Elisabet Grétarsdóttir explains Gamification at SIME 2011

The last day at SIME, Sweden's largest digital/web conference in Stockholm, a panel of guests took to the stage to have a panel discussion about gamification. Gamification is the latest and greatest buzz word in a long line of hype from digital marketing companies. But gamification is different because unlike social media and the like the Gamification concept is loaned from the hugely profitable games industry.

At SIME this year the panel consisted of representatives from World of Horses Online, CCP games and an associate professor from the Stockholm School of Economics. The topic was gamification and was simply introduced as the concept of using mechanics and design from the games industry to market products and services in non entertainment industries.

Elisabet, from CCP games, really gave a show with clear and consice ideas about gamification. She started off by describing the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic motivators. An extrinsic motivator, which are mostly used in gamification today, are external rewards given to the player for achieving certain tasks. Such as points to shoot a bird accurately or a badge to check in at a location An intrinsic motivator is an internal reward the player experiences because he/she achieves something in the context of the game. Internal rewards are feelings based on. Social recognition or completing a challenge.

One of her most memorable quotes was saying she'd like to Gamify the games industry by moving from extrinsic to intrinsic motivators.

Another one was a sharp critique to enforced seriousness while stating a point about humans being playful creatures:

why can we hug at a soccer game but not in the board room?

Elisabet also rocked the end of the panel by giving an example of how she would revolutionize boutique shopping by gamifying a H&M shop into a "minecraft retail experience" to, in her own words, "create a platform for creativity and self expression".

The audience and the panel alike seemed almost shocked by the simple truths laid out by Elisabet on gamification. I bet that if she has any say, gamification will be less of a buzz word and more of a business strategy from now on. One can only hope.

PS I'm writing this on an iPad balanced on my knee while I'm eating so if this post is in shambles, please check back in an hour or so and I'll try to polish the turd.

Update 1 Robin from the Stockholm School of Economics mailed me an update, apparently I got both her school and her title wrong.. Sorry Robin, keep up the great work!

The death of console games and the rise of mobile games

At a panel at south by southwest Peter Vesterbacka of Rovio (Angry Birds) said that the console market is dead. Basically because people won't want to pay $40-$50 for a game that is hard to upgrade. I agree.

the tv game console

But Nokia's Tero Ojanpera countered on the same panel that there is still a place for consoles and console games because people won't want to plug their tablet devices into their TV's.

I don't agree. In fact, I think Tero Ojanpera is missing a major trend in user behavior:

We've seen a trend for many years now that people are spending more of their time in front of computer screens. Most people aren't actively turning off their TVs yet but the trend towards being online is clear. More and more people sitting in front of their TV but with a laptop on their lap. At the same time mobile devices and tablet devices are skyrocketing in use.

iPad gaming

So why, dear Nokia, would people want to plug their tablet devices into their TVs? People are already choosing mobile screens at their primary consumption device. What Ojanpera is thinking of here is probably the block buster cinematic experiences that home consoles connected to the TV can offer. Titles such as God of War and Assasins Creed.

What he doesn't realize is that while these titles take up most of the marketing budget for game companies they don't sell all that well. A game of the year blockbuster hit still only sells close to 20 million copies. That's a huge pile of money. But Angry Birds has sold over 150 million... The price makes the winnings less dramatic but the demographic implications are clear. More people are choosing mobile games.

Consoles are dead.


The future of UX is play

In case you didn't know; UX week is a conference in San Fransisco that, if your into UX, you wish you were at. It has great speakers on great subjects and sounds like heaven for all us UX designers spread across the planet. Nicole Lazzaro has a presentation scheduled on the future of UX where she argues that design focusing on increasing positive emotions rather than minimizing negative experience is the future of UX development. A field where game design is leading the way.

I for one am really happy someone is bringing this up at a large conference. I studied game design for this very reason and I'm still having a hard time selling the idea to my colleagues, the notion that games are basically toys is still deeply ingrained in western culture and it's now starting to hold us back from creating better experiences.

For anyone interested in learning from game design I recommend you start with legendary designer Raph Koster's excellent book A Theory of Fun.

How do you make time to play games?

Great news! Both Torchlight and Ratchet & Clank are both going coop! Torchlight 2

A lot of games are opting for cooperative or immersive multiplayer modes to allow players to be more social and have even more fun with their products.

But there's a problem. Sorry to be the grouch, but the first step of getting out of a trap is noticing it's there. Cooperative and multiplayer games are mostly synchronous. Which means you have to play them at the same time. In fact minimizing gameplay lag is on of the largest problems game developers have today.

But is that really a good thing? It's great for action. But it's terrible for pick up and play gaming. Which is already the dominant form of play if we compare online games and casual platforms such as the Nintendo Wii, DS and the iPhone with more core audience devices such as the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360.

The problem with multiplayer is the same as with loading times. If we, as developers, are trying to convince our players to spent $60 and 20 hours to play our game, the game really needs to be fun and easy to get into. Loading times subtract from the experience, but not nearly enough as waiting for friends, not having friends or worst of all; having friends that all need to cash out $60 for the game. This kind of tribal synchronisation is very probably not that usual.

We need to open up to the fact that games are a part of life and start designing for finding new friends or, if possible, playing with friends asynchronously.

Games industry killing itself over used games

One of the largest problems facing the games industry today is used games. Publishers can't compete with the low prices and have launched campaigns trying to persuade customers that buying used games hurt developers. This is almost certainly true but the problem is, as so often with situations like this, not used games but how games as a medium are developed and sold. Let me describe why this phenomenon exists and what developers can do to change it today. Books and movies are more rarely sold used then games

There is a market for used books and movies, and it's pretty large, but nowhere near as large as for games. This is because the products leave a lingering thought with the consumer that they "might want to see / read it again". In this post I'll call this emotional impact.

I'm not saying that games don't have emotional impact, in fact they might have more emotional impact then traditional media, but in games it works a bit differently.

Traditional media is completely based on narrative

Narrative has always been a way for humans to interpret the things happening around us, in other words; we look for patterns that might not be there. Putting stories on events to make them understandable.

Traditional media is a way to channel this interest by offering interesting stories, that have been thought out before hand and then feeding them to the audience. We've been doing it since long before Shakespeare

When a movie, book or any work of fiction presents us with a narrative that we particularly like we achieve a sense of satisfaction. Known in story telling as catharsis.

Games don't work like this

Games have two sets of narrative going on at once; the story narrative that is usually fed to the player (s) in more or less sophisticated ways. The game mechanical narrative, the story that the player build by doing things in the game: "I ran around the wall and shot that guy from behind, I'm such a ninja!".

The first narrative is directly comparable to traditional media and is the dominant narrative in games such as the Final Fantasy series or the Metal Gear series. The emotional impact of these games are usually quite high and sure enough, you'll find a lot less of them on the used shelves at your local Gamestop.

The second narrative however, is unique to games as a medium. It is the dominant form of narrative in games such as Battlefield or Gran Turismo. These games can be resold without much emotional impact because the main experience is already experienced. Playing the game again won't be as interesting.

Let's compare this to a vacation trip. The pictures from said vacation are valuable, because they let the consumer remember the experience. But going back will be different, we all know this, that's why we don't always travel to the same spots.

Experiencing the game mechanic again can often be more interesting by playing the sequel or a similar game. A consumer will rarely play the same game again if there aren't new goals to reach or if similar games and sequels are noticeably different. (If your game is a shooter you'll probably not ever get consumers to do more then one play through. If that.)

So how are we going to solve this?

From this point of view, I've identified three key ways of making more emotional impact and staying of the used games shelf:

  1. Create games that capture the emotional impact of narrative. Create games with more traditional story that can keep the players coming back.
  2. Create games with game mechanic lock-ins. So that they are forced to keep playing your game to get the same pleasurable mechanic. Look at fighting games for example. Fighting games seem to be generally online or party experiences, with unique fighting styles they deliver experiences that you can't interchange easily.
  3. Games that are more focused on mechanic narrative, don't release them as boxed products. Seriously. They are easily interchangeable and after one play through they are simply not very interesting. Sell them as episodic content through direct downloads or as subscription services.

This might sound a bit crude, but the games industry is not as successful per unit as other media industries and mostly I believe this is because the industry isn't selling games as consumers want them. The games industry is just copying other mediums and then complaining about all the problems that they run into.

If you've read this far I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject, comment away, I answer all comments.

Interactive art, game?

Every Day the same Dream is a short flash game that I think you should play. It's story of a faceless man who tries to break out of his routine of getting up, dressing, saying good bye to his emotionally detached wife and driving to a miserable job. It's not exactly cheerful. It might even provoke dark thoughts. It's conveys a sense of how valuable life is in a strange way. This game is provoking. It doesn't provoke your ideals. It provokes how you live.

A fantastic interactive experiment that I can really recommend:

Every Day the Same Dream

State of the Game Industry in Sweden

Sweden has had a strong game development industry even since before the launch of the classic shooterBattlefield 1942. In the last year though, the economic downturn has cause some large studios to file for bankruptcy or sale. But the worst economic down turns usually make the most fertile grounds for new industry. Something the Swedes are proving true. Baraboom is a small group of friends trying to make it on the iPhone. Not an original concept but not a bad one either. They've chosen to be inspired my Remedy's classic car shooter Death Rally and with a unique style and control scheme their first title Auto Crisis looks awesome. Check it out when it launches in the app store around christmas. [vimeo=http://vimeo.com/7942457]

Ludosity is another small independent studio launching their first own IP very soon. This small startup is comprised of students straight out of school into an incubator. Most impressive and looking at their really unique title Bob came in pieces you can really tell where the innovation in the industry is going on. [youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9uiH-_d7InE]

So don't hesitate to innovate and stop worrying about the economy. If small companies such as these two can create high quality products like this on small funds and high spirit, we'll pull through. ;)

Also please note that while none of these companies have dedicated resources or large budgets to create their web presence, they both have more professional sites than most larger companies...

LOVE pre-play impressions

Sitting here watching the love tech alpha on my 37" LCD screen. It's just a flythrough of the world that loops over and over again, showing of scenes form the game and the engines dynamic day and night cycle.

It's really different from other games. It's astonishing that it's made by one person. Really impressive, check it out if you're on a PC.

The seamless music experience of Minigore

Minigore is a small promotional iPhone top down shooter created by developer Mountain Sheep. It was launched to get a publishing deal to an adventure game based on the characters, gameplay and art style that sets Minigore apart. So far so good. That Minigore is one of the best looking and most polished feedback titles in the App store doesn't make it any less good.

But what I really wanted to talk about is the seamless music experience. Minigore takes advantage of iPhone 3.0's API for the iPod player. Which means it won't stop your music when you launch Minigore. On the contrary.

The music plays through the loading screen as well as the menu and into the game itself. The game also understands that music is playing and doesn't play its own soundtrack.

Compared to playing Minigore there can be no more persuasive argument for creating seamless experiences. Whether through sound, interface or social functions. Seamlessness really does add enormous amounts of emotional goodwill to your product.

Don't believe me? Try it yourself, it's 99 cents and worth every penny.

How fast do you want your data?

Media is becoming snippets of entertainment. Don't believe me? Check out a few Ted talks or simply watch something good on youtube. The reason I can say this is because the Internet is letting people choose their entertainment on demand. They watch, read and play what they want when they want it.

But since there is a lot more media available then you can ever consume in a lifetime people are choosing to experience what they want now. We see short funny clips, but we might spend hours watching such clips. We also watch high quality TV-series or a new blockbuster movie but not nearly as much as we check blogs or mail.

The point is, media is getting smaller, quicker, more effectively made for individuals. We can either use that knowledge to create content that will appeal to the new customer behaviour or we can fight it and say that the people using content this way are just tech freak pirates anyway.

The early adopters are not copies of the next generation of media consumers, but they do show the trend. It has been that way for the past hundred years with Radio, Cinema and TV. Why would this trend be different?

Adaptive difficulty level

Difficulty in games is always a hard balance to find. Since a game is a continuous loop of events you want each iteration to be a little harder to keep engaging the player while being simple and enough to overcome with the training the player got from the previous iteration. Simply put, developers want difficulty to work for everyone and smoothly ramp upwards as the game progresses. This pacing of difficulty is really hard. And today's titles mostly do this by hand and play testing, which works great for many titles but becomes increasingly hard as games become more complex. One of my closest friend, a developer for one of Sweden's largest game development companies, has told me that a few of their titles actually have a form of adaptive difficulty level, but in my opinion the system he explained was very crude.

This is my suggestion, bear in mind that it is purely theoretical and not based on any single product though I will use the shooter genre as my general example:

Stop using levels and number of enemies as difficulty setting. These elements affect the players emotional response to situations and should be used as tools to do that. Nothing else.

Instead, use adaptive AI to make the difficulty adapt to the players performance. This system can be susceptible to breaking if it's not made to be imperceptible, which is a problem, but not near as big of a problem as pacing issues in current titles.

Take a shooter, make enemies miss ratio increase as players health diminishes, at the same time make enemies hits do less damage. Make sure however that these changes are small, I predict that changes larger then around 10% will be noticeable by players. Change things as much as needed, but strive to make it unnoticeable. Even 10% makes a huge difference. So far so good, this level of adaptability is surely used in titles already.

Next, monitor how often and how much damage a player takes, compare that to the kills or percentage of damage the player does (the percentage where 100% is a kill, this way HP won't affect the statistic). Use this data to restrict or increase the difficulty decrease. If a player scores a lot of kills and takes a lot of damage but does not die the difficulty might be good. If the player doesn't do any real damage however the difficulty is probably quite tough.

If monitored for the last 10 to 30 minutes of game time the numbers should give you a general performance for the player, in any situation and however good they get. And if a player tries to fool the system by playing badly it won't affect the balance for very long, the player that does very low damage for a half an hour might take less damage for a few minutes but the player wont win anything by playing this way and therefore has incentive not to try to cheat the system.

Of course, this adaptive system would also need balancing: how fast should it react? what statistics should be most important? Should it keep track across game sessions?  But the point is you'd only have to balance this system once. It could then balance your entire game, from tutorial to boss fights without the developers needing to tweak levels. They could instead spend their time creating interesting situations.

E3 information overload

E3 is back and with a vengeance, it's more news then ever and the quality of games has increased by an order of magnitude since the last E3. The things I've found most interesting so far are:

Motion controlling for the future by Microsoft with project Natal and by Sony with the playstation motion controller.

Games of unsurpassed quality with Uncharted 2, Assasins Creed 2, modNation Racers and God of War 3.

Did I mention that Xbox 360 is adding applications for Twitter and Facebook as well as opening the renamed Zune Video Store in Europe? The Wii gets more peripherals and circa two games but honestly, who cares?

Quality as an USP

I recently gave my first impressions on PopCap games latest casual title Plants vs Zombies. It's a really fun game that has very little in common with the other hit titles from PopCap except for one thing: quality. All of PopCaps games are genuine quality products with little if any glitches and no flimsy art that cramps their style. Well so what? It's simple, quality is lacking in a lot of big titles. And quality is the ultimate deal breaker with entertainment. Let's explore why:

Most games are quality products that have bugs, glitches or unfinished parts due to last minute feature additions or late night crunching to ship the title. This is all well and good. We seem to be selling a lot of games. But looking at the numbers in another light we also see that individual titles seem to sell less from year to year. This decline can't be solely based on one factor of course; competition, piracy mega hits like World of Warcraft have very clear effects on the sales of games. But quality is a factor that has been overlooked for a very long time from the developers point of view. Quality over a certain "it works dammit" threshold just isn't cost efficient enough.

Before I give a few examples of why this is not necessarily true let me just define what I mean with quality:

Quality doesn't mean that the game is good. It means that whatever your game or product does it does good.

You never see a Ferrari with a wobbly steering wheel. That would devastate the drivers experience of the Ferrari. Likewise you seldom see cartoon characters in real world sitcoms. Or a pinkish plastic cover, that falls off, on your new MacBook. So why is it we find crashes, graphical glitches, strange sounds and missing textures in AAA games?

Because quality was not an issue for the developer. The features were.

Look again at PopCap games, do they have the features of other casual titles? In some cases yes, in others no. Apple's iPhone isn't close to cheaper smart phones in terms of features and power. Yet it outsells them ten to one. The list goes on. But the point is that production companies might want to start looking into quality instead of features.

Maybe you don't need to be able to customize everything in the game. Maybe it just needs to look great from the start.

Coop wrong for its purpose?

Coop play is used to let players play multiplayer without the stress of competition. But does coop serve this purpose?Most coop games simply duplicate the singleplayer gameplay mechanics to create coop play, this technique inherits the problem of competition because the players are now competing for the same objectives or, worse, taking seperate paths as in Gears of War which makes play singleplay but with extra penalties of death. A more interesting use of coop are the paralell objectives for squads in Resistance 2 online multiplayer or the paralell objectives on battlefield in the upcoming RTS Battle Forge. Perhaps paralell multiplayer is a better goal for cooperative play. What do you think?

Accessability 2

A lot of core gamers and core game developers are, more or less, opposing accessibility design for the reasons that making a game accessible "dumbs down" the game or "makes the game shallow".  Players and developers pushing for accessible games claim that this is not the case. Well let's just set the record straight with some quick analysis: Accessability does dumb down gameplay and does make games more shallow.  But, this is only true for a very small part of the target demographic. This is only true for the power- or core-gamers that fully learn the micro strategies of playing a game and then use that knowledge to play on a macro strategic level. For these players games will become to simple or shallow and certainly dumbed down if we make the games more accessible.

But how many are the core gamers? We have absolutely no idea. But paying core gamers we do know. Very few games, ever, have sold more then 10 million units. But games aimed at the hardcore crowds do tend to sell close to ten million (close in the millions that is, Halo 3 sold 7 million I believe). That means that there are about 10 million core players that really don't need more accessible games. Doesn't that make accessability pointless? No. Certainly not.

How many paying players are there? We don't have a clue. What we do know is that the previous generation of home consoles (dominated by the PS2) sold over 200million units. Even if every single gamer bought two consoles that still 100million home consoles... On the handheld side the GBA sold about that many units alone. So for every core gamer there are about 10 less then core gamers actively paying for consoles and games, maybe just not as much.

This is the crowd that developers are aiming for when they're focusing on accessibility. This does not mean that all games should be accessible. After all, selling 10 million units of a game is plenty. But selling hardcore multiplayer shooters alone as the industry is doing today is simply incredibly stupid from an economical perspective. No wonder the Wii is selling so well, what else are these gamers playing? Online games some of them for sure (like the 11 million current subscribers to World of Warcraft).

So have no illusions, games are a low entry entertainment. Most gamers don't want to learn how to play a game. They don't want to compete or be the best. They simply want to play. Sound odd? Think about why PvE is more popular then PvP in MMO's or why Multiplayer didn't explode before the instant respawn became standard or why coop shooters are doing better then deathmatch shooters.

Next time I write about accessibility I'll adress what low entry entertainment really is and how to focus on it.

Death spank and odd news

Sorry for the lack of updates. Redesign and a new job makes my time short and the tech buggy as hell. I just saw the first trailer from Deathspank... yeah, thats right! It's Ron Gilbert's (anyone else who has no clue?), accoring to kotaku, "long awaited" episodic RPG/adventure.

Now re-read the previous paragraph a few times and close your mouth.

It's supposed to be a mix between Diablo and Monkey Island, and judging from the trailer I saw they seem to have hit the spot dead on. I'm excited, and not because another good game might be in the works. There are in fact a whole bunch of good games on the horizon. I'm excited because this game looks like it's really, truly, funny.

Not entertaining. Funny.

A sitcom of games if you will. Can anyone say "main-stream hit"? Readers of this blog will know that I love easy fun and that, at least I, find such entertainment really hard to find these days. Go on Guy, make a wonderful game!


Play - the new medium

Here is a short thought that you might want to consider expressing next time someone near you doesn't understand just how significant games are as a medium. Please think about how the people near you consume media. They watch movies, read books and so on and then share their experience with others. Possibly as humor or as tips for others to try, but essentially media is a connective experience.

Media connects people.

Games are interactive media. Not all interactive media are games, but all games are interactive media. And games are in majority multiplayer.

Games will therefore make the normal use of media more effective and/or easier.

Because of this, I believe that games will become not a mainstream medium. But quite possibly the mainstream media.

Please feel free to disagree, but I'm not all wrong am I?