Why Having a business in the digital space is a lot like creating computer games

Image from “The Stanley Parable” by Galactic Cafe (CC BY-SA 3.0)Image from “The Stanley Parable” by Galactic Cafe (CC BY-SA 3.0)

Now, I am not active in the game business per se, even though I know a lot about what’s going on both out of pure curiosity and the fact that you can use game mechanisms in UX design. Also, knowing people working in the business, having been a long time computer games lover and critic, has made me aware of what is going on when designing games. Moreover, even though I am no authority, I can still say with some degree of certainty that being in the digital space with your business in some form or another has some similarities to creating computer games. We can boil it down to four general principles:

Your story should stick

I could rant for a long time about why you should be for transparency (just do it), your business, your product, your services — heck, all your touchpoints need to have a straightforward, emotionally titillating narrative. And best of all, it should be genuine. When telling why you care and how much, and people can feel the passion in the way you tell your story, you are in for the long run. Just take a look at some of the more successful Kickstarter campaigns out there. An excellent personal account sells. Take, for instance, Tinitell, the wearable mobile phone for kids where concerned parents kickstarted the whole idea, sharing a universal story about children’s safety with its audience. Even if the end product goes down the drain for one reason or another, that kind of story affects you as a parent, and you feel a kinship with the people creating the product.

At the other end of the scale, Old Spice’s hugely successful Smell like a Man, man” campaign is silly but down to earth so. Its charms get to us, and we feel that they make fun of both themselves and others in the same business as well; this is a pretty bold and confident way to do it, making the audience keep the parades down throughout the whole charade. Also, be consistent and coherent. Having many touchpoints makes it more challenging, just like when you have a character in a video game wander around in a vast landscape. Embedding linearity, coherence, suspense, meaningfulness, etcetera into game mechanics, environments, non-linear flows, and cutscenes is tough to do. The same goes for all the different ways your customers can access you – not just interact with you. When was the last time you saw a funny, thought-evoking or just plainly not dull paper receipt, for instance?

American Express Co. shipping receipt. New York, NY August 6, 1853. Compare this to our run-of-the-mill versions we see all the time today. (Image is public domain.)American Express Co. shipping receipt. New York, NY August 6, 1853. Compare this to our run-of-the-mill versions we see all the time today. (Image is public domain.)

Your interactivity must be intuitive

It goes without saying. As the game mechanics should work, the level design should be useful and intuitive; progression should go at a steady pace, and the gameplay should be trimmed in a video game. Your business platforms and their inherent functionalities should just work as well. You should use no-fuss, no-nonsense, useful, intuitive interfaces, contents and flows. Be sure to keep it simple and even joyful. Create an environment where the user gets things done — whether it is finding and buying stuff or just communicating the right things at the correct times to help your user step over that finish line or lead her in the right direction. Hug your UX and CX designer daily and listen to your customers’ feedback without letting it dictate what you do entirely. Leave some room for developing new ideas and even better solutions.

Your design must be right

No need for fancy graphics all the time, but create the right look for the proper narrative. Frame a picture of Dieter Rams in your office and light some incense underneath it every Monday. Furthermore, it also makes you look and feel enjoyable, reasonable, honest. Let it support both your storytelling and the interactivity as mentioned above. Emotional design can play a huge part, and here we can tie everything together. Don’t be dull, but be bold, precise, beautiful, useful. Big AAA game titles crave good graphics, but it does not matter without great gameplay and a good story. For instance, the Playstation game Vib-Ribbon”s minimalistic graphics look horrible, but the gameplay is unique and pretty fun. You pop in any one of your own music CDs, and the level design ingeniously changes in tune to the music.

LEGOs are so cool that even Scotland’s police use them.LEGOs are so cool that even Scotland’s police use them.

Break down barriers

You will get the cherry on the top if you are different. It takes a lot to be a game-changer. Still, if you have your basics in place (purposefulness, usefulness as above), you need to mix in an experimental, boundaryless, value-creative work ethic. Experimental as in Google’s employee-driven inventions, boundaryless as Amazon’s unprecedented retail ecosystem and value-creative as Lego’s value creation strategy that made them recover from massive losses in 2003 to report huge pre-tax profits in 2011 (or like what someone like COMMON are helping businesses with).

Game makers (here as in computer game creators’) are often navigating within this realm, especially indie developers who are not bound by conventions or huge budgets requiring a solid return on investment. Take a game like The Stanley Parable” that swept the industry off its feet by turning game mechanics and narrative upside down. Made only by two guys who wanted to create something not seen before. Also, one of the most-funded Kickstarter campaigns is simply a different cooler. However, a cleverly designed one, integrating all you need for a portable party, adding significant value to an otherwise very un-sexy utility. The Last of Us” is a highly critical acclaimed game title where narrative, gameplay, and design goes hand in hand. The novelty lies in the storytelling altogether, so you do not need to look further than that, but keeping an open spirit inside and outside your company will surely get your juices flowing and ideas sparking.

So the next time you find yourself flicking your fingers at Crossy Road” on your mobile or raising a gun in Rainbow Six: Siege on your Playstation, think about if you can use some elements from that game in your line of business. Perhaps it can create some sparks or a-ha moments that can lead you down a path you never thought you would tread.

Originally published at LinkedIn. Also published on Medium.

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