I used to play video games. I didn’t consider myself a gamer like the typical image of them you might have, but when I compared myself to friends and family, I suppose I was. I grew up playing Mario Bros and played roughly until Rockband came out. I was probably equally addicted to that! ;)
For me, the controller is a natural thing to hold in my hands. Like those people who type extremely fast using their thumbs on their cell phones, I was that quick on my first Nintendo.
Not everyone is quick with a controller
When you develop experiences for non-gamers, you have to think differently, because not everyone is that fast when they use one. You have to think: What are they used to? What behaviors do they employ in day-to-day life that can be replicated and leveraged? What can be learned quickly?
My work is focused mainly on functional retail projects for brands. Those experiences usually target first-time users. They are also often in a context where they have a very short period of time to understand both the VR technology and the interactive immersive story they are experiencing. Both can feel very overwhelming.
The first time I held the HTC Vive in my hands I thought, oh! This is a new design. Consequently, I thought, I will have new behaviors to learn.
I soon realized that with the HTC Vive, you actually have to go beyond first glance and examine how technical the physical design is. The shape is like nothing that’s ever existed before so it is intimidating. For me, this controller exemplifies how VR interaction is inspired by the gaming world.
“Oh! There’s a trigger in the back? Nobody will see it or feel it.”
The trigger in the back is an interesting one. If you’re not used to gaming, then chances are you’re more familiar with TV controllers and mobiles, both of which do not have interactive buttons or triggers on their backside.
You can’t like or use what you can’t see: this is a good thing to remember when designing for first-timers.
While watching users testing the controller, my team realized we had to get rid of all the complexity of the tool and find the simplest way to interact with it in VR.
Using the VR Controller: Solutions for Newbies
Let’s start with what works. The shape and texture of the HTC Vive controllers make it fit perfectly in your hands and so holding it feels very natural. It does look like a strange hybrid between a TV remote and a handle, but bottom line: it’s very comfortable.
Second, when you have the gear on your head (for now with all the wires), wearing headphones with both hands full can feel very overwhelming even before you’re all hooked up to the experience.
A quick fix is removing anything and everything that is unnecessary. We realized that interacting with an environment in VR can be done with one hand. Also, it’s very natural for every human being to be more agile on one side of their body.
You can even refrain from offering the user two controllers at once: one controller, one button.
Click and choose, nice and simple!
Once you remove possible interaction with the controller, you have to compensate in the User Interface (UI). Every interaction and choice should be as simple as point and click. It might look like more work upfront, but at the end, the experience will be simpler and quicker for everyone to learn.
What Can We Expect in the Future?
Hopefully, no controller! Gloves, hands, detection devices on each finger, sensors on the glove to give you the feeling of touch, warmth and cold? The possibilities for minimizing the interface are endless and they will benefit both gamers and non-gamers.
Most importantly, the controller for any environment needs to be intuitive and without sounding too cliché, as realistic as possible ;)