a teacher now.) Some of the design­ers in that field I admire the most (such as Molyneux and Wright) approach games from a more or less spa­tial stand­point too (and not a nar­ra­tive per­spec­tive, like the vast major­i­ty do). I think it was Molyneux who said games are a series of inter­est­ing choic­es. Wright tends to call games ‘pos­si­bil­i­ty spaces’, where a play­er can explore a num­ber of dif­fer­ent solu­tions to a prob­lem, more than one of which can be viable. 

I don’t think I’m going any­where in par­tic­u­lar here, but when look­ing at IA again, as I just said, the field is cur­rent­ly com­ing to terms with new ways of look­ing at the web and web sites; the web as a net­work, web as plat­form, the web of data, and so on. Some of these might ben­e­fit from a more pro­ce­dur­al, i.e. game design-like, stance. I seem to remem­ber Jesse James Gar­rett giv­ing quite some atten­tion to what he calls ‘algo­rith­mic archi­tec­ture’ (using Ama­zon as an exam­ple) where the IA is actu­al­ly cre­at­ing some­thing akin to a pos­si­bil­i­ty space for the user to explore.

Per­haps when we see more cross-pol­li­na­tion between game design and infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture and inter­ac­tion design for the web, we’ll end up with more and more sites that are not only more like desk­top appli­ca­tions (the promise of RIA’s) but also more like games. Would­n’t that be fun and interesting?

Using concept models to design for the web of data

Flickr concept model by mApplogic

I’m lucky enough to be doing some con­cept­ing and inter­ac­tion design work for a social web site. This pre­sent­ed me with the oppor­tu­ni­ty to inte­grate some stuff I found while read­ing on social soft­ware, and the web as platform/network. Here’s how I’ve been inte­grat­ing some of it.

I was inspired by the con­cept mod­el of the Flickr ecosys­tem I saw in Luke Wrob­lewski’s pre­sen­ta­tion on social inter­ac­tion design (which was done by Bryce Glass) to try and cre­ate one myself. Coin­ci­den­tal­ly there’s a whole chap­ter in Dan Brown’s book (which Peter was smart enough to pur­chase and was lying around the office) on cre­at­ing con­cept models.

One of the things I want­ed to do is make the site play nice with the web of data. To that end, I decid­ed to apply Tom Coates’ 3 basic page types to the design of the site. So what I did was first cre­ate a con­cept mod­el (of course fol­low­ing some research of the site’s busi­ness and user goals) and then look at the nouns and verbs in the mod­el. For each noun I cre­at­ed a sin­gle object view page and a list view page. For each verb I cre­at­ed a manip­u­la­tion inter­face page. Of course, all list type pages would get RSS feeds in the even­tu­al site.

For instance if you have a mod­el that states ‘Review­er rates Book’ then you’d end up with a page for each review­er and book, a page to list review­ers, a page to list books and a manip­u­la­tion inter­face for rat­ing a book.

Doing this result­ed in a nice list of pages that I could then analyse for com­plete­ness and/or redun­dan­cy. Of course this only works if your con­cept mod­el accu­rate­ly reflects what the site should achieve. If your mod­el sucks, your list of pages will too.

Anoth­er caveat lies in the fact that a con­cept mod­el tends to be very effec­tive for map­ping the func­tion­al aspects of a site, but not very suit­able for cre­at­ing an overview of its con­tent (which is often more push ori­ent­ed). If the kind of site you’re cre­at­ing involves more infor­ma­tion archi­tec­ture than inter­ac­tion design you might want to do some addi­tion­al con­tent inven­to­ry work and fold that into the page list.

One last chal­lenge would be orga­niz­ing these pages in a coher­ent whole (beyond cou­pling lists to sin­gle items to inter­faces). I can imag­ine I’d attempt some card sort­ing to achieve that.

Final­ly, for cre­at­ing the con­cept mod­el I used the spe­cial­ized (and free) tool Cmap­Tools which is pret­ty nice in that it goes beyond visu­al­ly mod­el­ling the con­cepts but actu­al­ly track­ing the state­ments you implic­it­ly make when link­ing con­cepts to each other.

Any­one else have expe­ri­ence with try­ing to inte­grate some of the stuff Coates was talk­ing about in their design of a site?


iPhone playing The Office

There have been so many posts on the iPhone late­ly that I’ll try not to add to the noise with things that have already been said. Web design­er Jere­my Kei­th and inter­ac­tion design­er Dan Saf­fer have both tried to gath­er all the worth­while posts on the top­ic, from dif­fer­ing per­spec­tives. I’m sure they’ll make for plen­ty of (more or less inter­est­ing) reading. 

My own view is that Apple have proven once again that they’re great at inte­grat­ing tech that was already out there in a pack­age that offers a pleas­ing user expe­ri­ence. I’m curi­ous about the mul­ti-touch screen and the appar­ent ges­tur­al and tan­gi­ble inter­ac­tion it offers. I’m under­whelmed by their choice to have the device work only with Cin­gu­lar (which appar­ent­ly is kind of crap) and am curi­ous if they’ll do the same when it’s intro­duced on this side of the ocean. 

In short: I’ll have to actu­al­ly use the thing to decide whether it’s as good as it seems; it’ll come down to not just the UI, but also the per­for­mance of the GSM, WiFi, cam­era, and on and on. For now, I’m hav­ing fun watch­ing the online demos (at least that’s one thing Apple is very good at).

My Mobile Game Directions Pecha Kucha

Yes­ter­day I pre­sent­ed my talk on mobile gam­ing at the 6th Pecha Kucha Night in Rotterdam’s Off_Corso. I was pro­grammed as the first speak­er, which was excit­ing (and also allowed me to ben­e­fit from the pri­ma­cy effect, as my girl­friend point­ed out). Col­league Iskan­der was kind enough to record the whole thing on his N70 (fit­ting­ly) and I present it here for your enjoy­ment or aggra­va­tion, whichev­er you pre­fer (please take note that the talk is in Dutch). The slides I used are over at SlideShare.

I’m still not sure the sub­ject mat­ter was appro­pri­ate for the event, con­sid­er­ing the major­i­ty of speak­ers were either graph­ic design­ers, autonomous artists or archi­tects. The crowd might’ve been a bit under­whelmed by my com­mer­cial and pop cul­tur­al ref­er­ences. Oh well, I had fun, I guess that’s the most impor­tant thing. 

Many thanks to Nadine and Bart of Hunk Design for let­ting me loose on stage. ‘Nuff respect to all the pre­sen­ters for tak­ing the trou­ble of prepar­ing a pre­sen­ta­tion. There were plen­ty of cool and inspir­ing ideas on show. Final­ly, thanks to the cre­ators of all the images I used, you can find the cred­its in the SlideShare show.

Update: I’ve delet­ed my YouTube account so here’s an embed of the video on Vimeo:

Mobile Game Direc­tions @ Pecha Kucha Night Rot­ter­dam from Kaeru on Vimeo.

Where are the good European IxD schools?

Dan Saf­fer of Adap­tive Path wrote an intro­duc­to­ry piece for bud­ding inter­ac­tion design­ers. Five years ago, Robert Reimann of Coop­er did the same. Both are nice overviews for novices and espe­cial­ly the parts on a designer’s tem­pera­ment are enter­tain­ing to read. 

Saf­fer fails to men­tion any good IxD schools out­side of the US and UK. Which is a shame for all of us Euro­pean design­ers. Reimann men­tioned Ivrea’s now defunct IxD institute.

I’d like to start by point­ing to my coura­geous lit­tle country’s Utrecht School of Arts, which has been teach­ing IxD for 15 years now (!) and today offers both BA and MA pro­grams. They’ve recent­ly branched off into game design, which has been quite successful.

Full dis­clo­sure: I was a stu­dent at the same school from 1998 – 2001 (BA IxD, MA Game Design) and am now teach­ing a course in mobile game design.

Any oth­er good IxD schools in Europe that you know of?

Update: dis­cus­sions on Saf­fer­’s post on the IxDA’s mal­ing list here and here; overview of IxD edu­ca­tion (most­ly in the US) here.

Thinking about IxD patterns

Hav­ing just post­ed about a new pat­tern library; my mind has been occu­pied a bit by the role of pat­terns in design. I’ve noticed that for a lot of IxD prob­lems, I tend to first try to tack­le the issue myself. Then, I usu­al­ly refer to some exam­ples and / or pat­terns, to see if I’ve missed any obvi­ous caveats. After that, I usu­al­ly fine-tune the solu­tion. What I like about pat­terns is that they give a clear out­line of the most com­mon way of han­dling a giv­en prob­lem. I do think that they’ll nev­er be a replace­ment for some gen­uine inspired design – stuff that no one has come up with before. I doubt we’ll ever see the day when inter­ac­tion design­ers will be replaced by a huge pat­tern library…