Gaming lessons for corporate websites

| January 26, 2022

Looking for inspiration for improving your corporate site? Play a video game, says Scott Payton.

I spend a lot of time reviewing corporate websites and a great deal playing video games. It’s an exciting, transformative time in both worlds – and there’s a surprisingly large number of lessons that people running corporate sites can learn from the cutting edge of game design. 

Here are three examples.

Accessibility:

Wise corporate website managers say that good accessibility for visitors who have hearing, sight and fine motor skills impairments is the bedrock of good usability for all visitors. But this ethos is too rarely followed through – especially when it comes to interactive and rich-media features on corporate sites, such as charting tools, product selectors and videos. 

Game designers are ahead on this – with Sony-owned development studio Naughty Dog in the lead. Here’s a useful summary of the accessibility provisions built into Naughty Dog’s acclaimed 2020 title ‘The Last of Us Part II’. 

This game has more than 60 accessibility settings covering everything from fine motor skills and hearing impairments to low vision, blindness and motion sickness.

Cleverly, the game offers three broad accessibility presets covering vision, hearing and motor skills (see screenshot below) – as well as the option to adjust every specific setting within each preset. It’s a winning blend of simplicity and sophistication. 

Here’s an enlightening discussion about the benefits of all this from the perspectives of blind and hard-of-hearing gamers. 

As with good accessibility on corporate sites, the comprehensive and flexible accessibility standards built into The Last of Us Part II benefit all users; everything has been crafted with individual players’ varying needs and preferences in mind.

Website screen shot

‘The Last of Us Part II’ has more than 60 accessibility settings, organized in three presets. Credit: Naughty Dog. 

User experience:

Bowen Craggs’ research shows that the majority of visitors to your corporate site are likely to be arriving for the first time. This means that navigation and the functionality of interactive tools must be immediately intuitive. 

This is fairly straightforward when it comes to your site’s main navigation menus – you can simply follow established conventions. But how do you do this when you’re creating something unusual or ground-breaking on your site – such as a sophisticated investor tool or product finder?

Game designers are finding increasingly good answers to helping people understand a new user interface. When I started playing video games, in the late 1980s, the solution was to include a printed instructions booklet in the box of each new game. These booklets were irritating, hard to decipher and often ignored. 

These days, the first ‘chapter’ of the best video games doubles up as a subtle tutorial. The player learns by playing. Little pop-up captions tell you what to do as you go along – ‘Click X to jump’; ‘Press Y to open map’; and so on. By the end of the first part of the game, the captions disappear because the player has been taught how everything works. 

My favourite example of an effective game tutorial is the starting ‘region’ of the 2017 Nintendo title: ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’. The teaching is so discreet that players barely, if at all, feel like they are being taught. This is particularly impressive because this is an ‘open world’ (rather than linear) game with extremely sophisticated control options. If you’re interested in more on Nintendo’s ‘invisible tutorial’ techniques in Breath of the Wild, this in-depth video is worth watching. 

Once more, there are lessons in all this for corporate website design – which are already being applied on some sites. The pop-up instructions for first-time users of HSBC’s investor materials download basket is one example. 

The tutorial on semiconductor maker NXP’s Product Selector tool is another. 

Website screen shot

The tutorial in ‘The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild’ is so subtle that players barely feel like they are being taught. Credit: Nintendo.

Website screen shot

HSBC.com offers first-time users a pop-up tutorial for its download basket feature

Interactive storytelling:

One of the biggest shifts in the video game industry in recent years has been the proliferation of titles with mature, layered and morally complex storylines. ‘The Last of Us’ and its sequel, mentioned above, are arguably the best examples of this. 

Games can pull people into stories in ways extremely hard to achieve in books, films or plays. They can allow – even oblige – users to make morally difficult choices, and take actions with negative consequences, forcing them to feel responsibility for the direction the narrative takes.  

As companies try ever-harder to use their corporate websites to explain the choices they make and actions they take – on environmental issues, for example – there are again opportunities to take inspiration from the best in game design. A few companies have already done this. Nestlé’s Beneath the Surface interactive feature is a good example. It uses narrated video to outline complex issues facing the company, then invites users to choose what they would do about them. For example: “Should we stop buying palm oil from small-scale farmers who contribute to deforestation?”

Once users have made their choice, the narrator lays out Nestlé’s position on that option – such as “Excluding small-scale farmers from our supply chain is an option, but only as a very last resort. We prefer to engage with them.” Like Naughty Dog does in The Last of Us games, Nestlé employs interactivity to engage users more deeply in morally complex issues. 

Website screen shot

The Last of Us Part II’ forces players to feel responsibility for difficult choices made within a morally complex narrative. Credit: Naughty Dog.

Website screen shot

Nestlé’s Beneath the Surface feature employs interactivity to draw users into the responsibility issues the company faces.

As with corporate websites, there are plenty of poor video games out there, with weak accessibility features, unintuitive controls and crude narratives. But if you work in digital corporate communications, it’s likely to be surprisingly inspiring to play a really good one.

Scott Payton is a senior consultant and chief executive officer at Bowen Craggs.

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