(Slightly More) Constructive Criticism about GamerDNA

by Michael Camilleri

So I like Twitter. It’s a source of links, small nuggets of wisdom and also a place where you can vent to the world about whatever’s got your goat without needing to write it up all good and proper so it won’t look out of place on your otherwise tidy blog. (I expend literally hours of my life writing these. And who wants to do that when all they want to say is ‘WHY DOES KFC IN JAPAN NOT HAVE GRAVY?! SERIOUSLY, WHAT THE FUCK?!?!?!’)

The thing, though, is that when I blow off steam about something (like, say, a certain fast food restaurant in a certain country missing a certain crucial condiment) I’m not used to someone employed at the target of my ire responding to me directly. I’m not sure I even want them to. It’d be weird if while I was out with friends I suddenly got a call from Colonel Sanders telling me it was all to do with licensing.

But that’s exactly what happened. (Well, not exactly. Still no word, Colonel Sanders!) On Wednesday night I complained about the new site GamerDNA on Twitter. On Thursday I got a message from the community manager of the site saying they were always eager for comments and asking if I had any constructive feedback. After they did that I felt a little guilty. Which is why I wrote the following.

In case you were wondering.

Dear GamerDNA people,

My name is Michael Camilleri and I use your web site. I also really dislike your web site. As you are aware I made these feelings known on Twitter and received a very kind response from Sam Houston. Feeling like I owed you something slightly more constructive in return I wrote the following. Please forgive the tone. I’ve tried my best to be constructive but I am at times really frustrated by some of your design decisions and my tone probably reflects that.

If I could only fix one thing about the site it would be its consistency. Consistency is usually viewed through the prism of reactions. Is the reaction to something the same every time? If not, then it’s not consistent. But sometimes consistency is about actions. Is the action to do something the same every time? If not, that’s not consistent either. It takes us a while to learn how to use something and we learn by doing. If we’re doing it a different way each time that’s going to slow down the learning process and potentially frustrate the user when they don’t seem to understand how a site works.

Adding games, arguably the primary purpose of the site, provides an illustration of what I’m talking about. There are at least four different ways to add games. Each is reached by a different path described below.

Method 1

  1. Go to any page.
  2. Click on ‘Home’.
  3. Click on ‘Add a game’.

Method 2

  1. Go to any page.
  2. Mouseover the ‘Home’ menu.
  3. Click on ‘Games’.
  4. Click on ‘Add a game’.

Method 3

  1. Go to any page.
  2. Click the drop-down arrow next to your username.
  3. Click on ‘Add a game’.

Method 4

  1. Go to any page.
  2. Click the drop-down arrow next to your username.
  3. Click on ‘Edit my GamerDNA’.
  4. Click on ‘Games’.
  5. Click on ‘Add a game’.

This all borders on ridiculous when you realise that if you click on the top-level menu item entitled ‘Games’ you can’t actually add a game from this page! Not to mention that it’s just plain confusing that there is a top-level ‘Games’ menu item and a ‘Games’ menu item within the ‘Home’ drop-down menu. Labelling like this confuses the user and makes it difficult to create a mental map of how the site is laid out.

But perhaps you think having multiple paths to achieve an outcome is a good idea. Cutting down on paths isn’t consistency but minimalism, you might respond. For the sake of argument, I’ll grant you you’re right. Let’s see what happens if we judge consistency purely in terms of reaction to user input.

Look at the menu bar at the top of the screen. The top-level menu bar features five links: Home, Games, Players, Groups, Quizzes, News, Tools and Forums. Some of the items on this are drop-down menus in addition to being links. (Why this is the case isn’t clear. Aren’t there subsections to Games? Or at least shouldn’t there be on a site called GamerDNA?) Drop-down menus are identified by a little down arrow. Links that don’t have an arrow aren’t drop-down menus. And drop-down menus require a mouseover to activate… except when they don’t. In the case of the username drop-down menu at the top of the screen you have to click to make this menu appear. Why? As the user I don’t know and it makes me unsure what else might be a drop-down menu. So now I have to click things to find out. Except now I’ve clicked something and it’s taken me to a new page and now I’m frustrated and angry and am going off to Twitter to complain to all my friends.

Or consider the inconsistency of the site’s design. Clearly, there are (at least) two sites here. One is a Rails app that looks typically Railsy (or it might be Cake or one of the alternatives but I’m guessing Rails). It’s what you see when you go to www.gamerdna.com and what you see when you edit your GamerDNA or add a game.

The other site is a forum. This looks typically forumy, circa 2001. Which is to say crap. It’s most visible in the forum (surprise, surprise) but you can see it when you edit your profile and do a few other things on the site. While clearly some effort has been made to glue the two together the result is far from seamless and I find this sort of inconsistency interrupts my enjoyment of an otherwise pretty site and makes the whole thing feel unfriendly.

Well, maybe you did all of the above on purpose or at least have very good reasonsTM for why things are the way that they are. Fine. I don’t think you do but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt. We’ll put consistency to one side and look at a couple of the other problems on the site.

Let’s take the the act of logging in to the site. Many sites these days accept either a username or email address to log in but the GamerDNA site accepts only a username. This is not in and of itself a problem but because of the way the login box works it becomes one. GamerDNA uses a trick to place the phrase ‘member name’ inside the username field. This word disappears when the field is selected. You can see a similar trick employed at Tumblr. The problem is that when you click ‘Log In’ from the top menu the field is automatically selected and the user never sees the phrase ‘member name’ but instead an empty field. They assume, since this looks like a social networking site, that they’ll be able to type in their email address. When that fails they don’t know why and they’re confused. They’re frustrated and angry and now they’re going off to Twitter to complain to all their friends.

And while we’re on the topic of social networks, how about trying to find your friends list? Our prototypical user–let’s call him ‘Mike’–is on his home page and wants to view his friends list. Mike looks on the page for a link to something titled friends list but can’t find it. Not being able to find a direct link he looks to the top menu and see the menu option ‘Players’. It seems reasonable a friends list might be located within such a top-level menu option so he clicks ‘Players’. But this doesn’t take him to a friends list. Instead, he’s taken to a page that allows him to find people based on their avatar (why?).

Well, there must be some way to look at his friends list. Maybe it’s in the ‘Home’ drop-down menu. Nope. Maybe it’s in the username drop-down menu somewhere. He clicks on that but nothing promising there. Maybe there isn’t a friends list. But wait, he added a friend at one point. Now just guessing, Mike figures he’ll try look at his public profile page. He open the username drop-down menu and clicks ‘Public Profile’. He quickly looks over the page; doesn’t see it. (It is actually there, it’s just hidden halfway down the page in the right-hand side column.) Becoming increasingly frustrated at this point (urge to twitter rising) he gives it one last chance. He’ll view his GamerDNA. The only way to do this seems to be to edit it so he goes back to the username drop-down menu and clicks on ‘Edit my GamerDNA’. Ah, there’s a section called ‘Friends’. This might be it! Mike clicks on it and there it is. Finally!

That took 5 minutes. To find my friends list. On a social networking site.

And that’s why I twittered.

Your friend,

Mike.

PS. I really would like to help the site. If further critique is useful let me know. I can go on for a bit about the process of deleting a game after it’s accidentally been added.