Learning from Video Games: Minecraft
Minecraft is an up-and-coming indie game sensation and has interesting lessons for the field of user experience design. From the game's uncharacteristically brutal premise to its overly simplified visual representation and mechanics introduction, Minecraft provides fertile grounds for UX lessons.
The premise and mechanics of the game are never explicitly introduced. When you launch Minecraft you are the lone person on a deserted island. There's a landscape that goes on seemingly forever. The twist: when the sun goes down, zombies come out and try to kill you.
UX Note 1: First Impressions
Right off the bat, this game makes a strong first impression which could be translated into UX. In Minecraft, you find yourself in a blocky world of possibilities with very little UI or indication of what to do. The first encounter, the first view, the first click, the first gesture, the first transition... All of these actions give the user a view into what the design (or game world) has in store for them — and it's exciting. Software also takes the user on a journey and develops their skills. The first impressions of the UX can help users see this earlier.
I dove right in. My experience playing looked something like this:
Game 1: Ran as far as I could into the landscape. Sun went down. Died by arrow shooting zombie, I think.
Game 2: Dug a hole and used the dirt I collected from digging to build a wall around edge. A zombie blew up when I got close to it and destroyed my wall.
Game 3: Tried building on top of a mountain so I could have a look-out. Zombies climbed up and killed me.
Game 4: Built huge building out of dirt and started crafting weapons out of wood. Survived 2 nights then got lost and couldn't find house during 3rd night. Zombies killed me.
Game 5: Built house into side of cliff. Started mining finally.
Okay, I didn't get far. Then again I had only been playing for an hour and a half. In that time I had learned so much about my new world and created four different shelters. I had only scratched the surface of the game and it left me wanting more.
UX Note 2: Staying True
After playing for a while the game built on its first impression instead of ditching its original tone. The world got deeper but it didn't change fundamentally. I'm still pushing the same blocks around in the same world that I started in. Only I'm making more complicated stuff now. I don't know what the end of Minecraft looks like, but I assume my games will end like the earlier ones did: a zombie will kill me. It won't be the fault of the game, it will be mine just like it was in the beginning. A strong interaction model might similarly get deeper but still ring true and make the user feel accomplished by reminding them of where they came from.
You can download Minecraft here; it runs on Windows and OS X and requires no compiling. Creating an account, buying the game and downloading the Alpha version takes just 5 minutes. Don't forget to adjust settings to get better graphics performance.