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).
They gave us Donald Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things1 to read in interaction design school. I remember reading it and—being young an cocky—finding it all very common sense and “Why do they ask us to read this stuff?” And so on.2
I am rereading it now, in the hopes of sharpening my argument for playful user experiences.
(There are a lot of things I want to blog about actually, such as how Hill and Webb’s adaptive design reminds me of Salen & Zimmerman’s transformative play, why Cook rejects MDA while Saffer embraces it and more.)
Anyway, my new copy of DOET has a nice introduction by Norman in which he summarizes a few core concepts form the book. On page xi—writing on conceptual models—he writes:
“[G]ood design is … an act of communication between the designer and the user, … all the communication has to come about by the appearance of the device itself.”
In other words, if you can’t figure “it” out by just looking at it, it’s not well designed. Where “figure it out” basically means understand how to operate “it” successfully. Of course this is an important concept, but I think something’s missing.
In games, it’s not enough just to be able to figure out how to make Mario jump—for instance—you want to learn how to jump well.
It’s about skill and mastery in other words. A “Norman Door” (a door that is difficult to open) can be fixed so that people can open the door easily. But a door has a narrow spectrum of learnability. Or as Koster would probably say: The pattern to “grok” is really simple.
And anyway, why would you want to become a master at opening doors, right?
But a lot of the things I’m working on (for instance creative tools, but also toy-like environments) have more complex patterns and therefore (wether I like it or not) have a wider spectrum of learnability. And that’s where usability alone is not enough. That’s where in testing, I’d need to make sure people don’t just understand how to do stuff by looking at it. (That’s the start, for sure.) But I also want to be able to tell if people can get better at doing stuff. Because if they get better at it, that’s when they’ll be having fun.
Or The Psychology of Everyday Things as it was then titled. [↩]
I still consider myself young, only slightly less cocky. [↩]
Last night I presented at the January UXnet meetup in Oslo. When Are invited me to come over I thought I’d be talking to maybe 60 user experience people. 200 showed up—talk about kicking off the year with a bang. I think the crew at Netlife Research may just have written UXnet history. I’m not sure. (Don’t believe me? Check out the RSVPs on the event’s page at Meetup.com)
The talk went OK. I had 20 minutes, which is pretty short. I finished on time, but I had to leave out a lot of examples. The original talk on which this was based is a 2 hour lecture I deliver at UX companies. (I did this last year for instance at InUse.)
The lack of examples was the biggest point of criticism I got afterwards. I’ll try to make up for that a bit in a later post, listing some examples of web sites and apps that I would call in some way playful. Stay tuned.
For now, here are the slides (no notes I’m afraid, so it’ll be hard to make any sense of them if you weren’t there). Thanks to Are Halland for inviting me. And greetings to all my friends in Oslo. You’ve got a beautiful UX thing going on there.
First, the bad news: I won’t be able to make it to Interaction 08. Which sucks, because it looks like it’s going to be a wonderful conference with a smart crowd attending. I would have loved to meet up with friends there. And of course I was looking forward to sharing my ideas on playful products.
There’s plenty of other events in the pipeline for me though, both big and small. Here’s a rundown:
Next week on Tuesday 16 January I’ll be flying to Oslo on invitation of Are Halland at Netlife Research. I’ll do a short presentation at the UXnet meetup, focused on the application of game design to UX for the web.
Shortly after that, I’ll be participating in BarCampCopenhagen. I’ll probably do a session about my thoughts in mobile social gaming. Other than that I’m looking forward to just hanging out with the Danish geek crowd.
One final engagement taking place in June that I can already announce is From Business To Buttons, organised by my friends at InUse. Here I’ll get a chance to talk about the stuff that I had planned for Interaction 08: play, storytelling and complex systems. Looking forward to it.
If you’re reading this, and happen to be attending any of these events. Do drop by and say hi. I’d love to meet and chat!
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. [↩]
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 someshopping 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.
“Dominant models in IA: space + story” was one of the notes I took while at this year’s Euro IA Summit. I’ll get into space some other time. Concerning story: Basically it strikes me that for a discipline involved with an interactive medium, so often designing is likened to storytelling. I’m not sure this is always the most productive way to approach design, I actually think it is very limiting. If you approach design not as embedding your story in the environment, but as creating an environment wherein users can create their own stories, then I’d say you’re on the right track. An example I tend to use is a game of poker: The design of the game poker was certainly not an act of storytelling, but a play session of poker is experienced as (and can be retold as) a story. Furthermore, the components of the game can be recombined to create different variations of the basic game, each creating different potentials for stories to arise. I’d like to see more designers approach interactive media (digital, physical or whatever) like this: Don’t tell a story to your user, enable them to create their own.1 Realize users will want to recombine your stuff with other stuff you might not know about (the notion of seamful design comes into play here). When you’ve done a proper job, you’ll find them retelling those stories to others, which I would say is the biggest compliment you can get.
1. Or to put this in Marc LeBlanc’s terms: Don’t embed narrative, let it emerge through play.
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.
After a considerable amount of fiddling with SlideShare I’ve finally managed to upload a version of the slides that go with my Playful IAs presentation. This more or less as I presented it at the Euro IA Summit 2007 and includes an approximate transcript of my talk. I hope to get an audio/video recording of most of it in the near future as well. When I do I’ll update this page.
I had some great reactions to this talk and I want to thank all the people who engaged with me in discussions afterwards. It’s given me a good picture of what areas I should develop further in future subsequent talks. I’m also pleasantly surprised to see that contrary to what some people think, the IA community (the European one at least) is very much open to new ideas. That’s really nice to experience firsthand.
A lot of people asked for a list of books and other good sources on the topics I covered. Here’s an incomplete list of stuff I’ve used at some stage to inform my thinking:
Rules of Play by Katie Salen and Eric Zimmerman — Possibly the best book on game design out there. Big and meaty — not at all what you would expect from a games-related book perhaps.
If that doesn’t keep you busy for a while, you could always have a dig through my del.icio.us links. There’s plenty of good stuff there. Of course of you ever find anything you think would be of interest to me, do let me know. Just tag it for:kaeru.