Games & business – lecture

This was a lecture developed just for pre-sessional students at the University of Southampton, in 2018. The aim of the lecture was to give them an overview of the application of games in business contexts. The students were mainly from China and they were applying for several masters degrees in Design and Management topics.

For this lecture, I have developed 2 learning outcomes and very simple and easy concepts for them to think about. Considering that these students are at least between 20-30 years old, they definitely have played any time of games and might play games on their phones (maybe even during the lecture – hope not?). But the good thing is that they can relate to games and they have already an interest in business, branding or marketing subjects. Therefore, the lecture needed to mix these 2 expectations and contexts.

Did it work? I think it did. I’ve asked from feedback from the tutors who were in the lecture room with me and the students appreciated that I also showed them advantages and disadvantages of games & business. Showing the 2 sides of the coin is always good for students so that they can see the 2 sides of the argument and then figure out which side they agree with (or create a new side – who knows?). The whole point was to introduce this topic and provoke them to think on possibilities.

I will definitely improve this slide deck in the future, but at the moment it was good and I’ve decided to add it here! :)

#6 [usability review]: Good Pizza, Great Pizza

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Good Pizza, Great Pizza is a mobile “cooking” game. In the game you have to cook your pizzas for specific customer needs, just like a typical cooking game. Players need to work against time and make as much profit as they can so they can upgrade their restaurant. See gameplay below.

Good Pizza, Great Pizza trailer and gameplay

Note: in the case of this review I have considered the reviews in the app store to base my comments together with heuristics mentioned in my initial post.

Good points

a) Not a typical cooking game. By looking at the reviews in the iOS app store, it was possible to see that many comments were positive towards the characters and the “look & feel” of the game.

b) No IAP options. Again, one comment in the reviews mentioned that are no IAPs in this game and that makes it different from others like Cooking Fever and other famous cooking games.

c) Character’s personality. Based on the reviews, the NPCs personalities were crucial for the game to be considered as fun. However, players mentioned that they would not let their children play because the characters were “very rude”. Although this could be seen as a problem it has still good points since it attracted a specific demographics.

d) Top-down view and controls. With a top down view the movements to make the pizza are different. You have to spread the cheese and tap to add ingredients. This gives a variety on the gameplay in general. Also, the UI works well and it is easy to see the impact of the actions in the general satisfaction bar. However, it might be difficult for some players who might need to zoom in a bit to read.

Things to improve

a) Control the rudeness of the characters. Perhaps in the menu, players could have a meter to control the “rudeness” of the characters. Or maybe this could be something that the player could unlock after a few points.

b) Balance between upgrade and gameplay. Since it is a repetitive game, it can become a bit boring if the upgrades are difficult to achieve!

c) Business model. Since there are no IAPs in the game, devs could think about how they are monetising from this game since it is a free game. Of course, there are ads between some interactions, but perhaps players could have the chance to give a “tip” to the devs. This could fit the narrative of the game.

d) It is comics sans. It looks like comics sans and it might be. No problem (apparently) with this font, but perhaps it could have an option of not having too much text in the HUD area. This could be very difficult to read, especially if you are targeting “older” demographics.

e) More options for clients. NPCs asked for vegetarian pizzas, and many other options. What about adding more of these crazy diets, low-carb, keto, vegan, pescatarian, and many others? It could give an extra element of “fun” for players. This could give an extra difficult for the game and comments that players could relate to.

Overall, it was a fun game to play and from this review many of the reasons are due to the NPCs and the visuals. Hope devs consider improving the game, it has a lot of potential!

#5 [usability review]: Oxenfree

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Oxenfree gameplay by Polygon

This game was a wonderful surprise. Oxenfree is a game about supernatural events that are all related to emotional triggers from the character choices. In this case, the player needs to give these choices during the game. You are Alex, the main character, and you use an old radio to navigate into this supernatural world, opening portals and interacting with present and past. The game can be downloaded in Steam.

Good things

a) Sense of control. The game provides the player a sense of control over their actions. For example, you can select the answer you want to give in a specific dialogue. Players might feel that depending on their choices it will change the overall plot of the game.

b) Look & feel. This can be a bit subjective but this game has 2D elements with a sense of 3D, creating some depth in the game. This could be a good feature and in terms of usability it doesn’t distract the player from the choices made in the dialog bubbles (which are 2D). With that, there is a sense of depth but also elements that are 2D that overlap with the environment and in some parts of the environment the player needs to move across a “z” direction (not just x, y).

c) End screen with % of overall choices. Looking at the balance between your choices and other players’ choices is a very nice touch for players, reinforcing the idea of control over the game. Through this comparison, the player can see the impact of the choices and the other possibilities missed. This could make players feel that they could play the game again to see the impact of the other choices in the gameplay.

Things that could be improved

a) Controller precision. Since sometimes players could navigate in the “z” direction (or at least have a sense of depth), it is not clear when they can do that and the precision of these movements are not very good. This could make the player a bit lost and stuck in parts. One way to do this could be having the avatar talk to you and say “jump here” or “walk through a path”. The game could give feedback to help players if they are stuck.

b) Radio visualisation. The radio was a small object that guided the whole interactions between the player and the game plot. The radio could have some variations, particularly in the numbers and in the precision. Although the player could get feedback from sound and visuals, it was very difficult to get the “right” place for the radio to work. Thus, the variations of the radios could be in format. The character encounters a “better” version of the radio, but this is just to get another colour combination. Perhaps it could have been interesting for players to see another version of the radio. This could have helped to create curiosity and balance in the game.

c) Timing to choose the speech bubble. Sometimes players could “miss” the opportunity to choose the speech bubble and that could be a bit frustrating. This overlapping of choices could give a lot of cognitive load for the player. Thus, perhaps it could have a longer time to choose the speech depending on the player interactions.

Conclusions

Overall, the game is fun and has a lot of good elements regarding payer choice. However, for example, even in the graphs below, players could see the other possible “results” of their actions. This could help them go back and play the game differently. As you can see from my results I kept a strategy, which was no conflict, no emotional blablabla – just the supernatural!

My results after gameplay. Yes, no conflict this time, thank you.
My results after gameplay. Yes, Clarissa was a boring character but I really didn’t want to fight anyone. I just wanted to explore the supernatural.
My results from the gameplay. Again, no conflicts and no emotional attachment here. What about the supernatural?

#4 [usability review]: Beat Saber VR

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Video: Beat Saber gameplay

Yes, I got THE game! Now that I am getting used to VR and all the awesomeness related to it I had to buy Beat Saber just because it sounds very very cool. For a usability point of view, I thought it would be nice to test the game, looking at principles of heuristics and accessibility. More info about the game can be seen in this link. Note: I only played the solo version of this game; however it should be enough to get an idea of the overall gameplay.

What is the game about: this is a “Guitar Hero meets Just Dance” style dynamic game in VR in which you have two light sabers in each hand. You have to cut flying boxes with the swing of the sabers and doing this in the rhythm of the music. The songs follow a “EBM” style and have a electro-industrial feeling as well (that brings me memories, anyway!).

Good things

a) Gameplay. The game has a very good pace and as a beginner the player might not feel tired with so much new information. The tutorial is optional.

b) Visual consistency. Colours are the same in most of the interface design. This is also used in the walls and they reflect the lights from the sabers/controllers. There is always the use of 2 colours in the interface. This is good because it allows the players to keep the attention into a specific point.

c) Field of View. Since we are talking about VR, FoV is very important and the game has a good use of space and perspective. Since the game is a fast-paced game, there is little head movement, which helps players to concentrate on the other movements required to win the game. Thus, there is little potential for cyber sickness.

d) The tutorial. This tutorial is very simple. Although it can feel a bit unrealistic since the game has so many things going on at the same time, it still brings an element of surprise when the wall comes towards your face. See this video below:

Things that could be improved

a) Balance. The game could have more balance. As a beginner, I was slaughtered by the first song and couldn’t do much because I was missing the boxes a lot of times.

b) Controllers. It might be the way my VR headset is positioned, but the precision of this game should be improved considerably. Perhaps in the tutorial it could have a way to calibrate the game according to the settings of the headset. Also it was not clear if the player needed to click on the button to make the saber work (of course you don’t have to do that but since the player needs to click on buttons in the interface before the main gameplay scene, then it can be confusing). Precision is also not very great.

c) Colours. When you are not doing so well, all the scenario becomes red. It is not very clear if it is red because of the colour of one of the blocks or because the player is losing points.

d) Fail sound. Once immersed in the song it might be that players are not expecting that the sound ends like the end of a record. The sound can be too loud and it can break the whole experience at once. I suggests devs look at this as a potential improvement for this game.

e) Overall sense of control. Although players can choose the settings before the gameplay, it is not evident how to pause the game. Also, it is difficult to check and look at the scores all the time. This might be secondary, but for some players who are trying to beat their own scores, then this might be an issue. A suggestion could be “curving” the environment a bit more and having another distinctive way to give feedback to the player if the player has been keeping a “non-stop round”.

Best practices in VR and recommendations

According to this post, best practices in VR start with the physical environment and it is crucial that the play area is well determined beforehand. This definitely impacts the overall experience. Therefore, although it might sound boring for the player it is crucial to have some “house keeping” practices in order to ensure the best experience for the player. I am sure devs tested the game for cybersickness and I can say that personally I did not feel anything. The game gave me a sense that I was doing some real exercise. However, for players with more sensitivity, this should be mentioned. There is one screen at the beginning of the game that shows the possible complications of this game if the player is sensitive towards movements.

The tutorial could have different levels. For players who are not yet familiar with the technology, it is still necessary to have very simple and small paced tutorials. Another aspect to mention is that perhaps the game could give a feedback if the player is out of the play zone. Of course players can see the grid around the play area, but the position where they should be is not very evident. For example, in the game there is a mark on the ground with footsteps. Players might not remember to check the mark and that can influence their performance. The tutorial could also include a way for players to go back to the “mark zero” and experience this idea of coming back to the same space. For example, the game could have another way of showing that the player is out of the “perfect” spot by highlighting this on the top of their heads of just showing an invisible line on the middle of the horizon line.

The UI on the left in the menu sometimes could be overlooked. The tutorial could also show that could can change the settings of your game by selecting specific aspects. This was not evident in the beginning. And it might be that players who are not used to a 360 experience might miss these features.

Another aspect to mention is sound. As Casey Fictum mentions in this book VR UX, sound is most of the VR experience and should be considered as a key element. The fail sound could be improved since it breaks the continuum of the experience drastically. This can be because players might not be expecting it to end like a broken record since no one actually experience this sound anymore. Other sounds should be considered in order to improve the experience.

If we consider making this game more accessible, then there are a lot of elements that might need to be revised. However this would be related to a different research question! :)

#3 [usability review]: SenSense

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).

Figure 1. Tutorial screenshot of the game SenSense (by Jus So)

What is the game about
This is a mobile game designed for iOS by developers Just So. The game is originally a 3-player game in which you should solve puzzles together. However the difference is that each player can only work with one sense: one deaf, one might not speak and the other one can’t see. Clearly, it was inspired by emojis 🙈🙉🙊 – which is cool and current. This means that many people might fee attracted to this type of game.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/sensense/id1448612001?mt=8

Figure 2.: App store page (by Jus So)

Pretty good things:

a) Attraction

The tagline of the game is simple as it says: a three-player puzzle game. This is not something that you can see everyday in games. Being 3 game players makes it different and solving problems together sounds a lot of fun. The icon is simple, black and white and because of that, the game itself has a good marketing and “attraction” in the app store page, making it stand out.

b) Simplicity

The game is to the point and using the monkeys based on the emojis can make people feel some kind of familiarity with the game. Also, the proposition is straight forward. The tutorial is also simple, with black and white colours and small chucks of text. Players can skip the tutorial if they wish.

Things that could be improved:

In this case, it should be most everything. I couldn’t play the game without having people around! So devs should think about how to add random people to the game (without having to access a room through a code). Also, it should have at least 3 gameplay options – single player, 2 players and 3. Sometimes couples could play together and the other missing monkey could be computer generated.

via GIPHY

I have not played the game itself because I didn’t have 3 people whilst I was doing this review. But I thought that devs could definitely consider this. I had the first “wall” when playing this game in the beginning so devs should consider those small things as soon as possible. I didn’t find a gameplay video and that might be the reason why.

Designing for peace: 6 inspiring ideas and thoughts

There is too much hate in the world, particularly towards people from different countries, different nations, different religions – just “different”. This made me think, due to recent events – Acid Attacks in London, Far Right in America and so many incidents (way worse than my experience) related to racism and xenophobia, what can we do to bring peace and respect back to humanity?

I know it sounds very miss universe talk (world peace cliche like Miss Congeniality movie), but what are we doing to bring peace after all? What are we doing to slow down this wave of hate? What are we doing to bring respect to each other? I’m not specialist in world-peace or social sciences or anthropology, but I do know design. So what can we do as designers to decrease this horrible scenario of hate and change it?

1- Designing games for peace

While looking for references in Design and Peace, I’ve found the Peace Innovation Lab from Stanford University. This is their video below. All they are talking about is behaviour change and how games and game-techniques can help to change people’s behaviour. One aspect mentioned in the video is the classic B=mat, from Fogg’s model of behaviour change that uses motivation, ability and triggers. Thus, games can promote motivation, they can make people learn new abilities and they could function as triggers for people to change their behaviours. Adding to this, games provide real-time feedback, which also helps people to get immediate rewards and improve their behaviours.

There is also the games for change, or in other words, games created to change people’s behaviours, attitudes and perceptions. For example there is a category of games to learn how to manage conflicts, like games that show the how difficult it is to live in war zones and so on. There is also the World Peace board game, which helps players wot work in teams in order to understand political conflicts and make important decisions. Other games also enhance social collaboration, which can be very useful while dealing with conflicts not only in the theme of the game with within the dynamics between players. Perhaps we should be designing more games like these.

2- Using technology for good

This is quite broad but it involves a lot of tech for good and tech for peace. The insight here is that when we interact with systems we create a large amount of data, which can be tracked and can be used to enhance human experience positively. This place here is already doing this type of research. This is quite based on Persuasive Technology, which tends to bring triggers and tools to help to decrease conflict and empower peace makers, for example. With AI no, it is possible that machine learning could predict possible conflicts in the future and avoid them. However I’m not sure how this would work yet, but it might be already happening. From the design perspective I believe that this should be designed based on respect – respect of values, respect of cultural backgrounds, respect of beliefs and human rights. Yet, I still think that technology could be used as a way to explore cooperation and collaboration. That is, peace can’t be done by one individual – it is a collective experience. Thus, if technology could enhance our network and make it stronger, we could make a change. Perhaps communities might emerge through technology empowerment. Some are already there.

3- Designing for empathy

One thing that came in my mind was empathy and virtual reality (VR). That is, VR can teach empathy, since it provides an immersive connection between the user and the environment. In other words, people could live in the “skin” of others and therefore understand their issues. Empathy has always been in the agenda of Design Thinking and all design-related techniques. We need to design for people; thus, it is good to know what they would need, desire, think, feel and so on. In the case of conflict and peace, empathy is crucial. We don’t know what the others are thinking, or if something happened to them before getting into a fight. People don’t know your stories unless you tell them.

4- Positive design

You’ve probably heard about ad blockers. Now imagine if you could have negativity blocker and just read and embrace positive news, interactions and so on. Designing for positivity should be key. Why people are reacting with hate? Perhaps something in the media? Let’s admit, we have been bombarded by so many negative news. People losing jobs, economic crisis, poverty and other things. Can we get something positive out of this? Is there something that we could do? There is this framework for Positive Design, which combines Design for Virtue, Design for Personal Significance and Design for Pleasure. I would say that perhaps the one that would require more work is the virtue side. How can we include moral aspects without imposing them? What a big challenge for designers! Perhaps if I didn’t have any moral or virtue I would have argued with the old man in the bus – who knows? The framework is very good, but I would say that we need to think about the collective as well as the individual.

5- Culture matters

Understanding culture is another thing that we should do as designers. We need to work together to respect values, symbols and rituals from people that have other cultures, values, religions and so on. Cultural differences exist but also do cultural similarities. I know we tend to focus too much on what is different – but what about the things that we share? What are the values that we share?

6- Collective design

Change can come from the individual but it will only have a big impact if it is a collective change, especially in the case of peace. I know that alone I can make some difference. For example, I decided not to argue with the old man in the bus and I will never put my foot on the seat again. But the impact we tend to see in the collective side of things. This is where we should get out of our bubbles and collaborate, cooperate. Tech can help us to do this. Let’s use it.

Conclusion

What can we do? We could use technology to empower communities. And we could all start thinking differently and embrace diversity. We could use tech to help us change our behaviour. But most importantly, we need to WANT this change. I think that even with all those tech around us, we still need to acknowledge that we need to change our behaviour. Perhaps games could help to trigger this “willingness” to change – or perhaps just provocative art could make people think about those issues – or just VR could create empathy and make us change. There is still a lot to do. This is why I say to people that culture is important, values are important – but most importantly, we are HUMANS. So please, be kind, respect others and smile. Look up to the stars and think.

The era of AI design and what it means after all

AI design. Artificial Intelligence Design – and you can become an AI Designer (of course!). Recently I’ve been bombarded by thoughts, ideas, robots, the end of the world and this new name – the AI designer. So what is an AI designer after all? And what does it have to do with robots taking control of human life?

An AI designer, according to definitions, is nothing more than a designer, who perhaps uses AI as a tool to solve human problems. As mentioned in this post published in Medium and later in the ACM interactions, AI designer is a designer, who knows at least what AI could do to solve a problem. That is an important position to take in the middle of the courses in Machine Learning, coding, AI, chatbots, robots, Deep Learning and all those things that we are trying to learn as soon as possible.

Why are we talking about AI and why everyone is running against time? Well, according to this article published in different sites and places, it looks like Facebook created an AI that can talk to each other. That means that the AI created its own language and now we lost completely control. So if we don’t know this language, we are in trouble! What can they be talking about? Destroying the human race? Or perhaps it is just a normal aspect of the evolution of AI, after all having a simpler language might be more logical and easier for them to communicate.

Other people are now worried that they might lose their jobs because AI is so much better. Well, it will depend on your job. Apparently, skills that jobs require are more human and we should be doing more “human” work. However, this brings into question what is a “human” work? Perhaps this will change the economy and there would be no human capital to sell or maybe there would be a new definition for human capital. Some say that the best way is to take the robotic work out of the work. Or just like Don Norman said, it is all about “human technology teamwork“. With this in mind, I believe that design will be the key element in all this new era. This is why I will try to put in points what I think we as designers should do and understand.

1- Problem definition

As mentioned in this article from designer Nina (Zhuxiaona) Wei in the ACM Interactions (one of my fav magazines to read) – it is all about the problem and what is the design problem you’re trying to solve. Just like a normal research – you need to know what is the problem you’re trying to solve before even thinking about a solution that would involve AI. Maybe AI is not the solution – the end.

2- Users are still getting used to it

It is not mainstream to talk to your phone, for example. Okay, this might change in the future when you actually control everything with your mind (please read Michio KakuThe future of the Mind). But until there we are trying to make everything a bit more personal, and transforming AI into “human”. For example, IBM wants to create something that is not awkward with AI with personality and social skills. Sounds cool, but are we ready for it? And do we need it? Or are we just replacing things for something that it is easier? That reminds me of the movie Her. Is AI just replacing something that as humans we cannot achieve? (time to think).

3- Users are humans (yes!)

This is what we forget sometimes and we presume that AI is so much better than humans. After all, AI is smart and doesn’t need much to survive. But AI can’t understand comics! That sounds boring! So the question here is what makes us humans and therefore different from AI? Is this just about emotions, feelings, spirituality? Or is there something more? Can we strengthen our human character by giving more attention to it?

4- Embrace the teamwork

What does it mean to work with a machine that thinks just like a person? As mentioned by Donald Norman in this video below, AI should be a reinforcement, not replacement itself. In very black and white words – let’s leave AI to do the repetitive work and then we deal with creativity – other jobs that would require imagination. Perhaps in that way AI could work (time to think 2) and it would leave us to do the “fun” part. Definitely this will change the way we do things and this is quite exciting because this post could have been so much more insightful if we had some help from technology, for example. Perhaps we should embrace technology and work together, find new roles and new dynamics. Would AI become more than an extension of our human life? I don’t know. But for now, as designers, we have a huge responsibility.

5- With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility

Uncle Ben was right – now more than ever. Imagine that you can now build all those AI entities that think and act like humans – this shows power. The power is actually in our hands, but not as a way to control other people (hope not) but to build things that would actually help other people and give them autonomy. I think that one part of this teamwork mentioned by Norman is autonomy. The interaction starts with us, as input, in some way, no matter how – if it is just pressing a button or just blinking or just thinking. The power is in our mind and what we do with it. This gets very philosophical in some point (sorry but I love it some times and it makes me question everything), but it is important that we include this in our thinking.

What inspired me to talk about that was basically the popularity of the topic and a few concerns as a designer. For example, another thing to think about is the trendy word chatbot. Since it is a “robot”, then it is considered as AI, after all it talks alone and replies to people on time. But are chatbots just a selection of answers to a question? Or can they be more intelligent and give you predictions, something that “thinks” – instead of a memorisation of answers? We will come back to that later.

In some way, I still think that movements against AI and technology may rise if it gets out of our control. We like to have autonomy, to have a sense of control and perhaps the only way to do this is to be offline, disconnected, living in fields without Internet (if this is possible). We are in the middle of this transformation and it is our responsibility to think the best way to deal with it.

So, if you’re a designer and don’t know what to do in all this AI bubble and you don’t know coding or machine learning or all those things, just take a step back. Think: why is this important? Why AI? What problems is it trying to solve – if any? Pause to think.

Read more:
What Are The Best Intelligent Chatbots or AI Chatbots Available Online?
Two Chatbots Talk With Each Other, Awkward Hilarity Ensues
So, you want to be an AI designer
You can be an AI designer
AI has a bright future in HR, and is already making waves in shared services
This is what will keep us human in the age of AI

Brands, AR and advergames: when the experience is enough

Advergames and Augmented Reality, what a powerful combination. Getting people to go to places just to get a free item and have fun with it is definitely a successful strategy. Since everyone has a mobile phone, you can “catch them all” and win prizes every time you visit a store. This is what many brands are doing, since the arrival of Pokemon Go! and its large adoption by the general public. Augmented Reality (AR) is becoming mainstream and with that, brands don’t want to waste time! But what are the implications of that? Is that really effective? How?

Recently, the beer brand Amstel created a treasure hunt game app that allows players to win prizes by holding a parcel (?) for 6 hours or so. Basically, Amstel has hired the services from the app company Snatch that has a kind of “model” of treasure hunt for brands that people can simply steal virtual parcels from you. It is quite clever because it makes people engaged and they don’t want to lose their parcel, so I guess people will do everything to keep it safe (hello psychology!). You can also protect yourself, by building a tent or other things by spending some virtual currency (hello, IAP!). In the end of the day, the strategy is pure psychology! People don’t want to lose things and for that, they will do anything. Again, the app is free, but you have to “wait” 6 hours holding this parcel. It is a lot of time. So, as we know, nothing is free in this world!

“It is thought that the pain of losing is psychologically about twice as powerful as the pleasure of gaining” – https://www.behavioraleconomics.com/mini-encyclopedia-of-be/loss-aversion/

What is the potential of this type of interaction for brands? The answer is in the experience. Again, if you have a good experience and this is related to a brand – magic! You will remember the brand easily.

But how can this be sustainable? That’s the most difficult part of the whole thing. If you win something that you don’t like, would you play it again? Remember, you need to wait 6 hours. Or if you lose every time? Or if actually you don’t have spare time to play and you know you will lose it anyway? There is a world of possibilities and experiences here. So if you have a bad experience, would that influence the experience with the brand? It all sounds fun in the beginning. And what if you can’t use your phone in the streets because it is dangerous?

My conclusion of this is: brands could benefit from it if it is an event with beginning, middle and an end – not as an on-going experience that will be there forever. Brands should make sure that the experience is positive in the beginning and sustain it until the end – and after that move to another level. Since players evolve in the game, people might lose interest, they might move on and find other interesting things to do.

Digital/Physical: PLAY event at Mother, London: thoughts and insights

On the 4th May 2017, I was invited to participate in a very insightful discussion at Mother, in London. The event was organised by Derek Yates, from WSA, Mother and Sennep. Dr. Seth Gidings was chairing the sessions and the panel was composed of: Derek Yates, Jaygo Bloom, Adam Procter, Vanissa Wanick (me! yay!), Carleigh Morgan, Bobbie Allsop, Mink Ette, Sennep. All super designers and thinkers! We received an email with some really difficult questions and I would like to share with you my thoughts and ideas :) Here it goes!

1.  Ask each speaker to introduce her or himself, and to succinctly complete the following phrase: ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’
I’m Vanissa Wanick, Brazilian UX designer and now PhD in games design from Winchester School of Art, with a thesis in advergames across cultures. And ‘Exploring the playful relationship between the physical and the digital is important to me because….’Because the physical and the digital are always in conversation and it is very difficult to find boundaries between each other. It is important because we are changing our relationship with both physical and digital and they are becoming one thing. Thus, imagine that as a child you could play with spaces and anything could become a “toy”. Now this extends to the digital; children swipe paper thinking that it would function just like a tablet. I’ve seen kinds swiping a TV thinking that it was a huge iPad.

2.  Communication design is generally understood as underpinned by storytelling. What are the implications for your ideas and practice in a digital environment in which narrative is opened up and transformed by games and play? What is the role of the creative practitioner in designing or managing the open-ended, social, collaborative and emergent possibilities of playful user experience? What kinds of control do you want to keep, and what are you willing to cede to the player?
A vey huge question. I think it is hard to keep control – or maybe we need to define control in this digital environment. In the case of games, as designers, we have a huge responsibility, since people could change their behaviours by interacting with games. However, there is another side of the coin – games function like a conversation. It is difficult to predict how the player will react, since we are not designing an experience, but we are creating interactions, possibilities. However, since we started the conversation, it is possible that as designers we could function as guides, or as scientists. Who knows? As for the narrative, I think it is all transmedia, it is everywhere and it is how we communicate anyway.

3.  Play is celebrated for its creative potential – it is seen as open, free, social, imaginative, emergent, and even subversive or transgressive. What are the ethical and political implications of deploying games and playful digital technologies for commercial ends: to attract and retain consumers’ attention, to data mine and track movement on and offline, to gamify everyday life?
Wow, that’s a big challenge. First, can we gamify everything? If so, do we need to gamify everything? Why transforming everything into a game? Playing a game is not trivial – it is hard and that’s why it is fun. So it is not because it is easy that it is fun. Another thing is the data mining and data economy. This is everywhere and people can’t hide. Of course, brands can access all these data, which could emerge from interactions with playful and gameful environments and influence people’s minds. One thing to think again is the responsibility that we have as designers. Research has shown that children can’t identify a persuasive content (e.g. advertising) in games. Thus, they think it is fun playing with M&Ms or whatever the product – but in that case they can’t see as advertising strategy. Also, games can function as transgressive and subversive. I’m quite interested in subversive mechanics, in which you actually don’t win – you never win and you keep playing – or you use other political elements in the game to make people question some aspects. Newsgames and critical play are there. I think there is a lot to think. I also think that we should consider values in games and this should be one topic to take into account while designing games.

And that was it! Not sure if you agree with me or if you have anything else to add, but please feel free! :)
Until the next event!

References:
Digital/ Physical: PLAY
The Internet of Toys: Implications of increased connectivity and convergence of physical and digital play in young children

Digital/ Physical: Play from Curtis Rayment on Vimeo.

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

As part of my challenge of gathering 30 game usability reviews, I’ve been collecting some mobile games (and other games if I have the opportunity to play them) and writing about them as a cool exercise (why not?).


Figure 1. First screen of the game Tape it Up! Dev: Devsisters corp.

What is the game about
This is a mobile game designed for Android and iOS platforms. In the game you are a “tape” and you need to run through the boxes in a “factory” (Figure 1). In order to win the game you have to swipe left/right and avoid falling in the empty spaces. Sometimes you can fall into boxes with prizes and you may collect letters that would give you a limited power-up/advantage. I’ve tried this game in an iPhone.

Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/tape-it-up/id1147622827?mt=8


Figure 2. Gameplay

Pretty good things:

a) New characters = new assets. The utilisation of characters and assets is very good and the changes in the game scenario, sound and character makes it more interesting for the player, particularly because those changes are not predictable. For example, when the character is a film, the whole scenario changes to “film” (Figure 2).

b) Ability to try new characters. After losing, players can try new characters for free. However this is only temporary. If the payer doesn’t play attention, after using the new character she will be charged.

c) Visualisation of achievements (from Game Center). Although it would be good to see this in the game itself, when the player receives the notification that she has collected a number of points or coins without stop, it is very gratifying.

d) Game goals are clear and easy to play. When the player starts, there is a small tutorial that is part of the game and the controls are very simple. With the swipe and tapping to get some speed, players might feel very familiar with the controls. It works well in a mobile phone and players could play with both hands or one. Since the gameplay is short, the game could be suitable for people who doesn’t have enough time to engage with long gameplay.

e) FEVER. Collection is a key component is this game and it is what makes it pleasurable. The FEVER letters are fun and the changes in the scenario and music are very well-designed. It would make players collect more letters.

f) Question mark boxes. All question mark boxes are very good since it makes the player more curious. When the player unlocks a new character, there is an animation of the boxes and the character appears (Figure 3). Although the player knows the selected character, the idea of something being “hidden” is very pleasant.

g) Collecting daily gifts. The idea of collecting gifts is very good and the animation in the street makes it more special (Figure 4).


Figure 2. New scenario for the “film” tape. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 3. Unlocking a new character. Dev: Devsisters corp.


Figure 4. Getting your gift in the middle of the street. Dev: Devsisters corp.

Some design aspects that could be improved:

a) Why do I get a “reward” that is a video that stops my experience? When you jump in the box with the question mark, there is the possibility to get a video jumping into your face. Suggestion: I would remove this. Personally, I think it takes the fantasy away from the game and it forces the player to accept the video after playing very hard in the game.

b) What is the real reward of the game? Not sure if the scores matter as much as getting new characters or unlocking new content. You can see the scores, but there is no real comparison since your position might be very far from the top ones. Suggestion: At the end of the game, maybe the comparison table could appear in order to show the player that she is almost there. Or maybe the scores could be more obvious. For example: beat your score to unlock xxxx. If the player is playing with Facebook integration, maybe the screen of comparison could appear after gameplay. With that, players would be able to compare their scores easily.

c) The game gets repetitive. The gameplay is very simple and repetitive. Although this is not an issue, in this game it is very obvious. Since the beginning is the same (always), it can become a bit boring. Suggestion: once the player unlocks new characters, designers could not only change the scenario and assets, but also give the character new features or change the position of the boxes for a while.

d) Jumping into another level. This feature could be good in order to make the player pay with virtual money to jump into another level. However, since the gameplay is the same (maybe just harder), this function might lose its purpose, unless the player can see the progress from other people.  Suggestion: add something for the player to look forward to in the higher levels. Maybe in the level 10, the factory is prettier or there would be a “boss” there or something that actually requires the player to jump to another level. For example, Temple Run used to do something like that in their first game, in which players could see the distance of their friends.

Have a look at the gameplay here: