What can we learn from game designers about how to design interfaces for complex applications?
Another SXSW-inspired post – about something that has kept me thinking at least since fall 2009: what can we learn from game designers about how to design interfaces for complex applications? The basic idea is: applications present you with their full set of features from the get-go, maybe give you a little video and their help and that is that. It’s a bit like being dropped in the middle of the jungle with a map and a pat on the back: good luck old chap, you’ll figure it out. Most users never progress beyond a simple set of tools they quickly get familiar with and never venture any further, forever using the space-bar instead of tabs to position text.
Games, on the other hand, start with a simple set of tools and abilities and a simple interface. Then, as you game your way up from level to level, both tools/abilities and interface grow in power and complexity up to a point that you would never have though possible starting out. And all that is driven by your experience and learning your way around, which in turn are driven by your motivation to solve certain problems – like saving the princess.
Danc from Lostgarden gave a talk about he principles behind game design and their possible application to interface design to the Seattle IxDA chapter way back in 2008. It’s not only still worth looking up – it is a good basis for starting to think about applying these principles.
So – is all just Game? Jesse Schell (Professor at Carnegie Mellon University) shares thoughts about the pervasiveness of gaming in his DICE2010 talk: When games invade real life – where he dives into a world of game development which will emerge from the popular “Facebook Games” era:
He also makes the point that you want to level complex or complicated tasks by providing gaming incentives that motivate people to explore new features. And that you do that by rewarding them for exploring and learning.
A reward system is apparently also what drives Amazons Mechanical Turk: Andy Baio told the audience in his SXSWi session “Gaming the Crowd: Turning Work Into Play” that he set up a mechanical turk task to ask people why they turk. About 1/3 said that they did it for fun.
@screeny: Whether Amazon intended to or not they turned Mechanical Turk into a game. A MMORPG of sorts. #gamingthecrowd
So giving out badges for bugtracking seems to work. But how do you incorporate these principles into applications like word processing or email/messaging or most anything aimed at normal users and their mundane tasks? How do you build applications that grow with the demands and reward change?
Again, it is Danc who writes about a Office Add On that tries just that with Ribbon Hero:
Imagine Microsoft Office turned into a video game. One where learning a productivity app is a delight. One where the core loop of gameplay involves using and gaining skills in Word, Excel and PowerPoint.
It sounds a bit unlikely doesn’t it?
Well, I’m happy to announce the availability of Ribbon Hero, a new download from Microsoft that turns using Office into a game. I’ve been helping the fine folks over in Office Labs with the design and we are all immensely proud that this is getting released to the public. Huge kudos to Jen, Jonas and the rest of the team. CNET calls it “Brilliant”.
Ribbon Hero turns learning Office into a game
Ribbon Hero aims to “level people up in their abilities” in MS Office and allow them to share their results on Facebook. – coming from the knowledge that people wanted to use more features of Office – but didn’t know how. MSNBC’s Channel 9 Jonas Henlin from the Office Labs explains how Ribbon Hero was developed. Ribbon Hero is available on the Office Labs’ Ribbon Hero page, where there are also a few more videos. And here is a talk Danc gave at Word Camp 2010 in early may:
It mostly adds another layer that introduces highscores into a world that previously had to live without them, thus giving you a way to brag about your achievements, but also teaches you about features by letting you play through challenges that you can call up if you are intrested in completing certain tasks.
Rewarding and giving you bragging rights is a topic that was very much at the centre of the Gaming the System with 4chan talk at SXSW.
4chan’s Christopher Poole (moot) and Jason Scott told us about how inherently fickle motivations can be – and how they may take up a life of their own. moot becoming the Time Magazine’s Most Influential Person 2009 is nothing anybody ever planned – it just happened. It is a sort of emergent behaviour: a group somehow attracted by meme-engine 4chan decided they wanted him there. If he’d told them to, he admits, it would never have happened.
And this was only one example of how motivation is the sometimes unpredictable key point, that is rooted in the possibly varied interpretations of the values associated with the application. 4chan is probably not a good role model, but a good example: the core value of anarchic freedom ruled only by the will to fame and the rules are what make it extremely unpredictable. But any platform or emergent technology makes very visible what is also true for any tool or application: there is no end to the user’s ingenuity in putting tools to unprecedented uses.
So probably this whole gaming the interface thing is one more thing to go social with your application: from delivering a product (and maybe listening to feedback from disgruntled or happy users) to a truly interactive approach that allows your users to really own the application and making it part of a socially interactive network.
Which means that you should think hard about the kind of rules you set up for your gamed interface – and what kind of values they reflect.
wikipedia is a game where you can choose to be a beaurocrat #gamingwith4chan (Jason Scott)