My Life,  The Lazy Designer

Be Careful What You Wish For

As a game designer I spend a lot of time thinking of ways I can encourage players to act in particular ways. Some are obvious – drop a few expensive & cool items into stores at a particular place I want the player to return to because I know the items will encourage most players to travel back there once they’ve earned the gold for it. Some are less obvious like making the cost of using a visually impressive fighting ability slightly lower than it should be (balance wise) because it increases player engagement and the likelihood of them continuing to play the game early on.

So I wonder sometimes if there has been intentionality behind some of the ‘life features’ we have all come to expect. Or if it is just a big happy accident.

Two real life examples.

Mobile devices — cell phones, pdas, iPhones — are fun devices. I don’t have a cell phone and never will but I do have an iPod Touch and it has become invaluable. But while I can admire their techy-goodness, they have drawbacks. I’ve talked previously about how they are distraction devices and a particular example of meeting disruptions that I saw arise with the proliferation of mobile devices. But they also make people work longer hours.

I heard too many people back at the dayjob say the phones allowed them to get more done, but that really wasn’t true. It allowed them to multitask on more things (a sure guarantee of lower quality work) and it allowed their employer to make them work more. A mobile phone does let its user (or servant, depending on perspective) catch up on work email during downtime — this being those periods of time we don’t think we were doing much anyways. But downtime seems to have a habit of expanding its definition and at a point many phone users find that they are checking into work after hours. On Saturdays. On Sundays. And worse, people don’t get unhappy about this (or not unhappy enough) because they still feel the device is liberating them from long hours at the office. Sorry — those long hours have simply migrated from office to home.

Tivo and pvr type devices also annoy me. (Yes I know some of you are probably now wondering if I’m some kind of technology hater — I ain’t, I swear). Sure, they are great in that they allow people to record programs whenever they want but I think they have also changed how television broadcasters build their lineups. Now, I am just guessing here so bear with me but doesn’t it seem like more and more stations are playing very haphazard lineups every year — that is, moving your favorite shows around into different timeslots a lot more frequently than say ten years ago. I wonder how much of this is influenced by the thinking that they assume people have the ability to record the program easily and consistency does not matter as much as it used. Is it more okay to move shows around now that we have these clever little recording devices? Or is it just coincidence?

I know I’m at the point where I’m pretty much done with regular television because chasing shows is too annoying. I’ll just start buying dvd box sets of series I like… or wait… maybe that is what they want me to do? Do they make more money off the dvds? Is this another example of a ‘hidden designer’ manipulating things… or am I simply up too early on a Saturday morning?

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.