Factoring for "Fun"…so just what *is* “fun,” anyway?

It’s a question I find myself returning to again and again and I believe it’s one of fundamental importance to the products we design here at Posit Science. The exercises in BrainHQ help strengthen the brain, but only if our customers commit to playing them. By itself, the promise of a healthier brain isn’t always enough to keep people coming back to our product for more. They need that elusive x-factor that we call, for lack of a better term, “fun.”

Which brings me back to that maddening question: how do we define fun? More specifically, how can we create it within the context of a very challenging game whose primary importance is sharpening the brain? Luckily for us, gaming experts have been grappling with this issue for a lot longer than we’ve even been a company.

As gaming columnist N’Gai Croal observes in his blog for Edge Online, the answer is …“it depends.” Here are some of the ‘fun factors’ he suggests:

“Am I looking to kill time? Challenge myself? Compete against someone else? Pretend to be something I’m not? Lose myself in another world? All of the above?”

As any gaming fan can tell you, there are oceans of games designed to scratch one or all of the itches listed above and we at Posit Science are not trying to compete with them on the “fun factor” alone. But our software does hit some of those sweet spots (it’s challenging!) and we can modify it to hit more of them. Leader boards, for instance, are one way that gaming companies have enabled their customers to gauge how they’re performing against other players, which leads to that sense of competition that Croal talks about.

But as Croal points out, we’re now seeing that the most important factor in defining “fun” is time; more importantly, how flexible the activity is for our busy schedules. That means that long, involved story games could be on the way out as busy parents and professionals are playing games that fill the tiny gaps in their compartmentalized lives:

“Increasingly, I don’t want to remember what I was doing when I last played. I don’t want to recall which button does what. I don’t want to remember how much I have previously accomplished….[G]iven my increasingly busy life, the time and effort that it takes to properly resume my place in the game-story feels too much like, well, work.”

While I was talking to people about a version of our product they would play, I heard echoes of the above statement: it can and should be challenging, but they want it to be simple. They want the choice to play for five minutes when pressed for time, but also for an hour if their schedules are more forgiving. They want to be able to put it down and pick it back up later on without any confusion. As Croal puts it, he tends to choose games “which I can get in and out of quickly, yet are still capable of holding my interest should I decide to go on a binge.”

Needless to say, I think we ought to design a product with Croal (and everyone else who shares his outlook) in mind, and I’m happy to say that I think we’re headed in the right direction.