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Viewing Your Website as a Game Users Can Win

September 7, 2011 Leave a comment

When we were kids, nobody said “I want to grow up to be a retail manager!”. We all wanted to make video games, play with dolphins, go to space, and yes, be a fireman. It’s funny then that most of us never do any of these things. And the joke’s often on the guy who makes video games judging by the horror stories.

I think it’s something in the hormones that scramble those inner-kid dreams. About the time responsibility kicks in, that’s when it vaguely dawns on you that your chances of hanging from a helicopter with a machine gun shooting ninjas is probably not going to be how you make a living.

Bummer.

But that doesn’t mean that we give up on fantasy altogether. The numbers don’t lie. Video games did $18.58 billion in sales in 2010. That’s nearly as much as movies ($10.46 billion) and music ($9.2 billion) combined.

We are, it seems, a nation of High Scorers.

Why in the world would we all start playing games? There must be a million reasons but one of them has to do with how easy it is to achieve a win state.

If you think back to the days of 80s arcades (kids, ask your parents) the games were challenging.


Mom! I need another quarter!

But as any parent will tell you, times have changed. It’s not about eating quarters anymore.

John Cheese is a parent of two kids and a hilarious writer for Cracked. Yes, that Cracked. The one-time magazine competitor to Mad Magazine it now exists as a hilarious daily comedy website. Mr. Cheese wrote an article titled “5 Crucial Lessions Learned by Watching Kids Play Video Games“. They are:

  • They don’t tolerate losing so modern games just let them win
  • They have no tolerance for grinding
  • If they want to read they’ll buy a f*cking book
  • They press ‘y’ to skip as fast as they can
  • Don’t like it? Break it.

For our web usability purposes, it’s a fantastic list and worth look at in some detail.

The mindset of a gamer is that they are about to do something they enjoy. Whenever it seems like work, they quit. Screw the princess. Just, screw her. They turn into Cartman, “Screw you guys, I’m going home!“.

It’s like this sign goes off in their head.

They came for this:


No, Who DAT!

And instead got:


Oww! It hurts!

The same thing goes with your website.

Users enter with a win-state in mind. What that win state is depends on what your website is about.

The win-state for this website is for you to read an article, listen to a podcast, and to make a comment if you feel so inclined. There’s nothing financial at stake, so for us, it’s all about communicating our ideas and research.  For you, if you’re here, your win-state is most likely to find out something specific. You could be into web usability and want to see the article about the web usability tools comparison I wrote last week.  You could be interested in web usability podcasts and feel like giving ours a go. But your goals – because of how you got here – are likely related to our content.  If you find what you’re looking for, we both win.

If you’re an e-commerce site, you want people to buy things.  If you’re a hotel, you want people to book a room.  If you’re a zoo you want people to buy tickets. If you’re a school you want contact information or a donation. If you’re a political campaign you definitely want a donation.  And so on…

These are win-states.

Let’s look at that list again.

  • They don’t tolerate losing so modern games just let them win
  • They have no tolerance for grinding
  • If they want to read they’ll buy a f*cking book
  • They press ‘y’ to skip as fast as they can
  • Don’t like it? Break it.

The second, third, and fourth points are similar in the fact that they all have to do with skipping the boring parts to get back to the game.  “Grinding” is the process of doing some repetitive task (like farming) to get a reward (like gold) so you can achieve some task (buy better weapons). Many RPGs make the player have to do these repetitive tasks in order to get powerful enough to continue with the story.

If the game were porn, grinding would, counter-intuitively, refer to the talking parts.

It’s a bad thing.

Long passages of text and cut-scenes also get in the way of the action.  There’s a reason there hasn’t been a new Metal Gear game in a few years. The series was famous for its long cut scenes. And when I say long, I mean LOOONNNNGGG. Each game must have 30-40 hours of cut scenes in it.  Even if it’s only 10, it still feels like 30-40. It’s a great story but honey badger don’t care.

Instead the best selling games these days are all about co-op play that involves no story at all… just running around and blowing up your friends. I’m, of course, talking about the Call of Duty and Halo franchises. Both of their most recent titles sold over 8 million titles each in their first month.  That’s $1 billion in sales in 30 days between two games.  That should tell you something. And that something is: get to the point.

And that’s what the final lesson from the article is about, “Don’t like it? break it.” This is where games and websites part ways.  In a game, it’s possible to play it in an unintended way and still derive some fun out of it.  Websites, not so much.  When a website doesn’t deliver, the user is gone.  They don’t want to suffer. And chances are, what you’re offering isn’t completely unique. Because if it’s hard to get to your menu on the website, there are always other restaurants.

Games and websites share the same goal: helping the user achieve a win-state.

In both, the goal should be clearly defined:

  • Game: Drive to the liquor store, meet up with Marty then head to the docks and shoot that rat Marla in the face and get away without getting caught.
  • Website: Request a missionary.

Then you should make it as easy for them to do so.

I think you’ll see in that above link that all you have to do is fill out the form and they’ll mail you your own personal missionary.

A win-state, indeed.