Podcast 13: How does a gamification project compare to a big name game?

Welcome to a Question of Gamification. My name is An Coppens. I’m the show host, and also the chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation.

And today’s question is: how does a gamification or serious game project stand up in cost, benefits and impact in comparison to a big name game like a World of Warcraft, FIFA,`Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, you name it, any popular game that people are playing these days?

The first answer to this question is that it is a question of budget and resources.

Typically, the bigger name games have more budget available than most corporates are willing to pay us for a gamified process or gamification or a serious game, which is the first given. Most budgets in the corporate sector are relatively limited. And the second part is the resources available. So in gamification studios, the majority of us work in quite a lean production team, and we adopt quite a lean methodology to get to the end results. In the larger studios like Blizzard and EA who produced some of the fantastic games that we all love and would love to aspire to create someday. They work with bigger teams. They have many more stages of inputs.

We, for example, have a game designer, a graphic designer and a developer at the core of what we do.  We don’t necessarily have a story writer, a narrative writer, a level designer, several versions of graphical asset designers, several developers and in-house access to a wider skill set. So whilst it is something we’d love to aspire to, realistically, the budgets that we are given to work with don’t allow us to get us there.

Does that mean that the benefits of what we create are compromised? Well, actually, not always.  First of all the bigger studios are creating for fun and for lasting engagement and to commercially making the most out of any given game that they dream up and create. Whereas for us, the measures of success are different. Yes, it should be fun to engage in, if it is a serious game. In gamification, the purpose is always the business objective first. The benefits of a serious game and gamification is typically whether it has hit the objective that it was designed for. And the first objective is usually not, it has to be super fun.

In most cases, well, it has to attract people to join the organisation if it’s for recruitment, it has to improve sales numbers if its sales related, it has to improve skills if it’s training related. So that’s the first thing, so the objective is different. It should still in terms of fun aspects, and levels of wanting to play again be engaging enough. But some games, you will not replay over and over in a gamified setting. For example, if you’re dealing with a game for recruitment, then obviously this is not going to be repeated over and over again by the same person. The intention would be there that the person may play it for a number of times, over a short space of time, even a week, or to gain access to the highest level so that they gained interview or they gain the skills that they need to prove to deliver.

In some sense, the purpose is different. So the reusability for any one player is limited. Can it be reused for many more players? Yes, of course. That’s a given. The other thing, if, for example, and I’m thinking about recruitment games that are built for competency testing, for example, once you have the result, would you go back again, it’s different, it’s a different kind of game than a game of Fortnite, a game of FIFA or where you have levels and other types of things that you may want to create. They actually are so much harder, there’s much more to earn for so many more levels, so many more interactions and the multiplayer experience. For us, it’s back to that question: does this make sense for the purpose that we’re building?

For some learning related experience it may make sense. And that’s where simulators for quite some time have played a big part in training and for pilots, for drivers of specialists equipment, for oil rigs, etc. So in some sectors, it is worthwhile investing in something of high enough quality that can replicate reality. But that also typically means a mega investment.

So for the smaller purposes, like recruitment, like a short term intervention, even a game just to attract people to use your product, you wouldn’t necessarily need to go as far as having seven or eight or 10, or hundreds of levels. You may just be sufficient to actually have one level one simple game, and an outcome at the end of the game. It really depends what you’re after, does it stand up and look and feel as it should?

I mean, just because you’re writing or designing something for business purposes, that doesn’t mean that it should look bad. It doesn’t mean that you should compromise on a quality experience. It doesn’t mean that it should be substandard.

Recently, I was presenting a series of games that we produced for recruitment purposes. And in my view, in comparison to the game that we based the whole idea on, I think we did as good in parts and better in parts and then also worse in parts than that specific game. Pretty much because we had specific things that we wanted to test for. There was problem-solving, there was creative, resourceful thinking, there was showing the reality of life in that particular role. There were a few things that we had to incorporate, which obviously, made it more challenging in some sense to create. But also, some of the reality was grinding, in the sense that there’s repetition. For example, you will have to do maintenance on a regular basis, you will have to face up to the realities of the job, not everything is rosy. That was also something that the client wanted to convey in a game that may come across as a little bit boring.

But at the same time, a lot of games when you have to repeat levels, and especially in the casual game variety, it’s not unusual to have to do repetitive tasks over and over again, in order to reach the end of a level. Does that mean it’s less engaging? Well, we still do it. But we do it for a different purpose. We play those kinds of games for a different purpose than let’s say, a multiplayer online game where you come together at a given time to go to battle, go to war, and, you know, deploy the specific skill that you bring to the party.

In my view, it’s horses for courses, you have to always think about, okay, is this good enough to deliver for the purpose that we have? Yes. Can it be better? In most cases, probably, yes. And if it can be better done, what kind of budget do you require to make it better? Because that is the one thing that I would say most organisations don’t want to face up to. They want to buy a Ferrari on a bicycle budget. And we really do need to be realistic in what is possible? What can we do? I mean, I’m always amazed at what we can produce, even for relatively limited budgets. And, you know, that’s thanks to a great team of fantastic collaborators.

Would I love to produce the next big name game? Yeah, absolutely. I think every game designer would love to do that. Give me a budget, give me resources, give me access to the tools? And, yes, we’ll do our best to deliver.

Does it mean that a serious game or gamification should be less engaging, less fun? No, it never should. Those types of games should still be fun, they should still hit their objective, the challenges is that some of the objectives are not what we consider fun.

So getting a job is that fun? Completing a course, you know, that could be fun, because you want to learn the skill. If you’re driven by learning skills. Getting the job also can be fun if you really wanted to get that job. The hardest thing to describe is how do you describe fun?

Is it like a belly laugh fun, probably not what we will be designing for? But rather you know, a little smile a little, “Hhhmm… that was okay.” I enjoyed that. Those kinds of experiences, yes. That’s what we do design for.

I hope that answers the question, and puts certain factors into perspective, that impact gamification and game design for business reasons. Because we are not in the business of designing the next FIFA or the next World of Warcraft or the next big name game. We are in the business of delivering business results. They go with a variety of fun levels and fun experiences, and perceptions of all the things in between.

I hope that answers the question.

Do give us a rating, a like or ask us further questions. We’d love to answer them. And I hope to hear from you or meet you in real life or on any social media that we connect with. Thank you for the question and for listening or readin.

The post Podcast 13: How does a gamification project compare to a big name game? appeared first on Gamification Nation.

The final sprint is often the longest

In our gamification design and development work, we loosely follow the agile methodology. In the agile way of working the agreed tasks and priorities form part of a sprint. We do our best to work in this way and work with high, medium and low priorities on our projects. Any time we reach the end of a project, we start creating issues logs and get ready for the final sprint. The final sprint is often the longest and most tedious because the big work is out of the way and now we are effectively fiddling with details.

The emotional journey

The emotional journey of any given project goes from the excitement on winning the work and enthusiasm to start. This is soon followed by the realisation of the magnitude of the task you have taken on and at various points, throughout the project, you may go from feeling good about to feeling a bit frustrated or disheartened by it. Any time you hit a major deliverable or milestone there is a bit of rejoicing and if you can take a break to celebrate that is great, in our experience, it tends to immediately roll forward into the next phase.

I really enjoy it when I start to see a design come to live via graphics and playable parts. The development phase is high on conversations back and forward with the team to make sure everyone knows what we are working towards. Questions and suggestions often come to improve the original design or development limitations arise which means re-thinking some of the designs. The key is to give clear direction and to ensure that people can keep working and progressing to hit all the subsequent deadline.

The testing phase is where quality control and bug spotting and fixing is the order of the day. My tool of choice is an issue log in excel, where each task get’s a ranking in terms of priority and the team can then indicate where in the development it sits. It can be open, on hold, in progress, ready for a next build or resolved. This spreadsheet then becomes the driver for the activity for the final sprints.

Multiple stakeholders

In my experience of dealing with large corporates, making sure that everyone is on board with the design and to also draw lines on what can still be changed at which points if key in our work. Often when we come to final deadlines, we will hear of someone higher up in the client organisation, which has not been privy to the process from the start and has some clear opinions. With experience, you learn to draw these people into reviewing earlier in the design and development. There is no clearcut way of ensuring you won’t get some surprise views later in the phases but by asking who has final sign off and say over the projects, you will hopefully get some of them on board sooner rather than later.

In gamification and game design for corporate projects, one thing that always strikes me is that we do an awful lot of explaining and educating of what it is we actually do. Often the decision makers have no idea of game design and development and in some cases, they also have no interest in games or self-admit to be against them. The latter I find challenging to deal with. There comes a point where you just have to go into production to complete a project and not consistently debate the purpose of something. The proof is often in the experiencing of the end result.

My personal preference is to work with people on the project team that at the very least understand games from the players perspective. When we have these types of people on the client team, the whole process becomes a lot smoother and they can rationally follow why certain things work a certain way. Preferably that person is also well-respected and high enough up the food chain on the client side to help the project moving.

Good project management is key

The more project we have ongoing at any one time, the more important project management becomes. I have been told numerous times that a great project manager can do any project. Now while that is true for the basics of communication and project tracking, I don’t buy it when it comes to delivering great work. When they don’t understand your type of projects, the pitfalls relating to them and the tools we are working with, you are introducing the risk of cluelessness and for the project manager to be bought and sold by developers. Multiply the trying to buy and sell you all sorts of stories a few times when you are female, unfortunately. I have learned to arm myself with the knowledge to ensure I can spot the bluff.

A great project manager can steer a team to succeed and focus on the most important tasks that will make the biggest difference. In a recent project, I had to step in to get the project to the final sprint, because communication had fallen over, deadlines were slipping and issues were being handled in a very disorganised manner. I can’t sit back when ultimately my clients are potentially on the receiving end of something that isn’t finished.

When you are outsourcing your development to external partners, which we often do because of the varying nature of the types of work we deliver, communication is key. Our development partners are rarely in the same countries as us, so project management tools are important. We have worked with tools such as Slack for everyday conversations and questions, Trello board and other Kanban style tools such as Ora and Gitscrum as well as Basecamp and Monday for project task tracking. One thing to watch for is that communication to you as the client also includes the daily questions between teams around problems they are facing and questions they have. If this is filtered by their project management then be sure that issues will arise later as a result of interpretations of what you have said and especially if they are first time teams to work with gamification or games this can give rather surprising/shocking results.

Project cadence

You know a project is going well when there is a natural rhythm of meetings, communications, deliverables happening on time and problems being tackled head-on. Every project will have moments where it is harder to envisage a positive outcome, but with a good team, communication and perseverance we often get there. Creating the regularity of specific recurring tasks and not moving them is the base of project cadence or flow. Everyone gets into a rhythm of working towards this.

The final sprint

By the time you come to the final sprint(s), project management becomes more intense to keep a team focused on the highest priority items. At this point, everyone is probably suffering some dose of project fatigue and want’s to see it over and done with. Snag or bug fixing tends to be everyone’s least favourite task. But reaching a final deliverable that everyone can be proud of is key.

From an emotional perspective, this is often the phase that is hardest to manage. Motivationally you are asking people that have been working hard already to dig a little deeper. High detail doesn’t suit everyone and that can cause frustration and interesting conversations. I personally find this the point where I have to care about what happens. I have had people walking out and going missing in action and I have had serious arguments and then we have also had really good positive outcomes, but anything is possible. It is a case of walking a bit of a tightrope of being demanding and listening to when it is driving it to the edge.

I think that a celebration after the final sprint is essential, but only when the job is completed. Let go too soon and people become unfocused, leave it too late and people don’t seem to care anymore. However, there is great satisfaction in completing the long final sprint to the developed end product.

Gamification design, game design, instructional design, it’s all easy, or?

The post The final sprint is often the longest appeared first on Gamification Nation.