Thoughts on Design Research and Canaries

We are re-launching Canaries in a Coalmine today. This version has fixes (we hope!) to some of the issues we had when we first launched in August. Our minds were stuck in the frame of an MMO game since we had just come off of doing Martian Boneyards in Blue Mars. In an MMO, social presence is aided by avatars seeing one another. You come to the space, you see someone else there and start a conversation. It feels very natural (in fact it would feel weird not to start talking to someone standing there).

But in a flash based multiplayer game, like Canaries, we had to find ways to create social presence without avatars. What do I mean by social presence? The connection to other people that one can experience (or not experience) in an online environment. So as Teon, Jamie, and I sat around my living room in Halifax last August and watch the game launch with players coming and trying stuff, but not finding each other, we knew we had to try again.

We worked on several elements over the past couple of months. We created highly visible news feeds and re-organized the communication tool icons on the dashboard to help direct players to where they can join others in the game. We create tool tips to provide more immediate instruction on game tools and we created a new introduction video that explains more of the game to players before they begin. Finally, on the suspicion that the registration might be turning off players before they even start, we created a try-it mode where players can do activities without registering, and then are prompted to register the first time they attempt to enter data or initiate communication with another player.

So now we re-launch. Turn the media blitz machine back on (such as it is on a limited budget) and go for it. If nothing else, we are always learning….

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