The reason Angry Birds is so successful and well-known: a mental breakdown on the experience for users.

The reason Angry Birds is so successful

Angry Birds is so successful

Charles Mauro CHFP

The most frequently asked problem: Over the past 40years as consultant in the area often referred to as human factor engineering (aka usability engineering) I’ve been asked by a multitude of clients as to why people do not find their software interesting. This question is a bit nebulous, but not impossible to find. The answer is based on knowledge and experience as well as professional usability analysis.

The question that is unusual: Surprisingly, it is not a common client who asks What makes the interface so compelling that people can’t stop engaging with it? This is a tough issue due to the fact that it requires cognitive reverse engineering to identify the characteristics of interaction that the most successful interfaces have that create an emotionally engaging user experience. This issue is raised when products achieve massive success due to their user-friendly design. For instance, think of iPhone, iPad, Google Instant Search, Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinect.

The intriguing question: Recently clients have been asking about the wildly popular casual game on computers Angry Birds which was created for tablets, mobile phones and various other platforms. If you aren’t sure about what Angry Birds is about, here’s brief information. The game involves using an sling shot that propels tiny birds with cannonballs that display negative attitudes towards fragile timber and glass houses filled with green pigs that are basically catatonic. The main goal in the sport is to cause the death of the pigs as swiftly and effectively as you can by crashing the houses of the pigs in front of the (sometimes) head-protection helmets. This is evidently an extremely stupid idea. However, there’s an advantage.

Why do over 50 million people have downloaded this game? A majority of them paid a few bucks or more for the more advanced version. The more impressive part is that not only do large number of people download the game, but they are so focused that the total amount of hours spent by Angry Birds players world-wide is approximately 200 million minutes per day, which is equivalent to 1.2 billion hours per year. In comparison, all hours dedicated to creating and updating Wikipedia is around 100 million hours in the lifetime for Wikipedia (Neiman Journalism Lab). I believe that these Angry Birds are clearly up to something worthy of investigation. What makes this seemingly simple game so compelling? The art of creating truly immersive software experiences is more complicated than you think even in the simplest game on the computer. Here are some of the brain science behind the reason Angry Birds is a truly satisfying user experience.

Simple, yet captivating concept of interaction: This may seem like a straightforward aspect, yet few people are aware that a basic interaction model is not nor is it always very simple to implement. Simplicity means that once users have only a brief time with the application, their mind’s model of how it behaves is formed and fully integrated. This is known called schema generation. In the case of truly excellent user interfaces this vital part of learning is carried out during a specific usage cycle, also called FUE, or the first user experience, or FUE. If users can create a solid schema in a short time and consistently assess the experience in the form of “simple”. However, simple does not equal engaging. You can develop an interface for users that is initially perceived as easy. The challenge is to instill an interest among users to stay in contact with a system for a long time, a process we call”engagement” “engagement”.

What makes an interface for users appealing is adding more information to the player’s mental model precisely at the right moment. Angry Birds’ simple interaction model is simple to master because it allows players to quickly build an understanding of the game’s interaction strategy as well as its strategy, scoring and procedures. It’s fun, and actually addictive, thanks to the meticulously scripted expansion of the conceptual model for the strategic component as well as progressive improvements in the methodology for solving problems. These birds are stuffed with clever behavior that broaden the model of the user’s mind precisely at the moment the complexity of games is increasing. The process of making simple, fun interaction models can be extremely complicated. The majority of software developers today think that the expansion of the mental model of the user is only for birds. It’s not necessarily the case.

Smartly managed speed of response:A fundamental rule in user interface design states “the more responsive the more efficient”. There are instances where this is absolutely true. For instance, Google has made this the standard for their software. However, not many software developers understand that the ability to manage response times is an asset that can be utilized to enhance the quality and the depth of the user’s interaction. One thing that’s often overlooked is that not every element in the interface need to be be as speedy as is feasible. Programmers have a remarkably difficult time dealing with this issue and very few game designers are taking advantage of this powerful feature. In the majority of software interfaces for commercial use responding time management is often overlooked by people whom declare themselves to be UI designers. The designers of Angry Birds managed response time in a manner that goes beyond “faster will be better”.

For instance In Angry Birds, it was possible for programmers to make the birds’ flight rapid – extremely quick, but they did not. Instead, they programmed the speed of the angry birds to be leisurely when they fly across the sky towards the glass houses for the pigs. The slower response time, paired with a well-crafted path trace (the flight direction that the birds follow) is a solution to a major problem that is common to all user interfaces which is error correction. The majority of user interfaces are not designed about how users can learn from their experience using the software to enhance their performance. This is a major and intricate problem for trading systems that are screen-based in which error correction is not just essential, but dangerous to your career.

In the Angry Birds game, animals also have the longest time to die when their homes are destroyed to pieces. In many play scenes it takes a few seconds to play as the pigs struggle, slide across planks or fall under the weight of falling debris. This time-consuming response of three to five seconds, as seen in many user interfaces, can bring players to frustration, but not in Angry Birds. This is because a really intelligent response time management gives the player the time to consider how ridiculous they’re compared to their 4-year-old who’s in the 26th position. This also allows the user the time to plan an error correction plan (more velocity, more arc and a better strategy) to increase the performance of each shot. The main point about what Angry Birds manages response time speed is fast, smart is better.

The management of memory in short term The widely-known fact in the field of cognitive science that our short-term memory (SM) in comparison to other aspects that our brains have is extremely restricted. This has been the subject of a multitude of studies over the past fifty years. Scientists have probed and prodded this particular aspect of human cognition in order to find out precisely how SM functions and what influences SM effectiveness. In our daily routine short-term memory lets you to interact with the various aspects of technology and with the world all over the world. SM is a type of memory that lasts only a few minutes which allows us to recall only a small number of specific items, behavior or patterns for an indefinite period. SM allows you to work without access to long-term memory, which is more complicated and time-consuming procedure. This is essential since SM is swift and easy to configure which allows you to respond quickly to changes which could be dangerous should one need to access memory that is long-term. In the language of computers human short-term memory is also extremely volatile. It can be erased in a flash and, more important is that it could be overwritten by the other information that enters humans’ perceptual. What is fascinating is when bad user interface design can affect the amount of work required by SM. For example, an interface design that requires users to look at the information in one display, save the information in short-term memory and then enter the same data into a field on another screen may seem like a straightforward task. It is difficult to achieve precisely, especially when some other type of stimulation flows between the memorization of information from the initial screen before the user inputs the data on the second. This disruptive data flow could take on any form but in general it is anything that is enthralling with a movement, conversation, noise or perhaps, the most dreadful most of all, any mix of the three can completely erase SM. If you are confronted with this kind of data flow prior to complete the transfer of data through short-term memory, odds are high that when you try to retrieve the important data from your short-term memory the information is gone!

It is logical to conclude that any element in user interfaces that imposes a burden on short-term memory is an extremely bad idea. Like with the response time A more nimble view can provide surprising insights about how to utilize the loss of short-term memory to increase the level of engagement in games. Angry Birds is a surprisingly clever manager of the player’s short-term memory.

Through simple manipulation of the interface for users, Angry Birds designers created significant short-term memory loss. This results in an increase in game complexity, but in a manner that does not appear to players as negative, and contributes to its addictive aspect of playing. The subtle, yet effective idea behind Angry Birds is to bend short-term memory, but not break it. If you do damage SM ensure that you provide the player with a simpleand quick method to quickly recharge. There are a variety of examples of this in the Angry Birds game model of this concept in the action. One of the most interesting is the basic screen flow control at the start of each game. When the screen is first loaded it shows the user an extremely quick overview of the structure protecting the porcines. In the same manner the structure is removed from screen towards the right with an easy slide movement.

The first thing to be seen on the left side is a plethora of chattering, jumping and flipping birds seated behind the Slingshot. These tiny creatures are entertaining in a way that , for most of the time erases the player’s memories of the design of the structure and is essential to determine a plan of action to destroy the pig’s home. It is a predictable process that sees the player scroll through the interface to the right side to take a glimpse of the structure. The game allows players to load short-term memory quickly and swiftly. You can watch almost any player play Angry Birds and you see this pattern repeated over and over time. One of the major advantages when using Angry Birds on the iPad is the ability to scale down on the size of the window so it is possible to keep the entire game area (birds and pigs in homes) fully visible throughout the day. The ability to keep all the aspects that the interface of the game full view helps prevent short-term memory loss and increases the speed at that you learn the skills for advancing to a higher-level game. Note If you’re looking for the most complete Angry Birds experience use a POGO pen on your iPad, with the display pinned down to show the entire game. This will give you better control, more precise targeting and rapid change in game gameplay. The result in terms of cognitive performance is an incredibly more efficient performance profile. However, you’ll discover that the game is more boring to play for longer periods. What is the reason for this?

Mysteries: You probably do not recognize it however Angry Birds has it. To give context to the idea, mystery can be found everywhere, in things that we find fascinating. The element or characteristic of mystery is evident in every great work of film, advertising as well as products and, unsurprisingly, games that are interactive. The concept of mystery in the user’s experience as an element to increase engagement of users is a part of the concept that mysterious (conceptual profundity). We all experience the power of the mystery when we see the work of cubist Picasso remember the famous Apple Super Bowl ad from 1984 and take a listen Miles Davis. He was said that jazz was being played by the spaces between notes and not the notes themselves. There is a mystery when you open your first iPad. The icons seem to be spread across the screen, instead of being placed more closely in order to save space. What makes that default screensaver appear similar to water on interior part of the display?

The second layer of mystery is comprised of characteristics that are present , but not defined clearly, yet somehow crafted with enough context to help us consume the mind’s resources in subtle and intriguing ways. On the most fundamental level being able to sense mystery in what you interact with causes you to think “Why were they doing this?”. What we mean by this is “Why were they doing this? This is a positive thing and not “What was their motive? That’s a bad thing. If you take a moment to think about your experiences during the flow and ebb of life, you’ll discover that the most memorable experiences are those that make you to think for a long time about the reason why something has to be the way it is. For instance, what was the reason Frank Gehry create the Guggenheim Museum Bilboa by using the forms that he created? He could’ve invented any concept of shape however, what inspired him to choose these forms? It’s a mystery that we aren’t sure and neither do they. We do know that his design is mentioned in the list of top significant pieces of modern architecture. Similar to how the building’s design can attract millions of people and visitors, the aspect that is mysterious (conceptual depth) can be instrumental in selling millions of copies of a basic interactive game.

Angry Birds is full of these small puzzles. For example, why do tiny bananas scattered around in certain play sequences, but there aren’t in others? Why do the homes that contain the pigs shake so gently at the start of each game? What is the reason for the play area of the game a section of underground dirt and rocks? What is the reason that birds leap into the sling shot occasionally but not other times? You can spend a lot of time in the Acela taking in these tiny clues, either consciously or subconsciously. If technology users are able to process information this way it is likely that they will be more engaged than they would be without these little questions.

How sound things sound: Over the past 15 years, neuroscience research on music has made a massive leap ahead. This research is only beginning to reveal the reason music has such an emotional aspect to movies and theater, as well as advertising and of course, the latest media of all kinds as well as informal computer games. Making use of the power of sound stimulation, which includes structured music, often can provide a significant degree of engagement for the users of all kinds of technology. Angry Birds’ audio effects and music appear simple, but , in actual extremely complex. The use of audio effects as well as intricately varied melodic lines helps to increase the player’s engagement. There are many games that do this, however very few of them do it well. The audio used in Angry Birds serves to enhance the experience of players by closely matching the user’s basic mental picture of conflict between unhappy birds and vicious porcupines. This idea, referred to in the film industry as “action sync” is a way to increase the quality of feedback for players precisely at the right moment. For instance in Angry Birds we can hear birds chirping with a furious yell to their friends while they prepare for their launch. We hear avian conversations when the birds make arcs towards their targets. We also see the pained reactions of their victims after they hit their targets. Pigs are by no not silent. If the birds fail and fail, they are frequently urged to attempt one more time by smiling, snickering animals. The consistently applied audio elements help to enhance the player’s experience and enhance engagement by highlighting the anthropomorphic characteristics of the characters in the game, and provide improved feedback during crucial on-screen behavior. What is the real melody music that moves from the front to the background for no reasons? The musical thread that is running throughout the experience is awe-inspiringly well-known and is easily understood in relation to the idea that the game is based on. Where has I heard that tune before? The combination of feedback audio is diverse enough to ensure that parents in the room next to them do not often demand the end of game play because of distracting musical repetition. This could be the reason for the large number of hours played the game!

What it looks like: Angry Birds has an appearance. One could describe the style of visuals in Angry Birds to be a mix with “high-camp cartoon” with a touch of greeting card images thrown into the mix for good measure.

This raises an intriguing question: How does visual design influence the performance of the market? I frequently receive this query from clients taking on large-scale redesign or development projects. For decades after its initial appearance in automotive design, the visual design remains the most controversial aspect in creating compelling user experiences. Designers (mostly from that UX stripe) frequently convince clients of the idea that the visual appearance (graphic design) of a particular interface is a crucial element in its achievement. This idea makes an intuitive sense. But the real method of operation isn’t intuitive. In the majority of designs for user experience the visual appearance (how things appear) is a technical hygiene aspect. There are serious negative points in the event that it’s missing and there is only a slight positive impact over the first impression, if the user interface is visually appealing. When we conduct user-engagement research for clients (not similar to usability tests) We typically find evidence that supports this notion. This theory isn’t applicable to all issues however in the majority of instances it is well-supported. The most important question is how much visual design sufficient? Much more crucial than good or poor visual design is a good visual. Based on this, Angry Birds again has exactly the right combination of characteristics. The notion of a proper visual design is difficult as designers usually use too much rendering, while engineers don’t that leaves the user looking at what is essentially one of the prototypes for engineering (Google) or, in the alternative, World of Warcraft. After years of experience in the design of user interfaces I’m able to estimate fairly precisely the client’s bias towards software development simply by looking at the interfaces for their products. I can’t imagine Google as anything other than engineering-driven, despite the numerous UX designers they have hired in recent times.

Measures what is said to be impossible to measure: How does one assess visual design in this situation? There are many well-understood approaches to evaluate the effectiveness of visual design are employed in the development of projects. These methods of research make objective what is believed to be merely subjective. Design can be assessed and rated as well as scaled for the benefit of people who use interfaces that are similar to these. The exact dimensions of an appropriate and effective visual design differ significantly, depending on the specific application, however when it comes to game design, two aspects are the most important. The first is that the visual design should be memorable, and, secondly, it has to communicate the desired characteristics of the model for game play.

It is so memorable Angry Birds that the developers have agreements with real-world “brand extensions” that include Angry Birds stuffed toys, T-shirts, and all sorts of non-branded consumer products which generate huge profits. The minimalist visual design of the tiny, cartoon-like birds is so appealing and easy to grasp, it adds an extra level of fascination to the game experience. Also worth noting is the environment that the animals and birds inhabit, that changes in bizarre and subtle ways on each stage. Visual design is a crucial element of the success that is Angry Birds, which leads to the final question What do you think? Is Angry Birds the best it could be? It’s not by a long shot!

We’re left with the idea that a mental breakdown of a engaging user experience is far more fascinating and informative than simply answering the other question what makes a user interface not working? In the case that of Angry Birds, success is tied to slowing down what can be speedy, erasing the ones that are easily renewable and creating a visual remains intriguing and memorable. In the last decade, our company has conducted user-engagement studies over hundreds of different user interfaces. A majority of them failed to achieve a single principle or even six. You go Birds! Your success is sure to make others bewildered and angry.


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