Archive for the Design Category

e-Sports needs less content & more coding

E-Sports is volatile industry. Ask anyone who has been in the business for any significant amount of time and they will probably tell you something similar, perhaps coupled with a painful story. For all the fun, excitement, and entertainment it provides, e-Sports as a whole is significantly lacking when it comes to sustainable business models. This means we see a lot more failure than success, and even in the success stories we see struggles to keep up. As a thought exercise, I created a list of companies within the e-Sports industry who are successful and have operated over an extended period of time. My thinking was to identify key parts of these successful businesses that separate them from others. The results were simply staggering.

Not only is there not many long-term successful companies in the industry, even the successful ones are hard to differentiate from one another on a macro level – they all are doing relatively the same thing. Trying to look past this fact, I came across a startling common point when looking at arguably two of the most successful companies in the business. This realization was that the core of their business, what drives their ability to attract users and generate revenue, is leveraged via the unique technology they have developed. These companies could quite possible be more appropriately categorized as technology companies (read not e-Sports companies) who leverage the e-Sports industry to generate revenue.

The first company I want to discuss is arguably the most successful currently operating within this space today: Twitch TV. Before you head angrily to the comments, I know Twitch does more general gaming than just e-Sports, but the fact is much of the platform’s initial rise in popularity and continued use is due to the e-Sports community. As most people know, Twitch is a DIYS live streaming platform and community specifically tailored for the gaming scene. Their revenue, like most within the e-Sports industry, is tied to advertising.

Where Twitch differs from most, however, is that they do not directly generate content. Rather, they have built this technology platform that allows other people to generate content and are able to leverage the content their users’ create for ad revenue. Obviously, this is not the only revenue stream for Twitch. Without knowing the intimate details, it would be fair to say Twitch also probably generates revenue via partnerships, their new Twitch Turbo premium service, and external funding (private, venture, etc.) to name a few. Most if not all these methods though, are predicated on their ability to develop and maintain their technology platform for increased user engagement (which leads to increased advertising revenue).

The second company I identified was ESEA Entertainment. ESEA has faded out of the spotlight for many since the rise of the RTS and MOBA genres and the lack of a successful team based FPS (prior to the release of CGS:GO). Similar to Twitch, ESEA has developed a technology platform (their premium client) which they use to run leagues, ladders, anti-cheat, gather game statistics, and more. This technology drives ESEA’s operations and its premium subscription creates a solid revenue stream that isn’t solely based on advertising and sponsorships.

My purpose for highlighting these two companies is twofold. First, to highlight they are operating successfully, but in a different manner than most of the e-Sports industry. And second, to call attention to the realization that we as an industry need more technology. We pride ourselves for our progressive thinking that video games can and should be viewed as sports, yet we are woefully lacking in the support technologies for managing leagues, running live events, coordinating team operations, and more. Sadly, most of the businesses within the industry easily fall under the “content creator” label in which they produce some form of content and try to earn revenue from the content they produce. Not only is the industry over-saturated with this type of offering, but many of these content creators’ operations are severely lacking compared to their “real world” counterparts. Don’t believe me? Here are two simple exercises for you:

1) Go to your favorite league, show, team, website, etc. that produces content and evaluate how accessible their content is across different device platforms. Most these producers have horrendous multi-device support – if at all – compared to similar producers within “real” sports.

2) Again, visit your favorite league, show, team, website, etc. and evaluate how accessible their branding/logo assets and guidelines are to the general public. Needless to say, I wouldn’t hold my breath – most simply don’t have these assets and guidelines available.

The simple truth is the e-Sports industry isn’t nearly as progressive as we like to believe, and one of the major areas in which we are lacking is our technology. We need more coders, designers, and engineers building technology for e-Sports and less of a desire for the same cycle of monotonous content production outlets.

Looking back at Twitch and ESEA, despite their operational stability both companies face their own challenges. As previously mentioned, ESEA needs to find a way to expand its operations in an age where the team-based FPS genre is not dominant.  Meanwhile, Twitch has struggled with changes in ad rates, partner payouts, and an inferior European network compared to their North American counterpart. But perhaps what is most egregious is Twitch’s severely lacking mobile development, especially on the Android platform.  Although they have recently promised a renewed commitment to Android development and even opened a new beta program, it seems extremely odd that a content delivery platform such as Twitch wouldn’t be more focused on mobile accessibility across the board.

To that end, I decided to spend a few hours of my own time over the last few days to create a concept design for a new Twitch android application. My approach was simple: design a basic framework for a Twitch application which could handle substantially more functionality. You can find my concept designs below. In conclusion, I’d strongly implore those looking to get involved within the e-Sports industry and those already working within it to think about the things I’ve mentioned here and ask yourself if you could benefit from better technology and operations.

The following are simply concept designs and I have no direct affiliation with Twitch TV. Any logos, assets, brands, or other materials used below are copyright their respective owners.

Click here to view large version.

twitch_layout

On TechCrunch’s new website design

It’s been a busy day in the office, but I finally stumbled across TechCrunch’s new website design. Holy crap are parts of it really bad. Let me go through some things that popped out to me starting at the top of the page, which is arguably the most important for a website of any function:

TechCrunch Header

Hopefully, you all see the same problem I do – there is way too much text content right in front of your face upon entry. In an article published in 1997, Jakob Nielsen noted the importance of headers, sub-headers, bulleted lists, color, and other techniques to make web pages more easily scannable as most people do not read every word on the page. This heading is not conducive to fast scanning at all as the font size and coloring used are not providing enough contrast.

One of my favorite aspects of TechCrunch is CrunchBase, a database of companies, people and topics on the content they create. Previously, CrunchBase boxes were located at the bottom of each article such that when you were finishing reading, you could easily explore more about that particular company or topic. Let’s take a look at the current location:

CrunchBase

Not only is the new location for the article’s CrunchBase out of the immediate viewing area, it’s currently directly underneath an advertisement and above the day’s top posts. On the off chance a reader does look at that column, the formatting and styling of the CrunchBase is so similar to the top posts and other sections it hardly stands out. They even removed the old icons for the individual CrunchBase. If TechCrunch would have changed everything about the old CrunchBase design but kept the old company/topic icons for each CrunchBase, it would be significantly better. Overall, this location and styling hurts the reader’s efficiency.

Lastly, TechCrunch produces A LOT of daily content that people want to then share with their friends, families, co-workers, etc. Notice the new sharing techniques:

TechCrunch Share

In this new design, you have to hover to get access to any of the sharing functions. The whole point of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn providing share widgets is to speed up the time it takes users to share the content they are currently viewing with their friends. This design does the exact opposite. Also, for a media outlet so tech focused, they failed to re-include Google’s +1 button, which was already in place on the website’s old design.

While there are some nice features to the new design, such as the share functions staying fixed as you scroll down a page and more consistent styling across the Mobile and Gadget sections, the negatives out-weigh the positives for me. Which reminds me, speaking of design consistency:

TechCrunch Twitter

I implore you TechCrunch, make some changes to this new design before you start losing readers.

User Experience Design: It’s the little things

A lot of people ask me what a User Experience Designer does and how it effects an end product or service. I try my best to provide a simple and readily understood explanation, but sometimes even that can be confusing. If you go by the definition found on Wikipedia, User Experience Design is:

…a subset of the field of experience design that pertains to the creation of the architecture and interaction models that affect user experience of a device or system. The scope of the field is directed at affecting “all aspects of the user’s interaction with the product: how it is perceived, learned, and used.”

As someone studying in the field I find that definition to be not half bad. For most though, it’s fairly confusing and vague. How about an example then?

Last weekend I upgraded my mobile phone to a HTC Droid Incredible 2 before Verizon switched to tiered data plans in order to keep my unlimited data package. The Incredible 2 is a decent phone, but one of the nifty things that stood out to me about the phone was the function display buttons. The LED buttons display normally when in portrait mode like most phones, however, when you switch the phone to landscape view, the buttons orient themselves accordingly. See blow:

Portrait View:

Droid Incredible 2 Vertical

Landscape View:

Droid Incredible 2 Horizontal

Overall, this little feature isn’t earth-shattering in that you could operate the phone just fine without it, but its inclusion by the designers improves the continuity of the system, and therefore, the entire user experience. Sometimes, UX Designers can create a design, feature, or interaction that completely makes a system. More often than not, however, it’s the culmination of little things that really bring a user’s experience together.

As someone studying User Experience Design, you can’t help but smile at the little things like this.