Web 2.0 Expo: Lessons from Game Designers

by Luke Wroblewski April 19, 2007

Raph Koster‘s Immersive Experiences: Lessons from Game Designers talk at Web 2.0 Expo was an entertaining overview of uncommon knowledge gleaned from Raph’s years of video game design. Check out the audio on Raph’s site (mp3) or my notes below:

  • The average person is below average. When compared to top achievers most people are a far cry from the top. Designers need to include ways for people to feel competent from the get go. Leagues: divide users into level of competence.
  • Nobody reads the manual. Affordances help people understand core interactions but the metaphors you use need to match people’s expectations.
  • Older men act like women. When you get to a 60 year old demographic, the behavior of men and women is statistically even. Older men are less testosterone driven and more likely pursue less destruction and focus on constructive.
  • Cozy worlds: humans, in general, are not fans of giant expanses of anything. Instead we gravitate to cozy worlds. In Vegas, all buildings are designed to cut off views and segment areas to give a sense of boundaries. The most popular virtual worlds are distinctive chopped up locales. Non-cozy worlds lead to a destruction of social fabric.
  • Design for the right size: 150 people. Designing for bigger increases headaches.
  • Do it everywhere. People build up a mental model and create expectations of how things will work. Down is an illusion but we cope with it.
  • Casual gamers can be hardcore. The notion of casual vs. hardcore is erroneous. A product of casual users is dead as casual users don’t stick with anything. Instead maintain a spectrum of people who invest a lot of time and some who invest a little. Must design for people with passion. Aim towards what keeps people really engaged.
  • Audiences kill genres. The process is: Intro to Growth to Maturity to Decline to Niche. Feature creep takes over the product as its development is driven by power users. New users come and have no idea what is going on.
  • Adaptive difficulty (can the game help guys who are lousy and make it harder for those that are good) has pitfalls. Fun comes from operating at the margin of your ability. If want an engaging experience you need to allow people to fail at something. Fun is solving a challenge and then telling all your friends about it.
  • Bottomfeeding: Any repetitive task, zero challenge sucks.
  • Cameras convey psychology: what camera angles work best? Women prefer first person cameras over men. Men that play to kill use third person cameras. But the roles women want to play are better suited for third person. Yet third person objectifies things: if you want to kill, you want things small and indistinguishable. First person, on the other hand, provides more personal association.
  • If avatars are seen from above or below makes a difference in how people treat them. Short people get snubbed.
  • People choose the same virtual representations of themselves in different worlds. Avatar choices are filters on behavior. You will act as you present. People build galleries of personas. Just like different social situations in offline behavior.
  • If you support only one identity, you are not capturing all of your user. They will go elsewhere to expose other parts of their persona.
  • Unpredictable policing: people will behave if they think they're being monitored.
  • Topple your kings: it's no fun to see the same person win all the time –don’t let them.