January 12, 2023

Games, business, interfaces. Part 2: Experience design tools

Read part 1

Action

Most people who make businesses, products, or games concentrate on actions. In a game, it is the gameplay, in a product, it is service, and in business, it is the process (what we do every day). This is not the most important but the most specific (for the subject area) part.

 

Allow being free

In the game, this is the main task – to ensure that the player understands the boundaries within which they are interested in exercising freedom, and begins to use it. To do this, the player must understand which zone of the game they can exercise their freedom in, and where this freedom is limited by rules or other means. They must understand what forms of interaction this environment generally supports: what and how can be done here, what conventions are there, what forms of activity the world is ready to react to, and what are outside the focus of the game. They also must understand what the organizers and other participants in the game expect from them. What is it all about? What does it mean "to be a good player" in this game?

 

Set the form of action

If we give the players total freedom and say: “Well, do what you want, whatever your imagination is capable of,” they come up with something completely free. A problem immediately arises. No one else has any idea how to respond to this, how the game world should react to this, how this is consistent with the rest of the concept. Every action hangs in the air. This is a problem for a lot of UGC services that give users too much freedom.

When we just say, “Well guys, this is a chat. Do what you want,” – and we don't set up the topic of the conversation and the formats of statements, we don't indicate what is good and what is bad here – in most cases, this idea dies. Because only the technical possibility of interaction is not enough. We also need a motive, style, occasion, example, and a lot of other "soft" things.

The game implies that any meaningful action of the players should be the focus of the concept. The agreement with the gaming world they enter is that meaningful actions will receive meaningful responses. If the player doesn't receive a meaningful response from the game, then it makes no sense for them to continue playing. Eventually they stop making meaningful efforts. 

In other words, by giving the players freedom, you need to show them the framework of the interaction format – the restrictions on their freedom, which lead to the fact that the game will give an interesting response to their actions.

 

Immerse into metaphor

Games, products and businesses have a structure of activity, and there is also a perspective from which we look at this structure. A metaphor. Sometimes it is obvious: for example, we are playing a Tolkien game or a Battle Royale game – it doesn't matter. There is a setting and a meaning of what is happening in the game. We propose to look at them through the plot frame and endow the actions with symbols. Sometimes the metaphor is less explicit. For example, in checkers, it seems there is no setting.

When designing any business or product, there is a level of metaphor whether we like it or not. We don't realize it every time and therefore, it happens that we don't design it. But it will still be found by the participants intuitively and will seriously affect what is happening.

You can look at the organization in different ways: like a jungle, where it's every man for himself, like an engine, where all the cogs are oiled, like an army, where everyone is subordinated to protection from the enemy, like a family, where everyone loves each other, like a temple where there is something sacred. All these frameworks have their own logic and style of interaction, their strengths and weaknesses, while the regulations behind them may be the same.

And here is an example from designing a service. One of our favorite clients has a project – a school of intelligence development for children and adults. It is quite obvious that we are working here with a classroom metaphor. Why? Because it is familiar to the participants: teachers, students, and parents.

When we came up with a video messenger for them, we could look at it from some other angles. We could say, "This is a theater, there is an actor, and everyone else is looking at them and applauding." Webinar platforms are usually implemented in this metaphor. Or we could say, "This is a sport, this is where we compete, there are winners and losers." Or: "This is a beauty contest, there is respect and a podium, and you need to be in the spotlight." But we say, "This is a small classroom in a private school, there is a teacher, and this teacher is giving feedback to the students." And this decision directly affects the scenarios of behavior, product strategy and, through it, the business and software architecture.

And here is how the metaphor worked at different stages in the development of Rideró. At first, we thought Rideró was a text editor. The place where a person works on a book. Then we decided against it. We changed the perspective and chose a metaphor – crossing the dam: there is a large number of authors who want and cannot start selling books, something stops them, and we destroy the obstacles between them and the reader. We make the movement of the book free. Our product has been built around this idea for a long time.

 

Engage in action

This is a tricky story because people may not have any experience of playing at all, or of this particular game, or experience of using a service. Or it is a newcomer who has come to the company and does not yet understand how everything works here. They will likely be quite inert – they will just sit and wait for someone to talk to them, and they will react to it.

At the beginning of the game, all players are in this state. There is a risk of getting into a situation where nothing is happening, because everyone is waiting for someone else to take action, "and I will just have to react." It is necessary to initiate life to begin, the ecosystem to boil. Yes, this means that the first serve should be made by the game, the company, the product – the player makes the first action as a reaction to an external event. Because it is easier to react than to act on your own.

Part 3 coming soon.

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