Sight Unseen

In a recent video, Zero Punctuation’s Yahtzee Croshaw described Nintendo’s 3DS — first introduced at E3 — as “a concept that is literally impossible to demonstrate in picture or in video, which rather shoots the advertising potential in the foot.”

A snicker-worthy comment, but one that touches upon an interesting problem that’s been increasing in relevancy over the last decade.

The earliest I remember it was on some of my favorite VHS tapes: ads “showing” the impressive sights and sounds available on those fancy new DVD things.

More recently it’s television commercials “showing” us the superior color and clarity of High Definition Television — as viewed on our inferior standard definition TV’s.

And now, it’s Nintendo trying to “show” us their new 3D technology, and Apple trying to “show” us their impressive new Retina Display. But how do you advertise a feature that’s beyond the spectrum of what your advertising medium can do?

The Nintendo 3DS is reportedly quite a thing to behold, but unless you’re actually beholding it in person, you have no way of witnessing the portable’s magical no-glasses 3D effect. Nintendo’s solution? Hundreds of women with 3DS’s tethered to their persons, to give the audience at their E3 keynote an opportunity to see the devices up close.

Likewise, Steve Jobs remarked during Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone 4 that they had to install a special digital projector just to give the WWDC keynote audience a better idea of the clarity and depth of the phone’s “Retina Display” resolution.

It’ll be interesting to see how Nintendo chooses to approach marketing the 3DS when it’s closer to launch, and I’m very curious to see if Apple ever plans on making a bigger deal of the Retina Display in their ads (thus far, only one iPhone 4 ad has aired, focused entirely on their FaceTime video calling feature).

In the meantime, enjoy the short spec ad I threw together for the iPhone, in a posthumous collaboration with John Hughes.

Foursquare: games, services, and game-like services

Or: How I learned to stop worrying and love the link-bait.

I worked alongside Dennis Crowley at area/code over the summer of 2007, so it’s been fun for me to watch the meteoric rise of Foursquare. From its debut at SXSW in early 2009, to its $20 million Series B round announced just last week, I’m incredibly happy for Dens and his growing Foursquare family.

(I also feel slightly vindicated for all those times my friends poked fun at me for “checking in” wherever we went last year. So there’s that.)

Foursquare is an incredibly fun service, improving dramatically over the experience offered by Dodgeball — Dennis’s former startup. But it’s also a service somewhat at odds with itself.

At its core, Foursquare is both a competitive location-based game, and a collaborative location-based communication service. That’s a little wordy, but here’s how it plays out in user stories:

Foursquare the Game:
As a player, I want to check in, and become the Mayor of, as many places as possible.

Foursquare the Service:
As a user, I want to let my friends know where I am, and find out where my friends are.

There’s obviously a great deal more to the service (the incredibly helpful Tips and To-Do’s, and the increasingly promising promotional deals and venue specials), but in both instances Foursquare is fundamentally about the relationship between the user, her social network, and the venues.

So here’s the rub: As a game, Foursquare is easily exploitable. Users can create venues (like their own apartments), check in to locations without even walking in the door, and capitalize on Mayorships in places in which they might have an unfair advantage (like a place of employment).

Foursquare could crack down more heavily on these “game exploits”, but those restrictions would work against the service.

At the end of the day, this makes Foursquare less a game, and more a game-like service. It’s an interesting and quickly-growing category, and Foursquare’s proudly paving the way for a more playful and game-like approach to social media. I just can’t wait to see what’s next.

The Window in Which to Impress

I have too many friends who are unemployed, or otherwise occupied by occupations beneath them. The thing is, they’re all awesome. These are talented, brilliant people whose paper CVs fail to properly convey the whole of their skills.

We recognize that there is a vastness to one’s expertise that easily exceeds the bounds of an 8.5×11 page, which is why I suppose interviews are conducted. But the market is so flooded that even qualified candidates are being phased out before the interview stage. The window in which to impress has gotten smaller, which is why the resume/cover letter combo have an unrealistic amount of weight placed upon them.

The only recourse is to redefine the new candidate experience. Deliver more info in less time. The key to all of this is your online identity. It’s what happens when an employer sticks your name in Google, and I’m calling it the Real-Time Resume.

Spam Poetry: Springtime for Twitter

From: Kathie Lugo «»
Subject: Springtime for Twitter
Date: April 23, 2009 3:21:12 AM PDT

and that made me think of all the insomniatic nights that she stayed up with me and mirrored my every move and snuggled me right out of my anxiety into dreamland long after grant and cate had drifted off

what do you look for in a best friend

the girl loves a project i mean LOVES it was like so fun to her to print them off plan how she wanted to present them go to the store for candy sign and put them together she just bossed me around and made sure i tied the string right

1 luce 2 Untitled 3 Working 4 Stove Top

i couldnt find a video of him performing it but listen to the lyrics

ten months after we were married i was a stay at home mom living the student life again while grant went back to school a few months later another unplanned event- my mom passed away suddenly

me um we didnt have disney games when i was five
we lived on a corner in a typical oc tract neighborhood

i really really need my bedroom to be simple and uncluttered and white for calming purposes you know what i mean
from toast

all the sudden im 30 i thought id be driving a mini van full of kids and happily decorating my own home but life has shown me again that i am not in control and as i wait for more children and a sense of being settled

what im listening to this morningagain

my room is clean and im knitting

like this one for instance my older brother uploaded it while reminiscing about the old buggie he rebuilt in the 80s

cate and i went through some of the free options around the web for valentines to download and print

breakfast i always have two eggs and salsa always i dont really get sick of it and it would really stink if i did because theres not a lot out there for breakfast actually when you are at your ideal weight and ovulating regularly you can have any kind of whole grain hot cereal without a problem you know steel cut oats etc i am not quite there yet berries and grapes are pretty low on the glycemic index and i have those too oh and i love cottage cheese with fruit
snacks NUTS i would die without nuts i love roasted almonds cashews peanuts i also love those roasted edamame they taste like nuts even though theyre not and nuts taste really good with a few slices of swiss cheese also deli meat slices celery with peanut butter on it a few whole grain crackers with cheese beef jerky sugar free snack packs stuffed mushrooms hard boiled eggs string cheese protein bars crudites and more NUTS

plan to be surprised

off to the kindergarten valentines day party

i never thought life would then take me to utah to attend byu and then off to serve as a missionary for a year and a half but it did and it was hardest most surprising most rewarding experience of my life

What Twitter does for customer service

Within a day of posting both tirade and tweet against them, Simplenote’s devs contacted me directly via Twitter reply, blog comment, and personal email apologizing for the password change user-experience, and pledging to fix it for the next build. It’s already been fixed, and I’ve been using Simplenote non-stop ever since.

Fact is, Simplenote’s devs did exactly the right thing. They addressed the problem directly, and humanized themselves. And they did it using Twitter, the humanizing service.

I like referring to Twitter as a “flattening” kind of platform. It’s the type of site where Shaquille O’Neal can have the same banal posts about sandwiches as this person. It proves that celebrities are (spoiler alert!) people too, and it’s where people go to interact with other people, on an uninteresting, sammich-eating level.

So when a company tweets at you — and especially when they @reply to you — it doesn’t feel like a company. It feels like a person. And the weird thing is that it happens a lot.

On my account alone, I’ve gotten replies to complaints/concerns/questions lobbed at game studios, ISPs, software devs, WWDC party hosts, business card printers, and even, erm, artsy erotica sites. Every time, the attention paid on a single-customer level is surprising, and even frustrating experiences and lame parties just feel better when someone makes that tiny effort.

What does Twitter do for customer service? It makes it not feel like customer service; it makes it feel like people. And that’s kinda cool.

I’m working on “omg hire me”

As I mentioned in my last post, next month’s Escapist game is a board game called “omg hire me.” It’s about the mundanity of job searching, and specifically about the “loop” practiced during this process.

Unlike some of my other titles, the game design is not straightforward. As is typical for me, I know what I want the game to feel like, but I don’t know how to get there. So far, the gameplay is divided into several stages, which comprise the loop:

  1. Update Resume
  2. Search for Jobs
  3. Compose Cover Letter/Application
  4. Rinse and Repeat

Every time a player completes this loop, they increase the likelihood of being called in for an interview. The interview itself is a separate minigame, the successful completion of which increases the odds of actually receiving a job offer (and thus winning the game — I’m not even dealing with salary negotiations as a mechanic).

At the moment, job interviews and job offers are handled by two separate dice. If a player completes the search loop, they receive a number from 1 to 20. Every round, the interview die (a d20) is rolled. If your number is rolled, you enter the interview event. Successfully completing the interview earns you a number for the job offer die (a d10 or d12), which is also rolled each round. If one of your job offer numbers is rolled, you win.

So basically, it’s all about luck. Just like a real job search!

I’m at WordCamp. It’s time to update my blog.

Attending WordCamp seems like as good a time as any to start posting here again. I fell off the wagon a bit recently — new jobs tend to have that effect — but I hope to get back in the habit of musing about game design. Starting… later.

I’m still publishing over at the Escapist. This past month’s game is Turfy, a Risk/DiceWars-inspired game about jungle gym warfare. It’s not the game I originally intended on publishing. I’m hoping to polish that one and get it up end of this month. It’s called “omg hire me,” and it’s semi-autobiographical.

On the topic of WordCamp, it’s always nice working in an environment of like-minded individuals. Yes, I came to a conference to get work done. I’m weird like that.

Firefox 3 is a usability nightmare.

Horrible visual design, and lack of consistency with OS X interface elements aside, Firefox 3 is an abomination of a release, with an ever-growing list of aggravating usability issues noticeable on day one. These aren’t simply growing pains. These are features that worked fine in FF2 gone completely AWOL, in what Mozilla hoped would be the biggest browser release in history. Whoops.

To illustrate my point, here’s a list of major issues I’ve noticed since installing the new browser four days ago, on “Download Day 2008.” These all crop up using Firefox version 3.0 on my PowerBook G4, running OS X Leopard 10.5.3.

» The new auto-completing address bar displays not just the web address of suggestions, but also the titles of those websites. Good in theory, but it uses both the address and titles to prioritize its suggestions. The result? First suggestions are not always web addresses beginning with what’s been typed in. Sounds benign, but it’s second-guessing what the user is trying to do, which is just bad news in terms of usability. Odds are, if I’m typing something into the address bar, it’s the beginning of a web address — not the end of one. Giving me a Joystiq page on Popcap instead of when I type in “Popcap” isn’t a feature; it’s a bug.

» On a similar note, the address bar suggestions don’t prioritize root directories over sub-sections. If I type in “flickr,” it’s more likely that I want to visit, than

» FF3 doesn’t appear to log keystrokes between operations. For example: if you hit CMD+N to open a new window and begin typing the address before the new window appears, it won’t log those keystrokes, and will miss a portion of the address once the window appears. This sounds nitpicky, but EVERY browser I’ve used up until now has logged keystrokes in this manner (including Firefox 2). So Firefox 3 has basically dropped an invisible feature that people grew accustomed to.

» Firefox 3 has a hard time recognizing when it’s the active application. If I write an e-mail in Mail, then click an open Firefox window and hit CMD+W to close that window, it occasionally won’t close the Firefox window, and instead closes the e-mail I was just writing. (This might actually be related to the previous problem; it’s possible Firefox 3 isn’t keeping track of commands hit while it’s processing earlier commands. Not a problem if your computer’s super-fast, but most aren’t).

» For no reason whatsoever, the address bar now appears in pop-up windows when it didn’t previously. When you’re talking about a relatively small window launched by a CMS to edit link properties, the address bar takes up an obnoxious amount of real estate. What the hell is it doing there?

» Lastly (at least for the moment), spell check appears to have an itchy trigger finger in FF3. In other words, Firefox now checks to see if I’ve misspelled a word before I’ve finished typing it. This artifacts in text fields as parts of words being underlined as being misspelled, rather than the whole words. No, Firefox, I don’t think “collabor” is a word. It is, however, followed immediately by “-ation.” You think it’d get the hint.

Sweet cheez-its, that was a long rant. Odds are the Mozilla team rushed FF3 out the door, and will hopefully fix a lot of these issues in a pending 3.1 update. Fingers crossed on that.

Mundanity in game design.

As always, Dr. Ian Bogost rocked the house at the Social Gaming Summit last week. Speaking on the first panel of the day, Ian discussed the potency of playing a character who is “us, but also slightly not us.”

The comment was made in reference to area/code’s Parking Wars, where players take on the roles of meter maids — a profession not known to be particularly glamorous or exciting. According to Ian, this is one of many reasons why Parking Wars is “the best game on Facebook right now.” It’s the same idea that first drove Diner Dash to mass-market success in 2004: the role of mundanity in game design.

As Ian puts it, “people like having experiences different from their own, no matter how mundane.” The key here is “experiences.” If a game can make a player feel like they’ve discovered the fun in waitressing, or editing Wikipedia entries, then it’s already one step ahead.

The trick to finding the fun in the mundane (or as I’m resisting calling it, “the fundane”), is finding the aspects of the experience that create “flow,” that euphoric mental state of efficiency (I’ve theorized for years that Flo in Diner Dash was actually named for Mihaly Csíkszentmihályi‘s theory of optimal experience). Think about a job you’ve worked in your lifetime. Think about the repetitive aspects of that job in which you were able to enter a zen-like trance, the parts you actually enjoyed once you got good at them. This is game fodder.

Here are a few examples (and hey! Free game ideas!):

  • Working at Quiznos: Next time you order the Chicken Carbonara, pay attention to the process by which your sandwich is made. It’s the Henry Ford model of food prep, and it’s oddly enjoyable. Think Cooking Mama + Root Beer Tapper.
  • Repackaging RAM: I spent two summers working for a major memory reseller. My job? Removing RAM chips from old computers, repackaging and sorting for redistribution. I see a collection game on Facebook based on the rising and falling market value of memory. Players buy junky virtual PCs using the in-game economy, and strip them for their chips in a mini-game. Amassing a collection, players then buy and sell RAM between themselves in order to earn a profit and become the best in the world.
  • Looking for a job: Okay, so the fun in this one is kinda hard to see (especially since I’m still in the midst of it), but the repetition is certainly there. Every aspect of the process — checking job sites, optimizing resumes, sending cover letters, interviewing, pitching salary requirements — all of these could be tied into a game experience. Format? I don’t entirely know yet. I’m currently working on a non-digital version. Let’s see if someone can beat me to the social game.