Background: Opportunities in digital distribution place mobile games as a promising platform for games for health. However, designing a game that can compete in the saturated mobile games market and deliver persuasive health messages can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Although user-centered design is widely advocated, factors such as the user's subject domain expertise, budget constraints, and poor data collection methods can restrict the benefits of user involvement.
Objective: This study aimed to develop a playable and acceptable game for health, targeted at young key populations in the Philippines.
Methods: Authors identified a range of user-centered design methods to be used in tandem from published literature. The resulting design process involved a phased approach, with 40 primary and secondary users engaged during the initial ideation and prototype testing stages. Selected methods included participatory design workshops, playtests, playability heuristics, and focus group discussions. Subject domain experts were allocated roles in the development team. Data were analyzed using a framework approach. Conceptual frameworks in health intervention acceptability and game design guided the analysis. In-game events were captured through the Unity Analytics service to monitor uptake and game use over a 12-month period.
Results: Early user involvement revealed a strong desire for online multiplayer gameplay, yet most reported that access to this type of game was restricted because of technical and economic constraints. A role-playing game (RPG) with combat elements was identified as a very appealing gameplay style. Findings guided us to a game that could be played offline and that blended RPG elements, such as narrative and turn-based combat, with match-3 puzzles. Although the game received a positive response during playtests, gameplay was at times perceived as repetitive and predicted to only appeal to casual gamers. Knowledge transfer was predominantly achieved through interpretation of the game's narrative, highlighting this as an important design element. Uptake of the game was positive; between December 1, 2017, and December 1, 2018, 3325 unique device installs were reported globally. Game metrics provided evidence of adoption by young key populations in the Philippines. Game uptake and use were substantially higher in regions where direct engagement with target users took place.
Conclusions: User-centered design activities supported the identification of important contextual requirements. Multiple data collection methods enabled triangulation of findings to mediate the inherent biases of the different techniques. Game acceptance is dependent on the ability of the development team to implement design solutions that address the needs and desires of target users. If target users are expected to develop design solutions, they must have adequate expertise and a significant role within the development team. Facilitating meaningful partnerships between health professionals, the games industry, and end users will support the games for health industry as it matures.
Keywords: HIV; experimental; games; health communication; persuasive communication; user-centered design; video games.
©Charlotte Devon Hemingway, Emmanuel S Baja, Godafreda V Dalmacion, Paul Mark B Medina, Ernest Genesis Guevara, Tyrone Reden Sy, Russell Dacombe, Claire Dormann, Miriam Taegtmeyer. Originally published in JMIR Serious Games (http://games.jmir.org), 20.12.2019.