Recently, a local Mom emailed me to ask if her son Bobby could come over and get a Minecraft tutorial from my daugter Lila (age 7). Apparently a bunch of kids had been bragging about building Minecraft treehouses and chicken farms at recess, and Bobby wanted in on the action.
When he came over, Bobby plopped down next to Lila and watched her play Minecraft. For hours. Then they had lunch, and watched Youtube videos of other people building treehouses and chicken farms. Eventually Bobby built a little house to show his Mom – but mostly he was happy being an avid spectator: watching, learning, and absorbing the rules of play.
Minecraft doesn’t have onboarding, missions or built-in help – so kids learn from each other and from the exploding online universe of Minecraft videos, wikis, fan pages, and forums. Would Bobby have requested an instructional playdate if Minecraft had spoon-fed missions and a slick built-in tutorial? Probably not – he’s a shy kid, and likely would have stayed home and learned by himself.
When it comes to social engagement and UX, sometimes less is more.
Lila has a social introduction to Minecraft too – she watched her brother play for hours, watched lots of Youtube videos, then one day sat down and confidently built her first house. She made lots of mistakes — but in Minecraft, mistakes are visible and easily corrected, so players feel comfortable learning by doing.
Part of what games so compelling is this learning –> practicing –> mastering experience arc that stimulates social play. Lila started as a student — then transformed into a teacher once she’d learned the ropes from her brother. It’s fun and rewarding to go through this transformation – and learning something together is a socially bonding and satisfying experience.
If you’re trying to drive social engagement in your game, app or service, ask yourself: What are your customers learning over time? How can they share that info with others – both inside and outside your product? What actions transform a customer from student to teacher? And to bring it back to minimalism: what can you LEAVE OUT of your UX or product that would stimulate this social learning process?