Playrix’s Township

Reflection point: Usability, Accessibility, and Ethics

Aarthi Padmanabhan
Dec 4, 2017 · 8 min read

Township is a real-time city building cum farming development strategy game. It is free to download and is available across multiple platforms, such as iOS, Android and Amazon Appstore for Android. It is developed by Playrix, one of the world’s top mobile game developers based in Russia. It was released in the year 2014 and as of today the game has 120 million downloads with 3.5 million active users everyday.

The reason why I chose Township for a heuristic evaluation is not because how exciting and addicting the game is (It really is! Check it out here for yourself). It goes long back to 2009 when I had just started going to college. Being the shy-awkward-social-space-radius-the-size-of-hadron-collider-teen-girl that I was, it was difficult for me to initiate a conversation with my peers or even try to get to know them. Lucky me, the use of Facebook to meet and make friends was just on the rise and it came as a handy solution to break loose the bottleneck — ‘social awkwardness’ that was damaging my reputation.

Facebook gave access not just to socialize, befriend strangers or stalk the person you fancy; it also catered to all the lonely souls who didn’t have much friends in their network. It stroked their ego by introducing several social networking games to get them, — well in the game! Farmville was one such game that got me to break the ice and socialize with my classmates. In no little time, I got to know a lot of people and made lot of good friends. On the flip-side I was also sucked into the Farmville mania for a long time. Fast forward to 2016, nostalgia hit me hard when I started to play Playrix’s Township after all those years. It had a similar game-play; it lets you connect to your friends on Facebook and meet enthusiastic players from around the world and form co-ops to compete in league based competitions.


Usability Heuristics

Be it a mainstream e-commerce website, a photo sharing app or something that is as crazy as Yo; every product has a purpose and its purpose lies in its core — which is its utility. Only when your product serves that objective will the user interaction increase. It stems from a linear progression of utility, usability, desirability and brand experience. As important as all the levels are, the one that takes the cake is usability. Usability is the ease of use of an interface. It is how easily people can learn and use your product. It is crucial as its use itself and can make or break the success of your creation.

Usability Heuristics is a set of guidelines that was developed to assess the usability of an interface. The five broad categories of usability heuristics are — Learnability, Efficiency, Memorability, Errors and Satisfaction. I will be using Jakob Nielsen’s Heuristics as yardsticks to measure the usability and accessibility of the game — Township.

Visibility of system status

The game-play is easy to learn. It begins with the premise of a small-town village with only a few houses, an airport and a towncentre. In the initial stage, each and every action is aided with a short tutorial. As the game-play is fairly intuitive one can easily get the idea of it even without a tutorial. There are plenty of affordances to indicate how a particular object can be interacted with using a thought bubble.

For every action that is performed there is a clear indication of the outcome. Whenever a house/factory or any building is constructed, a fixed dialogue shows the time left for completion in real time. Upon completion it lets the player know with an icon indicating its ready to be occupied. Similarly, produces are also displayed above each factory as they are made, letting the user know that they are ready to be stored in the barn and later to be sold to customers or shipped off. What is more commendable is the fact that it incorporates many visual elements whilst using less textual information to get across basic functions.

Match between system and real world

Players can easily connect with the nature of various actions that are performed in every task. The slick use of a sickle to harvest crops, attaching milking device to a cow or mining for metal; everything is naturally mapped to the real world execution. There aren’t much textual information but at times required to analyse game progress, the language used is very simple in order cater to a much larger audience — (Ex: phrases like orders filled, train sent, recent helpers).

User control and freedom

Players can easily opt out of unwanted selections, skip/delete requests as and when they please to play the game with their availability of resources. Players can also ask for help from other players, share excess resources with co-op members or stockpile if they want for personal gains. Township allows users to play the game at their own pace and a user can simultaneously gain access to their city via mobile/tablet.

Consistency and standards

Available within the township game is a another mini game which lets players build a zoo when they reach level 40. The functionlaties built inside creates an easier transition for players and uses similar icons and tabs for similar operations.

Alike other city building and strategy games, all Playrix’s mobile games have similar “Settings” tab, which makes it easy for the users to change their game settings, read more information and connect with friends who play the game on Facebook.

Error prevention

Players are prompted to confirm their selection with a one step verification in certain parts of the gameplay that involves high stakes. Whenever a user wishes to skip waiting time when making produces in factory or constructing a building that is time consuming— it can only be done by spending a lot of cash or gems. A secondary confirmation appears to verify and submit user selection inorder to avoid any accidental purchases.

Recognition rather than recall

In Township, players can easily track their game progress — which level they are in, the number of points required to move to another level and current city population with accommodation availability. These objects and actions are made visible to the players at all times, thereby easing their memory load.

On a micro level, players can also view in which step of an activity they are in, what resources are required to move to the next step and the number of steps left to finish the task.

Flexbility and efficiency of use

Township caters to both novices and expert players. The ultimate goal of the game is to build and sustain a flourishing city and be a master of all trade. To accomplish this is a series of tasks that is expected to be completed by the player in each level and as the player progresses the tasks become difficult and its much harder to gain xp points, cash and gems. Competitions are run from time to time to help players from all levels to gain rewards and accelerate their progress in the game.

Frequent league match wins are taken into account and helps team memebers move to higher level leagues to compete internationally for much higher rewards.

Aesthetic and minimalist design

As previously stated, the game implies very less textual information and all actions and dialogues carry crisp information that is required and is relevant to the context.

Helps users diagnose, recognize and recover from errors

Players are notififed whenever there is an issue or an error in accessing the game. Most often it is with respect to internet connectivity or account details. In rare cases, players can get banned whenever the system suspects the behaviour of a user but gives access to contact customer support to rectify and overcome the error.

Help and documentation

A quick start-up guide inside “Help & Support” aids players to look up information to get started or learn how each feature works. It is well organised and structured with access to customer support on each topic.

Any extra information inside the game is provided with a label preceded with a question mark. Tapping the question mark icon, the menu flips over to reveal more details about the object of interest.

Accessibility & Ethics

Township as a game cannot be considered as catering to the needs of people with disability as players are primarily expected to interact with the game with all five senses. The game takes into account accessibility for an easy user experience, in the sense — provides an easy game flow, visual inetreactions instead of textual information, proximity in design, setting realistic expectations for intended actions and matching content with needs.

Ads are discreetly placed inside the gameplay rather than annoying pop-ups that appears out of nowhere. Players are rewarded with cash or coins whenever they watch an advertisement. It is not mandtory for players to watch ads but is simply an addition to gain rewards and can be skipped or deleted as the player wishes.

Conclusion

Township is a game that is enjoyed by people from all ages. It is easy to play if you are looking to kill time and can get difficult if you are playing to compete on an international platform. No matter what type of a player you are, be an amateur or novice, the game has plenty to offer to keep you both excited and engaged. It is aesthetically appealing, predictable, usable, performs as expected and delivers a great playing experience for the user.

Sources

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