Skilluminati Research

Superstruct Review: Unplayable, Unwinnable, Still Awesome

Posted Dec 02, 2008 4 comments

Although I was disappointed with Superstruct, that's mostly because of my own expectations. My first impression made me think the game was a much Fuller system -- more grounded in simulations based on actual data, more complex and testable. This is partially my cognitive biases at work, filling in details based on my own ideas. It's also because of the blog echo chamber that amplified the project in stature, from a cool narrative online experiment to a serious attempt at fixing world problems.

I'm writing a Brainsturbator article about the game that Superstruct should have been -- a game that still needs to be designed. I also think it would be unfair to focus on Superstruct too much during that article, so I'm publishing my short review here instead. Superstruct is not an Earth simulator, and in no way resembles an updated version of R. Buckminster Fuller's "World Game." On it's own rights, and by it's own modest goals, Superstruct was a valuable success.

As Sean Ness clarified for me, though, Superstruct was never promoted as a MMOG -- a Massively Multiplayer Online Game, which involves a continuous environment that's "inhabited" by thousands of players who all occupy the same space.

Sean Ness IFTF Twitter

Unplayable and Unwinnable

First problem: the Superstruct website is a usability nightmare. Don't think I'm a grumpy critic, though: the background and layout was truly badass, very cool looking. It just didn't work. For instance, if you'd like to browse people's submissions, which include detailed plans for solving specific global problems, you'll need to navigate this:

Superstruct Usability Fail

Frame nightmares are easily avoidable -- and if you're paying someone money to make a website, this should not be happening at all. To scroll through all the contributions, you need to scroll down the frame to the left, then click on the "Struct" you'd like to read. Now, unfortunately, you're going to read it while it's crammed into the frame at the right.

Considering user-generated content is main attraction and asset for this website, I'm amazed that the designers went through such pains to make it inaccessible and unappealing. I know there's ways for competent Internets Users to get around that, but it shouldn't be necessary to out-smart bad web design in the first place.

The scoring system is downright cynical. Basically: get a bunch of people to sign up on our site and we'll declare victory. If that sounds like an unfair summary, here's how they describe it:

How to Win at Superstruct

A three step process? Sounds complicated, which usually means it's not. "SEHI" is just their term for a user profile page, and "survivability points" are just based on SEHIs. So basically, they rename "number of users" three times and call that a process. Perhaps I should be writing this review at Pizza SEO, because there is surely some good business advice to be found here. In terms of the seed content, there was actually very little on the table beyond a few videos and enthusiastic word-of-mouth promotion. Fortunately, that's all they needed to launch a remarkable crowdsourcing project, which brings me to the subject of What Actually Worked.

Still Awesome

Superstruct Review by Nick Douglas

The reason I opened this with the Nick Douglas joke -- aside from the fact I thought it was funny -- is the fact that all of the best content from the Superstruct project grew outside the original petri dish. Most of the best brainfood wound up growing on the Tumblr platform, which makes sense...I would especially recommend The Gupta Option.

Reconstruct Ning

In fact, the Superstruct information works so much better on other platforms, I'm kind of confused why they'd take the time to code up a clunky site in the first place. Check out the Reconstruct Ning page -- it handles every aspect of usability and information design better than the actual site. Much like the Obama campaign, the best thing to come out of Superstruct is the community that it created. To me, that's awesome enough to still give Jane McGonigal, Jamais Cascio and the rest of the folks at IFTF credit for a job well done.

Please hire better web designers next time, though....or just use Ning. It works.

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  • 1. Jamais Cascio on Dec 02, 2008 at 12:39 PM permalink

    No disagreements here on any count, really.

    I tended to think of Superstruct as less of a game (with all of the ludic implications that follow) and more of a toy—a platform upon which to create stories of your own. Or, in a more niche way, as a version of the campaign/world books created for game systems like D&D;or GURPS.

    Glad you found some value in it.


  • 2. infrarad on Dec 03, 2008 at 10:34 PM permalink

    No disagreement here either. The Big Ideas were sufficiently important to me that I devoted a fair amount of energy to infrastructure ideas. As a social web n00b this was good for me - I think I finally get rss (though ning is still not esp. intuitive for me).

  • 3. Thirtyseven on Dec 04, 2008 at 5:22 AM permalink

    ^^Would Ning make more sense with fewer options and less clutter? A more intuitive/universal social media design is something we think about a lot, and I’d definitely be honored and grateful for any feedback you’ve got on that question. Are there other social networks that make more sense to you?

  • 4. infrarad on Dec 04, 2008 at 12:15 PM permalink

    I’m in the “holy shit” phase of social networking - superstruct, bothering to learn to effectively use twitter, bothering to sign up for facebook, and learning to use an iphone are all basically simultaneous for me.

    When I log on to Reconstruct (sstruct.ning), the sheer number of links are baffling. It’s not clear whether the groups that are showing are the ones I’ve joined and forgotten, or if they are all groups. I’d like to give more feedback on it but seriously, when I log onto that home page I am overwhelmed and can’t figure out what the heck anything is.

    As for what I can understand, and what I think I want (but as a non-designer I may be wrong about what I think I want wink )

    RSS feeds are easy to understand and use for me, because I can look at one folder at a time ("I’m not allowed to look at any of those new comics until I’ve finished my grading"). Also, when I do look into a folder, I can see headlines - this will tell me if I can ignore something, or if I actually want to see what the thing is.

    I’m also noticing that there is a difference between wanting to track people, and subjects. For example, I started following brainsturbator on twitter. He links to all manner of fascinating subjects; I believe that our general interests in the world overlap, and so it’s worth knowing what he, the person, is thinking about and working on and doing. On the other hand, there are people who are in education, and who post worthwhile links on education, but otherwise there is little overlap. I want to be able to find their education posts, but ignore what they are saying about their preferred breakfast cereal.

    Finally, it’s good to be able to automatically track anything that I do. If I somehow ran across a neat idea and responded to it, I’d obviously like to know if a good discussion continues, but I don’t want to personally track this sort of thing because perhaps I killed the thread.

    I’m getting off track here. I should say that the facebook iphone app is easy for me to understand, because their are tabs - I can change the context from “I’m writing about me woo woo memememe” to “What is everyone doing, briefly?” to “I am writing personal responses and carrying on private conversations.” Maybe that’s it? The perfect social network design allows you to change the context under which you’re working? As I use a computer for more things, I have more need to see only those things related to what I am doing, be it “keep tabs on folks I like” or “grab links for later deep reading” or “spend real time contributing to community discussion.” I think too many designs are best for the context of “dick around being distracted by everything.”

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