January 14th, 2010
If I were to run my own bookstore, I’d probably re-title the ‘Self-Help’ section to ‘Common Sense for Foolish People’. Generally speaking, there are three flavours of self-help books: weight loss, depression and success/motivation. The answers to each dilemma is very simple, but often made complicated by the people dealing with the problem:
Need to lose weight? Eat lean, exercise more. Feeling depressed? Make friends, adopt a positive attitude. Want success? Find a goal and work hard.
As you can tell, I’m pigeon-holing the entire genre, and I apologise for doing so, however, the primary ideas behind self-help books can be rendered moot in the face of common sense. Well, that’s my belief. Self-help books primarily serve the purpose of reminding us to be sensible when we’re likely to over-evaluate an issue. In anycase, to remedy my ignorance towards the new age crowd, let me talk about a self-help book that I’ve been reading: How to Win Friends and Influence People.
My brother, who does engineering, suggested that I read this. He originally began reading How to Win Friends and Influence People because good communication is a key requisite of team engineering, of which constitutes most of the field. He didn’t suggest that I read it because I lack people skills…but because it’s such a good book! A classic in fact. Yes, it’s all common sense, but damn, we sure do lose sight of common sense easily.
Allow me to demonstrate with one of the principles which transcends the very subject matter (yes, this does have something to do with video games, bear with me): “Become Genuinely Interested In Other People”.
Human nature states that 90% of the time we’re thinking about ourself, right? Putting ourself first is essential to our survival, pretty much. What Dale Carnegie (author) asserts is that by being genuinely interested in other people, we’re appeasing their interests and therefore can’t help but be liked ourselves. Think about it in practicality, who wouldn’t be friendly to someone who expressed a genuine interest in themselves? In a sense, people who put other’s interest ahead of their own are playing people for what they want, and winning. That’s a very selfish way to talk about a very no selfish act, I suppose.
This notion of serving the customer can not just lead to good interpersonal relations but also to success in other areas. Allow me to elaborate with two examples:
I’ve had my Macbook for about one month and it’s easy to see why Apple has such a strong fan base. Mac computers are designed for being used by normal human beings (yes, normal human beings), the user is central to the design and not the company. This is why Mac hardware and software is aesthetically very pleasing, why they don’t receive viruses, why the AC lead is magnetic, why the trackpad is almost as good as using a mouse: these are all features that make the experience simpler and more pleasant for the user. It’s because Macs pander their users that Apple fans get so aggro over issues like DRM, where Apple is (was?) clearly violating its users.
Windows, on the other hand, has the stigma of being unfriendly and very corporate/power user-centric. Consider the types of responses you hear from Windows users when discussing operating systems. They all say the same thing, they hate Windows/the computer but have no choice but to stick with it. Furthermore, Windows and Windows software (Office, for example) is also heavily pirated, because it’s perceived as not offering value. (Aside: Why would you buy MS Office when you can get Open Office for free).
Although Macs only hold a small market share (for obvious reasons being that Macs are overpriced and lack compatibility), the market share is strong and dedicated and less likely to convert to Windows or Linux. If Microsoft continues to neglect regular users and Apple continues to treat its users well, it seems likely that the market share for Mac computers will slowly increase.
Nintendo have always been successful at developing video games, particularly over the past few years, as usability is of prime importance to their design philosophies. Take a game such as Wii Fit, Wii Fit is actively interested in the player’s development and reinforces the player’s growth through the trainers which give personal, positive advice and praise which is sincere and unflattering.
Nintendo also design their games so that rather than forcing players through a mandatory, you’re-a-newbie tutorial, the environment embodies the tutorial and teaches players organically as they progress. In effect, it empowers the player and masks inability. Super Mario Bros. for instance, does not sit the player down and tell them in writing how to play, the logic of the entire game world is conveyed in the first few seconds of play as the goomba walks towards the player. If the player jumps over or on top of the goomba, they continue playing, that’s the tutorial: jump to avoid obstacles. Metroid achieved the same effect; walk left instead of right: exploration. Super Metroid iterates on this again by presenting players with an initial roadblock in which the only way players can progress is by bombing an unsuspecting part of the landscape. The message? Check everywhere, without fail. Super Metroid is unwavering in its commitment to this principle and magnificently iterates on the concept while placing itself on step ahead of the player, which is why Super Metroid is one of the most acclaimed video games ever made, it respects that the player and believes that they are capable of overcoming the challenge.
I’m sure that you can think of many counter examples, but here’s one in case you’re unsure. Yesterday I booted up my brother’s PC and started playing Runman: Race Around the World, the acclaimed indie title which is free and worth downloading (do it!). Runman’s an excellent game for fans of speed running platformers, however it’s tutorial components could be streamlined even further. Instead of having a sign telling the player to press ‘X’ to wall jump when standing in front of several adjacent walls, all they need is a picture of an ‘X’, the players can fill in the rest.
Nintendo games treat players with respect and sincerity which makes them approachable and enjoyed by many. It’s the reason why they’re been on top of the business for almost 30 years.
As we can see, Dale Carnegie’s principle of becoming genuinely interested in other people is effective not just in relationships, but in a corporate and design setting also. Companies that are aware of their user base and appease their user base through product and promotion (Capcom’s recent effort with Dark Void is a great example) will always be successful ones. Looks like common sense, and self-help books for that matter, prevail in the end, maybe I’m not such a hater.