The Red Pill vs The Blue Pill

Yesterday here at Bytewire we had a most interesting debate about something which was seemingly un-important when it began. Let me explain the situation and set the scene quickly, before I dive right into the debate at hand.

Our popular online game, Street Crime, which we have been developing for over 2 years now has a reasonably intuitive, clever design and interface. However as we have expanded on the game and built lots of new features we have found the left hand menu, which importantly is our main menu in the game growing increasingly vertically larger and is now in our opinion a little overwhelming for new players. The left hand menu is divided into subsections and each subsection is collapsable and expandable and the state is held as the user flicks through pages. The left hand menu consists of around 40-50 links to other pages, which is pretty large as things go.

So along comes Friday and we have a new feature to release into Street Crime, yet we are not sure where it belongs, on the one hand we want our players to see it but on the other hand we have got to draw the line at making the left hand menu larger and larger, somewhere right!? Looking at this in more detail made us start to think, how incredibly important menus, navigations and terminology of the items in the menu really, really was to our game and to the players playing it. After about an hour of deliberation we had split our views into two seperate view points or theories if you like.

The Blue Pill or The Spoon Fed Approach

The first of which is the Blue Pill or the Spoon Fed approach which regards users as thickle, lazy and that they require spoon feeding to find what they are looking for. We Adopted the blue pill/red pill matrix scene to our game, arguing that if you opted to take the blue pill, you are thickle and you want everything in front of you in an easy navigation menu with a simple one click depth and you are happy that you know this is where you will find everything and that it will only be a case of scowering through the long menu list to find what your looking for, look hard enough and you will find it. By looking at this approach we identified some pro’s and con’s particularly adapted to the way our online ‘game’ works.

  • Menu items get forgotten about as they are hidden by the player to make the menu small and manageable enough.
  • New players feel overwhelmed by a large menu
  • Forcibly not allowing a user to explore deeper into the rabbit hole at his or her own leisure.
  • Get what you click approach – not always the best approach especially not so for online games.
  • Its quick
  • Minimal effort
  • You get what you click
  • Everything is in the menu somewhere approach

The Red Pill or Depth In Pages Approach

“Take the red pill and see how deep the rabbit hole goes”.

Adapted from the matrix we thought up this approach amongst the theory that users are so thickle that if they need to find something that they know exists somewhere on your site, they will sure as hell try to find it. Which importantly for a online game, creates a contact point, especially so for online games with a chat facility – “hey does anyone know where i can find the weapons shop?” etc. It also allows you to think more logically about how your game is put together, ie, some pages relate directly to another so why not link back and forth to each one from that page. The more time a player can spend navigating around without returning to use the left hand menu the greater depth and indulgence you have managed to achieve. What this would also allow us to do is to spend time making our menu as concise as possible. Cutting it down from 50 items to just 10 and cutting out the collapsible and foldable menus. Take the example below for instance.

Current Menu

  • Game Forum
  • Off-topic Forum
  • Crew Forum
  • Bug Forum

Making this more concise could mean a link in the menu with “forums” which takes you to an overview page, perhaps with the 10 latest posts accross all forums and then links to the individual forums themselves. You have added another click level, but you’ve also improved the experience and likelyhood of them getting involved. As you have made the forums link more viewable and you’ve added an easy way for people to jump right into a thread from the overview page.

New Menu

  • Forums

Another important factor to always remember when using a long list style navigation menu is that if its long, its likely areas are going to be forgotten about or due to the page fold don’t get visited as much as they should. This is the wrong approach especially with a social game. For us currently our forums are situated at the very bottom of our long menu and thus probably dont receive as much clicks and visits as they should do. With a new shortened menu, we can really put more emphasis on the real important aspects of the site in the menu and link the less important pages using a depth approach, clever linking and page relationships.

  • All menu items and pages within the game are not accessible on a one click basis
  • Lazy players may suffer.
  • If implemented badly could add an annoying amount of extra clicks and time to perform routine tasks
  • Intuitive
  • Its not overwhelming at first and it lets the user dive deeper into the rabbit hole as and when they feel comfortable doing it.
  • Its small and it makes sense

Although my opinion clearly sways to towards the Red Pill approach, this is not to say it will work on our site or indeed on your site. However, what you might be interested to know is we are going to run some tests and analysis of both approaches and see which one works better for us and then of course go ahead and implement it. If your interested to see how we get on and or would like to read our findings be sure to follow us on twitter @Bytewire.

Blog written by Dave

I am one of the Directors of Bytewire and I like to blog about lots of different and interesting stuff surrounding the website design and development world.

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