Don Daglow, who started designing games in 1971 and went on to co-design Neverwinter Nights, recently held a presentation where he explained the American online gamer to European developers. In summary, they are uneducated, sore losers with miniscule attention spans. Designing a game that'll do well with them means not incorporating too much history since they know nothing about it, making everything simple and constantly rewarding them for the tiniest things. Worth mentioning is that Daglow is himself an American, born and raised.
The best parts:
Firstly, he pointed out that American schools emphasise the student as a free thinker. Students do not fail in class. They are challenged and they are encouraged to learn from the experience, but the actual idea of failure has been dramatically reduced. Failure doesn't kick in until students reach the age of 17 and begin to apply for colleges and discover that rejection and failure is real and there's a steep impact from that. So American users see failure in a game or app as a problem with that game, not a user error. This is an issue for designers because traditionally failure is used as an inducement to succeed. So the solution for games designers is to break down the experience simply, minimise text and show the audience things rather then tell them. And reward success constantly, even in tutorials where there is only one button to press.
The second point raised by Daglow is that users are 'turbo-browsing' the internet and their attention span is tiny. As an example he pointed out that commercials on TV used to be 60 seconds long, then they were reduced to 30 seconds, and now clicking on a YouTube video you'll be faced with a five second advert. With such an extremely tiny window to grab eyeball attention, anything frustrating will cause the player to switch off. Daglow also pointed to the console business, where once a player bought a game the designer would spend time slowly introducing them to the mechanics and story. In the online space this is all an obstacle and the first few hours need to be streamlined. This is where the games designer needs to think like George Lucas or a James Bond movie - grab the player's attention in the first ten minutes with a thrill ride. Whatever your expectations of the time it takes a player to warm to your game, cut it in half, said Daglow. And if you're coming directly from the console space, slash all you expectations by a factor of ten because the patience of American users is so much less.
The fifth and final point was that European designers need to understand that American history is not taught the same way. People know who Steve-O is but not Stalin, said Daglow, who illustrated his point with a six-point slide on the shallow history knowledge of his countrymen:
- Romans Vs Barbarians.
- Dark Ages, nothing happened.
- Renaissance, then we got cars and planes.
- Stuff was going on in China and Japan, too.
- US got Independence, had Civil War over slavery.
- Lots of big wars in the last century.