Features Interviews

Lifebar.io Interview – Your Gaming Life Visualized

Lifebar.io, a new website that helps gamers with tracking their gaming experiences, has recently launched and is available to the public. Although the site is still in the Alpha stages, Lifebar allows you to catalogue any games you’ve played or watched, categorise them based on how much you enjoyed them, and give a short Twitter-like summary.

Although other sites allow you to keep records of your games library, Lifebar presents a lot of information based on your likes and dislikes. It will keep track of your favourite developers and suggest upcoming games that may be of interest to you. You can also look at the data for other users and see their favourite experiences too. In this regard, the site is geared towards surfacing meaningful experiences (positive or negative) within your gaming repertoire.

We recently caught up with the brains behind the site, Jonathan Schoen and Ryan Durant, to find out about their inspirations for the site and what niche they feel it occupies.


Adam Lloyd: Thanks for joining me guys. First off, can you describe Lifebar in your own words?

Ryan Durant: Lifebar is a platform that allows you to visualize and compartmentalize your life playing and watching video games.

Adam: So what separates Lifebar from other sites that allow you to curate the games you’ve played?

Jonathan Schoen: I think we are more interested in providing useful analytics and data visualizations around your entire life spent with games, both playing and watching.  I wanted to not only capture games I have played, but as I am getting older and having less time to play games, I am finding myself watching others play games just as often, and I didn’t have a good outlet for capturing all of those experiences that I thought were valuable.

Ryan: Not only that, but with how interactive video games are, each person’s experience can vary in a way that is not true for movies and books.  I don’t think it makes sense to follow the same principles when trying to capture such information.  That is why we are trying to break the mold with Lifebar by moving away from static scores and aggregated results.  We are working hard to capture a person’s entire life with video games so that it can hopefully shed some light on why they feel the way they do.

Adam: With Lifebar now in alpha stage, has the original concept for Lifebar changed at all?

Jonathan: The very early stages of Lifebar were so broad and high level that I wouldn’t say the original concept has changed, so much as it’s been refined. We started with something very nebulous and over time chipped away at what we found interesting and kept bringing us back.

Ryan: Yeah, that refinement has come from unanticipated use cases that we are excited to see. We always had intentions to involve as many members of the video game industry as possible, but we were surprised to find how much interest there was from various freelancers as well as sites such as Power Up Gaming.  We are hoping to do everything we can to cater to various journalists, critics, streaming personalities, etc… and allow them to promote their work through Lifebar.  Our first step was the creation of Verified Accounts, but we hope to keep building on that functionality as we get feedback and a better understanding of the direction that such users would like to take.

Adam: How have you found the community feedback so far? Are you looking to make any changes based off of community suggestions?

Ryan:  I have been floored by not only the amount of feedback, but the quality and diversity of it.  Probably one of the largest areas of contention right now is the requirement of a summary with each game experienced.  We ask that you write a short blurb (140 characters or less) for each game you enter.  This has really fostered the social side of things as I mentioned earlier, but many users simply want to catalog their games and not share their thoughts with others. That is completely understandable and something that we are hoping to address once we polish up the base functionality.

Jonathan: It’s been great to see the response from users. It’s funny, there are parts of Lifebar that Ryan and I stressed over for weeks, that so far haven’t been a problem for users. Then there are other areas that we thought were simple, that some users really struggled with. It’s always tough to know how far we need to go to communicate an idea or concept.
We do have a “pipeline” of things that we know we want to implement, but we have been taking all feedback very seriously and try to prioritize it. That might be the biggest issue right now, trying to prioritize all the things we want to do based on our ideas and incorporate that with the feedback we are getting.


Adam: Users can rate their experiences based on 5 tiers (1 being best and 5 being worst). Is there a plan to rank games across the site based on this information, or is this too subjective?

Ryan: We intend for the tier system to be treated as something very self reflecting.  Being such a personal categorization, we instead want to use it as more of a relational tool between members.  For example, if you see that someone put Rocket League in Tier 2, but have only clumped a tiny portion of their games in that tier, you know that they hold the experience with that game in very high regard.  That is opposed to someone who might consider it Tier 1, but they have also categorized a vast majority of the games they have played/watched as Tier 1.  It really is just a tool for yourself and others to put everything in perspective, and not to be seen as a static score.

Jonathan: The tier system was something I felt strongly about from the very early stages of LIfebar. It’s tough, because it’s very easy for someone to treat the tier system as a regular old star system if they choose to. The hope was that the tiers would encourage them to think about their experiences with games in relative terms. I like to think of it this way, if you were deciding which Tier a game was going go towards, you should be thinking of the other games that you already placed in that Tier. Does that game belong with the others?

Jeff Gerstmann of Giant Bomb has recently talked about the re-release of Twilight Princess and how they were reviewing games back then on Gamespot. There were algorithms and math to try to decouple each review from the reviewer themselves. Therefore he explains, that is why he gave Twilight Princess such a high score then, but for him personally, he think’s it’s one of the lesser entries into the series. The Tier structure allows for a more honest approach and acknowledges that we are all pretty subjective when it comes to what we like or dislike and how our past experiences influence later ones.

Adam: You automatically list a lot of critic reviews for games. How do you think this adds to the site?

Ryan: We found that it was very helpful to compare the entire portfolio of a critic when translating what they had to say about a game.  That is another reason we do not surface any review scores from published reviews we have curated.  We aren’t nearly as interested in scores as we are with potential patterns or preferences of a certain critic or personality.

Jonathan: The way we digest our gaming media is different now. With the advent of twitter, twitch, reddit, etc. there has been a shift from publications to personalities. There will always be value in a single place for people to go for their gaming habit, but there publications are no longer faceless entities. Lifebar, being person centric, is set up really well to capture the body of work of a given critic and make it a more personal experience for other to relate to.


Adam: What issues have you run into when creating a site such as Lifebar?

Ryan: I would say the most difficult part about all of this is clearly communicating our intentions.  We are not looking to be a cataloging service, a Metacritic, or really anything else that we have come across so far.  We built Lifebar because we couldn’t find anything else that was truly focused on our entire life with games, especially when it came to the watching them just as much as playing them.  Many members have had hesitations assigning a tier to a game that they have simply watched, but it is important for us to communicate that we do not want tiers to be used as a static score made to represent a quality of a game, but instead as a virtual bucket that you can use to compartmentalize your thoughts in relation to everything else you have played and/or watched.  Communicating and clearly conceptualizing that has been a difficult process.

Jonathan: It really has been hard to make our intentions clear. Some people really understand and others don’t quite grasp it or if they do they aren’t interested. Either way, we need to improve our communication so it’s more universal. We are getting there, but like Ryan said, we aren’t interested in aggregating data like a Metacritic. Even though that isn’t our focus, I can understand why people would knee-jerk that we are simply another one of those.

Adam: Has anything surprised you with regards to the community and how they are using the site?

Jonathan: It’s been great to see people dive right in and enter tons of experiences at once. It’s also fun to see the progression as people work through franchises or different eras of gaming. That is one of the things I think Lifebar does really well right now, the workflow encourages adding games that are similar to your last, creating a logical sequence of thoughts.

Ryan: I personally have been very surprised by the amount of social interaction that has taken place with the limited functionality we have.  As much as we are still focused on the main goal of data visualization, we are also trying to foster communication between members as much as possible.  I constantly get a kick out of seeing the ripple effect that activity feed has when someone bookmarks a game, follows a user or gives a 1up to someone else’s thoughts, and how that can influence other members.

Adam: What would the final release of Lifebar look like? Are there any new features in the pipeline?

Ryan: Ha, I don’t think there will ever be a final release of Lifebar, as much as Jon would love to see one.  We have so many ideas and feature mockups, that it can be overwhelming at times, but we are doing our best to remain focused on delivering functionality that we personally feel is unique and worthwhile.  The great part about Lifebar is that we made it for ourselves, and what we made so far seems to have resonated with many people.  Our thought is, as long as we keep building features that we are personally excited to use, others might share in that excitement.
The next big thing on our pipeline is opening up more possibilities to compare your experiences with others.  I don’t want to share too many specifics right now, as we are continually iterating on what the means, but we are confident with the great participation we have seen so far that we have the data and capability to create something truly unique.

Jonathan: Yeah, like most web apps, Lifebar is a living, breathing thing. As Ryan mentioned (and hinted), we have tons of ideas and things we want to do. From an alpha to beta to release perspective, we are trying to build a solid foundation for users. I don’t plan on being the next Gmail and living in beta purgatory, but we want to make sure the baseline functionality is there for users before we consider ourselves “released”.

Adam: Thank you for your time, much appreciated.

If you would like to try it out at this early stage, Lifebar.io is available now for sign up.

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