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Video Games and Usability

July 24th, 2002 · 1 Comment

Came across an interesting link and quote from Isenberg’s newsletter: an article by Peter Seebach entitled “Everything I need to know about usability, I learned at the arcade“. An excerpt:

Video games demonstrate several important lessons about streamlining repetitive tasks. One of the first is the use of rational defaults. Video games try very hard to get the defaults right. In many turn-based war games, a unit can either attack or rest at the end of its turn. What’s the default? To attack if there’s an enemy unit nearby — otherwise, it will rest. The default is almost always right. Many games simply favor a most-recently used strategy for guessing at defaults. This simple strategy is often a gigantic improvement over the user interfaces of productivity software.

A lot of productivity software is nowhere near the level of reliability that you’ll find with video games. Productivity software manuals are full of warnings to save your work frequently, because crashes can destroy your work in progress. Video games offer saving as a convenience to the user, who may want to go do something else for a while. Crashes are considered unacceptable in a video game; for some reason, though, with most productivity software, they’re simply a part of the experience.

Many video games are designed so that the user doesn’t need to be taught how to play; the designers assume that the user will never read the manual.

Most games allow at least some level of user control over the interface. Most productivity software doesn’t.

Seebach’s action item: “Play a video game for a while. Does the interface appear to make an effort to conform to your usage patterns? Compare it with the productivity software you use. Is the video game easier?”

Tags: Software

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