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Learn to think from a user point of view
by Gabriel Lievano on 07/03/13 04:26:00 pm

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

There's a fine line between working passionately and doing it smartly.  Most game developers get into gaming to create something of their own, start projects they would like to see materialized and played by a multitude of different people.  The plot usually starts one random day, someone playing a videogame, sombody looking and saying: "wow! I just got an idea! wouldn't it be cool if...".  The listener agrees and the generalization starts.  The developers involved start thinking they have themselves something that will work for a wide audience.  Suddenly a feature that represents an impovement to themselves is an improvement for everybody else.

However the implications of adding a new feature are far away more complex.  There's different points to be considered before, like accessibility, simplicity, usability, internationalization, and several more.  Every feature impacts each of these in different ways, and trying to view this from the user's point of view is more than a hard endeavor.

The idea behind thinking like the "user" comes from attempting to either target a wide audience or very narrow one.  For targeting wider audiences, thinking like the user seems logical seems to want to be likable from each one of them.  But is this really possible? Wide audiences are like a God, you can't really prove their existence and even if you can, you will never figure out the relevant details.  There are a lot of examples of this happening as a mistake in the process of game design, mostly nowadays where you can see mobile games trying to target casual and hardcore gamers at the same time.  As an example I can mention one in particular, Knight Storm, a game created by 505 Games and MunkyFun.  Is a good example because is easy to see that the designers behind the game tried to have it all: 3D graphics, realistic maps, characters and inventory, complete and full statistics, power ups, minigames, storyline, "innovative" game mechanics, social, and the list goes on.  However none of these define the game as either casual, hardcore, social, arcade, adventure.  Any user will be as well confused as what the purpose of the game is and either know if it is for him or not.  The answer will soon come back when he loses focus without objective or an individual engagement to the game.

 Knight Storm

Then there is targetting narrow audiences.  This is a very good strategy for creating a very engaging game that makes the user identify himself and get involved with the game's goals.  So it would seem important to try to design the game from the user's point of view... is it?

From my experience, working with companies on niche games like fashion or education, I have found out that the people behind this games usually don't have a particular interest on the theme of the game but rather just make good business.  Artists knowledgeable in the topic are indeed hired to create content but the game mechanics and UI/UX decisions are made in a cold and smart manner.  They stick to principles and get creative with features they find out to work by the ancient technique of prototyping.  I tried finding out failures in this matter and found a particular game, especifically noted by its designer that it had been done thinking like the user, and pointing it as a learning point.  Barbie Team Gymnastics is particularly not a game that its users liked.  
Barbie Team Gymnastics
However it was designed taking its users into mind, so what could have gone wrong?  The answer is simple, users are not game designers, if they were they would be creating their own games so creating games trying to think like them is fundamentally useless.  If you ask a little girl about what things she would like to see in her barbie game she will probably oversaturate the game with different simple and small features, each one adding to the game's complexity and making it harder and harder to play.  The end result, a game so volatile and out of focus that no one will want to play.

In conclusion, instead of trying to think as a user, try thinking as a game developer.  Design with smarts and strong principles as tools.  Innovative and fun mechanics and features will come iterating over a core idea and slowly planning on different prototyped mechanics, but time must be set for this and can't be skipped.  A quick way to success seldomly happens and is better to trust skills than luck. 


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