A lesson from game design

Spore preview
When I was at Flock, one of the things that I advocated for most vehemently was to take more inspiration from game design — to look to influences in , World of Warcraft, the The Sims and others to come up with novel approaches to socially browsing the web.

Well, Aaron Ruby, writing for NextGen, captures exactly what I wanted to add to the open source design process:

And that’s what game designers do: they create objects that invite play.

The Microsoft Office model of interface design no longer applies; rows of buttons simply aren’t fun and because they’re not fun they actually reduce focus and productivity.

Though there will continue to be a need for transitional browsers, I’m looking to games like Spore to set the stage for next generation interaction models and work/time flows.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: Molly.com (YC W18), Uber, Google.

6 thoughts on “A lesson from game design”

  1. I never understood your notion of the browser as a game. Perhaps it’s because I think of the browser primarily as a tool. I don’t use it for fun itself, but only as a means of accessing content. Thus to make it somehow more gamelike would be to distract me from my aim. It’d be like embedding a game console screen in my windshield and asking me to drive safely and efficiently while peering through the distracting first person shooter foregrounded on my windshield. The car for me is a means of conveyance and not a game; the browser too is for me simply a tool, a window that I want to be simple and essentially invisible.

    I guess I’m old school. I want my daily-used tools to operate predictably and consistently. I want them to be by and large static so that I always know what behavior a given action is going to provoke. I gather that when you speak of game design as a model for software interaction design, part of what you’re hoping to stir up is discussion of dynamic behaviors in user interaction (for what is a game if not dynamic?). I find anything much more dynamic than a context menu to be confusing, and so I have trouble imagining use cases in which making things revolutionarily more dynamic than at present could be terribly constructive for people who actually use software. There are plenty of things that have wow appeal and that seem neat on a cursory investigation that in practical use by mid-bell-curve users would grow old fast.

    I don’t remember any specific use cases you’ve ever mentioned with respect to the browser as a game. You have proposed some dynamic interactions (Oscar the grouch in the well or whatever) that could be interesting (at least for edge-of-the-bell-curvers) but that don’t strike me as particularly game-like. So, I’m not trying at all to say that you’re wrong about this stuff (though I suspect my old-timer interaction habits would be at odds with the sort of interactions you’d push — I still use the home button, for Chrissake), but that I simply don’t understand. I’d love to read something in which you talk about this game idea from 500 feet instead of 20,000 feet, complete with a reasonably well-fleshed-out particular use case.

    Shall I mail that request off to Santa Claus this year? 😉

  2. Daryl — good call. I do need to get more specific about what I’m talking about. Part of the disconnect is that you’re trying to map your notion of games onto the browser — and for me it’s not about UI at that point, it’s more about discoverability, narratives and game learning that takes place as you learn and explore a system.

    Flock biggest problem will be elegance balanced against service discoverability. Games take care of that with levels, with customizable and adaptable UI, with varying degrees of complex interaction… most people can pick up any game and begin walking around; whether they figure out how to shoot missles or throw grenades, well, that’s something different.

    Finally, regarding static/dynamic and so on — for me, it’s more about fun and creating an enjoyable experience. Browsers, as you said, are a frame. But there’s so many opportunities to make things more “fun” — just look at Dashboard widgets and the droplet effect. Not utilitarian, but it adds some character to the overall experience.

    So I’m not looking to turn the browser into Super Mario Kart… but adding some elements of playful discovery and better UI flows is what I’m desperate to see in the browser!

  3. Thanks for the followup, Chris. You probably won’t be too surprised to learn that I find Dashboard to be useless and distracting. 😉 I do hope one day to read something more specific that I can relate to use cases a little farther from the cutting edge than what you tend to embrace, though I suppose thinking regressively would make the exercise sort of beside the point.

  4. Hey Chris, I’m sure you know, but The Sims and Spore are by Will Wright, who not only understands “the secret” of gameplay, but also user experience. I have all his excellent talks he gives at the Game Developers Conference on video. If you want me to check them out, let me know.

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