13 – Gaming it: What User Experience Designers can learn from Game Designers

It’s Sunday, the 13th, which means we will be speaking German today. Sorry, folks – but this presentation was simply too good not to post it in the advent special. Fellow game researcher and UX designer, Sebastian Deterding, has some amazing, well-structured, aesthetically designed slides on the little things that UX designers can pick up from game designers (to improve design and everyone’s experience). Parts of his slides are also in English, but I will try to sum up some of his main ideas. First, he presents some thoughts on theories of fun and outlines fun as a driver to change peoples’ behavior and motivator for learning. After this, he briefly explains some game-style purposeful applications (so-called “games with a purpose” [PDF]). Examples for this are the Google Image Labeler, Phrase detectives, Spectral Game, Tag a Tune,Book Oven and many others. He goes on to analyze Twitter from a gaming point of view with it having clear goals, bite-size action options, visible relationship between action and goal, clear feedback of current status, and extremely audiovisual positive feedback (see video below).

He also talks about gradually rising challenges in sequence, which brings him to discussing Flow theory a bit. He then addresses some major differences between game and UX design, for example that game designers need to provide an increasing amount of difficulty as the gamer learns to play/interact with a game, while UX designers have the goal to keep functional software as simple as possible even for experienced users (while fans of shortcuts and applications like Vim might disagree – believing that steep learning will results in more efficient power users). It also interesting that he outlines the goal conflict of work vs. play: In the first, you try to get to the goal as fast as possible while in the second you are in for the ride that gets you there. The funny thing is that some games are not so different from regular work. You might not like calculating statistics at work in Excel all day, but as soon as it comes to propping your World of Warcraft character for the next raid, you start comparing numbers easily.

Finally, I think his takeaway is most interesting in that although the application fields of UX designers and game designers might differ substantially, there are a lot of inspiring things to take away from game design, such as design patterns, design rules, mechanics dynamics aesthetics, the fun keys and models for emotional and affective design. I am pretty sure he will soon also put up an English version and I will add it here as well when it happens.