Prototyping With The Gaming Community At SNDMakes Chicago

SNDMakes is a series of prototyping events, organized by the Society for News Design. Each event's challenge approaches a different issue facing modern media companies.

The most recent event took place in Chicago this past weekend.

This was my second SNDMakes event. Our two hosts — Pitchfork and Cards Against Humanity — were ever-so gracious and accommodating. Cards Against Humanity's Some Office was beautiful and an especially comfy environment for a weekend of creative heavy-lifting.

Also, the event organizers and volunteers are incredible. Thanks for all the thinky-fun.

The Weekend's Challenge:

“How might we grow community around games, the artists who make them, the fans that love them?”


I was on Team Sauganash (WTF is Sauganash?):


We started with the premise that game developers often want to know about gamers’ feelings and want to hear their thoughts on how a game engaged them on an emotional level. Unfortunately, the responses are often trite — “It was too hard” or “Too boring” or “Your game literally sucks.”

Fine, but these aren’t data points that a game developer can act on to make things better.

Our problem statement:

How might we help game developers solicit qualitative feedback in a way that enables them to make better game design decisions in the future?

Our prototype: Rant to Reason

Rant to Reason is a card game of sorts. We’ve taken to calling it an activity rather than a game. Rant to Reason gives game developers a means to talk with their users about a feeling that may be hard for them to articulate without a structured conversation.

We based aspects of the activity on concepts of cognitive behavioral therapy whereby doctors help their patients to identify emotions, thoughts and behaviors (typically for anxiety and depression) that might be contributing to their condition.

Our teammate Chris Ballard and his game Floppy Candidate were our case study. 

"We found that users wanted to give feedback on Twitter or whatever, but couldn't figure out the right words to use.”

Chris Ballard

We wanted to focus on what we saw as a few key aspects of gaming: difficulty, visual design and rewards systems/achievement.

Each of these aspects would then have a deck of cards with two to three levels of statements that a gamer would choose to help pinpoint their feelings on the game.

We started with physical cards

The activity goes something like this:

  1. Give your gamer a chance to play the game until they declare themselves satisfied, bored, angry or otherwise ready to stop.
  2. Tell them you want to ask them about the game’s difficulty and present them with two cards as their options: “Too hard.” or “Too easy.”
  3. Based on the card they choose, continue to the second tier of cards. If they said too hard, the options become: “I keep failing”, “I’m confused” or “I got stuck.”
  4. Suppose the gamer chooses "I keep failing." The third tier of cards hones in on a specific reason for the difficulty: “I couldn’t figure it out” or “My hands don’t work like that.”

The hope is that once the gamer completes the activity, they will be primed to better describe what they were actually feeling while playing.

What happens if the cards don’t cover everything?

If, by the end of the activity, the gamer has ruled out all the statements in your card deck, that’s okay. In that case, the cards can still provide direction for a subsequent conversation. After a discussion, you may have new statements to add to your card deck for future use.

We built a digital prototype of the physical cards

See our modest prototype of Rant to Reason.

A digital version of the activity has tons of advantages:

  • Recording and reviewing responses is way easier
  • Customizing or adding decks could be very easy and would allow easier sharing of statements and decks across the game developer community at large
  • Building out an API to access your decks and cards would make it possible to choose when and where gamers are prompted for feedback. Some ideas:
    • in-game/in-app after a level or achievement is reached
    • After a gamer reaches out to a developer via social media
    • Via an email campaign after the gamer finishes gameplay
And that's okay.

Drawbacks and challenges:

  • The digital version of the activity needs to feel conversational to avoid feeling like “just a survey”
  • The digital version makes it impossible to read a person's body language and tone of voice
  • Getting gamers to participate and opt-in can be difficult

Other stuff:

If you've made it this far, thanks for reading! If you want to find out more about our project, we put the code on GithubWe also have slides!

Feel free to tell us what you think. If you're interested, read more from SNDMakes.