The 30 game usability reviews personal challenge #30GURchallenge

That’s it! I’ve decided to populate this space with some game usability reviews, considering many aspects of the game. It includes: usability in general, gameplay experience, IAP design, interface design, mechanics, purpose and so on. And I will tell you why I’ve decided to start this challenge. Eventually I will also discuss inclusive design and accessibility.

If you want to get into the Games User Research world, you need to be fluent in gaming. That is, you need to be able to evaluate, talk and discuss aspects of games. As Seb Long said in his talk in 2016, the hiring process of a GUR professional in the industry includes a usability review task!

So, what is a usability review of a game? In the talk, Seb mentioned words like knowing the audience and sharing best practices. That is, if you’re going to write a game usability review, you need to consider that developers and designers will read your report (they are the audience!). So the communications of the findings is crucial at this stage. Also, we need to highlight good and bad things as well, and provide recommendations.

Considering this, for my personal challenge of 30 (quick) game usability reviews, I will try to use the following structure:

  • Description of gameplay to situate the whole experience
  • Good practices
  • Not so good practices
  • Design recommendations/suggestions for improvement + priorities
  • Conclusion

For the best practices, I’m looking at heuristics of usability evaluation from Desurvire and Wiberg (2009) and Korhonen and Koivisto (2006), especially for mobile games. Since I will be looking for usability aspects, playability will be the key aspect of the game experience.

For the priorities, I will consider the elements that are more urgent and that impact the user experience directly.

The selection of games is a bit random, but I’m trying to play mostly mobile games, tablet games, online and different varieties/purposes (serious games could be part of this list too!).

Why 30? Well, since I am over 30s, I think 30 is a good number (this means that 30 works and it is also part of the Central Limit Theorem and researchers (apparently) like this number.

#1 [usability review] Lost Maze

#2 [usability review]: Tape it Up!

#3 [usability review]: SenSense

#4 [usability review]: Beat Saber VR

#5 [usability review]: Oxenfree

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

References:

Desurvire, H. & Wiberg, C., 2009. Game Usability Heuristics ( PLAY ) for Evaluating and Designing Better Games : The Next Iteration. Game Studies, LNCS Volum, pp.557–566. Available at: http://www.springerlink.com/index/CL1W17LP067K39Q1.pdf.

Korhonen, H. & Koivisto, E.M.I., 2006. Playability heuristics for mobile games. Proceedings of the 8th conference on Human-computer interaction with mobile devices and services – MobileHCI ’06, p.9. Available at: http://portal.acm.org/citation.cfm?doid=1152215.1152218.

Kultima, A. & Stenros, J., 2010. Designing games for everyone: the expanded game experience model. In Proceedings of the International Academic Conference on the Future of Game Design and Technology. pp. 66–73.

Tourism and Augmented Reality: past, present and future

AR experience at the Casa Batllo
AR experience at the Casa Batllo

When was the last time that you had an experience with AR in Tourism settings? For me, it was in Barcelona, at the Casa Batllo. We could browse through the places around the building and in each particular space it was possible to see the whole house getting life. They gave us some smartphones with headphones and we were just walking around trying to find those mysterious settings around the building. While the phone was browsing for content, I could see a logo – It was made with Unity! In fact, using Unity for AR is quite simple. I didn’t know that!
AR and Tourism is not new. Actually my surprise wasn’t the fact that they were using AR. It was Unity. It is possible that the first AR-Tourism partnership was created in the beginning of the early 2010. For me, it was always like black magic… Very complicated to make!
The potential for Tourism industries and AR is huge. Games could be created in those settings using AR technologies and representations, for example. Another example is in restaurants, while choosing for food in a very interactive menu. But what is the future of AR and Tourism?

Inamo Restaurant (from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW_OnCJShPY)
Inamo Restaurant (from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YW_OnCJShPY)

I think AR and Tourism will be everywhere, faster and cheaper. Now that everyone has a mobile phone with cameras, AR is more accessible. And with tools like Unity taking around 5 min to make an AR experience, everyone will be able to create something. This means that AR won’t only work for Tourism, but for everything. In fact, now that everyone could have access to this technology, people from local communities could create themselves an interactive experience!
Of course, a few challenges could be related to immersion. When you’re experiencing an AR interaction you might feel in your own world. That would depend on the type of interaction. In terms of research, immersion is a good area to explore. I remember at the Casa Batllo we had to take care not to walk into people’s feet because we were so immersed into that experience! It always depend. In the restaurant example, everyone was sharing their menu in one table, so it was collectively interactive. But, again, it depends on the context.
The future is not far – it is here and now as we know it! Time for us to build our ideas and leave to the world to experience them! :)

Read more:
Unity tutorial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qfxqfdtxyVA
http://www.justapixel.co.uk/how-to-make-an-ar-app-in-5-minutes-with-unity-and-vuforia/

IMG_4008 IMG_4007

Antoni Gaudí and Interaction Design: thoughts about nature and sustainability

If you ever been to Barcelona, you’ve probably visited Antoni Gaudi’s famous places: La Sagrada Familia, La Pedrera, Park Guell and Batllo House. Everywhere in the city you can see his fantastic and incredible master pieces.
Gaudi was an architect and designer. His inspiration was founded around nature. Organic compositions, vibrant colours and breath-taking buildings are part of his work.
But what does it have to do with interaction design? While interacting with his work, a few aspects called my attention: the sense of spirit and respect towards nature, organic interaction with objects, the integration of elements (consistency), colour information, attention to detail and his inverted model of visualisation. Most important, however, was Gaudi’s respect towards life. This could be explained not only by nature but the thought about human interaction inside those buildings. For example, in the Batllo House,  waves in the window’s glass could bring a sensation of being inside the water. Nature had a purpose in his work. This shows that the integration of natural forms is part of interaction design. But also the inclusion of human factors in the centre of the design process. With that, I’ve selected a few elements: nature, maths, storytelling and reutilisation of resources.
Tiles at the Batllo House
Tiles at the Batllo House
Nature
Gaudi’s relationship with nature was almost spiritual. One of his most wonderful works is La Sagrada Familia: a breath-taking church, built around natural forms. In interaction design, it is crucial to understand the context of each experience. The lesson that we can learn from Gaudi is that natural forms can evoke a certain familiarity and a sense of belonging. This could be evoked by different elements, textures, colours and combination of those elements. This reminds me of the old term Bionics and its applications around biological methods.

Toccata e fuga Bologna /Barcellona.#lapedrera #barrigotic #casabatllo #sagradafamilia ….tapas birra shopping😄😄😄

A photo posted by Barbara Roncaglia (@barbara_roncaglia_) on

Mathematical approach
Maths were also mentioned in Gaudi’s work. This could also evoke a sensation of “perfection”, particularly through mathematical equations utilised to build organic forms. The columns in the Sagrada Familia church were built around hyperbolic equations, in order to sustain the weight of the pillars and the roof. This could suggest that in interaction design, it is important to follow natural patterns of interaction. Mathematical models of structure could be also effective while dealing with interaction design projects.
Storytelling
Another important element was storytelling. Every detail in the church could tell a story. This suggests that integration of elements and narrative are crucial while designing interactive projects. The attention to the order of problems and the representation of this narrative could also bring a sense of flow and understanding. This logical order of information is crucial.
Reutilisation of resources
Most of the decoration was reutilised from old pieces of glass. This reminds me of sustainability. I remember listening to the audio at Bartllo House: Gaudi started to think in terms of sustainability even before the term “sustainability”. This reutilisation was organic and natural. We couldn’t see that glasses were reutilised to bring different textures to Gaudi’s work. This integration was crucial. As an individual walking inside and outside his buildings, I’ve felt inside a wonderland of fantastic and useful objects at the same time. It was like a mix of hedonic and utilitarian approaches all at the same time. For sustainability, Gaudi just ticked the boxes of sustainable interaction design. The promotion of both renewal and reuse was in his work and integrated with the whole building.
Sustainability is a word that has a strong relationship with Gaudi’s work. Some say that it is a reflection of sustainable architecture, represented by good utilisation go green spaces and coherent constructions. Gaudi’s work can also inspire Design Thinking and human-centred design. For example, Gaudi was able to empathise with human needs and expectations, looking at human interaction with the environment and replicating it into buildings.
Of course, in terms of sustainable behaviour, it was unlikely that after being at Gaudi’s buildings you would remember to save energy. However, the main sensation while being around his buildings was that we have to respect nature. It sounds cliche, but the experience was that we are part of the environment and we have the power to change our surroundings. Gaudi’s legacy is unquestionable. If you have the chance, please go to Barcelona and visit his fantastic buildings!
La Sagrada Familia - Photo taken by the authorLa Sagrada Familia – Photo taken by the author

Gamification or game design?

Sometimes we still struggle to situate our work in terms of gamification or game design. If gamification is a design process, then game design is also a design process. As known, gamification is about non-gaming contexts but serious games is also about non-leisure contexts. The difference is purely the whole vs. parts (i.e. games design elements) discussion. Gamification is about game design elements and serious games are whole systems, but also composed of elements. So, in this scenario, can gamification become the whole system after design? This is so complicated!

This is not a question about the “magic circle”. I think that if we go towards the magic circle definition, then it will depend on what the player defines as “game”. This means that this “magic” could happen at anytime and anywhere. I’ve read a paper saying that “game” could depend on the perception of the player. So if an user interacts with a system that has game “elements”, it is up to him/her to consider it as a game. That could sound plausible, but what about the design process? What makes gamification different? We could talk about purposes and objectives here. Some might say that gamification is about motivating people to change their behaviour, but then, what about games for change? Aren’t they designed for the same purpose?

The discussion could go further. In serious games we might see heroes and stories attached to the medium. Most of the times, they are characters and they “live” in that game. In card or board games, they are there, but in other formats. In gamification, maybe those heroes could be JUST “real” people. They are what they are. It looks like in gamification the context is the actual main element. This is why DEFINING and INTEGRATING the context is one important aspect. Bringing this context to the interaction could make all the difference and probably shortening the bridge between real-digital. This could also make people change their behaviours in a way that everything is integrated.

Screen Shot 2016-04-17 at 11.05.04

The line between gamification and game design is still very thin. But maybe if we consider the context as a major influencer, maybe it can become easier to integrate best practices of gamification. And this is not about points, badges and leaderboards.

Some might argue that gamification is about extrinsic rewards. Let’s think. Can games be about extrinsic rewards or just playing and having fun with it? Can serious games be about extrinsic rewards or is it about value and purpose inside the game? Reward is strongly related to the routine that takes us to get that reward. But, again, the reward requires MEANING, it requires integration with a context. This is why Deterding’s paper from 2011, of “situated motivational affordances” could be interesting in this scenario. Thus, mapping the context is crucial.

The whole point, however, is the understanding of the design process. So, what is the difference between gamification and game design? The integration of the context, perhaps. And what is the difference between gamification and serious game design? Context? Ummm. It looks like gamification tends to be employed in existing systems or tasks. Hence, the verb “gamify” – which I don’t like that much. I think that maybe the problem is in there. Serious game design sounds like the design process is starting from scratch, whereas gamification sounds like we are adjusting an existing interaction. Maybe this implies the integration of CONTEXT and improvement or creation of systems.

There is also the concept of gameful design, which is actual making things more like a game (i.e. gamefulness), rather than just playfulness. In September 2011, Deterding et al. came up with an interesting way to see gamification. It is about the strategy (gamification), being different from a design “goal” (gameful design).

“Gameful design and “gamification” frame the same extension of phenomena through different intensional properties – as the design strategy of using game design elements (gamification) or the design goal of designing for gamefulness (gameful design)” – Deterding et al. (2011)

This discussion could be going on and on, forever, like the chicken-egg issue. Gameful design and gamification sound very similar! It is also hard to define those approaches. Isn’t the goal of gamification to transform things more like a game? Maybe the name is the issue. As I said before, gamification sounds like adjusting existing things and transforming elements into game design elements. Gameful design sounds more like people centred. It is and it will be about PEOPLE. So, what is game design, gamification and gameful design for you? To me, it is a bit like the drawing. Serious game design/game design has a system with defined lines and objects. Gamification has thin lines and real/digital are in the same context. Gameful design is a way to understand people’s needs and abilities in this scenario that involves people’s interaction with a context.

Definitions of gamification and gameful design are still in development. As a researcher, you need to define those terms before starting your work. This is hard and it has been a journey to me. Now I think I can get the idea of this concept. And you? What do you think?

References:

Deterding, S., Sicart, M., Nacke, L., O’Hara, K., & Dixon, D. (2011, May). Gamification. using game-design elements in non-gaming contexts. In CHI’11 Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems (pp. 2425-2428). ACM.

Deterding, S. (2011, May). Situated motivational affordances of game elements: A conceptual model. In Gamification: Using Game Design Elements in Non-Gaming Contexts, a workshop at CHI.

Huotari, K., & Hamari, J. (2012, October). Defining gamification: a service marketing perspective. In Proceeding of the 16th International Academic MindTrek Conference (pp. 17-22). ACM.

Deterding, S., Dixon, D., Khaled, R., & Nacke, L. (2011, September). From game design elements to gamefulness: defining gamification. In Proceedings of the 15th international academic MindTrek conference: Envisioning future media environments (pp. 9-15). ACM.

I’m studying games design, not gamification

This post is just to avoid the usual misconceptions between gamification and games. Although the names are very similar, they are not the same thing. In fact, they are not the same thing at all. There are three words that address gamification: motivation, persuasion and games. Not to mention, gamification is often discussed as a Design strategy. I must admit that in that case, I totally agree. Gamification is a design process and a design choice. However, in which way?
Gamification as game design elements?
Gamification had its first definition as the utilisation of game design elements into non-gaming contexts. Well, we have been using games in non-gaming contexts through serious games and persuasive games. Although the idea is actually the implementation of those game mechanics, the focus on the game design elements pushes the application of gamification towards game-like activities. This approach makes everything look like a game and in fact, it might be not exactly like a game at all. Gamification goes beyond that.

Gamification as a tool of persuasion or motivation?
Right, because gamification tends to make you do things that are good for you but you don’t feel like doing them, it can be related to persuasion, right? However, this is like the two sides of the same coin. Is it persuasion or motivation? Where is the line that divides persuasion from motivation? The answer here might be an issue of goals. If I want to do something, but I lack of motivation, then it is motivation. If I don’t even know that I want to do something, then I need to be persuaded. However, that difference between one and the other needs to be refined. People mention persuasive technologies a lot in this case. Things like providing the right access and ability to perform a task and some triggers may function to persuade someone to do something. But, yet, again, is it motivation or persuasion? Or maybe motivation that drives persuasion?
I think that gamification might actually try to do both – if possible. But it might have an order. First, you might persuade someone to do something. Then you motivate them to keep doing it. It is possible that the gamification strategy could have two approaches at the same time – why not. Or it may vary according to the context (health, education and so on). Or even better – it will vary according to the PEOPLE.

And what about the game-side of the gamification?
Personally, I’m starting to think that the name is the main problem. It should be design for motivation or design for persuasion. Or maybe people really need to explain better – myself probably. I must admit that I’ve done some mistakes as well, mainly because of the name.

My research is NOT about gamification
Now I need to make a point. I’m not studying gamification. In fact, I’m very far from that. I’m looking at advergames, which are indeed games for advertising purposes. I’m not researching in-games advertising, if you thought about it just because of the name. I’m looking at advergames, games that are TOTALLY shaped for the advertising message. Are those games brand-related? Sometimes. Are those games persuasive? Yes, totally. Are those games gamification? NOT AT ALL. If we look from the lenses of persuasion, it may have some similarities. Advergames are created to change consumers attitudes, make them share the message with others and make them remember the product or something before making a decision. But gamification has motivation as one of the main principles. And it really feels that one of the main triggers here needs to come from the individual. Games are, of course, amazing engaging tools and it is a fact that they can really change the world. This is why gamification was born from the game-design elements. BUT, the aim and nature of gamification is motivation – and can be combined with persuasion in some cases. For marketing, for example, it is almost impossible to motivate someone to buy a product. You persuade someone to buy a product. Moreover, advergames are games – this means that they are a WHOLE game with ALL the elements functioning together. Even if you break the elements and change them, they will be always games, with game mechanics, interface design, story and so on. And if you manipulate one element of the game, you are still working in the game perspective. So, because of that, I can say – I’m NOT researching gamification. And it might be very difficult to explore gamification for advertising and marketing.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that I don’t have any interest whatsoever in gamification. I actually want to keep discussing this aspect and I really want to get involved in the Design process and research. But till now, I just need to make myself clear. :)

photo credit: Goomba Clay Figure from Nintendo’s Super Mario via photopin (license)

What game designers can learn from product placement?

Yes, product placement. Let’s try to paint the picture. You’re watching a movie or a soap opera, and then a brand is just in the background or the main actor is interacting with a known product. This is product placement. Although this strategy is mainly related to advertising purposes, game designers could learn a lot from it. I can tell you how.

When dealing with camera movements in your game, you have to think what are the things that you want people to see. What do you want your player to see and why this is important?

Product placement can happen in different ways. First, it could be done in the background, as “passive” object or in the central of the screen, as “active” object. When thinking about camera, it’s like some products are far from our point of view, but the way the camera is positioned it is still possible to see the brand. In that case, the camera is placed strategically in order to show the features of the product.

See the example of the Wilson with Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away. In that case, the “wilson” has a strong presence and influence in the movie.
In a game, this could be very similar to the objects that you have to collect in order to succeed in the game. It could be the same way as looking as objects in the game and finding the necessary items in order to progress in the game.

Source: http://guides.gamepressure.com

Another way to see placements is in the background.Of course, you need to be careful. If you fail on giving a more “natural” way to see objects and aspects inside the game, they could be like bad product placements. And no one likes bad product placements as they could sound very fake. Everything needs to be in total harmony. This is why placements tend to follow the narrative of the movie plot. Therefore, narrative and storyline are strongly relevant in this case.

Russell (1998) A THREE-DIMENSIONAL CONSTRUCT OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT
Source: Russell (1998) A THREE-DIMENSIONAL CONSTRUCT OF PRODUCT PLACEMENT

Camera strategies
In 3D games in particular, it is possible to think about camera positions that could include more information to the player. Last week, I was in a workshop about Unity and camera positions and it was very good to see some examples.

Over-the-shoulder: The actor is in the front of the game. This can create a very close relationship with the character. This is the 3rd person camera. And it can work very well with tank controls. Depending on the position of the camera, it can become First-Person. Very useful for narratives centred on the character. Placements could be explored in the environment.

Isometric: You can choose for isometric camera, particularly if you want the player to get an overview of the game. Placements related to the narrative could be employed in objects around the environment. However, as the player might see the bigger picture, placements should be sutil. Small objects could do the job.

Zoom: You can also use the zoom action to see more details in gaming interfaces. Things like zooming in a battle, for example. But again, this might be useful for 2D games or isometric interfaces.

Conclusions
Camera positioning is a design decision. The way you start deciding about your narrative, the camera controls should be included in the list of choices in the game design process.
I actually didn’t realise how this influence A LOT the experience in the game and how this is actually related to the narrative. Sometimes we make choices in the automatic mode, but camera controls should be thought in more details. Maybe some elements from movies should be included – and maybe placements in movies should be analysed and also explored in the games as a narrative strategy – not just a product placement.

Read more:
Burgun, K. (2012). Game design theory: A new philosophy for understanding games. CRC Press.
Cristel A. Russell (1998) ,”Toward a Framework of Product Placement: Theoretical Propositions”, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, eds. Joseph W. Alba & J. Wesley Hutchinson, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 357-362.
A History of Product Placement
How Does Product Placement Work?
Toward a Framework of Product Placement: Theoretical Propositions
11 Essential Camera Techniques in Filmmaking – With Animated Images
How to position the camera for isometric assets

 

Thoughts on gaming bubbles

What makes you play a certain game? Although games are voluntary, they might have something that makes you think “I want to play it!” or “Can’t wait to experience that!” or “Amazing graphics, that’s my type of game” and so on. So many reasons to play a game.
From my personal experience, I’ve played games that people suggested, sometimes just to compete against my friends. I’ve played other games that evoke a certain memory from past experiences. And, in the middle of all the possibilities, we have game genres and types of players.
Player types are ways to categorise players and “label” them into different characteristics. This may work for some strategies, but can we really label ourselves into one single type of player?
On the other hand, we have the game genres: arcade, adventure, RPG, Candy Crush clones and so on. So many genres and possibilities. Let’s take the “clones” as example. Candy Crush is a puzzle type game of matching 3 elements, similar to the old Bejeweled. Actually, if we see in the app stores, there are a lot of clones of “popular games”. But do people play those games because of similarity?
Now, considering the mobile games that are in the app store so far, we can see a large amount of games designed around a movie. Let’s take the example of Minion Rush. It is exactly like Subway Surfers – another popular game. But it has the Minions everywhere. It’s the same as playing the bouncing balls type game from the movie Inside Out. Maybe if you’re a fan of the movie, you might download the game.
Considering this, we could be living in different bubbles that merge in different ways:

  • Game genre fan bubble: players that love this type of game and that’s it. “I play puzzle games because I love puzzles” – or maybe the player types – but this is another discussion
  • “Theme” fan bubble: players that love the characters or the story of the theme. “I love playing Minion games”.
  • Social bubble: players that play games to be part of a group. I’ve lived that – and from the stories that I’ve heard, this might be very true
  • My own bubble: I play games because I want to have fun. A very simple bubble of individual objectives (not getting into detail here)

Thus, we have something very similar to this:
bubble-01
Of course it seems very simple to put people in one bubble. The idea is not that. Imagine that those bubbles are “alive” and moving to each other. They are not separated bubbles and they don’t have closed lines.
The idea behind this is that it is very difficult to label players. They might change their objectives or preferences along time – and this is perfectly understandable.
Many things could be related to those bubbles. In this case, it is a combination of game characteristics that could make people prefer one type of game and another is someone’s context or personal preferences. What makes people play games? Is this just an individual action or does the game itself provide this action? Why not both? One satisfy the other!
I think that the idea of the “fan” should be analysed. As games are cultural artefacts – why not explore the culture of the fan of games? Here we go. I will leave the thoughts with you.

Talking about haptic dimension

In the gaming world, things tend to be focused on visual aspects. Take as an example, Virtual Reality (VR) and the investment in visual interferences that evoke immersive reactions. This aspect of feeling that the reality and the virtual is the same can be called as Telepresence. The telepresence is enhanced by media “richness”. However, most of the times, the “touch” or “tactical” sense can be overlooked. Let’s take the 5 senses as a guideline. In games, we have sound, images.. but we don’t have touch, smell and taste. I’m not sure if the technology is yet there to create a smell-tasteful experience in the game, but the touch, yes. And that goes beyond the vibration of the game console while playing the game.

While watching this video from Casual Connect about “Wearable Haptic Feedback” (by Ehren J. Brav), you can understand what I’m talking about.

As Ehren J. Brav shows in the video, the haptic experience is usually used for simulation, but it can also bring information for the player as feedback. And that’s the main point. This device showed in the video is more as a helmet because it can be used for VR experiences. In the game it can also bring another dimension to the player – even to solve challenges in the game. It sounds incredible!

The main point now is that haptic feedback gives another dimension for HCI. It’s not about visual aspects anymore. It’s a combination of senses. Imagine what that could bring for different types of gaming experiences!

Now, imagine haptic situations that you don’t have a wearable. Disney has been researching about 3D haptic experiences with different interfaces. It’s like touching a screen but it has haptic “waves” enhanced by algorithms and lots of different aspects.

The idea of haptic feedback was also explored by another project from Disney in order to improve storytelling, bringing together linguistic and touch. And yet again, no wearable, just a touch screen device, as tablets and mobile phones. This shows that it is possible to transform technology into haptic screen. Why not? Imagine reading an ebook and feeling everything that is in the book just from the touch?

It is time to think. What are the design theories that could be applied into haptic dimensions? How does it vary for each individual? Maybe haptic could be applied in health-related gaming, helping people to overcome diseases? It is possible that the area of health and technology could benefit from those aspects, particularly for people that need treatment. But, yet, it is necessary to understand the types of applications. In the area of education and for young learners, maybe haptic could bring more immersive experiences for students in order to improve their learning experience – why not?

It seems that the combination of gaming structures and immersive technologies for the 5 senses is the main area to be explored. However, we still have a lot to do! What do you think?

References:

Kortum, P. (2008). HCI beyond the GUI: Design for haptic, speech, olfactory, and other nontraditional interfaces. Morgan Kaufmann.

Kim, S. C., Israr, A., & Poupyrev, I. (2013, October). Tactile rendering of 3D features on touch surfaces. In Proceedings of the 26th annual ACM symposium on User interface software and technology (pp. 531-538). ACM.

Israr, A., Zhao, S., Schwalje, K., Klatzky, R., & Lehman, J. (2014). Feel effects: enriching storytelling with haptic feedback. ACM Transactions on Applied Perception (TAP), 11(3), 11.

Is advergaming dead?

Well, not really. Advergames are games built around a rhetoric message, usually related to a brand. See for example the classic Magnum Pleasure Hunt and Colonel Sander’s Quest from KFC. I could talk about all the examples but, yet, do you really care about advergames?

Gamification vs. Advergaming

The interest for advergaming decreased over the past years, if compared to gamification, for example (see Google Trends). Gamification emerged as concept that includes design process, through the application of game design elements for non-leisure contexts (Deterding et al., 2011). In other words, gamification is about making situations and contexts more “gameful”. The confusion of the blurred line between games and gameful design could have been one of the reasons why advergaming decreased the interest. Well, advergames are games, and gamification is a design process. I could even go further and say that advergames are persuasive games and gamification could be more related to motivation (extrinsic + intrinsic) (if you don’t agree correct me :)). However, it seems that the term gamification is lasting more than advergaming design. But why?

Maybe people are just getting bored.

Or maybe they’ve just discovered that they are being persuaded by the game and they might not like it.

Screen Shot 2015-06-12 at 08.13.26
Gamification (blue) vs Advergames (red) – Google Trends, 2015

Virality

Now imagine that you’ve discovered that Coca-cola created a new mobile game. Are you going to play it? Maybe. Why? Maybe because of the mechanics, or the fun for fun sake, just pure entertainment. But are you going to play it because it’s coca-cola? Maybe not. You might play it because people are talking about it. And if they are talking about it and you are playing it, you’re cool. This is a bit of what it is called as social exchange. In the social media and in studies about viral marketing, this is an important element. You’re playing the game that everyone is playing, you’re cool. It has a status and you will easily share it with your friends. This is one of the reasons that games need to be connected to social media and it has to carry a value or something that will make people share your message. With that, the advergame became not only fun but a channel that will help to spread the message. Although this is a kind of obvious, it is possible that not all marketing companies are integrating this very well. It is not just sharing a score. It might have something that goes beyond that: a message.

What am I going to win?

Taking back the example of Coca-cola game. You might not play it because it’s coca-cola, but if you think you’re going to win something, maybe you will. The idea of a clear rewarding system is crucial for the success of the advergame. Most of the people that play those games stop at some point. Possibly because the game didn’t have enough challenges or just because they’ve finished. See the Magnum game. You’ve play it once, you won it, you’ve shared it, done. You’re not coming back, right? You’ve just got your points. Maybe you could get better than your friends… However, if you share it with your friends, the maximum that you can get is status. But playing this game was useful?

Utility vs pleasure

So, where do we situate advergames? Are they “useful” or are they just “pleasurable”? From the advergames that I’ve seen, they’re most “pleasurable”. What I mean by it is that they are just in the category of “fun for fun sake” or the old term of “advertainment” – as an evolution of branded entertainment. But, yet, are advergames just entertainment? Can they carry other things? How can they be effective? It is possible that this could be expanded to the rewarding system of the game – one it’s just fun, and another one is utility – or both. Yet, something to be analysed…

Consumers are humans

Effectiveness of advergames mostly depends on what consumers perceive of your advergame. But, sometimes, we forget that the consumers are humans – and humans have expectations, needs and frustrations. Because of that, advergames should focus on PEOPLE. This is not only thinking of Maslow’s pyramid of needs, but also that there are expectations around the game. What I see here is that there are two different kinds of literacy – or things people learnt: gameplay and advertising. People got used to advertising and now they know what they’re up to. Sometimes this could be secondary, as for example, people expect to see Christmas adverts on TV. But if the advertising is boring or not meaningful, the person will probably forget about it. So, yes, why people like Christmas adverts? And why would they talk about it? Well, they might connect with people through their emotions – and memories. Marketers know what they’re doing. So why don’t they apply this to advergames?

Humanising advergaming design

Let’s make it simple, emotional and contextual.

Christmas adverts, for example, are contextual. They’re on TV on December, which is obvious. We know that this is contextual. But what about advergames of “cars”? How do you apply context? Or tourism? It seems that each brand category might have a different approach of advergaming design. Another question is about emotion. How to build emotional relationships through advergaming design? One buzzword would be “telling stories”. Right, games do have stories – but, are they emotional? Let’s take for example a mobile game. Well, mobile games are often simple games. First, because they’re mobile, they don’t have enough memory for heavy games and second, it is a question of context. People that use mobile games they might be on the go, or waiting for something… The screen is small and sometimes you might be without of headphones. Interruptions are more possible – and then we think again – the context is important.

When game literacy meets advertising literacy

I love this word – literacy. It means that you can read and write things, but it also means that you can decipher and understand things. Game literacy is something that came with the expansion of the gaming culture. You play games, you know about games and you might be more keen to understand how to solve the problem inside the game. The same for advertising. You know advertising, you know that they’re trying to send you a message. What happens with advergaming design is that now everyone knows what you’re doing. You’re doing advertising and – if you’re not careful – you might be doing silly games. Players know – they’re not stupid. This is why it is necessary to change the approach: make them more interesting!

Advergames are not dead. On the contrary, they’re there – and changing. They’re forms of interactive advertising that can incorporate stories and make people actually “do” things. They’re are not loyalty cards. They go beyond the points. They make people share things – they’re are naturally viral (or should be). And this is where we should think.

And you, what do you think?

The psychology of crowds in the gameful world

Originally, the definition of gamification is related to the application of game elements to non-leisure contexts, as a design process. Each day, “gamified” (I prefer the term “gameful”) applications are developed through simply implementing badges, points and rewards, which can become a problem if not well-designed. It can be transformed into something really forced or fake that people will drop as soon as they are not interested anymore. The “human” element can’t be overlooked in this process, particularly because we are dealing with motivation. And motivation is situated in a context.

Motivational affordances can be related to the object and to a situation or context. Because of that, it’s necessary to understand what is the context which will be transformed by people through gameful experiences. Previous research regarding gamification has brought to the conversation concepts of culture and beliefs, as rituals and festivals as forms of play. However, this is not the point. I’m not getting into the discussion about gameful x playful, but social norms are something to pay attention while designing gameful (or gamified) applications.

The psychology of crowds is a research filed that encompasses music festivals, sports events and even protests. The main discussion of this aspect is related to relatedness and the feeling of being “united”, especially through positive relationships with people. In this context, it’s possible to highlight even less competitiveness and more ability to deal with difficult situations. But what does it have to do with gameful experiences? Well, previous research has argued that playing with people is better than playing alone. Now imagine if you could transform a whole rock n’ roll concert into a mega MMORG gameplay to help disabled people, for example? It’s like getting into a queue just because everyone is there – and that happens a lot in places like Brazil for example (we love queues). My point here is that crowds have power. People have the power – yes! And we could do great things with that.

The great concept of the psychology of crowds is that they tend to be heterogeneous or homogeneous, but yet organised. Gustave Le Bon (2009) introduced the concept of psychology of crowds and he argued that nationality, traditions and institutions compose the beliefs of the crowds. It is a way to say that they become like “communities”. In the digital world, it is kind of easy to see the influence of this human phenomenon: we have crowd funding and communities in social networks. But as a psychological tool, the crowds could be very persuasive. Crowds don’t exist just by themselves. They have leaders, they share ideas and beliefs. Everything is meaningful.

Another concept presented by Le Bon (2009) is that crowds have leaders. And those leaders started as followers. They confirm those beliefs and values, repeat and keep sharing and spreading, in a cycle of contagion. The idea of leaders is not as authority. I think that what the author meant by it is that it helps to keep some “organisation”. However, in my point of view and in gameful worlds, this needs to be studied. If people will follow leaders, it’s necessary to understand what they mean to people. What is the sentiment that they evoke? What are they representing?

Taking back to gameful applications, it is possible that doing things together or being part of a group is important. This is consisted by the concept of relatedness. One might say that he/she doesn’t want to share personal things with anyone. However, the sense of belonging is not only represented by sharing things. This could be represented by other ways, such as strong beliefs, for example, or food. One example is, I’m Brazilian and even I see something written in Brazilian Portuguese when I’m off my country, I will feel part of that group – even not being physically in the group. It is necessary to expand this sense of belonging.

How can design explore this? And how can gameful environments reflect or create those crowds? It is possible that the reflections of Le Bon could be amplified into gameful worlds. Again, I will leave the thoughts with you :)

If you want to read more and expand this idea:
Le Bon, G. (2009). Psychology of crowds. Sparkling Books.
Connell, J. P., & Wellborn, J. G. (1991). Competence, autonomy, and relatedness: A motivational analysis of self-system processes.
Shi, L., Cristea, A. I., Hadzidedic, S., & Dervishalidovic, N. (2014). Contextual Gamification of Social Interaction–Towards Increasing Motivation in Social E-learning. In Advances in Web-Based Learning–ICWL 2014 (pp. 116-122). Springer International Publishing.
AlMarshedi, A., Wills, G. B., Wanick, V., & Ranchhod, A. (2015). SGI: A Framework for Increasing the Sustainability of Gamification Impact.

photo credit: Rush hour at the metro via photopin (license)