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– by Marc Kloubert, Communication Advisor at Rational Games and UX Designer at g31.

A few months ago, Rational Games blogged about our exciting new negotiation game: “Refugees and the PPC”, supported by a web-based app. As the creator of that app, I wanted to now share a few thoughts about what we learned in the design process about the importance of player-centred interactive and iterative game design.

The app starts by imagining the player’s negotiation strategy based on the inputs she provides, then facilitates in-game summits and supports post-game debrief and evaluation. It follows the principles of shallow interaction design, making necessary information quickly accessible to a user (in this case a player involved in real-life negotiation) without undue immersion or distraction, allowing maximum focus on human interaction. As we built the application, we chose an iterative approach, coming to understand in real time how the mechanics of the game work from the player perspective and then striving to better understand just how we can map and support those players in each step of the game. After initial analog testing of the game, development of the app and some internal testing, we proceeded with real world implementation. Here are some examples of the several interesting learning points we took during this process:

1. Surprisingly, the game can become quite intense and emotional: players quickly become immersed in their roles and discuss the issues passionately. Thus any additional interaction required by the app itself diluted the flow and energy of the game, so over time we eliminated anything unnecessary: for instance, we chose to exclude confirmation modals and include auto-save functionality. We also added auto-complete options where they proved to be useful.

Players at a PPC simulation game

2. We found after several iterations that the course of a single simulation game can change substantially depending on the players’ decisions and actions and the consequences that those generate. From the very beginning we designed the game with minimal constraints. But it turned out that even greater responsiveness was required. In the current version, facilitators can add additional rounds while the game is running, pause it or even go back to a previous phase. Also, the game allows for incomplete data inputs by players (often the case), using whatever is there for evaluation.

3. Some further issues were of a purely practical nature: for example, in an early version we used common individual email/password logins to make sure that each participant could only access his or her individual negotiation brief. It turned out that these logins were impracticable: some players’ company policies didn’t allow for unknown email, they needed to connect to their VPNs first before being able to access them, so that the login process became cumbersome . Since no personal information was involved, eventually we gave up on individual logins and player management altogether and simply printed group account passwords onto the game material – simplicity had won.

Beyond the individual experiences we made in the course of the game development, our key learnings can be summarized as follows: even with considerable experience in designing and developing interactive applications, it is impossible to exhaustively estimate and assess all of the various conditions under which people engage with the game, what preconditions they bring, which strategic approach they choose, what other externalities might distract them, which cultural characteristics influence their behavior, etc. So the most important asset of interaction design is simply to keep eyes and ears open, paired with the ability to question your own assumptions and to re-evaluate previous decisions.

– App development in cooperation with Daniel Hallmann at awwwesome.


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