Defining A Principle of Quality that works

Quality was what set the good craftsmen apart form the bad ones. It was why some brands became more revered than others. The illusive idea is why Apple sells so well, why some artists are better than others. But what the hell is quality? Does it change from artist to artist? Does it mean something different for cars than for software? No. I don't think so. I think there's a common feature for all types of good quality.

Using Cognitive Psychology to reveal quality

In academic circles scholars of cognitive psychology  have been debating and hacking the human perception for a very long time. One of my favorite tidbits of knowledge from my student days is that negatives are worth twice as much as positives. That means if I give you $100 and then take it back, you'll feel as if you've lost more money than you felt you gained in at first. Put another way: if you spend $50 and earn $100 dollars you'll feel you made about even. Losing something is negative, and is therefore twice as important to you perception.

This gives us valuable clue to Quality. Let's see how far that can bring us.

If negative values, and negative experiences, create stronger reactions in users we should look at minimizing these as much as possible. If we get close to no negative values we'll have a  really solid product experience regardless of the products positive values.

For example, if you create an app where every action gives clear feedback it will feel great. Even if the UX design isn't all that great from the start.

Getting the values right

But wait, let's back up a bit. What is a negative value? And what is a positive value? We're talking about products here! What is a negative in a web app?

Happily, another branch of cognitive psychology has dealt with what value is. This is the theory: there is no "real" value. Only subjective, or perceived,  value. That is to say: water to a man dying of thirst has a lot of value, while water to a man at a cocktail bar in NY is worth very little. This sounds really basic right? But if all value is relative to experience that also means that we determine reasonable prices from prices around us. We distinguish beauty not by their own beauty but by how much less beautiful the other people around us are. Dan Ariely has some great examples of this in his book Predictably Irrational.

The good part starts 12 minutes in.

So all value is interpreted relative to similar experiences by each individual. How does that help us? That means every experience is valued compared to other, similar, experiences.

So?

Well if people experience negative values much stronger than positive ones, we need to focus harder on making our apps perform at least as well as other apps the users are using instead of trying to one-up our competitors. This will make out UX more positive than focusing on making the positive experiences better. Most Human Computer Interaction studies are actually based on this. They're often studies to define how consistency works. And consistency is exactly what I'm talking about here. But not internal consistency, while that to is extremely important, but experience consistance for the user. No matter what that use might look like, spanning over machines, apps, platforms and use cases.

Summing up

A principle of quality, a rule of thumb that works for all products and services, is not making something really well. It's minimizing the negative impact of shortcomings.

So how do we use this principle?

  • Don't show the user experiences that aren't finished. Release early release often as much as you want, but don't release half baked.
  • Polish one feature instead of making two features.
  • Make sure other apps aren't making your experience feel broken by creating an experience gap that will feel negative for example the pull-down-to-refresh UI of iPhone apps.
  • Look at the platform. Look at the most popular uses. Look at the environment it will be used in. Then try to be consistent.
  • Make your marketing consistant with your experience, or you might end up making your product feel worse than it is

The perfect example of not understanding quality is the Nokia N97, enjoy!

Another great example of achieving quality, not by adding features, but by managing your negatives is the iPhone and iPad operating system. Just compare these transition effects from iOS to the Android counter parts:

Elisabet Grétarsdóttir explains Gamification at SIME 2011

The last day at SIME, Sweden's largest digital/web conference in Stockholm, a panel of guests took to the stage to have a panel discussion about gamification. Gamification is the latest and greatest buzz word in a long line of hype from digital marketing companies. But gamification is different because unlike social media and the like the Gamification concept is loaned from the hugely profitable games industry.

At SIME this year the panel consisted of representatives from World of Horses Online, CCP games and an associate professor from the Stockholm School of Economics. The topic was gamification and was simply introduced as the concept of using mechanics and design from the games industry to market products and services in non entertainment industries.

Elisabet, from CCP games, really gave a show with clear and consice ideas about gamification. She started off by describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. An extrinsic motivator, which are mostly used in gamification today, are external rewards given to the player for achieving certain tasks. Such as points to shoot a bird accurately or a badge to check in at a location An intrinsic motivator is an internal reward the player experiences because he/she achieves something in the context of the game. Internal rewards are feelings based on. Social recognition or completing a challenge.

One of her most memorable quotes was saying she'd like to Gamify the games industry by moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators.

Another one was a sharp critique to enforced seriousness while stating a point about humans being playful creatures:

why can we hug at a soccer game but not in the board room?

Elisabet also rocked the end of the panel by giving an example of how she would revolutionize boutique shopping by gamifying a H&M shop into a "minecraft retail experience" to, in her own words, "create a platform for creativity and self expression".

The audience and the panel alike seemed almost shocked by the simple truths laid out by Elisabet on gamification. I bet that if she has any say, gamification will be less of a buzz word and more of a business strategy from now on. One can only hope.

PS I'm writing this on an iPad balanced on my knee while I'm eating so if this post is in shambles, please check back in an hour or so and I'll try to polish the turd.

Update 1 Robin from the Stockholm School of Economics mailed me an update, apparently I got both her school and her title wrong.. Sorry Robin, keep up the great work!

The death of console games and the rise of mobile games

At a panel at south by southwest Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio (Angry Birds) said that the console market is dead. Basically because people won't want to pay $40-$50 for a game that is hard to upgrade. I agree.

the tv game console

But Nokia's Tero Ojanpera countered on the same panel that there is still a place for consoles and console games because people won't want to plug their tablet devices into their TV's.

I don't agree. In fact, I think Tero Ojanpera is missing a major trend in user behavior:

We've seen a trend for many years now that people are spending more of their time in front of computer screens. Most people aren't actively turning off their TVs yet but the trend towards being online is clear. More and more people sitting in front of their TV but with a laptop on their lap. At the same time mobile devices and tablet devices are skyrocketing in use.

iPad gaming

So why, dear Nokia, would people want to plug their tablet devices into their TVs? People are already choosing mobile screens at their primary consumption device. What Ojanpera is thinking of here is probably the block buster cinematic experiences that home consoles connected to the TV can offer. Titles such as God of War and Assasins Creed.

What he doesn't realize is that while these titles take up most of the marketing budget for game companies they don't sell all that well. A game of the year blockbuster hit still only sells close to 20 million copies. That's a huge pile of money. But Angry Birds has sold over 150 million... The price makes the winnings less dramatic but the demographic implications are clear. More people are choosing mobile games.

Consoles are dead.

iPad2

Adding the Fun

I decided to start a new project that is closer to my heart than anything for the passed three years. A blog dedicated to explore gamification and game theory for products. Originally meant to be a short book I decided doing the research and most of the writing as a blog might help the project along. Who knows, it might actually be better for it.

You'll find it continuously updated over on Tumblr: Adding The Fun

How do you make time to play games?

Great news! Both Torchlight and Ratchet & Clank are both going coop! Torchlight 2

A lot of games are opting for cooperative or immersive multiplayer modes to allow players to be more social and have even more fun with their products.

But there's a problem. Sorry to be the grouch, but the first step of getting out of a trap is noticing it's there. Cooperative and multiplayer games are mostly synchronous. Which means you have to play them at the same time. In fact minimizing gameplay lag is on of the largest problems game developers have today.

But is that really a good thing? It's great for action. But it's terrible for pick up and play gaming. Which is already the dominant form of play if we compare online games and casual platforms such as the Nintendo Wii, DS and the iPhone with more core audience devices such as the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

The problem with multiplayer is the same as with loading times. If we, as developers, are trying to convince our players to spent $60 and 20 hours to play our game, the game really needs to be fun and easy to get into. Loading times subtract from the experience, but not nearly enough as waiting for friends, not having friends or worst of all; having friends that all need to cash out $60 for the game. This kind of tribal synchronisation is very probably not that usual.

We need to open up to the fact that games are a part of life and start designing for finding new friends or, if possible, playing with friends asynchronously.

The slow death of Business

various business peopleWhen an organization grows so large that people working for it loose contact with the intended result of the organization is begins to die.

This situation leads to the belief that the organization itself is of importance, even though it was just created to solve a specific issue. And the people working in the organization loose focus of the organizations function and the organization starts growing in areas without return, administration and administration of administration.

The way to make sure this does not happen is to keep organizations small. Create another organization to solve a new problem, do not grow the old one.

Terms for Interaction Design

To work effectively with other people we need terms that define abstract things so we don't get stuck on them, such as Grok and User Interface. Let's define two more: Object and Model.

Any interaction consists of a one or more systems of thought. In cognitive psychology such systems (or representational models of the real world) are called cognitive models.

When we interact with something we use a lot of these models. But the term isn't fleshed out enough for daily use in interaction design.

An Interaction Object is the entire interaction process with a thing or a process. Using a pair of scissors (holding them correctly, using them to cut and understanding in what way they cut) consists of many cognitive models but only one Interaction Object. But every process or new function is a new object. A Swiss army knife has as many objects as it has tools.

A Interaction Model is one set of possible interaction methods. Much like the cognitive model a Interaction Model consists of only a single thought process about something. A pair of scissors can be held by the handles, one model. A pair of scissors has cutting surfaces that are sharp, another model. Etc etc.

Using these terms we can discuss interaction design for abstract products such as games and web apps with much greater efficiency.

Example 1: A menu on a web page is an Interaction Object. And if it has more than one or two Interaction Models you're making it to complicated.

Example 2: A game avatar has several Interaction Objects. To be able to understand them they must have very few Interaction Models.

Example 3: Facebook has a lot of Interaction Objects, but most Objects only has a single Interaction Model. Does this make Facebook easy to use or harder to Grok?

Can you use these terms or are they still to complicated or undefined? Let me know what you think.

UI is important, learn to know what good or bad

UI is the second most important part of any application or service.The service or function is more important, but it's not important at all if users can't use it.

How to know whats good or bad? Thankfully, our old friend Cognitive Psychology provides us with the key. Just record a user using your UI (or use it yourself and make notes).

  • Every time they try to do something that requires testing or a moments thought counts as negative.
  • Every time they do something that doesn't require thought and was intended counts as a positive.

Every negative counts twice, that's how humans perceive negative impact.

The higher the score, the better it is.

Of course, this is only generally true, performing 200 actions to change a song on your MP3 player is not a good UI. Even if every step was intuitive.

Why I know playstation Move won't be a game changer

Excited about the Playstation Move?I'm not.

And the reason for it is simple:  Sony isn't completely behind the product.

Just compare this commercial Playstation Move

To these two Apple iPod Touch Nintendo Wii

Which is all about a new interface and a new way for consumers to have fun? And which is just a marketing scheme to cram another accessory down your throat?

PlayStation Move seems to be a very qualitative device for 3D manipulation. It's well designed and the interface seems robust.

But Sony should either go full out and place it's bets with the Move or just stop. Accessories might be a large source of income for the company but PlayStation is already behind the competition and diversifying the platform further with even less support is not going to help.

The iPad - short and simple

The most over hyped machine ever has been unveiled and a torrent of fanboyism and hatred has echoed over the blogosphere. So now should be a good time to talk about what the iPad really is.

It's just a larger iPod touch!

Yes. Yes that's exactly what it is. Well ok not exactly, it's a lot faster. But basically just a large iPhone without the phone. Not sure why people are complaining about this though since I've heard tens or possibly hundreds say they wanted a larger iPhone when it was first launched.

Why isn't it wide screen? Because it's a doubled iPod touch screen, this way apps will work with very little fuss and developers don't have put too much effort into designing specific apps for the iPad and iPhone.

So, will it be awesome? Probably yes, your iPhone is pretty awesome right? Imagine not having to squint at the screen to surf and you're there already. Also we know Apple will release a software update for the device before launch. It probably won't mean too much but we're likely to see at least one more feature that we'll like. Just because Apple likes to push positive.

So it will sell a billions units? Apples track record says yes. But they have failed before. and all tablets so far have died a gruesome death. Mind you, smart phones weren't exactly a super hot market before the iPhone launched. They certainly didn't cause the amount of hype and development that Apple created in the marketplace.

That's it. The iPad. We haven't seen all it can do, but this is what it is. A larger iPhone, just like millions of users have been clamoring for.

Just because it doesn't cure cancer and live up to the pre unveiling hype doesn't mean it won't be awesome. It's to early to tell if the iPad will be a hit or a miss. But regardless it will push general computing further towards touch UI. Which is really the innovation Apple is bringing to the table. Not a new UI. But a new use for their most successful one.

Games industry killing itself over used games

One of the largest problems facing the games industry today is used games. Publishers can't compete with the low prices and have launched campaigns trying to persuade customers that buying used games hurt developers. This is almost certainly true but the problem is, as so often with situations like this, not used games but how games as a medium are developed and sold. Let me describe why this phenomenon exists and what developers can do to change it today. Books and movies are more rarely sold used then games

There is a market for used books and movies, and it's pretty large, but nowhere near as large as for games. This is because the products leave a lingering thought with the consumer that they "might want to see / read it again". In this post I'll call this emotional impact.

I'm not saying that games don't have emotional impact, in fact they might have more emotional impact then traditional media, but in games it works a bit differently.

Traditional media is completely based on narrative

Narrative has always been a way for humans to interpret the things happening around us, in other words; we look for patterns that might not be there. Putting stories on events to make them understandable.

Traditional media is a way to channel this interest by offering interesting stories, that have been thought out before hand and then feeding them to the audience. We've been doing it since long before Shakespeare

When a movie, book or any work of fiction presents us with a narrative that we particularly like we achieve a sense of satisfaction. Known in story telling as catharsis.

Games don't work like this

Games have two sets of narrative going on at once; the story narrative that is usually fed to the player (s) in more or less sophisticated ways. The game mechanical narrative, the story that the player build by doing things in the game: "I ran around the wall and shot that guy from behind, I'm such a ninja!".

The first narrative is directly comparable to traditional media and is the dominant narrative in games such as the Final Fantasy series or the Metal Gear series. The emotional impact of these games are usually quite high and sure enough, you'll find a lot less of them on the used shelves at your local Gamestop.

The second narrative however, is unique to games as a medium. It is the dominant form of narrative in games such as Battlefield or Gran Turismo. These games can be resold without much emotional impact because the main experience is already experienced. Playing the game again won't be as interesting.

Let's compare this to a vacation trip. The pictures from said vacation are valuable, because they let the consumer remember the experience. But going back will be different, we all know this, that's why we don't always travel to the same spots.

Experiencing the game mechanic again can often be more interesting by playing the sequel or a similar game. A consumer will rarely play the same game again if there aren't new goals to reach or if similar games and sequels are noticeably different. (If your game is a shooter you'll probably not ever get consumers to do more then one play through. If that.)

So how are we going to solve this?

From this point of view, I've identified three key ways of making more emotional impact and staying of the used games shelf:

  1. Create games that capture the emotional impact of narrative. Create games with more traditional story that can keep the players coming back.
  2. Create games with game mechanic lock-ins. So that they are forced to keep playing your game to get the same pleasurable mechanic. Look at fighting games for example. Fighting games seem to be generally online or party experiences, with unique fighting styles they deliver experiences that you can't interchange easily.
  3. Games that are more focused on mechanic narrative, don't release them as boxed products. Seriously. They are easily interchangeable and after one play through they are simply not very interesting. Sell them as episodic content through direct downloads or as subscription services.

This might sound a bit crude, but the games industry is not as successful per unit as other media industries and mostly I believe this is because the industry isn't selling games as consumers want them. The games industry is just copying other mediums and then complaining about all the problems that they run into.

If you've read this far I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, comment away, I answer all comments.

Interactive art, game?

Every Day the same Dream is a short flash game that I think you should play. It's story of a faceless man who tries to break out of his routine of getting up, dressing, saying good bye to his emotionally detached wife and driving to a miserable job. It's not exactly cheerful. It might even provoke dark thoughts. It's conveys a sense of how valuable life is in a strange way. This game is provoking. It doesn't provoke your ideals. It provokes how you live.

A fantastic interactive experiment that I can really recommend:

Every Day the Same Dream

State of the Game Industry in Sweden

Sweden has had a strong game development industry even since before the launch of the classic shooterBattlefield 1942. In the last year though, the economic downturn has cause some large studios to file for bankruptcy or sale. But the worst economic down turns usually make the most fertile grounds for new industry. Something the Swedes are proving true. Baraboom is a small group of friends trying to make it on the iPhone. Not an original concept but not a bad one either. They've chosen to be inspired my Remedy's classic car shooter Death Rally and with a unique style and control scheme their first title Auto Crisis looks awesome. Check it out when it launches in the app store around christmas. [vimeo=http://vimeo.com/7942457]

Ludosity is another small independent studio launching their first own IP very soon. This small startup is comprised of students straight out of school into an incubator. Most impressive and looking at their really unique title Bob came in pieces you can really tell where the innovation in the industry is going on. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uiH-_d7InE]

So don't hesitate to innovate and stop worrying about the economy. If small companies such as these two can create high quality products like this on small funds and high spirit, we'll pull through. ;)

Also please note that while none of these companies have dedicated resources or large budgets to create their web presence, they both have more professional sites than most larger companies...

User Experience Design terms - Resistance

All fields of technology and design needs terms to define complex meaning regarding their subject. This is my attempt to create a few such terms for user experience design. Please help out through the comments or DM me on twitter! Resistance refers to the resistance of experiencing the design. This can encompass the macro experience of, for example, music:

  • Find a song you like (resistance)
  • Purchase the song (resistance)
  • Listen to the song

But resistance can also mean the micro experience of the music:

  • BPM might not match the listeners mood (resistance)
  • Singers voice might hit strange notes (ever listened to death metal or opera and hated it despite a catchy tune? resistance)

So resistance can build both from the users cognitive or psychological experience of the product as well as the practical obstacles the user has in order to experience the intended design.

Since all negative values are experienced as twice as important compared to a positive value, resistance is important to reduce.

Reducing resistance as much as possible is in fact the process of making something accessible but the term is a lot more exact. Defining what we're really intending to do.

Reduce resistance of user experience, make the user experience flow in using your experience!

Strange news about Happiness

What is happiness to you? To me I've always defined it as reaching my goals, whatever they may be. Turns out I'm wrong. Dead wrong apparently.  As Dan Gilbert explains in the video below happiness is comprised of a lot of synthetic happiness. And as Luis C.K. displays in the next video our many many choices leave us stranded in a place of chasing happiness that is really all around us. What we need to do is really enforce more restrictions on our own lives.

For games and products, this translates into restricting what they can do. Think about how strange that is, restricting what players / users can do will actually make the product more fun and usable. Not because it is, but because the choices will make that happiness more available.

[ted id=97]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8r1CZTLk-Gk]

Agile development another new oldie

It struck me about a week ago. Agile project development, which is a somewhat new fad in software development, is not really that new. Now most of you are probably shaking your heads thinking Of course it isn't, we've been using it for ten or more years. That might be true but I'm talking seriously old here.

Compare agile development, where features are implemented in short both to enable developers to work instead of plan and at the same time not commit the entire project down one road if something changes during development. With Kaizen, where each working (or even living) person takes time to be just one step better, just one step more efficient, each day.

Now I know, the parallel is a bit stretched, But it's not really that far fetched is it? We're all simply trying to improve our projects just one step (feature?) at a time.Perhaps we can learn even more from Kaizen and shorten our sprints even further.

Brütal Legend demo impresssions

One word: Awesome. To tell you the truth, I had already planned to buy Brutal Legend just for the story writing and the fact that original games are few and should be promoted. But after playing the demo I have to say that the team at Double Fine has outdone themselves. This is one hell of a game, the gameplay is simple and fun while the narrative is awesome. The game has excellent polish and definitely seems worth the money.

Truthfully, I'm a bit surprised and a bit impressed. I had not suspected that the game would be this fun to play.

Uncharted 2 multiplayer beta impressions

I like Uncharted 1. Let's get that straight before I say anything else. Because it does make me slightly biased. But that aside, Uncharted 2 among thieves really ups the ante. The graphics are slightly better, everything is more smooth and the free running/climbing is really more integrated into the world.

The multiplayer beta is just what it sounds like, a demo that only showcases multiplayer. And its a lot of fun. Gameplay is engaging even though it's quite slow compared to other shooters. The levels are pretty large and since you can climb you have to think vertically unless you want to get shot repeatedly by the other players climbing the ruins.

There is a modern standard leveling system and a matchmaking system that we really don't know much about since there aren't that many players playing it.

So far though, the beta has me convinced that the game itself is holding up to the hype. Still, Uncharted is just as much about the narrative progression as the game mechanics. And we haven't seen them yet.

LOVE pre-play impressions

Sitting here watching the love tech alpha on my 37" LCD screen. It's just a flythrough of the world that loops over and over again, showing of scenes form the game and the engines dynamic day and night cycle.

It's really different from other games. It's astonishing that it's made by one person. Really impressive, check it out if you're on a PC.