Posted on: 23 October 2017
Daniella Briotto Faustino
Love You to Bits: A Case Study on learnability and gaming
There are lots of different ways to classify games, but a very simple one is how much commitment it will require from its players. For example, some games require users to do daily check-ins to avoid penalties, while some can be accessed whenever the player wants with no bad consequences. Similarly, there are games that require the player’s full attention during the duration of a whole level, either to avoid obstacles or enemies, while other games can be easily played when multitasking, such as waiting for a bus or for a computer download. We can also think about commitment to learning how to play, as some games come with long instructions or take time to master, while others can be learned quickly and require no memorization of commands.
Focus on your Target Audience
By taking the commitment aspect into consideration, game developers can start focusing on their target audience, which is essential to designing a good user (or player) experience. Based on that, they can define the level of complexity to bring into the game and the types of interactions and tasks they will propose to players. For players that do not want to commit much of their time or effort, the decision between playing and getting rid of a game can be made in a few minutes. Because of that, how easy a game is to learn (or its learnability) is a very important aspect to be considered by game designers.
To give you examples of techniques that could be used to make a game easy to learn and intuitive, I’ll use an app game called Love You to Bits, available in the iOS App Store. Love You to Bits, as its description in iTunes says, is a “purely visual, puzzle-filled, point-and-click, sci-fi adventure.” In the game, Kosmo, a space explorer, has to travel the universe to find parts of Nova, his robot girlfriend, who was turned into pieces during an accident. Here are some of the features that make Love You to Bits easy to learn:
- It does not use words to instruct, but the universal language of movement: The game does not have an instruction screen. In the first game level, a blue hand moving and taping the screen shows the users how to interact with the game.
- It allows users to try things and give them immediate feedback: Love You to Bits permits the user to explore the scenario and if something has to be done before an item can be picked up, trying to interact with an element will not cause any harm to the game avatar. On the contrary, it will give users a way to learn what they are expected to do. For example, if the player tries to get a piece of the robot from an elf, the elf will want something in return, and a large speech bubble representing what the elf wants will be displayed on the screen. In another situation, the player might try to click a tool that is not yet selectable. In that case, the avatar will try to perform the action, but will not be able to complete it and will face the player and shrug his shoulders to indicate he does not know what to do. Again, not with words, but with images.
- If there are possible different actions, the game represents them with different visual cues: If the avatar can go upstairs, a universal icon of an arrow pointing up will be displayed within a speech bubble when the character comes close to a staircase. If the avatar can pick up an item, a hand will be displayed in a speech bubble. If the avatar can use an item already collected for something, the item will be displayed in a bubble. Additionally, if the player completes the mission and can go to the next level (another planet), the avatar opens a portal with his remote control. All these progressive disclosures happen while the objects themselves are subtly highlighted. Simple, isn’t it?
- It gives context for motivation, not a lecture: Obviously, Love You to Bits tells a love story, but does it by using comic-like snippets spread out through the game levels. This storytelling technique works to provide the user with contextual information about the avatar’s motivation, without being overwhelming. An additional source place to get more information about Kosmos and Nova’s story are the memory items. Memory items are hidden objects that can be collected in each game level, which unlock short movies picturing sweet moments of the couple. As memories are not part of the game path, players have autonomy to decide if they want to see it or not.
- The game poses moderate challenges, but the interactions do not. Even though the game provides players with information about what their possible actions are, it still requires players to explore the scenario and put some thought to complete tasks. That means it is possible to design a game that is easy to use but not boring to play.
Certainly, not all those techniques can be applied to any sort of game, but they can be used as inspiration to make other games easier to learn and reduce the user’s cognitive and short-term memory load. In fact, some of those features could even be incorporated when designing other types of software for occasional use, which will not appeal to users if they are difficult to learn.
Of course, developing an intuitive interface that is easy to learn and easy to use definitely takes longer than creating a text-based help or instruction screen. But an intuitive interface has the potential to mesmerize users, who in turn can decide to keep using the product. The effort on designing for learnability seems well worth it for me. What do you think? Tell us in the comments below!
Daniella Briotto Faustino was a UX Intern at Akendi, a firm dedicated to creating intentional experiences through end-to-end experience design. To learn more about Akendi or user experience design, visit www.akendi.com.
Daniella Briotto Faustino