My way or the highway

Over the Christmas holidays I took advantage of an Xbox Live Arcade deal where Episode One of Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series had been put up for free download. I was looking forward to this, as it had got some great reviews from friends who were playing through the series. I had however received a singular note of caution from another trusted reviewer, one which turned out to be entirely accurate.

To date, despite it being a short bit of content and having a lot of time for gaming at the moment, I have not finished Episode One. This is _entirely_ down to the lack of support in the game for the ability to invert the Y-axis, something simple which has rendered the gameplay frustrating and utterly un-enjoyable for me. My brain simply cannot process games without inversion, something which I do not apologise for as clearly this is the logical and most sensible way to use a pad. Pull down, look up. The Walking Dead is visually great, and has had a lot of effort put into atmosphere and storytelling, however when you’re suddenly jumped by a zombie and are being shouted at to hit them repeatedly over the head with a brick, it’s incredibly difficult to do so when your natural inclination for control takes the brick away from their mangled, undead face, not closer. It’s interesting that the one bit of negative feedback I mentioned earlier was exactly the same issue, and had similarly frustrated the other party.

So what can we learn from this? Despite my somewhat tongue in cheek comment above (I say ‘somewhat’. Seriously, anyone who doesn’t invert Y is plain wrong), I cannot help that my brain doesn’t work in the way that the game developers and testers expect it to. I have experienced others finding gaming frustrating for this reason too. A friend of mine started playing Skyrim, only to be laughed at repeatedly by her boyfriend for her ‘lack of coordination’ when trying to fight. She was on the brink of giving up, but it turned out that turning on inversion solved all of her problems. Well, apart from a mocking boyfriend.

Don’t assume that because an interaction feels natural to you, that it will come as naturally to others. Where possible give people options, such as how many users upgrading to OS X Lion initially opted for the familiar “reverse scrolling” as opposed to the opposite, more device-like “natural scrolling” that was rolled out in the update. Use data to monitor for any frustration points that may be occurring, and feed this back into future revisions. Test with real users whenever possible, as this may throw up scenarios that you had never considered. For example, some games give the opportunity to invert the X-axis, a concept which seems utterly bizarre to me, yet I know that somewhere there’s some poor soul who is even more frustrated due to even less support for this option. No matter how positive the rest of your experience, how great your website or your product or your visual identity or your favicon or your amusing cat images may be, if a user simply cannot do what they are trying to do in a way that seems logical to them they will get fed up and will abandon you, possibly never to return.

As for me, I have a new-found resolution: I will not buy any games in 2013 which do not give me the option to invert. Yes, this means you too, terrible, terrible Lego series games, although you deserve a blog post in your own right. You all have permission to (digitally) slap me if you catch me breaking my vow, but I won’t be hard to track down… just follow the sound of loud, very frustrated expletives.

(Header image borrowed from marketplace.xbox.com)