Electronic Arts Chief Creative Director, Rich Hilleman, on how user-centric design is helping moving EA into the future of gaming:
And so one of the things that I think is an interesting way to think about this is something I call service-oriented design. You’re going to get paid in the future not for your client but for the services, and so don’t spend all your time engineering a client to some undefined set of future experiences you think you might make out of it. The best way to build a new product might be to build the services first.
So how this might change something — this is a hypothetical example, or else [Maxis senior VP] Lucy Bradshaw might hit me with a chair! So The Sims is the thought example that I use now to talk about it.
The Sims has three really interesting and discreet audiences: What I would call “dollhousers” — people who build the fabulous houses that they wish they owned. They have folks who essentially have a virtual relationship with their character. And there are folks who essentially make stuff out of it: Moviemakers.
If you think about each of those current audiences today and what future Sims product we’d want to give them, what the dollhouser wants is not an application on their computer, but they want an application on their phone that I can go take a picture of that chair, and “get that chair in my game for $20,” or for some number. And then what I want is I want the ability to express my houses to my friends; I want to be able to build a parade of homes for my particular house, so that I can win the Bathroom of the Year award for my particular category.
That second group — the virtual character owners, the people who want a relationship — they want to be able to have a deeper emotional interaction with their characters. What I would give them is the ability to have video chat with their Sims. Now, the Sims speak Simlish — and I wouldn’t change that, by the way — but that doesn’t mean that we can’t have something that produces an emotionally evocative experience.
The other thing I want to do is make the Sims a part of your social life, make them a part of your friends circle, and how you do that is you make where your Sims go with you be as interesting as where you go. And so for instance, imagine an application that when I went to Mount Rushmore with my Sims in my phone in my pocket, that it sent a note to all of my Facebook friends with a postcard of the Sims standing in front of Mount Rushmore and the note on the back of what we did there. It’s a goofy idea, but for somebody who cares about that character as deeply as one of their other friends, it’s a natural kind of thing.
For that last group, you know, the most frustrating thing about using The Sims to make a movie is that unfortunately the Sims do what they want to do. So like in the middle of a perfectly executed scene, they decide to go to the bathroom; it’s like, “Uh-oh. Wait a minute.” So what movie makers want most of all is the ability to direct the Sims. But if I give them the joystick control to drive the Sims around, they’re going to break things, and we’re going to have less fun.
So as an example in this case, what I’ll do is instead I’ll give them the director. Instead of being able to direct the character themselves, I’ll give them Martin Scorsese, who can. Now the trick becomes not getting the Sims characters to do what you want, but getting Martin to do what you want. I’m still abstracted in the same way The Sims has used before, but what I’ve done is I’ve turned it into a different kind of a problem that fits to the gestalt of what that customer does.
The underlying point there is that by building the service first, you align yourself with how your customers value your product. And chances are you built a client that builds the best possible incarnation of that service, that’s going to be the way to build the most compelling project. The Sims is just one example; I would say the social and free-to-play and mobile spaces are probably even more important in those places.