So… I occasionally turn into a complete gamer geek. (It happens to the best of us.)

Just so you know, I picked up my very own pre-ordered copy of Halo 3 yesterday and played it for a few hours last night, and I have to admit that the game absolutely lives up to the hype. I didn’t think it would, but man, does it ever.

Although the graphics are much better and whatnot, the game doesn’t look a whole lot diffrent from Halo 2, but where the game really shines is in the gameplay. So much so that the changes made to the user interface have so radically improved my playing skills that I went from being pretty lousy to being pretty awesome virtually overnight. For someone like me (who routinely got his ass handed to him by twelve-year-old kids in multiplayer mode), this turns me into an instant fan of the Halo franchise. (Kudos to the development team for having opted to focus on the user interface rather than working on fluff – like better visuals, or whatever. The prettiest games are not always the best games, after all.)

The lesson here is this: User/customer experience should always be paramount to any marketing or process-related endeavor. (Kathy Sierra would be proud.) Giving your users a cool product is going to be exciting at first, but without a radically valuable user experience, the coolness of the product will wear off quickly. On the other hand, focusing on making your users rock right from the start (incorporating a lot of usablity in your design) will lengthen the lifecycle of your product, significantly increase its adoption rate, and generate a whole lot of referal business over time. If using the product is as easy and fun as it is valuable to the user, you’ve created a winner. If all you’ve focused on is style and coolness, but the learning curve is steep or the usability is limited, you’re screwing yourself out of a market leadership position.

Obviously, every product designer should always strive to create a healthy balance of substance and style, but no amount of style will ever take the place of substance.

In the apparel world, if a garment looks awesome but starts falling apart or fading after a few weeks, you aren’t likely to get repeat business.

In the automotive world, if a car looks fantastic but has to be repaired every 10K miles, you’ll soon be out of business.

In the software world, if you design a gorgeous app but it is frustrating (or sometimes virtually impossible) to use, you’ve just wasted a whole lot of venture capital.

Congrats to Microsoft and Bungie for having not only designed an incredibly fun game, but also for having blown all of the previous game pre-order records and having rolled out this product so damn effectively.

In related news, check this out (image source).

Have a great Wednesday, everyone. 🙂