Can playing with your xbox 360 sharpen your e-commerce game? Maybe that’s a stretch. But check out the Halo 3 piece by Clive Thompson in this month’s Wired. The article describes the extreme user testing that Microsoft and game design studio Bungie have lavished on the upcoming release of the popular Halo game. While reading, I kept thinking “Wow, they could be talking about online retail design.”
Sure, I’m biased, but the piece really left me with the impression that gameplay and e-commerce can be hampered by common obstacles --- too many choices, poor navigation—and improved with similar remedies—like smart analytics and user testing.
The parallels aren’t really surprising. Describing the design process, Thompson compares creating games to “constructing environments that influence the behavior of people inside them” - an apt enough description of designing an e-commerce site, too.
In e-commerce, the behavior site owners seek is getting people to convert. Sites that sell are fast and fun. The paths to conversion are well-marked, they’re persuasive and they help shoppers pick up momentum. The designers of Halo 3 place similar premiums on speed, emotion and completing goals. As the lab chief profiled in the article wisely asks, "Is the game fun?” “Do people enjoy it, do they get a sense of speed and purpose?”
To increase the chance of Halo 3’s success, Microsoft and Bungie put the game through a regimen that will sound familiar to web analytics 2.0 devotees. They emphasized behavior, outcomes and the voice of the customer. Week after week, they combined direct observation and think out loud user testing with analysis of recurrent dead-ends in gameplay. And while typical lab testing often relies on small sample sizes, the Halo 3 team analyzed over 3,000 hours of game play played by 600 gamers—and that's all prelaunch!
Read the whole article to learn more about the results of this “user testing on steroids” approach. And check out the sidebar on visual mapping of user density, stumbling blocks and success rate. Browser overlays, anyone?