Recently, I have been playing Audiosurf quite a bit in my spare time. A crazy concoction of both match-3 and rhythm gameplay, Audiosurf won both the Excellence in Audio and Audience Award at the Independent Games Festival. The reason the game works so well is that it can take any MP3 and create a track out of it. The player is then able to race down that track, collecting gems and matching them along the way, to earn a high score. While I am fully aware that there is a high score list for every single song in Audiosurf, I was quite surprised when I found the following e-mail in my inbox this morning:
Audiosurf scoreboard alert - Dethroned!
You used to have the worldwide best score for: house in the woods by tom petty
Now the Audiosurf player 'duopollex' has beaten you. Get back in the game and reclaim the top spot!
This got me thinking on the subject of pushing information onto the user, instead of requiring the user to pull the information to themselves, and how leveraging that information can help build a stronger community.
The traditional high score mechanic requires the player to look up high score listing, usually in-game, to see where he/she ranks on it – the user has to pull the information to themselves by looking up the high score list. This takes effort. By sending me an automatic e-mail when my score was beaten, Audiosurf has pushed key information onto me that I wasn't even trying to find out. As a result, it has gotten me to play a game I had no plans on playing tonight, just so I can reclaim my top spot.
What if Guitar Hero or Rock Band e-mailed you or left a message in your Xbox Live account every time your high score was bested? Wouldn't you want to play more? Those of us who are competitive would, and that in and of itself creates community. A more active community means a healthier game, one that is enjoyed longer, and potentially by more players (Active community members often talk about the game they are active in, thereby serving as a living advertisement for a game). Players who don't care about high scores, except for personal bests, can turn off such alerts (In fact, Audiosurf includes an opt-out link in the e-mail alert itself). I know Audiosurf isn't the first game to include such alerts, but I can't think of any major games with scoring mechanisms recently that have pushed information to the player in such a way.
Audiosurf does not take the concept of information pushing far enough, however. First off, there is no way to opt-in or opt-out via the game interface itself. I accidentally opted-out of the alerts after receiving the one above, and I see no way to opt back in. This is a mistake in usability. If you want players to use a feature, make it easily accessible and transparent how it works. Secondly, there is no customization of alerts. I honestly don't care too much about my record being broken by anyone in the world – I'm not good enough at rhythm games to be one of the best. However, I do care about my personal friends beating my scores. None of my friends on Steam have beaten my personal scores yet (probably because none of them own the game), so I don't know if you get another e-mail if a friend beats your score. The larger point is that I have no way of knowing what alerts are going to come and under what conditions. Maybe I only want alerts when certain friends beat my scores. Maybe I want to know when any friend has come within 1,000 points of my high score on any song. Maybe I want to know what score any of my friends gets on 'House in the Woods' no matter what the score, so I can mock them as they fall short continuously. Audiosurf should allow me to customize my alerts so I can get whatever information I deem to be important as soon as possible. Finally, the alert does not give me the direct ability to counter that score easily. What if, in that e-mail, there was a link that launched the game with that song automatically, and I could immediately start playing? It seems clear to me that it would give extra incentive for players to respond to being ousted by giving easy accessibility to respond to.
By allowing customization on this level, Audiosurf could build an even bigger and more vibrant community. Groups would form together for competitions, friends would stay up all night trying to best each other, and players who couldn't care less about high scores could continue to play the game as they play it now. You can already see the push for community in games with upcoming releases like LittleBigPlanet and Spore, and for a good reason. Community creates relevance for a game within that community. Discussion within that community can help it grow to new players. Growth often leads to more sales. With a game with a low barrier of entry, such as Audiosurf, it seems like a good idea to continuously push information on players, instead of requiring them to pull it toward themselves, to help build this community and grow. I hope that they are able to implement some of the features I listed above in a future release. Until then, I'm going to try to get back my high score.