Disruptor Beam Blasts Late-stage Rework with ProtoShare

“I use ProtoShare for problem solving. I can make sure our ideas for the game are going to work.”

Angela Bull
Co-founder & Creative Director, Disruptor Beam

Background

With the growing popularity of sites like Facebook, social networking games have exploded on the Internet. Disruptor Beam is an agency outside Boston, MA that authors browser-based social networking games for the Facebook platform. The company is a leader in social network gaming, founded by Jon Radoff and Angela Bull. Bull is also the Creative Director, responsible for overseeing the visual experience of each game. She sets direction and ensures the story works, the design matches the client's vision, and that each scenario is well thought out.

Challenge

Game interfaces are complex to design and program; they can be thought of as elaborate web applications. In addition to character and story development, Disruptor Beam must also uncover game scenarios and decide how each will play out depending on what the player (the end user) chooses. As Bull learned, discovering all the scenarios in a game is difficult to do until one actually encounters that scenario, uncovering hidden requirements.

Prior to ProtoShare, the creative team discussed requirements through a wiki, and then created a design document that included flow charts and layered Photoshop comps. If the proposed concepts looked good to clients, they would approve the design document and it would be handed off to engineering. However, after seeing the final product, clients usually wanted significant changes to be made. It became clear that their clients did not fully understand the concepts they had approved in the spec document.

Another issue with the previous process was when the requirements went to engineering. If questions were unanswered or unclear in the specs, the engineering team would build the game based on their own interpretations of how it should play out. This resulted in lots of surprises popping up when coding was "complete." Due to lack of early understanding from clients, as well as engineering being forced to interpret and fill in incomplete requirements, the game would not be what the designers and clients expected, causing headaches and costly late-stage rework.

Bull and her team tried to remedy this process by building some of the interactions in HTML, but it was too cumbersome, difficult to incorporate with the design document, and still didn't provide enough visualization for clients to clearly understand the game outcomes (and overall user experience). It also did not provide a solution to unspecified scenarios that engineering would run into while coding. They needed to take their planning process one step further.

"I knew I needed to start prototyping. I came across ProtoShare, so I tried it, and I never got blocked. We try to make the prototype simulate the game because people have a lot of trouble visualizing what we're trying to tell them," said Bull. "We use a lot of states*. We have to because even with static comps, wireframes, partial interactions, and a design document, clients weren't getting it."

Results

Due to the extreme complexity of online games, the creative team at Disruptor Beam now simulates as much of the game as possible in ProtoShare during the planning stages. Not only does this help clients truly understand what the team plans to build, but it also allows Bull to run into game roadblocks early. She can answer questions and address unclear scenarios before engineering sees the specs. "I use ProtoShare for problem solving. I can make sure our ideas for the game are going to work," shared Bull. "For us, the more real you can make it, the more problems you're going to catch."

ProtoShare has revolutionized Disruptor Beam's process by enabling them to clearly show, rather than just tell, their clients how an interactive game will work before any coding has occurred. This allows even their non-technical clients to clearly comprehend the team's vision for a game and request changes before the game is actually constructed. This improved process has eliminated late-stage requirements and rework that had been so costly and frustrating in earlier projects.

"What we want to do is fail cheaply. So what we're doing with ProtoShare allows us to put the game together, realize it fails, and put it together a different way – iterating through the process until we know it works," said Bull of their outcome. Since incorporating ProtoShare into their process, the creative team has bridged the communication gap between clients and designers and designers and engineers. And by using ProtoShare every day, they have also been able to standardize their planning process altogether. It allows Bull to be a problem solver and work more closely with her team.

*(states allow ProtoShare users to simulate RIA functionality within a page)