Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Differences and Similarities: board games & software apps

I'm Making A List 
— it is still a work in progress —

Several weeks ago Erik Stolterman and I were discussing my work and he suggested I make a list of similarities and differences between digital apps and board games. There was some discussion speculating on what I would discover. Would I find more differences than similarities or vice versa?

As I wrote the little that you see here, instead of finding clarity, instead of finding separation between the two, I feel even more strongly the similarities between the two. Yes, there are many differences. And yes they are significant. But, through the lens of designing an experience for a user/player the similarities still seem quite striking to me.

I am clearly posting this prematurely. I'm not asking you to do my work for me (as if that were even possible... me being the genius that I am ;)   But, I thought it might be fun to get some comments. Let me know what you think.

Similarities and Differences — Boardgames and Digital Apps


1. Designs often driven by and incorporate user/player objectives... goals... and motivations

2. Design considerations often include...
— degrees of agency — quantity of choices and decisions
— the quality of decisions can shape experience

3. designed artifact (often)

4. there is a stylistic look/feel that is an integral part of the experience

5. bot are designed systems that human interacts with

6.  artifact is a mediator
— signifiers and affordances
— data is manipulated via visual/physical mediators

7. rules create a framework for the experience

8. steps or phases are part of the experience

9. sense of input/output

10. replay-ability and emergent qualities
— users/players often come up with new uses
— outcomes can surprise users/players
— outcomes are different from one experience/use to the next
— outcomes are subject to qualities of the user/player

11. Produced by teams including designers, illustrators, writers and stakeholders

12. not generally considered an activity for spectators

13. rules based activity
— in software apps the rule set is the software program
— in a board games the rules are written in a booklet (or on The Geek ;)

14. both are rules based activity with an objective   

— Differences —

Board Games

1. usually a group activity

2. experience and physical space is usually shared by other users

3. there are end conditions

4. achievements are quantified as well as qualified by the rule set

5. physical artifact
 — three dimensional experience over time
6. rules can readily be modified by users

7. specific objective(s) determined by designer

8. it is not uncommon for luck to be designed into the system  


1. objectives can be sharply adjusted by the user

2. often a solo activity

3. rules are not easily modified by user

1 comment:

  1. The best thing about my job--developing software requirements--is that it overlaps so strongly with designing games. I think the level of overlap between the two is far greater than the difference.

    A couple of observations on your list:
    1. All of the software I've ever worked on in the corporate world is collaborative, providing means for a groups to achieve their objectives.
    2. The games I've enjoyed most allow objectives to be adjusted by the user: they aren't just a formalized set of rules to work toward an abstract goal, they simulate an environment where I can decide to do things that don't all revolve around how to "win". (But I'm a roleplayer at heart.) More games should do this better, in my opinion.

    I'd love the opportunity to chat with you more about these things.