Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Bad Experiences by Design

Bad design, well, sucks.

We live and play in a designed world. The screen you're reading, the seat you're sitting in, the electricity you're consuming is all there, for better or worse, by someone's design.

I can count the number of times these have been used on one hand.

Which is why it's important to study design, both the good and the bad, to understand how to build better systems. Thinking through systemic design is important. Without foresight, you can leave your users frustrated and extremely vocal about the system's shortcomings.

So how do you avoid a design problem like this? Well, a simple trick is to put yourself into the shoes of a future user. If they knew nothing about the design, would they understand what to do at a glance?


Another tactic is to test drive your design before it hits the big stage. Jesse Schell recommends using kindergartners. If they get your design, then everyone else will probably understand too. They're also pretty brutal with their feedback and hold nothing back. You'll recognize a problem very quickly when a 5 year old is tearing your design a new one.

Any door with an instruction manual is a design failure.

Design is like a joke, it's not very good if you have to explain it. How many times have you pulled on a door with a "Push" sign above the pull handle? This design flaw is EVERYWHERE! There are books with entire chapters dedicated to badly designed door handles.

It's pretty clear you have to push this, hence no "PUSH" sign.

Riot Games recently made a frustrating design decision with their League Point (LP) system. When you win a match of League of Legends, you gain LP. When you lose a match, you lose LP. Win enough, and you are promoted to a new shiny tier with a new shiny badge. Lose enough, and the opposite is true.

Sounds great right? A clear indicator of how well you're doing and if you're getting better or worse at the game! Well, sometimes.

Riot decided to add in an extra tier just above diamond (where the top 1-2% of the playerbase plays) called Master Tier. When they did this, they made it so players newly entering the Diamond tier could not gain or lose LP in a regular fashion. Essentially, you would win a game, get +10 LP, lose a game, get -30 LP. So a win and a loss was one step forward 3 steps back. Check out what it did to the Diamond player distribution:

Click the picture to make it bigger. The player count in Diamond V is the interesting part.

Currently ~73% of Diamond Players are stuck in Diamond V. This is significantly higher than any other tier's V distribution (For example, it's only ~42% for the Gold Tier).

This has left a lot of the top players frustrated. The system that's supposed to tell you if you're improving or playing worse is automatically set to tell you that you do not belong (regardless of how you're playing). The reddit rage is pretty hilarious to read.

That frustration is translating into gameplay. The top 1-2% of the playerbase is now trapped in the most toxic part of the player distribution. You have a mix of the frustrated players desperately trying to get to Diamond mixed in with the chill players that got Diamond, but don't care anymore and are learning new champions. Add to this a dash of tryhard rage stuck in a one step forward, three steps back cycle, and you get a play experience where every match is pretty angry. That anger is sucking the fun out of the game.

A system designed to give feedback on performance, now has a choke point that does the opposite. This has created a ton of frustration which is translating into toxic gameplay (people raging at one another, intentionally throwing games, quitting the games early). Riot Lyte recently gave a talk at GDC showing that this kind of toxicity makes a player 320% more likely to stop playing a game.

They probably want to fix this since their most diehard players are getting hit with this systemic toxicity. Lyte also has the solution in his talk when he says that "Clear feedback is everything." This would all be fixed if the LP system did it's job, and told players how they were performing. Fix that, fix the toxicity, everyone's happy. Hopefully Riot realizes this soon and saves the day!

Don't be a victim of bad design.
So when you're designing the next big thing, take a step back and look at it with fresh eyes.

Is it easy to understand?
Is it working as intended?
Can a 5 year old get it?

A little foresight goes a long way.