Most of you know I’m a casual to semi-serious gamer… (Yes, I hear you… “Ah-the-nerd-picture-is-complete-now-monkey-boy.”) Ahem. Anyway, ever since I obtained the Wii few months ago my hands have been glued to the controllers.
There’s something fascinating about encountering a new interface for the first time. Nintendo has taken a large risk in expecting users to learn a brand new way to interface with the console. Gone are the arrow keys, only to be replaced with the Wiimote, which, depending on the software, controls the interface as you physically move the controller up, down, toward, away, side-to-side, or roll it right-to-left.
Rather than enter into the XBox/PlayStation/PC realm of muscle car-like computing power and 3d rendering perfection, the Wii is attempting to blaze a new trail that brings focus back on gameplay. The gamble is that Nintendo has asked their customers to abandon the conventions that they have become quite used to, and re-learn a new way of interfacing with their favorite titles and characters.
A usability research company (Serco Usability Services) found that the Wii offered an opportunity to learn more about HCI. Some initial analysis led them to conclude:
So this novelty may be a double-edged sword… On the one hand it means that there are multiple new ways of allowing users to interact with games, which is a whole new world of fun; a massive potential. But, on the other hand, there are no conventions yet for how users expect the controller’s actions to be used in a game… The last time we remember such a blank canvas for interactive design was in the early days of the internet. Pages were colourful, flashing and had different fonts. Standards… were not in place… Sites were exciting, but hard to use. However, gradually, over the years, the fun of the web remained, but design conventions were derived from the sites that people found easiest to use (and consequently used most).
The company conducted a usability study on the Wii, and their results included the following:
In general, there is a tendency among users to assume that the two elements of the controls are the same as a regular controller, but chopped in half; the nunchuck is the left side of a controller; the Wiimote the right. It’s as if despite the conscious feeling that the controls are completely revolutionary, the user’s motor memory is not fooled by the hype! It treats them the same as if they were a ‘normal’ controller.
Time will tell if Nintendo’s customers stick with the new interface. As of this writing, Wiis are flying off the shelves. But the true test of success with any interface comes with widespread acceptance of it. If customers continue to buy Wii software titles, and the software companies continue to produce them, then Nintendo will be able to declare success.