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Don't make me think about things that don't matter

Web usability and game usability may seem like they have contradictory goals, but that's not the case. In this post I explore how one useful web usability rule from Steve Krug's book 'Don't Make Me Think' can be applied in game usability.

Don’t make me think, is the title and first rule of usability in Steve Krug’s incredibly useful and insightful book on web usability. The concept is very simple, when a user accesses a web page they have a goal that they want to accomplish as quickly and as easily as possible. Krug’s rule says that the actions that the user must complete to accomplish their goal must be self-evident. Don’t make the user think about what he must do to reach his goal.

However, Krug’s first rule of usability appears to directly contradict the purpose of video games, where the designed goal is precisely to make the user think about the interaction, so clearly this rule is invalid for game usability... right?

Wrong.

Like many classic rules of software usability, if we tried to apply Krug’s ‘don’t make the user think’ rule directly in all situations of game design we’d end up with a lot of very easy, very boring games, which is obviously not the intention. However, Krug’s rule is much more important to video games than you might think; albeit in need of a slight conceptual adjustment.

For video games Krug’s rule should read, ‘don’t make me think about elements that are unrelated to the primary gameplay loops’. The gameplay should make the player think, but everything else should support the game’s systems as seamlessly as possible. For example, if inventory management is NOT an integral part of the gameplay experience why would you force a player to spend time managing an inventory? It’s disruptive, pulls the player out of the actual gameplay, breaks immersion, inhibits flow, and just generally detracts from the player experience. Why not support the player by managing their inventory for them, so they don’t have to think about it?

The player should never have to think about non-gameplay interactions. So it is important to anticipate what the player is going to need to do and make it simple when the action is not part of the game. Everything else is just poor usability.

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