The pace of learning, and the pace of the introduction of complexity, is an interesting question in games right now because we're reaching this point where people who don't accept the premise that it's either got to be casual or hardcore, that very reductive premise, are now wrestling with these kind of audiences.
NW: Yeah. That's the thing we've been wrestling with at work. A whole bunch of reading... Like, About Face is one of the really good books in this regard. It's about building things for the mainstream user and talking about what an expert user wants and how users move into being an intermediate user.
From the perspective of what industry was the book originally written?
NW: It's a usability book, and it's web and software applications, but they use examples from all different [places]... A lot of these web usability books -- the really well-regarded web usability books -- you can read the book and think of it, "If this was EVE instead of a website," and glean a lot of good info.
Yeah, just over the holidays and stuff, myself and some of the other UI designers were delving into these things deep, and just talking about how we need to clean up the stuff.
Another book that's really good called Simple and Usable... It's another web thing. It talks about ways of simplifying. Like, you can hide, you can organize, you can remove, and you can displace -- different ways of simplifying things. The example that book uses is a TV remote control, and talking about ways that you might simplify it.
It shows the TV remote control, like all these buttons, and talks about different ways -- like displacement, that's taking the things off the remote control and putting it on the TV so you would have a menu instead. Or hiding things in a little drawer, so the advanced stuff that you never really use is there, so you're not like "Ah, all these buttons!" Or organizing things better together, you know, like moving some stuff around. So, thinking about that stuff, and then you start looking at the EVE UI, and you go, "Oh my God. There's so much stuff we can improve with these techniques."
One of the positive influences of social games is the understanding of feeding back user data really effectively. Have you guys been getting that kind of data, aggregating it, and analyzing it yet?
NW: We are more and more. So our research and statistics team is on that, and I'm doing a lot of work to try and get the game designers -- research and statistics lives in publishing, and the game designers live on production, and we sit on a different floor, and it's almost like we're a different company. But at least we're the same company, and at least we're in the same building.
But you know how it might work at a publisher and a game producing thing somewhere else -- you wouldn't talk and you would have two separate key ways and everything. But I'm trying to get our designers to talk more with the researchers and to do that kind of stuff. The researchers have been looking into, the money flow and the sinks and faucets, and seeing how all that stuff is -- really delving into that stuff lately.
But we're starting to look at all of that, like how people are using the various UIs, and also where people are when they log on, and play, and log off. Are people starting their session in a secure space, and then moving to the unsecure, and then back again? We're looking at all that kind of stuff lately.
Sometimes when you just start looking at the data, you find things you didn't expect, and it sends you down paths to try to find out more, try to find out why things aren't that way.
We're looking at metrics, but we're also just polling. The polling is pretty interesting... the different polls are typically themed, and we ask the different Scrum teams, "Is there any specific thing about your feature that you added that you were really wondering what the players thoughts about it?" And then we'll poll them and get that info back. If it's pretty strong, we'll maybe tweak the game some.
You guys have the real challenge, which is keeping the plates spinning while also trying to improve. Either one or the other would be difficult, but both...
NW: And our increments aren't as rapid as the social games in Flash or whatever, I mean, sure, FarmVille changes stuff every week. You know, they add new stuff, and they're able to do...
Frequently, yeah. It's that rapid.
NW: And they just have a shitload of data. But, yeah, our sort of framework is a little bit harder to work, you know. It's not Flash.
Well, also, it's a more complicated... Ultimately, the changes you make are further-reaching because they tap directly into things like economy and real time social interactions, which are things the social games mostly so far have not had to butt their heads against. So, you're a more complicated, a more delicate environment.
NW: Yeah, so we tread a little lightly. But we're also not afraid to just make pretty big changes. I think it's necessary to do so.