Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Adaptive Path throws down the gauntlet

Change makes a word of difference!
The word far was introduced in the text and Adaptive Path have clearified what they meant to convey. I apologize for not giving Adaptive Path the benefit of doubt in the original statement. I guess we europeans are a little over-sensitive to perceived condecending attitudes. I will however leave the original text below as a timely reminder of how just a small three letter word can make such a drastic difference in user experience.

I was quite shocked to read Adaptive Paths blog entry about UX Intensive in Amsterdam. As a european UX practicioner I was insulted by the following statement:

From what we’ve been told, the European UX community has evolved beyond the basics, and we’re excited to bring our workshop for intermediate-to-advanced practitioners to The Continent.

If this is the mindset of Adaptive Path when they are visiting Europe I will have to say the same as a fellow practicioner said to me before this post: "That is a reason not to go."

As mentioned above the text is now changed. It is interesting to see the change just one word makes. The now text is now:

From what we’ve been told, the European UX community has evolved far beyond the basics, and we’re excited to bring our workshop for intermediate-to-advanced practitioners to The Continent.

Without the help of facial expressions and vocal tone we are left with fewer tools for communication. We can learn from this that with fewer tools, the application of the tools we have has to be more precise.

When I do expert evaluations of web sites I find that I focus a lot on tone of voice, labels, wording and text, this whole incident will not change that.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

User Experience in Educational Multiplayer Games – A Case Study of Global Countdown

Global Countdown is a hugely successful multiplayer educational game commissioned by Telenor in Norway and developed by Rayon, Hybris and Thue & Selvaag. It has been deployed in five different locations in Norway and will soon open in Islamabad, Pakistan. The game teaches teens that visit Telenor about information technology and communication.

The game is an installation that takes up a fairly large room. The room consists of a big screen, one game master PC, 4 president Tablet PCs, 4 group big screens, 8 Advisor Tablet PCs and 12 PDAs. With that kind of hardware a whole school class can play at one time. A game lasts two to three hours and involve up to 24 people.

The concept behind the game is quite simple. The players are divided into four groups that represent the four regions of the world. Each group selects their president that will sit on the central negotiation table. The rest of the group is advisors, with the head advisor in contact with the president through video and audio communication. All players have access to chat, e-mail, address book and other applications through their tablet-PCs or PDAs. The presidents will negotiate with each other to reach consensus through five rounds of questions. While they negotiate, the story moves on and the advisors are bombarded with information from different sources in the form of e-mail, video calls, phone calls and chat messages. If the advisors don’t manage to filter and trust the relevant information to their president they are going to be at a disadvantage when negotiating.

The story is about the increasing environmental problems in the world. The four regions have sent the nuclear powered icebreaker Artica to the North Pole to conduct studies and negotiate a climate treaty. But just as soon as the game starts, the story starts to twist. A crewmember is found dead, oil is found, a ship is in need of assistance and the fusion reactor starts acting up. Quickly, the situation changes from minute to minute, all while the players are required to solve the situation to their regions best interest.

To me, the most interesting aspect about this game is the experience it creates. There are unique opportunities when creating something like this:

You control the room, the sound, the hardware, the esthetics of the interior, and the behavior of the game master. Use that to create an immersive experience. Every single detail has to be there to create the illusion of being inside the game. Create suspension of disbelief.

You certainly do not control the players; let them create content, subplots, action and suspense. The story is just there to facilitate cooperation, competition and conflict between them. Do not let the story become the focal point, but let it become the framework. Experiences is all about emotion and emotion between people can be much more powerful than emotion between player and game.

Skills matter, not knowledge
With immersive game experiences you have a unique opportunity to create situations that test skills and not knowledge. The inter-personal skills, speaking in groups, negotiation, information filtering, speed reading, netiquette, information technology and calmness under pressure. The game should put the players in a situation where it is necessary to use skills and not knowledge to master the situation.

Let the players be in control. The players are not spectators; they are participants in the game. Embrace the uncertainty of the human factor and lead the players into situations where the human factor can contribute. Do not include elements that take away control from the players, like “hand of god” or railroading techniques. These kinds of techniques will limit the effort they are willing to invest. Your greatest tool for creating the experience is the players.

Learn by doing
Do not require the players to be thought the game before they start. Let the game teach them. If they have to find out how things work and teach each other during the game it will only heighten suspense and facilitate cooperation.

The game is going to be played only one time, so the rules of the game have to be simple and intuitive. It should be challenging, but not impossible to grasp and master the game in a short time span. Keep the rules simple, but the experience complex.

When creating games, if it is a board game or a massive multiplayer game, you have to create a playing field and rules. The rules of the game have to be consistent and fair. Read up on game theory. The rules also have to be logical, but they do not need to be explicit. People have a remarkable ability to spot patterns unconsciously. If you break the rules, the experience will feel like “something is not right.”

Re-use story elements
When writing an interactive story that are going to be played one time you can re-use a lot of scenes across different paths of the story. Think of the story not as a tree that branches, creating a story that so huge that the cost is going to be astronomical. Think of it as a hay ball, where a number of different paths through the story can touch the same scenes.

Use your strengths
You are not going to have the same budget as the developers of console games. You can’t compete against Halo or Gears of War when it comes to graphics. Avoid using the same graphical style as regular video games. Differentiate yourself from that kind of competition. Use video or illustration, use immersion, and use the players to create a game that will never be possible to recreate in somebody’s living room.

These unique opportunities are all answered to some degree in Global Countdown, and has created a successful game, from an educational standpoint as well as successful in the experience it creates.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Response from Peter Morville

Peter Morville responded to my post restructuring the user experience honeycomb in a comment on the original honeycomb article. He says:

It's certainly interesting to consider the order of facets within the context of experience. I'm not sure the linear model holds up in all cases. For instance, I may never try using a product that I don't find credible. And, a linear model doesn't invite consideration of the overlaps and relationships (e.g., the way that findability enhances credibility). But, your version does encourage us to think a little more (and diffferently) about user experience design. Thanks!

This is valuable insight, but I have to disagree with some of the assumptions made by Peter. One of the underlying changes that is made by restructuring the facets in order of experience is that some of the sub-facets is moved. For example, the concept of Brand is not longer in desirability, but becomes a part of findability. Brand vitality and strength increases the likelyhood of being found, and that when found a decision will be made to move forward and attempt access. The consequence is that by ordering the facets in a linear model the facets themselves take on a somewhat different meaning than in the original non-linear model.

By redefining the facets of findability, accessibility, desirability, usability, credibility and usefulness we start to move even further away from the original and maybe the original purpose. At the same time, we get a model that I feel have stronger "explanatory" power when explaining user experience to people outside the field.

To elaborate further, in the context of user experience as a linear model the facets gets the following definitions:

Findability the likelyhood of the website, application, service or product being found and choosen when a user is trying to accomplish a task. Findability in the linear model spans brand strenght, brand vitality, search engine visibility, name and marketing presence.

Accessibility the amount of users who are able to access the website, application, service or product. Accessibility in the linear model spans (for web) response time, browser compatibility, standard compliance, WCAG-2 compliance and Section 508 compliance. Accessibility in the linear model is not confined to users with a disability, but accessibility for all users.

Desirability the amount of users who will like and find appropriate the aestetic qualities and the strength of postitve emotion these qualities generate for the website, application, service or product.

Usability the amount of users that will be able to accomplish their task using the website, application, service or product.

Credibility the amount of users that will be confident that their task will be accomplished without unexpected consequences.

Usefulness the amount of users that accomplishes their task and fulfill their expectations using the website, application, service or product.

This makes the linear model different from the original. The labels are the same, but their meaning is different when viewed in the context of the experience. The linear model also discards Value as a facet, and re-introduces value as a result of the user-experience. The jury is still out on which model is the most useful, but at least it will create some interesting discussions.

Just as I wrote this, Peter included the linear model in a post at