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Metaverse08: Markus Breuer über Usability in virtuellen Welten

After showing a bad example of usability (Mac didn’t want to connect to beamer) and an introduction of the Otherland Group which Markus dived into the topic of virtual worlds usability (one thing he mentioned though that while they created Online ads for virtual worlds they are not advertised much anymore because of the anti-hype and people not asking for them anymore).

Usabilty, what is it?

Usability is a term used to denote the ease with which people can employ a particular tool or other human-made object in order to achieve a particular goal (efficiently, effectively with user satisfaction)

This is not only about software but applicable in general (even to beamers) and of course to virtual worlds.

Usability in virtual worlds

For virtual worlds in particular you as a business have to make it as easy as possible for a user to reach a goal (like buying a product, interacting with a brand, keep people in building etc.)

For a user goals might be buying a pair of shoes, learn how to do something, have a good time etc.

Thus usability is important for shops, clubs, embassies and basically everything in virtual worlds.

In the moment the situation is: „Cool Design rulez!“. He compares it to the web in the late 90s. This will change as soon as the focus will be on business ROI.

For him it’s a part of the business which makes 20-30%. Look at the web how much you can lose by having bad usability in your selling process.

He stressed that it’s not just about Second Life and also showed some images from signs found in various places showing bad usability (lots of icons, maps which you do not understand etc.).

The same bad usability experience of RL signs can be found in Second Life and other worlds. In fact the client itself is bad example of usability.


He then showed a lot of examples from within Second Life. One example was by his own company hiding signs behind pillars so that a new user who cannot control the camera cannot see them.

Here are some more:

floor which is glass but cannot be recognized as such and you fear to fall down
The sim was very much in the air and you had to fly from place to place. It looks cool is but has issues for new users
Next example was not showing what really is the goal. Building also has issues because with our camera control cannot see everything. The building was built for humans but not for avatars. You have to build bigger and take care of the camera position.

Principle: Design for Avatars, not for humans!

Example: You sometimes don’t know where you are and how to get from A to B. If you have ramps you should make them usable for beginners if that’s your target audience.

Principle: Mind your target audience!

Example: On entering a sim I get no clue what I should do. I might also end up somewhere else because I just randomly clicked on the map. Once you find a map of the sim you find a sign „Click here for orientation“. I will then end up on an Orientation Island but do not know how I got there and how I get back.


Always make clear:

  • Where I am?
  • What can I do here?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • Where have I been? (How do I get back?)

Example: Bots on a sim which ask you to send an IM. If you send „Hi!“ you will get a very long explanation of what you have to do to join a research survey.

Principle: Fulfil users expectations (Things like avatars should behave like an avatar. Also make things simple to reach the goal)

Sometimes simple signs on a big sims might help. A not so good example is the Armidi sim, a better example is to give a simple texture with a map when you arrive. And another enhancements for shops would be to show the price on a sign and not only in a dialog.

How to do good usability?

The secret: Make a new avatar and try to think as a new user and walk through your area.

Another: Ask the experts. Do not let designers do everything but maybe ask Usability exports. But this makes the process more difficult because those groups think differently.

But: Experts are people, too. They have an opinion, too but can be wrong and a top manager maybe overruled him.

The other method: Ask the users! => User Centric Design

  • „You are not the audience“
  • Put the (future) users into the focus.
  • Work open-endedly. DOn’t habe an expert design ready before you start and plan for one big test at the end. Then it’s too late.

Principles of Basic UCD/ISO 13407:

  • Actively involve the users in the design and development
  • Iterative Evaluation of designs with the end users
  • Multi-disciplinary staffed development teams.

Step 1: Interview the users about:

  1. Needs (what are the users needs? information? services? performance?)
  2. Desires (What does the user want? rarely identical with the needs)
  3. Abilities (What can we expect about the users abilities?)
  4. Methods

Create a mental model out of this.

Step 2: Create Personas

create a fictive Person with a imaginary biography. Build 3-5 of them. This is the target audience. Personas have a name, age, gender, picture, private situation etc.

Step 3: Create scenarios

Write little stories about the personas (no use cases). How and with what goals, in which particular situation do they use your system?

Important: Something might go wrong or other people might join/get involved. You have 3-4 scenarios per person.

Step 4: Prototype and do user tests

All tests should be in a controlled environment but not necessary in a lab. Like a table with a camera, moderator and user.

You should have tight iteration cycles.

This all also works in virtual worlds. The basic principles are:

  • You are not the audience
  • Test
  • Test often
  • Use real users for your tests
  • Recruit them from your target audience
  • Believe your test results

This is not only possible for big projects, even the simplest tests are very useful. Just move 6-8 people through your project and you will most probably find all the problems. Also remember: „No testing“ is expensive! Fixing issues later gets more expensive than inital ones.

Rules of thumb:

  • Design for avatar, not for human
  • Do walk-throughs often (do not fly, use cursor keys, draw distance low, no camera used)
  • Do fly-thoughs, too!
  • Always make clear:
  • Where am I?
  • What can I do here?
  • Where can I go from here?
  • Where have I been?

Billboards are not necessarily evil! (Maps, explanations)

All of the content here is without guarantee of correctness!

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