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Superstruct Review: Unplayable, Unwinnable, Still Awesome

2008-12-02 19:53:00

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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