Tuesday, April 3, 2012

From FailCon: Designing for Failure - Lessons from Jetpack Joyride

This post was contributed by FailCon, an international conference on common business
failures and how to recover from them. http://thefailcon.com. FailCon has a blog that discusses subjects near to our heart.

I recently sat in on a post-mortem presentation at GDC by Luke Muscat of Halfbrick games, the creator of Fruit Ninja and Jetpack Joyride.  While he discussed dozens of ingenious tidbits on how to keep people feeling challenged, spending money, and generally having a good time, one thing stood out as especially relevant to us: Jetpack Joyride is designed to make the player fail. Over. And Over. And Over.  In fact, it relies on the user not only failing but enjoying it so much that they stick around and share it with friends.  With millions of downloads, clearly it’s working.

So just how have they made inevitable failure so fun, and what can the rest of us learn from this?

Reward Failure:  In Jetpack Joyride, with your ultimate death comes an immediate reward screen recognizing your progress, any mission goals you accomplished, and offering you a slot machine chance for any coin you picked up.  This can be pretty easily practiced with yourself and employees, too.  When encountering a failure (either personal or amongst employees), focus less on the problem that happened and more on what risks were taken, what was learned, and how this is going to improve the process down the road.  Keep yourself and the team feeling engaged with the organization, and show that each failure does contribute to the final product.  Make it very clear that taking well-informed, relevant risks is a good thing.

Always Have A Next Step: Immediately after exploding, Joyride shows you what your current missions are, to remind you that there is still more to get done.  This is by far the most important take-away for business leaders.  The quickest way to recover from a personal failure is to know what the next step is.  Before taking a big risk, set up a contingency plan: know exactly what things might help in a recovery, and have a short and easy to-do list on the side.  That way, when failure rears it’s ugly head, you can smile and nod and turn your attentions immediately to the next step, without having to worry about getting stuck in a rut.

Reduce the Barrier To Retry:  Joyride is a quick game with a one-tap ability to replay after failing.  Make failing that easy in your organization.  Use the Next Steps tips to always have a way for people to start again.  More important, make sure no one is dwelling on the failure.  The worst thing you can do is hold it against someone, having a three-strikes rule or anything like that.  This will make each re-entry more frightening.  Discuss what happened promptly, incorporate the lessons, and then move on to something new.

Most people design a business for success; it keeps everyone positive and envisioning a clear final goal.  But businesses rarely reach the first goal they sit; dozens of road blocks come up along the way, and you need to be able to recover and pivot quickly.  While you should keep strong goals in your mind, designing for failures - making them manageable and recoverable - is safer and more realistic for yourself and your company.

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