This isn’t the first time I’ve heard about retro gaming mixed with a practical service, neat trend. Props to Copenhagen.
Can a game be a comedy?
This is the question we posed to ourselves when we began work on Luke Sidewalker. When my partner @mattfargo came to me with the idea for a satirical, 8-bit game about walking the streets of NYC, I loved the idea and thought it would be worth the effort to build on previous games in the marketplace that try to be “funny.” @jaimefraina, my apprentice for 2011, took the lead developer role and recruited his friend Husam Al-Ziab to create the art. Fargo and I pursued writing the script, which really meant figuring how to make the gameplay humorous.
Now a few weeks away from being ready to release the game for PCs, I’m more curious than ever to have this question answered by others. To be honest, I’ve never laughed out loud to any moment in any videogame (unless you count gestures made by friends playing a videogame, but that has nothing to do with the intentions of the game designers). Every videogame with narrative seems to strive for dramatic notions — whether tragic or comedic — although sometimes I wonder. That’s not say there haven’t been stirring narratives in videogames, but such examples are few and far between all of the crap and cut scenes out there. And the vast majority of games seem to angle toward the dramatic / tragic bent. Portal had moment that made me smile, but you wouldn’t call it a comedy. Grand Theft Auto is a satire, but does any player even notice? On the other extreme, there are lots of games without narrative that use a blend of humor with their core mechanic. I’m thinking of online games promoting something (think MTV or VH1 advergames promoting their shows) but generally those are the one-liners of the game industry. We want Luke to feel like more than a gimmick.
For Luke Sidewalker, we focused on two initiatives in creating this comedic game: one, make the game rich with details like a Wes Anderson-esque comedy; and two, make the game one big joke with a final punchline. The first initiative meant coming up with as many inside jokes as possible… and by inside, I mean coming up with elements that New Yorkers will appreciate. The sacrifice is that anyone not from NYC will miss out on a lot of the humor. For instance, one level requires navigating the sidewalks of Williamsburg and dodging the hispters on their fixed gears and Hasids in their minivans. Some non-New Yorkers might get the reference but you might not fully appreciate the details in the joke.
The second goal — making the game into one giant joke — is perhaps the most ambitious aspect of the design. It requires the player to actually get good at playing the game to advance far enough to literally arrive at the punchline. With this thought in mind, Jaime has spent a lot of time balancing the physics of the game to make sure the core mechanic (walking) is enjoyable. Yet the game is 7 levels, so as designers we’re asking about 30 minutes from the average player. I’ll be curious to see what percentage sticks with the game, knowing there’s a payoff for the time commitment. Hopefully the richness of the levels, the challenge of the game, and the pleasure of the core mechanic are enough to retain the majority of those that attempt to play Luke. These were the challenges we knew we were up against in this design experiment. But you’ll have to tell me if at the end of the game if you think Luke Sidewalker is truly a comedy.
Monday’s Over-thinking: 3 Ideas for Saving Yahoo! (not my exclamation mark)
Rumor on the web is that Alibaba is making the move to acquire Yahoo!. I’m sure they have a strategy in mind of how to leverage the Yahoo! properties to strengthen the international reach of Alibaba, but I’m curious if there are plans to reenergize the Yahoo! platform (can it even be called a platform anymore?) domestically. Surely there are, and here’s how I’d do it:
1. Double Down on Fantasy Sports — the $3 to $4 billion dollar market is growing 7% a year and is 90% male and no one does it better than Yahoo! currently, but ESPN is hellbent on changing this. Believe it or not, Yahoo! was once the central place on the web for “social games” (not the Farmville variety, simply games you played against other people) but obviously Facebook has stolen that thunder. Yahoo! should act fast to not let history repeat itself — they’ve got a good thing going so expand on it now.
2. Become the best place on the internet to “gamble” (especially now with all the poker sites killed off) — US gambling laws permit any game that’s more than 50% strategic (opposed to more than 50% luck) to run unregulated on US soil. So build a platform where I can “socially” play strategic games for money against people from all over the world. Include fantasy sports in this (there’s absolutely a legal avenue to achieve this).
3. Give Flickr a new level — Flickr has been a great, social spot to store photos but users are fed up with the interface that limits the fun of sharing photos. Meanwhile, Facebook has moved away from their bread and butter of being the platform for sharing last night’s party photos with your friends. Yahoo! should leverage the Flickr platform to capture the 16 - 24 year old market by making a very intuitive and super social (and mobile) photo sharing web app. Brand this as the place to share the photos you don’t want your parents (on Facebook) to see. And maybe buy Instagram.
Ironically, the story of Ali Baba involves putting a corpse back together. Here’s wishing the company can do the same.
Monday’s Over-thinking: Getting Accurate Feedback From Your Customers
My mother worked in customer relations most her life — and most her career was focused on improving the patient experience at hospitals. She ascended to the rank of president for a national association of “patient representatives,” as her role was called… a role that has seemingly been phased out by cost-cutting hospitals. I’m not sure I appreciated the importance of having someone on a production team championing the interests of the customer until I went to ITP (at NYU) and studied how to make games for severely disabled children. My teacher was Amit Pitaru who led us through designing interfaces where — for our potential users — even entering the smallest input might be a challenge. I learned a whole new level of user testing as we worked directly with the teachers and students at the Seton Pediatric Center in Manhattan to build custom games that met a specific educational need for a set of specific students. This class boiled down user interaction to a core level: what are we teaching, how do we make it fun, and how do we make the interaction simple using the tools that are available.
I see a relationship between patient representatives and designing assistive technology beyond the healthcare angle: these roles are hellbent on streamlining a user experience while maintaining the value in the exchange. A more efficient experience (without sacrificing quality) saves money; a better quality experience (without sacrificing efficiency) means more satisfied customers. Managing these priorities is the balancing act of any user experience designer — including game designers, whether online of off. There’s only one sure way to execute user experience design to its potential and that’s by listening, something my mother and Amit drove into me.
But what does it mean to listen to your users or customers? Do you optimize by monitoring the mouse clicks of thousands on your web page? Do you sit in a computer room and watch a dozen people navigate your game? Do you setup a questionnaire and incentivize the time spent sending in a response? Do you ask a tech-savvy friend for their honest opinions?
There’s really no “wrong” way about getting user feedback — the key is making sure the feedback is as accurate as possible. That is to say, make sure the data you’re reviewing that will influence important UX decisions hasn’t been tainted by poor incentives that may have influenced the respondent. Below are a set of examples where the user feedback mechanism leaves something to be desired:
1) Case study #1: eBay user ratings.
This is not about eBay getting user feedback about its website, but rather sellers and buyers trading feedback about their transactions. After an auction, a buyer pays some money and eventually receives their item in the mail from the seller. At this point, it’s mutually advantageous to publicly post feedback to the other person involved in the transaction. The seller recommends the buyer (“Quick payment!”) and the buyer recommends the seller (“Quick delivery!”) and each person gives the other a positive rating (usually with a silly “A++++++++” attached to the comment).
Because this feedback is public, there’s an incentive for both users to maintain a reputation so that each will be allowed to continue to participate in the eBay community. While this system might flag someone who is running a scam (“My Super Bowl tickets were hand drawn!”) or simply misrepresented an item (“My antique hot dog cart was rusted!”), the seller rarely receives any feedback about how to improve their eBay storefront or their relationship skills (both of which are important to any web transaction between seller and buyer, just ask Zappos).
2) Case study #2: Yelp reviews.
Again, this is not Yelp getting feedback about its website, but about small business customers leaving online reviews of the establishments. While some people do leave positive reviews for a good experience (“loved my massage!”), not many can be trusted as small businesses have a financial motivation to fake these public entries (here’s a NY Times article about research being done to algorithmically figure out the fake from the authentic). What can be trusted are the authentic negative reviews. I would argue Yelp is the first place a customer turns to complain about service but only when the experience is so bad that the person is motivated to go out of their way to write a Yelp entry (“The plumber’s ass was sticking out of his pants!”). Such negative reviews may not be characteristic of a service — time will tell — but how much time does a small business have to learn about what’s working and what’s not?
So while Yelp reviews may be great for flagging certain issues a restaurant or plumber might have and might even provide some insight about what areas the place or person can improve their service, the business rarely gets insight about what they are doing well. Feedback is as much about knowing when and where to double down as it is about when to fold your hand. Anyone behind a product must beat the average customer to the punch — which is to say, get accurate feedback before your customer turns to a public forum to complain.
3) Case study #3: surveys with numerical answer choices.
One thing my mother taught me is to never give someone a questionnaire that gives the user the option of responding on a scale of 1-5 because you’ll get ambiguous data. Most people skim through the questions and choose 3’s and 5’s (the average response to such a question is 3.7), especially when there’s an incentive for completing the survey. We all love it when something like user experience can be quantified and summarized into a few numbers. But that’s like saying a cross country road trip is simply 3,000 miles down a few roads and about $1500 of gas for the car. It’s one way of explaining the experience but leaves the narrative of the adventure in the trunk, to drive that metaphor a little further.
Even if you’re using technology like Google’s Website Optimizer that will let you run users through various pages to get a better understanding of what button placement converts the most registrations, you might be missing the big picture — like that maybe you need to pivot your entire business idea.
4) Case study #4: measuring too small a set of respondents.
If you’re designing for one person, then you only need feedback from that one person. But if you’re designing for the world, then it’s difficult to rest easy that your designs have reached their potential. Obviously there’s no way to ask everyone in the world if the experience is working for them… but smart spot checking of a diverse and large set of users is clearly the optimal way to improve your product. But how do you get the feeling or story of a thousand users without employing the lame survey?
Most decent pollsters will combine word answers with quantitative analysis. Example: “How do you feel about Obama’s performance as President. Great, Decent, Less than Optimal, or Poor?” The pollster will tie these responses to percentages and use that as a window into the general sentiment of the country, assuming they used a diverse set of at least 1000 respondents, with some math to help define the field of error (“plus or minus 4%”).
But words are tricky. What the word “fair” means to you might mean something different to me… which means anyone who responds to “fair” is an ambiguous response that tells us nothing. So, you ask, what if the respondents to my UX questionnaire respond with lots of words? Well, then you’ll have a lot of reading to do… and even more quantifying of the results to figure out any consensus. You can keep your pool small of respondents, but then you’re taking a risk that the sentiments of these 20 or so people aren’t the feelings of your typical customer. It’s sort of like the Yelp problem, just with less complaining (although it may still be a lot of complaining: checkout this interesting Quora post about what people would change about the flying user experience).
5) Case study #5: incentives! rewards!
Anyone who knows me as a game design consultant knows that I love thinking through how game-like systems can build long term engagement and social growth to a product. A game layer (that thinks beyond static gamification badges, points and leaderboards, etc.) can carve a path for a user to engage with an interactive experience. With dynamic incentives and positive feedback mechanisms (a different sort of feedback), users are rewarded with additional actions to pursue and interesting decisions. But the trouble with feedback surveys that rely on incentives and rewards (many often fiscal in nature), is that it motivates a certain type of user and there’s no mechanism to appreciate if the feedback is genuine.
Instead of offering a free iPad to one of a thousand respondents to a survey, meet the users on terms that fulfill a value proposition that interests them on a more altruistic level: “Your feedback is how we’ll serve YOU better in the future.” Following up a user’s response (with something more than just a pop-up or exit screen) with a sincere “thank you” that explains what part of their feedback was particularly valuable to learn is a reward that leaves the user feeling good about the survey experience.
When reviewing user experience feedback, there’s a balance between taking in large sets of data and listening to the individual user. As anyone refines their user experience for their product, you have to receptive to the chants from the crowd and the whispers from the individual, then use your intuition to craft the best approach. Such decisions will be easier if you approached gathering the feedback from the correct angles so that accuracy of the feedback can be trusted.
Notes from my 8/11 General Assembly class on Games & Feedback Loops
(these were taken by Trace Wax — thank you!)
Here are the notes I took from tonight:
*Charlie’s Game: teleport LA - update in the app store in a week
*Institute of play / quest to learn — grade school where entire curriculum is taught through games
*user experience == player experince
Have to make sure they understand the rules, rules are easy to understand, want them to understand the goal, and want them to have a really good time.
UX is like having a party for a fundraising benefit:
1) send invites
2) prepare atmostphere (music, drinks, drinks don’t run out)
3) party time
5) come again with a friend, more people == more money
so his metrics are
1) Activation — inviting people
2) Acq - get them in the door
3) Retention (have a good time)
4) Revenue (make money)
5) Referrals (more people)
What is a game?
1) Goal / rules
Game designer == architect, architect designs walls of building, so want to understand how people are moving through the walls. Not interested in the rules but interested in how people navigate.
Games have goals, people need to know what they’re doing
Game space — what’s between the walls.
*Interesting core mechanic — what are they doing? Want to think what is the player doing is interesting & fun
*Decisions & choice, have to give user interesting decisions to make otherwise it’s boring like Candyland
*Balance A game has to be balanced to be successful. Monopoly is an example of an unbalanced game. Balance is: if we’re all playing and one person gets a really big lead, how easy is it for someone to catch up. Games that are unbalanced are broken and not fun.
*Assessment — keep score, eg strikes and balls and baseball. Assessment is big in education for example.
Example of the tip jars: Tips very low, but when they did: “Tupac or Biggie? Tip your answer!” When they put out an interesting question, the tips soar 100%. What I like about it is it has to be an interesting decision — or a playful one.
“Why choice paralyzes us: You can’t regret a decision if you don’t make one.” — Barry Shwartz, economist, great Ted talk, a lot of the depression in our modern lives is that we have too much choice. Games need to nudge you in a certain decision to get you past your indecision.
Game Layer: I see a game layer is an ongoing assessment that supplies additional incentives while providing a fun experience, interesting decisions, and clear goals.
So what’s most important? Assessment and incentives. Motivate you and see who well you’re doing.
Feedback is a mechanism that delivers assessment. Like report cards. When you think of UX and you see a button, you see a visual change or a sound, this makes it clear that you’ve done something.
Feedback loop: You’re motivated to take an additional action or alter your previous action based on the assessment. The traditional psychologist way is that it gives you an immediate assessment and gets you to change a previous action. Wired article: when you’re driving and you see the radar gun that shows you how fast you’re going, you immediately slow down.
He likes to think about it in terms of the engagement rule, how it’s going to influence you in the future — take an additional action.
Redefine those 2 things. Engagement loops deal with positive and negative reinforcement — conditioning, like how you train a dog. Then there’s also the more classical model by psychologists and balancing games.
Marc LeBlanc basketball example — positive feedback loop is in a basketball game, whenever a team gets to get ahead — if you score a basket you get to add another player, negative feedback loop have to take a player off the court — then it’s balanced but not fun. E.g. settlers of catan is so balanced when you’re experienced it’s not as fun.
You have to playtest or usertest your website to get the balance between being not balanced enough or too balanced.
4 types of feedback loops: Basic, static, dynamic, and viral.
Basic: See a button, press the button, get animation to show you’ve pressed the button.
Static: Trophies, badges, reward schedule, notifications, intermittent rewards, bonus lives, limit interaction, scoring, leaderboadrs, open game states — I do this thing well and I get a badge, if I play to 10000 points I get a bonus life
Dynamic examples: meaningful incentives. Building on the static idea as a player I’m not rewarded just with a thing but with another decision, another action, not just a pat on the back, I’m successful in my immediate goal, now there’s another decision, keeping me right back in and keeping me completely engaged. Level design, embody player growth by building customizable world power ups, unlocking features, flow, risk, communication.
Viral: player is rewarded with the opportunity to engage other user.
I’m a little anti-gamification, but badges are good because they did something that they earned. In scouts, you didn’t get magic badges for no reason, you got them for doing things that are exploring different areas of the service. You could choose which badges to go after.
Bonus life: good static feedback you’re doing well enough to keep playing.
Limit interaction: they tell you that you’ve played enough, like Cityville etc — a lot of websites you have to know someone who is in it, clubs have lines outside the door behind the red velvet rope
Scores — people get points
Leaderboards — incentives
First arcade game to have scoring: space invaders 1978 had leaderboards, next one a year later is starfox, where you could type in your initials
What’s an open game state— say Ian is playing a game, you can look over his shoulder and see other people’s game state. Are you as good as them? Again Zynga has this — you can see someone else and how well they’re doing. Facebook was the place to report party pics for status.
Reward Schedule: a lot of games try to time how often the user receives pats on the back, if you get a pat on the back you’ll keep playing.
Intermittent rewards are kind of random, such as a slot machine.
The 2 most moneymaking games are all about intermittent rewards: slot machines and fantasy football. There have been studies with rats, put in cages with lever. Group # of of rats, they’d get food every time they pulled the lever, so they’d pull it when they were hungry, and eat and sleep. The other group of rats got intermittent rewards, the rats died they wouldn’t stop pulling the lever.
Zynga employs a lot of psychologists, big on reward schedules and intermittent rewards.
Dynamic rewards: meaningful incentives. Encouraging us to think about how to give value to our user and player. Badges aren’t incentive enough. Has to have good value to me, a meaningful incentive or reward.
Level design: The configuration of the level, the obstacle course you get through, angry birds has really good levels — that’s a scaffolding for the player experience. They know that your ability is just good enough to get to the next level. Right at the cusp of your ability to keep achieving. Rewards in themselves: solve level 2 get to level 3.
Unlocking features: An immediate reward that you can use or pursue. Like unlock weapons. New ability that ties into the level where you need the new ability to defeat the next level.
Risk: a lot of the games when you gamble are stupid, but say poker: 1) you can bluff, 2) there’s risk. Throw chips on the table and scare opponents away, players have a higher state of awareness when risk on the line.
Customization: when you reward a player with something they can customize — avatar, game experience — women really like to do this.
Flow: “How you get to be one with the controls” and that is pleasurable, baseball players have muscle memory of swinging a bit, hard to achieve in regular app but strive for it.
Embody player growth by letting the user customize their earth. The better you are on the game, the bigger your world.
Best take away from this class: virality:
Gifting highly active users engaging less active users. Why not give highly active players rewards within the system. So when players give things to other players, the highly active player feels highly rewarded with participation, and engages the less active one.
Social obligation — highly active one, if I give this to you, you have to use it or something bad happens to me.
Challenge rewards for player to player engagement. — whoever wins the challenge gets the reward.
Power ups & unlocking associated with friending — people are less and less likely to spam people so give incentives.
Bonus incentives with friends actually registering — you get a coupon (or groupon!) if users use the service.
Get a reward for making the connection to someone.
eg, pac man. power ups, levels, static rewards, state of board communicates how well you’re doing when
5 metrics in pac man: colors & sounds — demo reel — shows you the little pac man eating the things, gets you excited (Activation)
Acquisition: perceived risk, perceived value — you assume you’ll get 25c of pleasure, no one walks away halfway thru cause invested
Rentention - pacman delivers a good time — scaffold well, first level is really easy, unlock narrative — they have the cut scenes, mr & ms pac man meet and fall in love
4th thing: game designers in the early 80s they called them quarter feeders — go real easy get you hooked and then it gets much harder.
Referrals - static leaderboard & word of mouth
Zynga: 20 *billion* valuation
1) activation - games are cute, fun, enticing
free, give it a try
social challenges — social obligation of gifting, you have email where jack gets reward and you can too if free game
2) acquisition - game really easy — they give you a tutorial as you play, you’re immediately on level 1, scaffolding is really good, and you’re provided with immediate success
3) Retention, nice maps, see if you’re rewarded, introduce a little narrative, social challenges, scaffold with you, reward schedule, intermittent rewards, notifications — facebook makes it so you can’t spam non gamers, but you can spam someone else’s wall, lot of incentives within the game to make it relevant and worthwhile to spam your friends
4) Revenue: download, ads, you’re interacting with something that feels like a normal gamepiece but, 3% of people will pay to get powerups, subscriptions VIP players, 3rd party installs / coupons — go download this person’s game — apple just outlawed these trials.
Turntable, really popular. game mechanics: customization of avatar, and points, social status, rules — etiquettes made up by the players like
acknowledgement & recognition (status, competition)
physical space elevates social relevancy
bobbing heads immediate social encouragement
collaboration in synchronous environment (taking turns, reciprocity)
music discovery (best intermittent reward ever?)
red velvet rope (Facebook friends only invited)
services want to make them feel extra good about a purchase to not get buyer’s remorse.
User makes a purchase and…
Pro flowers: sign up for 2 reminders, get $5 off next order
Bonobos: invite a friend and if they make a purchase, you get 50$ credit
Kickstarter: make donation, get a thing in return (which will arrive randomly)
Seattle Sushi: all you can eat $15, charge extra for anything you take and don’t eat
1 or 2 ideas for craigslist — has to be a feedback mechanism
I post higher status, top of the list
1) if my friend would read it or repost it they’d get a craigslist coupon
2) not very engaging rewarding people for selling products, you can be come an advanced shop o
hot or not for pics
he wanted to go back to a post I pursued and rate it so people don’t have the bad experience, community around a poster, person was lying
scavenger hunt — hide a deal within the system — whoever gets the scavenger hunt gets the coupon
call dibs on something 1x day, takes down the post from viewing — if you become an active user, you pay an extra $10 to hold place
do a god power you get 3 stops per post, if you’re competing against someone use your stops to stop them from getting it
too chronological, more useful if activity around certain listing bubble to the top — make the cream rise
tie into the idea that people have a rating
To what degree does Gagaville defy aspects? Celebrity branding
people getting weary of badges
guy in pittsburgh warned people with gamification, if you get rewards from brushing your teeth, are people coming back to the brown thing, people need to push people — if done well people will appreciate you for it
diabetes patients if you make the metrics more transparent and present in a way that they can track progress, ability to reduce symptoms increase
weight management is another one
4 square gym rat badge — makes friends feel bad, it’s 10 days in a month, fun play against each other vs against itself
Suggestions from the class re DueProps:
search for an expert (I need a brainiac, or a nice person, or a good listener)
superstar too banal, but would really engage with a specific culture
‘share the love’ — let people share the props with someone else who helped
physically persistent in the environment - like posters, or stuffed animal stars
any work of art — people get pieces of a puzzle they can put together — if you get them all collectively then good things can happen (bonus increased for everyone?)
great stuff on quora for feedback loops and social engagement & games
Charlie’s Twitter: @superfection — can give cool links on quora
environments where gamification doesn’t work?
economics in game theory — there are incentives in different places, where incentives don’t exist or shouldn’t exist, I don’t need a badge on linked in, they got really cheap really fast, everyone is trying to jump on foursquare, you have to make the choice is it gonna be cheesy or not,
lot of research on extrinsic vs intrinsic rewards, money or other obvious external things, might be better for intrinsic rewards (satisfaction, self-expression)
games for education - how does that work?
getting kids to grasp that games our systems, games in the world are systems and are complex systems.
Question on the acquisition, you see different apps give demos our get first use experience in different ways, if there are any great examples that are worth noting.
Great examples of things in door, immediate success when you come in. Turntable does a great job you can go to a room and play a song and you will feel fun about — you feel part of something bigger than your itunes.
Flipboard starts you with content, starts you with the feed and it’s not empty.
This is what happens to Color, photo sharing, no success initially so they do the red velvet rope, no one is doing the photos around you every experience was a failed experience.
Going to get a critical mass for the system to work well, tweak it so it’s fun for 10 players, then fun for 100 players, then fun for 10000 players. color should have kept it so it was fun for the right critical mass
who types in first — 9th caller gets a prop or whatever.
search presi.com feedback loops and find the presentation.
If you’ve ever wondered what’s like to hang out with me in my apartment:
Why I’m Bearish on Facebook
I’ve been arguing this for awhile and time to commit the thought to the interwebs: while Facebook vies to become the portal for which we consume the internet, it’s also fast becoming a lame 21st version of Hallmark Cards… which is to say a place where we send birthday greetings and wish our network a happy new year. That’s fine and good and probably lucrative but it’s not what made Facebook the dominant social network. And I wonder if this direction will make Facebook the website somewhat obsolete as an actual social networking website.
Make no mistake, as George W. Bush would say, Facebook is smart to pivot the direction of the company to becoming a backbone of the internet. You log-in, comment, and share everything on the internet through your Facebook identity… even when visiting distant websites and applications — this is the Fb plan. But Facebook is no longer about the college campus, the gossip and party pictures from last night, or even writing on your friend’s wall. Those elements are moving to 3rd party mobile applications. Facebook is now about the mom. It’s becoming what AOL always dreamed of becoming.
This post from Steve’s Blog about Facebook no longer being a social network and the implications of Facebook-as-internet-platform in regards to one’s identity and authenticity is a great read. When you think about the issues being raised here and elsewhere, and the threat of Zynga creating their own social browser (another platform for the internet with gaming!)… you start to realize the future isn’t as peachy for Facebook as a lot of investors are assuming.