Articles, Blog

The Game Design of IKEA | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

The Game Design of IKEA | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios


Is IKEA successful because they
understand good game design? And all my Swedish
viewers out there, I know, I know I’m pronouncing
it incorrectly. This is how you pronounce
IKEA in Swedish– “ee-kay-ya”. It would sound even
worse if I tried, so thank you for
bearing with me. [MUSIC PLAYING] IKEA. It’s one of the most successful
companies in the world. And if you live
even remotely close to one of its nearly 300
stores, then you probably own a Billy or a
Lack or a Bumerang. I own quite a few–
Bumerangs, that is. IKEA is a modern
marvel of capitalism. It consumes 1% of the
world’s wood supply, somehow manages to drop
its prices 2% to 3% every, single year, and has
made its founder, Ingvar Kamprad, one
of the wealthiest people on the planet. So if you’re in
business school, you can probably identify
lots of reasons why IKEA has taken
over the world. Specifically, there
mighty triumvirate of quality, price, and speed. But if you’re a game
show fan, you’re probably wondering, why on
earth are we talking about IKEA? Stay a while and listen. Intentionally or
not, IKEA embodies some of the best
values of good games. I’m not saying that
IKEA is to game, per se, but it exhibits many
game-like characteristics. I’ve talked about Dutch cultural
historian, Johan Huizinga, in the past and his big
idea that play undergirds all forms of human interaction. And if that’s true,
then, all of a sudden, we can start
looking at the world through the lens
of games design. And personally, I believe
if you understand games, you can understand the world. So let’s test that
idea with IKEA. [DRUM] OK. First, IKEA stores have
incredible level design. Stores like Target or Tesco are
just designed with big aisles. And most furniture
stores are just pods of showrooms
stuffed together. But IKEA– oh, IKEA–
has taken the first page from any good game designer’s
playbook, making a good maze. [MUSIC PLAYING] As game designer Ernest
Adams said of “Colossal Cave Adventure,” a maze should
be attractive, clever, and above all, fun to solve. If a maze isn’t interesting
or a pleasure to be in, then it’s a bad feature. Well, this was
a disappointment. But IKEA doesn’t call
their layout a maze. They actually call it
the long, natural way. Unlike other stores,
the main aisle of IKEA is supposed to
curve every 50 feet or so to keep
customers interested in the new and
beautiful show rooms. A path that’s straight for
any longer than that, IKEA calls an Autobahn, or put
another way, big and boring. This path through
IKEA creates what’s called organized walking. Now, from the top
down, the store layout doesn’t look like a particularly
complicated maze, right? But if you were to look
at any “Call of Duty” single-player map,
for example, you’d see the same type of simplicity. And that’s the
trick with both IKEA and “Call of Duty’s”
level design. It’s easy enough
just to walk through, but they provide other
challenges along the way. And you know IKEA has
good design, because it’s as architecture professor,
Alan Penn, says, IKEA is highly disorienting. And yet, there is only
one route to follow. That’s why the shortcuts through
the show room are so rewarding. They’re like your magic
whistle through the map, while also giving you
a sense of discovery of entering a whole new realm. There it is. The shortcut, the
hidden shortcut. We made it. The end result of all of
this walking and getting lost, buying stuff you
didn’t know you wanted. 60% of the purchases at
IKEA are impulse buys in its serpentine hallways. You might say that IKEA
has its own loot cave. Of course, there
are other places that use unique retail design
to get you to buy stuff, but another big thing
IKEA does differently from its competitors is create
a story world through language. Because IKEA’s
founder is dyslexic, they built a whole
taxonomy for products to help him to remember. Furniture is Swedish place
names, chairs are men’s names, and children’s items
are mammals and birds. The act of naming an object
is an incredibly powerful key to immersion that
games use all the time. For IKEA, they want you to
identify with a specific place, in this case the Swedish
concept of folkhemmet, a social democratic term
meaning, the people’s home. And they do the same way that
“Borderlands” doesn’t just call a pistol a pistol. It’s the lacerator or the
dove or the chiquito amigo or Athena’s wisdom. IKEA doesn’t just sell
you a coffee table. It sells you a Lack or a
Lillbron or a Lovbacken. As writers Joshua Glenn
and Rob Walker wrote, Once you start to increase
the emotional energy of inanimate objects, an
unpredictable chain reaction is set up. Holy boosh! That’s a freaking black lotus. That’s a [INAUDIBLE]
freaking lotus. But it’s not just a showroom
that works like a game. IKEA engages in what’s called
value co-production or put another way, interactivity. This is a concept that’s
bigger than just the store and actually lies at
the heart of why we have such an attachment to IKEA. It’s obvious, but you have
to build your own stuff when you buy it at IKEA. There are economic
reasons for this. Of course, it’s just cheaper
to ship deconstructed items. But researchers found
that self-construction is at the heart of what they
call the IKEA Effect, which suggests that people
will value mass-produced items as much as handcrafted,
artisan wares, but only if they are
the ones building them, piece-by-frustrating-piece. Yeah, well, you know what? It’s not easy. And, Lily, you’re
no help whatsoever. Here’s the kicker, though. To do this right,
an IKEA designer uses the same tool a
good game designer might. Balance. We value the time spent with
video games and IKEA furniture because they give us
a sense of mastery. Psychologists actually call
this effort justification. But in order for IKEA to get us
to do this in the first place, the difficulty settings
of the experience have to be perfectly tuned. If the home assembly
process is too hard, then we are never shopping
at IKEA, ever again. I mean, it might be
cheaper for IKEA just to give you pieces of wood and
you can make a chair yourself, but then they’ve
lost a customer. Likewise, if a game is
too hard, then we’re probably going to give
up before the end. This game is impossible. No one can beat it. Anyone who does is
a maniac with way too much time on their hands. Game makers have a name
for that balance, too. It’s called flow– the
mental state of operation in which a person
performing an activity is fully immersed in a task. And it occurs in that sweet spot
between challenge and skill. And that’s what IKEA
does so, so well. They balance the economic desire
to save money against the odds that you completely
throw in the towel and cry in the shower
in frustration, kind of like I do when
I play “Swingcopters.” It all makes sense,
but I still suck. OK. Last one. IKEA develops universally
understandable experiences. This is something that we
take for granted in games, but think about it this way. What if you couldn’t play
Tetris because you didn’t speak Russian or Super Mario Galaxy
because you didn’t understand Japanese game mechanics? Games are their own
language and can be played by anyone, regardless
of their nationality, location, or background. IKEA has a similar idea
about decorating your home. They call it democratic design. They try to take their designs
to everyone in the world and design products
that ostensibly could fit into any living
room, from Shanghai to Berlin to Los Angeles. It’s the exact same
type of experience that Jenova Chen wanted
to make in “Journey.” Chen argues that the language
that we use is a facade and that games
like “Journey” can be played by anyone,
anywhere, because they don’t use language. And that’s the
exact same for chess and “Netrunner” and basketball. When designed well, games are
exemplars of democratic design the world over. So there you have it. That’s what I think about
whenever I go to IKEA. And I hope that I
showed that games can open our eyes to new
ways of seeing the world. [MUSIC PLAYING] And look, I’m not saying that
these game design elements justify some of the more
problematic elements of IKEA’s existence, many of which
Mike from Idea Channel so elegantly outlined in
his episode on the company. But hopefully, I’ve
given you some new tools to look at your everyday
life in a different way. So what do you think? Does IKEA have some powerful,
game-like qualities? If you likes the concept of the
episode, what other experiences should I explore through
the lens of game design? Casinos? The Apple store? Politics? Education? Hash it out on the comments. And if you like what you
saw, please subscribe. I’ll see you next week. Last week, we asked why we
celebrate football violence but demonize video
game violence. Let’s see what you had to say. First and foremost,
before we get started, we received a wonderful gift
from a viewer named Ian. It is a copy of “ET,
The Extraterrestrial” for the Atari 2600. This game also holds
the dubious distinction of single-handedly causing
the video game crash of 1983. You can read about it,
obviously, on Wikipedia. They’re making a
documentary about it. So I guess it’s kind of a like
a passive aggressive, good luck gift. Nonetheless, I’m going
to put it up on the wall. Give me one sec. All right. There you go. If you have any
suggestions for things that you would like
to see on our wall, hit us up on Twitter,
Facebook, or send us an email. In a comment so brilliant
that I’m angry at myself that I didn’t make
it myself, 3X Gaming makes an amazing
point, pointing out that, really, the difference
between video game violence and football violence
is an expression of the divide between
jocks and geeks with football
representing jocks, obviously, and video
games representing geeks. And just like high school,
jocks get free pass and geeks get picked on. So that’s a great, really
great, observation. EliteDelta135 and a
bunch of others of you referred to American
football as handegg, which has just destroyed
everything that I thought about this sport that I love. And I will be watching the
game in an entirely different respect now. So, thank you for that. Permafry42 adds a gendered
element to the conversation, specifically asking why things
need to be violent in order for them to be
considered masculine. This was something I actually
explored in our episode on masculinity and video games. And so, in that respect,
both football and video games do suffer from the same
kind of cultural baggage, the expectation that
expressions of masculinity have to involve
physical contact. I do, obviously, enjoy
the sport of football. But if it was less
contact-driven, I think I probably
would still like it. But yeah, that’s a great
twist on the question I asked. Cracken! Minecraft and Stuffz
says that, if you don’t play a lot of video
games, than the things that happen in games are going
to seem really shocking, just like if you don’t
watch American football, then the things that
happen in America foot ball are going to really
shocking to you, as well. Cracken adds this great
cultural twist to the argument, specifically that, where you
are how, you’ve grown up, what you’re used to seeing
absolutely effects how you’re conditioned to think about
violence, particularly in the context of
games and sport. So for example, in
Central Asia, there’s a game called Buzkashi where
men drag around a goat carcass from horses. To someone who’s not from there,
it might seem really barbaric. But obviously, if you
grew up playing the game, you’re not necessarily going
to think that’s the case. The more problematic, the
more troubling implication of what Cracken’s saying is that
the undercurrent of violence is so central to the
American self-conscious, that we’re not even capable of
noticing that it’s happening. And that’s maybe a
little bit more scary. But, yeah, thanks
for the comment. Great, great opinion. Eric Carlson want
to know why I focus on a sport like
American football and not on a sport
like boxing or MMA, where it’s more
obvious that you have two men who are just bludgeoning
each other with their hands. The big reason is
just the popularity of the sport of football. Neither boxing nor
MMA are even close. I mean, the NFL is having
games in London now. There’s like talks of
like franchising it to other places in the world. So it’s just a sense of scale. CravenTHC and a bunch of others
of you took issue with the fact that I said that there’s a
mountain of academic research that demonstrates that video
games make you more violent. I was only alluding to
the amount of research, not the quality
of that research. Because I personally
don’t think that there’s a connection between
video games and violence. Not to mention there’s all these
other competing studies that demonstrate the exact opposite,
such as one that was just released in Australia and it’s
kind of been making the rounds. We’ll link to it
in the description. Regardless, I think
that the connections between media– any form
of media– video games, or otherwise and violence is
incredibly difficult to study. Because it’s hard
to pinpoint what that exact connection
sort of looks like. Frankly, I think it’s a
distraction from other issues. And I think a lot of
times, this research is sort of used as a
way to blame something that shouldn’t be blamed.

Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

2 thoughts on “The Game Design of IKEA | Game/Show | PBS Digital Studios

  1. Ok, so you listed Netrunner as an example of Democratic Design (and side note it is a fantastic game that everyone should experience at least once), but it relies very heavily on language, possibly more so than contemporaries like Magic: The Gathering (assuming you knew the base rules to MTG, most evergreen mechanics could probably be replaced by a pictograph). Can you elaborate on this?

  2. His comparison was not only a baffling stretch, but he is ridiculously annoying. Also, please zoom the camera out just a little.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *