Seamful design for location-based phone games

Seamful Design for Location-Based Mobile Games by Gregor Broll and Steve Benford. The article is about revealing and exploiting inevitable technical limitations in Ubiquitous Computing technology rather than hiding them. Relying ont their experiment about the game called 'Bill' (see here to get more information about it). To meet this end, they develop their own "seamful trading-game" called “Tycoon”:

Tycoon is a location-based multiplayer trading game with a simple producer-consumer-cycle that uses the different GSM-cells of a service provider network within a designated gaming-area, e. g. the centre of a city. Each of these cells in the physical area is virtually mapped to either a producer or a consumer in the game. Tycoon uses the metaphor of a wild west scenario to communicate its central mechanisms of collecting resources from producers which are called “mines” and using them to buy objects from consumers which are called “brokers” and have the names of cities or counties in California. These cells are called “brokers” because they sell objects in their areas in exchange for collected resources. While playing the game, players are travelling between the cells in the gaming-area, collect local resources in mines, use them to buy global objects from brokers and get credits for claiming them. (...) players start Tycoon by having to explore the gaming-area and discover mines, brokers and their locations by themselves. That way the players can gather their own knowledge about the gaming-area, where to find resources and where to claim objects.

Why do I blog this The pertinent point here is the discussion about understanding seams in mobile phone applications. The authors introduces general ideas and apply them to the design of location-aware games for mobile phones. This sort of stuff is of direct interest for some 4th place admirer in Barcelona

Usually mobile phone users are unaware of their current cell when using their phones, since the handover between different cells is handled seamlessly. (...) The invisible handover between cells is handled seamlessly so that users don’t get any information about their current cell and don’t have to worry about their position, dynamic cell coverage and propagation or flipping cells. While seamless design usually hides this information, we would like to present it to players and make them aware of this information so that they can take advantage of it during the game and use it as a valuable resource. In a location-based mobile game players are dependent on knowing where they are and dynamic boundaries and propagation of cells may raise interesting design-issues concerning the influence of positions and relations between GSM-cells on the behaviour of the users during the game.

There is a lot more to grasp in this paper for people interested in how interaction designers focused on cell phones/LBS could take advantage of seams.

The picture below depicts coverage and propagation of GSM-cells in an area of London based on samples of cell-ids and their GPS-positions. Their coverage is depending on many factors, cells’ boundaries and propagation are rather dynamic and fluctuating and it shows, cell-coverage has irregular shapes and adjoining cells often overlap and don’t share exact borders. Seamful design is a matter of showing this to the users, using is as a resource for the task to be performed (extracted from the paper):