Nicole Lazzaro
Founder and President, XEODesign
04:08

Atop An Egyptian Temple, A Video Game Revelation

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In the dazzling heat of the desert, gamer Nicole Lazzaro was struck by a vision of human fun throughout the ages.

Nicole Lazzaro

Nicole Lazzaro, Founder and President of XEODesign, Inc., has twenty years of expertise in Player Experience Design (PXD) for mass-market entertainment products. Voted by Gamasutra as one of the Top 20 women working in video games, and cited by Wired, Fast Company, CNET, ABC News, The Hollywood Reporter, and Red Herring, her clients include Sony, EA, Ubisoft, Sega, PlayFirst, The Cartoon Network, Disney, Lucas Arts, Nickelodeon, LeapFrog, Mattel, Monolith, Xfire, D.I.C.E, Leap Frog, Ugobe, The Learning Company, Broderbund, Roxio, Cisco, Go Pets, Sierra Online, and Maxis. She has an undergraduate degree in Psychology from Stanford University, where she also studied film making and computer programming.

Since founding XEODesign in 1992 Nicole's design and research has improved over 40 million player experiences, including several popular franchises for casual audiences such as three of the Myst Series, Diner Dash, GoPets, Cosmopolitan Virtual Makeover, Mavis Beacon teaches Typing, Jeopardy Online, as well as creativity coaching for the designers of The Sims.
Transcript

Question: What do you and your company do on a day-to-day basis?

Nicole Lazzaro:  Sure.  Well I make games more fun, so I’m the leading expert on emotion and the fun of games and I work with companies, everyone from EA to Sony to Ubisoft to PlayFirst to make their games more engaging.  Essentially I’ve for the past 20 years I’ve studied how to make the screen you know more engaging.

Question: What are the major changes you’ve seen in the video game world during your career?

Nicole Lazzaro:  There has been an enormous amount of changes, which has been really rewarding because back in the year 2000, sort of at the turn of this century, I had this revelation on top of a temple in Egypt.  I was standing on a temple in Dendera looking out over the desert.  It was a hot day and I reached down for my canteen to get that last sip of water when there at my feet someone had carved a game board and I thought, wow, you know, two people had stood where I stood and thought to pass the time with a game.  And I wondered, what were their feelings?  What were their emotions?  What engaged them in that activity you know 2,000 years ago?  And then what would they think of?  How would they respond to the games we play today?  Then putting on my future hat thinking about well what kinds of engagement?  What kinds of games will we play say in the year 2020?  And it was then that I noticed that the kinds of game experiences that I wanted to have were going to have to…  The industry was going to have to go through a significant number of changes to capture that same amount of play and engagement.  In a sense that set me on this train of research for the past 10 years to look at what creates… why people play games and what makes games fun because if you think about it sort of like Newton watching the apple fall, emotions have this invisible pull on human action and it’s present if you see you know in any kind of game play, but if you look at the games that I work on in the industry they have thousands of rules and maybe a handful of emotions, but if you look at a group of kids playing you know you see the whole pantheon, the entire pantheon of human emotions coming from the game with a single rule.  You know, tag.  You’re it.  So it’s been really wonderful over the past 10 years to share with the game industry hundreds and thousands of people who have downloaded our whitepapers and our research to look at the whole spectrum of games evolving, so we’ve saw the entrance of a lot of… the mechanics of easy fun with Wii, you know that exploration and role play.  We’ve got new kinds of games that are both educational and good for you in a sense, so there is a lot of you know Brain Age and you know people playing Dance, Dance Revolution to lose weight.  People playing eco games now to you know make the world a better place and then social gaming is huge… is a huge trend and we see that in something we call people fun that where people really experience more emotions the more that they connect through game play and so that’s a really interesting trend. 

So we’ve seen essentially the industry go from what was a very small percentage of the whole population, roughly about 15%, this hardcore market.  We’re not starting finally to see the games jump the chasm to a more of a mass market product, so if you know “Crossing the Chasm” by Malcolm Gladwell that you get these new kinds of players entering the market space.  They want different products.  They want different kinds of interaction and so now that is what we’re seeing with the games being produced by again, companies like Playfish and Zynga and, you know, Playdom.  The Mafia Wars of the world, the Farmvilles of the world, all of those are really helping people engage in social interaction and it’s that social interaction that they actually enjoy more than the game itself.  In fact, if you see people play at… you know in the same room you’ll see more emotions, a wider variety of emotions, more intense emotions than people playing the same game in different rooms and so what we’re helping our clients do is take those you know multiplayer interactions that might happen in the real world to put them into game mechanics that make, you know, online play, you know, all that much more engaging.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen


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