28 Sep The International Appeal of Visual Collaboration Games

We love our work, especially when it challenges us to think about Innovation Games® in new ways. This post was inspired by a two-day strategic planning meeting that we produced last month for the Adobe Localization team. The event was a notable success, and you can read an interview with three members of the Adobe team (Francis Tsang, Senior Director Globalization at Adobe; Janice Campbell, Sr. International Program Manager 2; and Jean-Francois Vanreusel, Director of Localization) here. In this post, though, I’m going to focus on what Adobe taught me about Localization, and discuss some ideas on how you can improve your ability to play games with a global audience. Bonus? Fans of Scott McCloud’s book Understanding Comics (which I love) will see the influence of his work in our games.

Background on the Adobe Event

With more than half of its revenue derived from outside the United States, Adobe has developed an amazing ability to localize its products. From my experience, Adobe’s approach to Localization is just amazing, and it accomplishes many things I didn’t think was even possible (for example, localizing an interface in every sprint). What makes this team extraordinary, however, is that they are simply not content to rest on their laurels. Their desire for dramatic improvement was the motivation for this meeting.

We started planning this event months ago, when key members of the Adobe team began reviewing my book as part of their book club. Peter Green, Agile Coach and Trainer at Adobe systems, had previously hired me to help bring the games to Adobe’s Agile development teams, introduced me to the Localization team. We quickly agreed that instead of just reading about the games, the Adobe team would use the games in a two-day strategic planning meeting whose:

… main objective was to develop a common Localization vision and identify short-term and long-term initiatives to progress towards that vision.

Joining us were Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators Peter Green and Deb Colden, who consults extensively on matters of corporate strategy. The planning process was extraordinarily enjoyable, as the Adobe planning team used this project as a way of deeply understanding the games and each phase of the planning. I especially appreciated the team’s focus on assembling the right materials and in recruiting a very helpful helper. You can read Janice Campbell’s excellent description of the event here.

Globalization Is More Than Just Localization

We’ve known for a long time that developing truly global products is more than just localizing the user interface. Certainly, translating strings in fields is an obvious first step. So are developing localized versions of help and technical documentation. And I wrote about localizing such things as installation and log files for enterprise software in my book Beyond Software Architecture.

The Adobe team demonstrated that localization goes much further. They discussed such things as the entire user experience, from advertising and order fulfillment on the web site to installation and use of the product. Perhaps more importantly, they discussed how to engage internal and external customers in making continuous improvements to all of these factors, and identified a number of cutting-edge strategies to make this happen. We know that we need to create a similar localized experience for our customers, especially since nearly a thirdof our sign-ups are from outside the U.S. (And we will.) But today, I want to focus on the international appeal and the globalization/localization of Innovation Games® and Gamestorming Games.

Visual Collaboration Games and Internationalization

Let’s compare and contrast three Instant Play games to explore what makes a visual collaboration game more or less globally accessible. (Note: Clicking on these images will start an instant play game).

Speed Boat SWOT Analysis Manufacturing Games

The left-most image is our Innovation Game Speed Boat. As a pure image of a boat, with no textual labels, it can be used in any culture around the world that understands boating. And while I would expect that different cultures have different styles of boats that they prefer, I suppose that this would work just fine.

The center image drawn from the SWOT analysis framework. As a well-known strategic analysis framework, I suppose it is acceptable that this game has English labels. But the moment I introduce words, I start to reduce the global appeal of my game.

The right-most image is drawn from the growing collection of public games. And I can’t play it because I can’t read Spanish, though I’m guessing it deals with manufacturing processes. But that’s probably OK, as I’m quite likely not the target market for this game. Unless they want to play this game with people in China.

For a long time, we’ve known that visual game designers need to pick an image that helps players find a solution to the problem  they’re trying to solve. This is the power of visual metaphor, and it can range from using a tree to represent the evolutionary growth of a product in Prune the Product Tree to using a stylized face to represent our understanding of a user when playing Empathy Map.

And when you’re playing a game that includes a global audience, like the games we played with the Scrum Alliance, or some of the games we’ve played for the HP.com FutureWorks team, you need to ensure that the image is accessible and understandable to the global audience. And a simple way to do this is to avoid text in the image.

Purchase Motivations for Independent Insurance Agents

Of course, you don’t always have to focus on a globalized image or avoid text. A great example of this is the image that Ryan Peel from Hastings Mutual created when he wanted to understand what people see as the advantages/disadvantages to working with independent insurance agents. This image, like the right-most image in the table above, is clearly optimized for Ryan’s target audience (as he described here).

Should Layers and Regions Be Localized?

Of course, the power of our platform is more than just collaborating on an image. The ability to create multidimensional layers and regions on images is what gives our platform such amazing and expressive power (see “How to Make any Doodle or Image a Collaborative Game” and detailed videos on how to do this).

However, in working with Adobe, I realized something quite important: Even if the image is “universal,” the layers and regions are textual. And, in our current platform, these labels are stored in one language. Meaning, if you enter your labels and regions in German, then I’m going to see German — even if I don’t speak German. Likewise, if I create a game with English labels for the layers and regions, all of my players will see English.

I’ve reflected on this quite a bit, and I’m not sure that this is a problem. I’ve played a lot of global games — with as many as eight different countries represented in one online game. In the games I’ve played, one language (usually English) emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. I’ve discussed this with our several of our facilitators from other countries, and they have pointed out the same thing — one language emerges as the “lingua franca” of the players. This is a natural outcome of the need to collaborate with other players. We may all be using a second, or even third language, but until we can find a common language, we can’t communicate. And that common language, when used as the language of the layers and the regions in the game, actually promotes collaboration.

Chats and Shared Language

Our online games provide an online chat facility that allows players to collaborate as they play the game. And while we’ve had some requests to add video and voice capabilities to our games, we’ve also received several emails applauding us for our text-only chat. And while I consider some of the pros/cons of text chatting, you can play an online Pro/Con game and give me your opinion of text-only chatting by playing the Pro/Con game on the right.

Play the Pro/Con online!

Text chatting slows down the play of the game and keeps all players at a similar level of proficiency with the “lingua franca” of the game. Suppose, for example, that you work for SAP as a product manager in a globally distributed product development team and you want to play a “Whole Product Game” to identify changing perceptions of your product. Your native language is German, but since you’re playing with your colleagues from India and America, you choose to play the game in English.

Of course, each of the players playing your game have a “natural advantage” in their native language. But if even a small subset of the players is speaking a different language, everyone suffers. And, while I readily admit that audio and video provide additional information that is critical to communication (tone, inflection, body language and so forth), it is also important to point out that audio and video can intimidate and frustrate the players (for example, it can be hard to hear people, different cultures respond quite differently to visual cues and power distance among players, and the lags in communication can be quite frustrating). In the quest to obtain the best results, these differences are quite important.

Play the Whole Product online!

Moreover, audio and video are hard to integrate in a way that allows players to privately negotiate during the game, something that we accomplish easily through whispering (a form of person-to-person chatting). And the post-processing of audio/video files is considerably harder.

That said, I’m sure that we’ll be adding audio and video to our games over time. It is natural and inevitable, and done correctly, it should enhance the experience and provide yet another option for global game play. For now, though, we are pleased that our system provides excellent results for globally distributed teams.

The Global Network of Innovation Games® Trained Facilitators

I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that a key strategic advantage that Innovation Games® has over traditional problem-solving and market research techniques is our global network of trained facilitators. We’ve trained consulting facilitators in countries from Korea and South Africa to Germany and Mexico. These remarkable people can help anyone who wishes to leverage the games develop games that fit their local cultures. And we’re happy to help connect you with a facilitation team in another country when you’re trying to produce a global engagement.

Player Appeal Matters More Than International Appeal

The appeal of a visual collaboration game starts with the universal power of a visual image to help people “see” — reason, explore, investigate, examine, study and ultimately solve — problems in new and novel ways. Suppose, for example, that you want to identify ways to improve your sales process by focusing on the buying process of your customers. Inspired by Scott McCloud’s amazing book Understanding Comics (Tundra, 1993), let’s explore three images that you could use for your game (note: only the boat is an instant play games):

Speed Boat Buying Process Home Buying Process

The left-most image is our familiar Speed Boat, whose enduring power is the metaphorical abstraction that it can bring to any process improvement game. It can be easily used to address and buying/selling situation.

The middle image, from Guuui, is less abstract, but still applicable in a large number of purchase scenarios — even though it has English labels.

The final image, from Rey Homes, is very concrete, as it represents the Rey Homes approach to guiding an American home buyer through the home purchase process. And it works great in America, but not so well in Brazil or Belgium, and not at all for buying a Cisco Router.

Ultimately, that’s my point: Innovation Games® online gives you an amazing palette in which to explore what kind of image will engage your audience. And, it is through this engagement that you’ll find the key to unlock the insights and understanding that drive innovation.

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