Service design as a mobile games development framework

Life is a permanent game. A game of decisions, paths and options with increasingly difficult choices to make. Gamification is one strategy used to design products and services in this complex reality. But what happens if we do the opposite? Using service design as a game development framework?

03 screen shots showing a negotiation feature, that happens when a customer wants to buy some treasure from your Pawnshop. From the Mobile Game Bid Wars Stars
Pawnshop negotiation feature, from the Mobile Game Bid Wars Stars

Gamification, which is the use of game strategy, dynamics and mechanics in the context of business and everyday things to engage users, solve problems, and as an effective strategy for influencing and motivating the behaviour of people. Providing users with game situations for decision making, benefit gain or even making the experience more fun and enjoyable through delightful interactions is a way of not only being closer, but also building differentiation in a more authentic way. This power of immersion that gamification provides is one of the main factors that makes it increasingly present and popular in the design and development of products, businesses, and services, which end up becoming more engaging, less dense, fun, lighter, attractive and interesting.

What is happening to gamification today? We already lived with design, when it became widely requested in the corporate environment for generating value and differentiation in a more assertive way by placing the user in the centre.

As service designers, product designers or strategists, many of us have already experienced this evolution in practice, where gamification is a product or service strategy.

The mobile games industry is huge and has an enormous growth potential, it is a promising market. Game production has its specificities, for instance: the main objective is to entertain, there isn’t a problem to solve. Within the creation aspect we have UI, UX, UX research, game art, game design and sound design professionals that must converge in a solution, which makes the whole process more complex and slower. The wow factor, such as animated and delightful interactions and rewards, are made at scale. If we consider a game as a service, the gamer’s journey and the integration of all touchpoints should provide an unforgettable experience. Game experiences tend to be more immersive/synesthetic, and interactive than average digital products or services. Games need to be entertaining. But how can we design and measure fun? Marc LeBlanc, an Educator and Game Designer, explains that fun can be represented in eight different ways in a game:

  • Sensation: Game as sense-pleasure. Games that evoke emotion in the player, be it through sound, visuals, controller rumble or physical effort.
  • Fantasy: Game as make-believe. Game as a means to take the player to another world. Some call it escapism.
  • Narrative: Game as drama. Game as a means to tell a story or narrative to the player.
  • Challenge: Game as an obstacle course. Games that provide the player(s) with highly competitive value or with increasingly difficult challenges.
  • Fellowship: Game as social framework. Games that have social interactions as its core or as a big feature.
  • Discovery: Game as uncharted territory. Games in which the player explores a world.
  • Expression: Game as self-discovery. Games that allow for self-expression from the player through gameplay.
  • Submission: Game as pastime. Games that have ongoing events like raids, tournaments, quests, and meetings.

Unlike other industries, where user-centric approaches are highly valued and have practically become a commodity, the mobile games industry in Brazil in general still works with someone saying what needs to be done and someone doing it. The old mindset still prevails, where products and services were created and then marketing was used in order to make people want what was previously developed. However, now, with several industries showing relevance in the user centred approach, the urge and need to organise themselves in this sense is also present in game development, which are moving towards a more collaborative production. During my experience leading cross-functional teams of creatives in a free-to-play mobile games studio, the main challenges that I faced were related to lack of game experience consistency — as a result of touchpoints misalignment — and absence of a clear game aspiration. The strategy I adopted to cope with the situation was a two-part approach. First, edit the traditional service blueprint to a mobile games experience context. Second, a way to bring a new perspective, visibility and clear focus for all stakeholders involved by making the right questions. This article will explore the first part, as the second one refers to applying the very well-established ‘How might we’ framework.

The difference between the traditional service blueprint and the gamer version is that more layers envisioning a more synesthetic experience were added:

  • Game Narrative: Beyond the customer journey and actions another important experience layer to games refers to writing and pacing the game story, craft compelling narrative elements such as quests or character dialogue.
  • Level Design: People are expected and want to spend many hours, several months playing the same game. A main factor that contributes to the player’s engagement in a game is the right distribution of the game content in levels, missions, that become more challenging and interesting as the game evolves.
  • Player emotions: It can be said that people play for 4 main reasons: hard fun – to compete and win, easy fun: to explore the system and learn, altered states: to change identity, or social fun: to interact with people, and a great game experience has all these moments mapped and carefully designed, so, for example, the players are expected to have specific moments of fear, confidence, happiness etc.
  • Game wow moments: A great experience derives emotional satisfaction from their interactions. This is true when talking about designing services, products or games. According to Chuck Longanecker and Morgan Brown-an unforgettable experience has specific wow moments, called ‘juicy feedback’, that overwhelming experience you receive whenever you pass a milestone. The key of success is to plan special moments across the player’s experience.
A visual diagram, called service blueprint, that shows all the actors, frontstage and backstage layers involved in delivering a service. This one have more layers than the common ones, in order to register an synesthetic experience that a mobile game requires
Service Blueprint revisited (personal design)

After placing all the game information into the Service Blueprint revisited, it was easier to observe the game experience as a whole almost in a systemic way, and having a clear macro (big picture) and micro (details regarding interactions between touchpoints) view. Some aspects that were enhanced were the following:

  • The majority of players of this game (a multiplayer auction battle) were American mid age men, who have a peculiar taste in terms of expressing themselves through fashion. They want to see themselves visually represented into the game and turns out that the game avatars weren’t addressing this point, and as a result the player experience wasn’t that engaging and it directly reflects into the game retention;
  • At the beginning of the game it was extremely easy to win but it became unengaging, and by the middle of the game experience, it was almost impossible to achieve the next level. This imbalanced experience made the players journey really inconsistent;

After visualizing the end-to-end game experience, we were able to make huge improvements, and as a consequence of this much better game experience, we started to see some Facebook and Youtube communities of fans that discuss about the game, share tips, impressions etc. This organic movement became a very important way to generate awareness and keep the players engaged. In fact the community’s touchpoint is today a very important point of interaction and connection not just between the players but also with the game producers, that can get constant and very precise feedback that is considered to keep improving the game experience — that continues into these new channels.

Mobile Game Bid Wars Stars: Auction battle feature: high fidelity prototype (personal archive)

Experiences are driving economic value. But you know what makes your favourite service so addictive? Longanecker and Brown said that the answer is a series of design decisions that create an overarching feeling of contentment. It can be achieved through microinteractions, seamless omnichannel integrations, story-driven narrative experiences, or rich/juicy feedback. It is way more than just a high quality aesthetic design, with moderate emotional connection to the user, but one that feels infused within the user’s soul.

In the gaming context a synesthetic approach that creates experiences that people can’t get enough of are widely used, and here is an opportunity for service designers combining their ability to organise and orchestrate complex scenarios and incorporate these new interactive elements while designing services that besides delivering value and impacting directly on people’s quality of live will create surprise and delight. Metaverse, virtual and augmented reality are some trends examples that are driving experiences to a more immersive level, and what is being designed in terms of the near future are all kinds of services that are part of our everyday life revisited with way more interactive touchpoints and channels to orchestrate.

By designing more interesting and enjoyable experiences, we are generating great benefits for businesses while also making happier users.

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