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Experience Design

SxSW Day 1 – The Mechanics of Magic (Game Design Theory)

The first day of SxSW kicked off in great fashion by attending Christina Wodtke‘s (Twitter) session on Game Design and the 7 key lessons that come from game design and game designers. Christina did an amazing job of looking at the practice and craft of game design and applying it not only the design process but looking at common sites we use and showing the gaming components that are present. Below are all my notes and photos from the session that act as a stream of consciousness from the session. This talk was recorded and I highly recommend tracking it down once it gets published (sorry the link just isn’t available at this time.)

  • She didn’t play games, didn’t even want to go to baseball games. Didn’t play video games.
  • Every New Years she picks a new project – one year she picked games and feel in love hard.
  • Got aggregated by gamification because badges isn’t what it’s all about.
  • Many great mentor


  • Find your north stars, when you start to play a game you think of what makes that game fun
  • As a ux designer we don’t think about fun
  • Players should have fun, not the designer or the computer
  • North star should be an emotion, from the heart
  • Video from Ted – speaker used game pieces to teach her daughter about slavery with pieces that the daughter made herself (Link to Ted Talk)
  • The game taught her more about slavery than a whole month of black history
  • Wen you play games you feel emotions, good and bad. The reality of it this allows you to internalize that information
  • Design is for emotion, conversion is a crap north star
  • After learning about the purpose of game design, she struggled with going back to ux design methods and goals. Lower frustration, high efficiency
  • Games also provide peace, removes you from the stress of life and all the things you need to get done.
  • Life with alacrity – he is obsessed with iTunes ratings so his playlists are effective. The task of managing this is a joy for him.
  • Thinking of Facebook photo layout – this is all they have to offer? Why can’t Facebook allow her to make a photoblog to share with her family.
  • Negative emotions are wonderful – looking at plants vs zombies


  • Coffee meets bagel – eating site that only allow you to pick one person a day, and if you doe revisit everyday you might miss true love
  • Dan Brown created a game that allowed him to talk with his client on design conflicts and used that to facilitate that hard conversation.
  • When you sit down to play a game you agree to live by crazy rules. It’s a social contract that allows you to express yourself freely
  • Player types vs personas
  • Creating personas is fun, but she hardly ever goes back and uses them.
  • Now she uses player types
    • Killers –
    • Socialites
    • Explores
    • Achievers


  • These types don’t work for every game, but its a good base line.
  • Looked at amazon and applied the player type concept to how the product pages and the site is laid out.
    • Satisficers – compare products
    • Socializers – forums and discussion
    • Optimizers- golden deal and specials
    • Self discovery – surfacing new and buried content
  • Core loops – from fish vile it’s buy fish, grow fish, and sell fish. Rinse and repeat
  • Every game has a basic loop that drives play and complex behavior
  • Aspects of the loop,define the rules, units, and strategy of playing the actual game
  • The decisions fanatic result from the core loop help the player win or lose, sometimes very quickly. These decisions are complex and meaningful for the player.
  • Video shown from will wright – creator of sims (Link to Video)
  • Showing a loop of shop -> buy -> review
    • This applies to yelp, amazon and many other sites
  • Share->  react -> consume
    • Social loop that applied to every social action or network
  • These loops are not new, they just show up in new and interesting ways in the digital world
  • Game mechanic
    • The things that set the rules for the game
  • The concept of a pinch – when you run out of energy and you still want to play. You can either walk away until energy comes back, you can buy more energy, ask for help, or cash in your hoard to get more energy.
  • City vile had an interesting pinch – you have this beautiful city but you don’t have anymore room to grow and add new buildings. This pinch is normal because it ties back to how they think they should be playing. Growing their city
  • When you use the mechanics does it fit into the users story and experience.


  • Games modify your behavior and manipulate you. Using the principles of persuasion
  • This is a classic commerce trick too. Looking at golden deals from amazon. The time boxed sales encourage people to buy rather than wait.
  • Doobers – actions that result in mini- rewards. Getting inbox zero and starts float everywhere in celebration.
  • Leader boards – you have to be careful and relate to men more than women. Women think they are “gross”. Women do compete though but they don’t express it, and a leader board is a form of expression
  • Mastery – single most satisfying thing that games provide to us. It’s the pleasure f pulling back the bird and knocking those pigs over. Can we make users feel more like the master of the universe?
  • Replaying a game t get more stars encourage replays but it also helps users master their game skills
  • Amazon top reviews – great example of a leader board where they get the behavior that the company wants.
  • Showcasing Harriet Klausner – proof that the amazon leader board may have been gamingthe system
  •  Design over time – what are you doing to grow your users over time
  • On yahoo groups – they give admins customization on the look of the groups site
  • Senior admins love to express themselves and this is for them – they are “paid” by giving them tools to make their pages unique.
  • Who has been on your site forever, what do they want, are they mad with power. How can you make them more powerful and happier.
  • Waterfall sucks right…but designers hate agile too … What if they all suck?


  • What about a process that is routed in game design and apply that to digital design and development.
  • To make really good things it will never be easy and it will be messy.
  • Stop treating visual designers like they are the crew from flip this house. Game design – visual designers are there from day one and sketching very early on expressing ideas.
  • The team is creative and moving forward together  and learning from each other
  • Measure – if you are doing anything today you have to measure like you have OCD
  • Game designers do more user testing more than anyone, they test as early as possible with post it notes
  • User testing is core to the games success. Because the game HAS to work.
  • This concept of play test is rare in the realm of IT
  • Invite people to come in and tell you that you suck. Give them that freedom and learn from the feedback you get.
  • Sid mier video show casing – CivRev battle scene that shows odds of winning a battle. Players viewed these odds like they would win the battle it was 3 to 1 and they lost! Players didn’t understand how with 3 to 1 odds they old still lose. Using this feedback they adjusted and watched more players play. With 1 to 3 odds – when the player won they didn’t get confused or wonder why they didn’t just lose. (Link to Video)
  • Apply odds to the battle lead to a lot of confusion when the player assumes they should win but loses, but not the other way around. When something feels wrong – it kills the suspension of belief which is core to engaging with the game
  • don’t think about where your testing, but developer a rhythms where the users are part of the design process
  • Learn how to teach – every game has almost an entire new UI. Some common patterns – but with these new UIs the game designers have gotten really good at teaching the user how to play and use the interface.
  • Ubisoft had dance teachers come in and teach the programmers, so when players are learning how to play and the player gets a move right the first time there is a small celebration and get to skip the lesson.
  • Look at how games teach you how to play the game. Many teach you just enough at one time. More complex learning happens as the player progresses.
  • Tumblr blog sxswinning

Slides from the talk

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Brad Nunnally

Brad has been practicing the craft of User Experience for the past 4 years. During that time he has helped clients in the financial, health care management, public utilities, and pharmaceutical management industries. He's provided them with deep insight into their customers and users, and designed engaging experiences that were catered directly for their customers and users. As a Senior User Experience Consultant at Perficient, he's performed a variety of UX activities that allows him to build an empathic link to a variety of people that directly informs the designs he creates. These activities cover the full spectrum of research, modeling, design, and testing. Brad's passion in User Experience Design is centered around the modeling of data gained from user research and the creation of interactive prototypes and wireframes. He's mentored and presented on these two aspects of User Experience Design to people around St. Louis, MO and across the country.

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