Friday, November 11, 2011

not so angry birds

Today, our UX guy posted a link to Why Angry Birds is so successful and popular: a cognitive teardown of the user experience. This is the bulk of my resposne.

Cool article, though I disagree with what it assumes makes Angry Birds so popular.
The author is remiss in pointing out the obvious: some big chunk of Angry Bird’s addictiveness is because the base activity is a fun thing: it is fun and pleasant to launch a slingshot at a building of blocks.

At [Alleyoop, my College Readiness webcompany], we aren’t based on a core activity that offers such a low learning curve / high satisfaction + feedback . I think at the best points of [our Math practice and quiz subcomponent], kids can get that extra Zing! of satisfaction of a problem mastered, but in most other ways it’s a reach for us.

So with the article, I agree with some bits (the importance of pleasant and detailed visual design, even the inclusion of extra details like the chattering birds) and disagree with others (iPad icon spacing provoking a sense of tantalizing mystery? Puhleeze)

I thought margie's comment was more insightful to the charm of this particular game: (highlighting mine)
AB is a game for non-gamers. Gameplay is simple, the rewards are many and often, hence, continued play from all players. Any game that increases in difficulty and/or timing & speed too quickly I’ll drop out of […]. ~ AB is always the same: slingshot, birds, structures w/pigs.

I think the fact that players are frequently rewarded (it’s easy to pass a level, not so easy to 3 star a level) plays a huge part in why AB is so popular, especially with people who are not hardcore gamers.
Other commentators talk about “quick retrying ‘til I get it right” is a big aspect, maybe one we can learn from. Not punishing failure so much is a hallmark of modern gaming.

It’s funny too, the opening paragraphs:
Surprisingly, it is a rare client indeed who asks the opposing question: why is an interface so engaging that users cannot stop interacting with it?
The funny thing is, that’s not “engagement” so much as “low level addiction”. And frankly, popular games use some of the same pattern as drugs—an initial big rush (of success, in the case of games), a long haul of trying to recapture that high, and it being made harder to do so.

(It’s funny contrasting that with the addictiveness of say Farmville—there the addiction comes from a web of social obligations. The gameplay itself is decidedly NOT very fun in the way slingshots-at-buildings is, though it does carry a pleasant sense of “I Made This” construction. (I haven’t gotten into it either but I think Empires & Allies has those social and building aspects, along with an empowering “strong kid on the block” aspect in the fighting)

So I think [our company] would be well served if we could capture some of this addictiveness:
  • well balanced challenges with quick redo 
  • a carefully ramped increasing difficulty 
  • pleasant and juicy UI 
  • social obligations 
  • a sense of building 
The single biggest thing that Angry Birds and Farmville have that we don’t are a real feeling and visual model of steady progress. (With Angry Birds getting through a series of levels, with the chance to go back and do better, with Farmville a nicely expanded and built up farm.) [Our former point system is] now a currency. Badges were nice, but were always more of a novelty than a core “gotta catch ‘em all!” experience

Some more thoughts that were a bit too specific about Angry Birds as a game to be relevant to my company:
I think the article missed out one of the best UI bits for the "try again" factor: you get a little dotted line showing you what your last trajectory was, thus enabling a higher degree of fine tuning. This little dotted line is more significant than a lot of the things the article discusses.

Another thought I had: if I was designing Angry Birds, I might try to give it a split view: a zoomed-in view of the current bird (allowing more fine control of the trajectory at the launcher, and then a fun closeup view of the structure being destroyed, or possibly a pan back to the smug pigs if you totally miss) and then a view of the entire playfield, visible at all times. 

The thing is, I'm not sure if this system (more complex in its display, but simpler in its control scheme than panning and zooming Angry Birds) would be more or less satisfying than the current scheme. But when thinking about what deliberate choices Rovio made (vs, say, the delays once the bird has hit the building, which I think owes more to giving time to the physics engine to work things out than a deliberate design decision) alternative solutions to the challenges they faced should be discussed.

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