Now that we’re settling in to play our new, more-amazing-than-ever video games procured over the holidays, it makes sense to ask: “What can the UX folks learn from the wildly successful gaming world?”
In a word: audience. The video gaming marketplace’s vibrant success over the past five years is marked by leaders who focus on very different, specific audiences. Nintendo has won a following of people who prefer local, group-oriented, and physical experiences. Microsoft’s XBox platform has focused on hard-core, online gamers. Apple’s mobile devices are focused on quick, entertaining games that you can play on the go. These companies succeed in great part by understanding their target audiences and designing both hardware and software to support their anticipated behaviors, just like UX designers do.
Wii - Local, Physical, and Easy
With the Wii, Nintendo designed a play experience that focuses on the thrill of interacting with a game by simply waving one’s arms. The Wiimote controller operates on the idea that just about anyone can point a familiar-feeling remote at a screen and have a good time doing it. They capitalized on the segment of people who prefer local, group-oriented multiplayer experiences with low barriers of entry, a group which includes seniors, moms, and young children who are often ignored by the other platforms.
Successful titles on the Wii are largely Nintendo-developed games that take full advantage of these two audience behaviors: Wii Sports and Wii Sports Resort, Wii Fit, and New Super Mario Bros. Wii.
XBox - Online and Sophisticated
Microsoft, on the other end of the spectrum, knew their core audience was comprised of dedicated gamers with a focus on dramatic and intense online multiplayer experiences. Successful Xbox titles are those that embrace the competitive nature of the audience by tapping into the rich online multiplayer service of Xbox Live: the Call of Duty franchise, the Halo franchise, and the Madden football franchise. These titles are often the complete opposite of the Wii experience.
iPhone/iPad - On the Go Mobile Fun
While Apple doesn’t sell a dedicated gaming platform, their touch-screen devices with an accelerometer are proving to have a gaming appeal all their own. The best iPhone and iPad game developers know there is huge potential in devices that people carry with them at all times.
The iPhone is a device that’s used in transit—while waiting in line, on the train ride to work, on the bus to school. Its strength is its ability to offer gamers little slices of entertainment throughout their day. These small slices of gameplay don’t demand the kind of dedication a play-session on the Xbox or Wii might. Instead, the most celebrated games for mobile devices harness the power of immediacy. Successful titles like Angry Birds and Tap Tap Revenge have excellent single-player modes that you can pick up easily where you left off.
As UX designers, we have much to learn from the gaming industry. Delivering a top-notch design requires effort on a multitude of fronts, but we’ll find consistent success with an approach that begins with knowing our audience as deeply and confidently as Nintendo, Microsoft, and Apple.