Creating Games for Better Products
What I learned from designing a game
People love games
I can clearly remember getting my first gaming console. It was my 7th birthday, when I got a GameBoy Color with the game “Pokemon”. Like every child I was completely attracted to this device. Since that moment I’ve spent hours of playing, sneaking around the parents for playing a bit longer and was stunned by the immersive storytelling a 160px ×144px screen had to offer.
There is no doubt that games always have something attractive to them and people simply love to spend hours playing. In comparison to other digital experiences playing video games is a completely volunteer activity. Different to programs, that we have to use to master our daily tasks, we can freely choose which game fits best for us. Games today offer a wide range of emotional experience, which give us a rest of everyday’s life and entertain us.
Product Design + Game Design = Pathfinder
The main reason why people can spend endless times playing games, but get frustrated by the new online service is the different design approach. Recently I asked myself the question, which aspects of game mechanics can I adopt to my work as a product designer!?
Sure, we all know patterns like gamification and rewarding the user to keep him motivated, but is there anything else, that is quite helpful in the daily design work? To find an answer to this question I started crafting a small puzzle game called “Pathfinder”.
So the gameplay is quite simple. The game’s goal is to solve all five puzzles within a limited time range. Within each puzzle the user has to connect the two marked spots by selecting all surrounding fields. If you want to try the game yourself you can find it here (mobile only).
What I learned
So basically there are three aspects I discovered, which should be highly prioritized in the thinking and design process while crafting a digital product.
1. It’s all about feedback!
We all know that feedback is an important part of software products, but when you start playing a game you notice that it is crucial. Compared to other software applications games are not static, but dynamic and change in real time. To communicate every change and consequence without irritations feedback is important. In more complex games feedback is also relevant to catch the user’s attention as he might be distracted easily. Feedback is important to guarantee, that no information is hidden and is communicated whenever needed.
The more transparent and reactive a product is the easier is its usage.
Pathfinder: An important detail crafting each level was the highlighting of “10 seconds left”. Without the red blinking number the users didn’t notice that they ran out of time and couldn’t understand why the fail screen popped up.
2. The look really matters
These days visual, sound and motion design really matters in video games and create a unique selling point among competitors. They help to create an authentic and remarkable atmosphere and to emotionally communicate the storyline. The visual design is used to transfer the information clearly depending on the current scene. The game design reflects the story and lets the user dive in the game.
The consistent use of design elements also create a strong branding and let games look like standalone artworks.
Besides the functionality the authentic and remarkable design of a product can be a unique selling point.
Pathfinder: During the design process of Pathfinder there were different ideas how the level environment could look like. From a more “Monument Valley” kind of look to a complete abstract and geometrical theme. Finally I decided for the abstract theme as it represents the simplicity of the game in the best subtile and aesthetic way.
3. Everything is based on rules
Rules are the solid base of every game and define the goals and achievements around the experience. The game mechanics are limited by the rules and describe a combination of actions, reactions and consequences. Rules directly affect the gameplay and the user experience, therefore it is important to communicate them clearly. The easier the rules are the faster the user will understand how to operate in the system.
Once rules are defined, bending them is a fundamental part. When you think about different levels in a game they are just variations of the global rules. Rules also help to guarantee a consistency and to prevent misoperations. Only when you know your restrictions you can be really creative, by developing something new in the defined range.
At the beginning define clear and simple rules for your product and if necessary bend but never break them during your iterative process.
Pathfinder: The first step in the development of Pathfinder was to define the main rule for the gameplay: “Connect the marked spots by selecting all fields within 30 seconds“. After this decision was made all levels could be crafted as an adaption and modification of this global rule.
Games are important. They inspire, entertain or just give us a break from the everyday life and we gain a lot every time we play them. During the development of Pathfinder I learned a lot how to connect and transfer patterns to my daily work. At the end of the day games just want to give the user a good and entertaining time. Who says that a financial software can’t be as funny as the next arcade game?
Thanks for reading! Please give me a shoutout on Twitter if you have any questions, if you have ideas for future topics you would love to see or simply liked what you have just read.