Goat rodeo, issue games, and Bycatch

When Subalekha was present­ing Bycatch at Playful back in October 2014, at some point Ian Willey tweeted the following:

I was intrigued by the expres­sion “goat rodeo” and imme­di­ately looked it up. It turns out Ian wasn’t refer­ring to games about chas­ing goats with las­sos. In stead, he’s talk­ing about situ­ations that I tend to use the term “wicked prob­lem” for. Vinay Gupta – the @leashless referred to in Ian’s tweet – has some fun and inter­est­ing things to say about goat rodeo:

For all the fancy lan­guage used in the com­plex­ity con­sult­ing trade, we all know the feel­ing – 14 people around the table, with no clear idea of where they are going, going through the motions of map­ping a com­plex prob­lem with no belief that their respect­ive organ­isa­tional chains-of-command will every approve any common-sense solu­tion to the prob­lem at hand, and slowly the cof­fee pot drains, and people con­sider their pen­sions. For all the the­ory, for all the hope for eleg­ant solu­tions, you know it when you see it and the polit­ical need is to be able to name and identify the goat rodeo when it arises, and begin to build an altern­at­ive rather than expect­ing it to be resolved in its cur­rent polit­ical form. The true goat rodeo is intract­able. When you see it, run. If you can’t run, call me.

Really, you should read the whole thing. The quad­rants and scale Vinay pro­poses are con­cep­tual tools I look for­ward to deploy­ing in the future.

I like the idea of Bycatch being a goat rodeo game. After all, con­tem­por­ary remote war­fare using drones – which is what Bycatch is about – is a goat rodeo. (Then again, maybe all of war can be con­ceived of as a goat rodeo.) I mean, in today’s drone wars we have dif­fer­ent “play­ers” with dif­fer­ent goals, and the tech­no­lo­gies intro­duced into this mix wreak havoc with human cog­nit­ive biases. Bycatch invites play­ers to act out this goat rodeo. It per­suades them to try on the mind­set aptly described by Philip Alston in a New Yorker art­icle on Obama’s drone war in Pakistan:

I think the greatest prob­lem is the men­tal­ity that accom­pan­ies drone strikes,” Philip Alston, an N.Y.U. law pro­fessor who invest­ig­ated drone attacks for the U.N. between 2004 and 2010, told me. “The iden­ti­fic­a­tion of a list of tar­gets, and if we can suc­ceed in elim­in­at­ing that list we will have achieved good things—that men­tal­ity is what drives it all: if only we can get enough of these bas­tards, we’ll win the war.”

Not too long after Playful, I was hav­ing drinks with games researcher Jussi Holopainen and we got to talk about Bycatch. He sug­ges­ted the term “issue game” to describe a cat­egory of games that Bycatch belongs to. Issue games, he told me, are defined by the fact that their mech­an­ics model the issue which the game is about. This in con­trast to many games for change, which often model the solu­tion to an issue, and there­fore typ­ic­ally leave less to the player’s ima­gin­a­tion when it comes to decid­ing their own per­spect­ive on the issue. It leaves less room for debate before, dur­ing, and after play.

I think issue games are an inter­est­ing approach. On the one hand it’s per­haps a less ambi­tious approach than some of the “save the world” type games we’ve seen in the recent past. But at the same time, I believe it is more power­ful because it puts more trust in play­ers, and their power to ulti­mately decide what a game is about. When it comes to the goat rodeo, there are no easy answers, and with Bycatch, we do not pre­sume to have any.

Posted in Featured, Thoughts | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 277

We gave and won the pitch I men­tioned last week for the Dutch Museums Association so that is very good news and makes it very likely that we’ll be able to real­ize that idea in the new year.

Standing made it out to the App Store and is look­ing amazing.

Hanging out with Lekha's dog Panther

Bycatch now has a BoardGameGeek page which we’ll fill out as we pro­gress. This is great though because now you can already put it on your wish­list and talk about it there. Weekly hangouts about pro­duc­tion and mar­ket­ing are con­tinu­ing and we’re on sched­ule for a January release of the preorders.

Kars is work­ing on the user engage­ment of Dutch recruit­ing plat­form SocialReferral. We enjoy work­ing with star­tups because the scale of their ambi­tion com­bines well with our prac­tical design approach.

We shipped the pro­duc­tion plan on our engage­ment with KLM and wrapped that up. We will con­tinue to work with them in the new year to fur­ther con­cret­ize the concept.

Cuppings our little cof­fee app got fea­tured on Product Hunt and saw a fair uptick in sales because of it.

We did a bunch of social calls around town to pre­pare plans for the new year. Kars gave a talk at Creative Mornings Utrecht notes for which you can find on his Tumblr (a video of that talk should also be forthcoming).

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 276

Last week we fin­ished a lot of stuff which is really nice.

Talk and Play

Bycatch is now ready to print thanks to the efforts of Kars and Ties. I presen­ted about the concept at Talk and Play and did an impromptu playtest both of which were very well received. We’re now plan­ning how to tell people about our game in the fol­low­ing months when it becomes avail­able. If you’re read­ing this you should go pre­order your copy and help spread the word.

Standing’s visu­ally updated app is now in the app store review pro­cess and will hope­fully make it through before the Christmas break. We fixed some last minute things and went over it once more and found that it was ready.

It turns out that the diver­si­fic­a­tion of iPhone sizes com­plic­ates things a lot. That is the reason why Cuppings still isn’t optim­ized for the new­est iPhones yet, but we are get­ting there. We are happy to report though that sales on Cuppings are brisker than ever.

The Gameful World book is now on the MIT Press web­site and it looks like it’ll be released this year yet.

I ran around Berlin to talk to lots of people and look for an interim office solution.

Kars pre­pared a pitch for the Dutch Museums Association for a game to let chil­dren exper­i­ence free­dom and the lack thereof. This should be pretty awe­some if it gets made.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Week 275

We were plenty busy this week, but much of it was “behind the screens” kind of stuff. So I will keep these notes short, for a change.

Alper had a bunch of meet­ings, ran another Game Designers Anonymous, did some devel­op­ment on Standing, and planned mar­ket­ing of Bycatch.

Kars also had his fair share of meet­ings, and focused on pro­duc­tion of Bycatch, which cul­min­ated in deliv­ery of the final art­work from Agnes, of which see a sneak pre­view below.

Bycatch artwork teaser

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , | Comments closed

PRACTICE 2014 recap

This year’s PRACTICE, the game design con­fer­ence at NYU Gamecenter, was as great as expec­ted. It’s really nice to be sur­roun­ded by game design­ers for a couple of days and to be able to dis­cuss game design in detail. As Frank Lantz put it in the intro­duc­tion: “Game design is a sick­ness and the only cure is more game design.”

The over­all level was great but here is a list of ses­sions that espe­cially stood out for me. I would recom­mend check­ing out the record­ings of these talks when they are up.

Holly Gramazio

Holly Gramazio did an excel­lent over­view of per­vas­ive games, cov­er­ing both its his­tory and the myriad of games that she has cre­ated and facil­it­ated. She divided per­vas­ive games into three main cat­egor­ies: ‘the scav­enger hunt’, ‘the blind­fold game’ and ‘tak­ing cer­tain kind of pic­tures’ and high­lighted prob­lems with all of these, many of which were pretty familiar.

David Kanaga pled for a form­al­ism that pushes things for­ward in a present­a­tion that used the his­tory of philo­sophy as a mind bomb. David’s writ­ing has been a great inspir­a­tion for us and it was nice to see his meta-philosophy being presen­ted in real life.

Samantha Kalman ran us through years of pro­to­types that finally led to Sentris. To see this devel­op­ment was illu­min­at­ing from per­spect­ives of game design, inter­face design and music the­ory. I don’t think there are pro­fes­sional or cas­ual music apps that have a sim­ilar approach to access­ib­il­ity and iter­at­ive development.

Netrunner teaching

Lukas Litzsinger went over the reboot of Netrunner and the numer­ous design decisions that went into that. Netrunner is a stu­dio favour­ite that is more or less com­puls­ory for game design­ers to play. Hearing this talk when you’re in the pro­cess of pro­du­cing a card game your­self was pretty intimidating.

Zach Gage gave a high-density talk using sci­ence about how to design games for prob­lem solv­ers and how to turn people into bet­ter prob­lem solv­ers. It boiled down to cre­at­ing sand­boxes for people to play in and be able to form their own mod­els before being faced with prob­lems. The slides are online already and I recom­mend work­ing through them yourself.

These talks should prove a good taste of what PRACTICE was about. I’m already look­ing for­ward to next year’s event.

Posted in Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 274

At the start of this week Alper was still in NYC after enjoy­ing another excel­lent edi­tion of PRACTICE. He did some work on Bycatch with Subalekha and oth­er­wise enjoyed the city before head­ing back to Europe on Tuesday.

While he was mak­ing the cross­ing, I par­ti­cip­ated in the first Tegenlicht meetup in Utrecht. We watched the epis­ode on the maker move­ment and sub­sequently had a nice little debate with the episode’s dir­ector. I also briefly presen­ted on how “mak­ing” fig­ures in Hubbub’s prac­tice and why we appre­ci­ate work­ing from “maker space” Vechtclub XL, using Camparc as my main example.

Most of my time this week was taken up by work on Bycatch. I sketched out the explan­at­ory illus­tra­tions that will be part of the rules. Our bril­liant editor Natalye got the rules’s text in good shape for pub­lic­a­tion. Agnes sent us a cross-section of all the art­work. On Thursday I went over to Pony Design Club to do rough lay­outs of the game’s rules, box and cards with my brother Ties.

Laying out Bycatch rules at Pony Design Club

I also did a little work on Standing together with Simon. We were so close to ship­ping the visual update when we all of a sud­den had to deal with those new iPhones. As a res­ult we’ve been mas­sa­ging the app’s autores­iz­ing set­tings in Xcode to get to com­pat­ib­il­ity. Nearly there.

We wrapped up the week with two events. I par­ti­cip­ated in an event organ­ised by Rezone on games for urban devel­op­ment. Alper, mean­while, mod­er­ated a panel on smart cit­ies at #lab4city. By all accounts he did a great job.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 273

Last week Kars and I crossed con­tin­ents. He came back from hol­i­day in Seoul (check out his visual food report) on the day I flew out to New York to attend PRACTICE.

I spent the week doing some admin­is­tra­tion, review­ing cur­rent pro­jects among which Standing and pack­ing. I’m also organ­iz­ing the fourth edi­tion of Game Designers Anonymous at our stu­dio in Berlin.

After work­ing on Bycatch in London with the three of us, it was con­veni­ent for me to be in New York and be able to work on it with Subalekha. We had a mara­thon hangout ses­sion with Kars from the Impact HUB to go over the copy for the rules before Natalye Childress does the final edit.

PRACTICE was just as great as last year with lots of amaz­ing people present and a slew of insight­ful talks. The talk about Netrunner by Lukas Litzsinger espe­cially hit home both because the game is a stu­dio favor­ite and because we are in the pro­cess of design­ing a card game ourselves and see­ing his pro­cess was rather humbling.


I met too many game design prac­ti­tion­ers at PRACTICE to count. During the week I hung out mostly with old Amsterdam friend Peter Robinett of Bubble Foundry and Paper + Equator (Subalekha’s design firm).

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 272

Last week was a fairly quiet week over at the stu­dio. Kars did the deliv­ery for our engage­ment over at KLM and then got ready to go on hol­i­day to Seoul where he is right now.

Bycatch was fea­tured over at Killscreen with a very nice article.

I was sick for most of the week but I did make it over to Amsterdam to hold a work­shop at ThingsCon there on Friday together with Ianus. We did a ses­sion called “Playful Devices Improv” and every­body had a lot of fun think­ing of new approaches to con­nec­ted products. We asked par­ti­cipants to take kit­chen devices and come up with a char­ac­ter for them. With these char­ac­ters they would then have to devise stor­ies and finally these stor­ies were acted out over the kit­chen counter.



The groups did really well, each one had sev­eral inter­est­ing finds and as a whole the work­shop really showed that adding fric­tion to situ­ations can be more pro­duct­ive than start­ing from a func­tional per­spect­ive. And even though we ran the work­shop fairly free­form, the ideation that came out of it was as good or maybe even bet­ter than what you would get in a more formal setting.


On Saturday I vis­ited the Interface Critique event at the University of the Arts in Berlin which was an inter­est­ing con­trast from the applied think­ing at ThingsCon the day before.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 271

These week­notes are late because of some irreg­u­lar­it­ies in the stu­dio. Kars is cur­rently enjoy­ing a hol­i­day in Seoul while I have been sick for most of the week. Last week was event­ful so there are the week­notes anyway.

Last Monday we finally got around to doing our Q3 OKR review with optim­istic res­ults. In the even­ing we caught up with Jussi Holopainen of GEElab who was in Utrecht for the Games for Health event.

During this entire week we kept on test­ing and tun­ing Bycatch. After hav­ing opened pre­orders last week at Playful we need to get it into shape to ship quickly. Thankfully we did crack some of the big­ger game design nuts and we now have a game on our hands that is fun and does what it needs to do.

We are inch­ing towards releas­ing the new ver­sion of Standing. Those new iPhone mod­els were a bit of a set­back but pro­gress is steady. The team would love to have this out there so we can take a breather.

We con­sul­ted with Sebastian on KLM and did a bunch of work to fin­ish that engage­ment for final deliv­ery. It has been a pleas­ure work­ing with them and find­ing a solu­tion fit­ting for their prob­lem space. We may be writ­ing some more stuff about what we pro­duced later.

I met up with Berlin based Affective Systems to tie up that engage­ment as well. This one was dif­fer­ent in almost all respects but because it is an early stage star­tup we think that this is the ideal moment to start think­ing about how play can add value to the product.

We brain­stormed with Ianus for our upcom­ing work­shop at Thingscon Amsterdam. What we thought would be the most fun and the most inter­est­ing was to mashup the works of Keith Johnstone and Bill Buxton and see whether we can impro­vise a bunch of play­ful devices that talk to each other.

Kars ran a work­shop at the uRule sym­posium about smash­ing the bor­der between online and off­line and met with Rosie Poebright of Splash and Ripple (pic­tured below).

Splash and Ripple's Rosie Poebright talking about the wonderful Ghosts in the Garden

On Friday we had a call to dis­cuss fur­ther details of Bycatch with Subalekha. Kars met up with Jamin Warren to talk through the Kill Screen panel on video games and affect at Impakt Festival.

Setting up for Kill Screen panel on games and affect at IMPAKT festival

On the week­end Kars appeared on that panel. I atten­ded the first Berlin Producthunt meetup and I worked a bit on remaindered pro­jects: a new release of Cuppings should be out soon.

Producthunt Meetup

And in ran­dom facts we were pleas­antly sur­prised to hear King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands men­tion the Pig Chase pro­ject in a speech.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed

Week 270

My week star­ted with the second day of the Asia-Europe Culture Ministers Meeting (ASEM)‘s work­shop on play­ful cit­ies. It was a huge pleas­ure spend­ing two days with tal­en­ted peers from Europe, many of whom’s work I admire greatly. It was equally great to meet Asian prac­ti­tion­ers and hear about the big dif­fer­ences in their local con­texts. By the end of the day we had gone very, very deep into the chal­lenges of lever­aging a play doc­trine to for­mu­late a coun­ter­ar­gu­ment to the pre­vail­ing smart cit­ies rhet­oric. One com­ment I pos­ted about this got a very pro­duct­ive dis­cus­sion between some big thinkers in the field over at Facebook.

ASEM Playful Cities workshop LEGO creations

In the mean­time Alper traveled by train to the Netherlands and got a decent amount of work in, pro­cessing the out­comes from his work with Affective Systems and resub­mit­ting All-Seeing Eye proposal.

The whole of Tuesday was taken up by our third and for the moment final work­shop with KLM. Now all that is left for us to do is doc­u­ment all the out­comes and deliver them, after which we’ll start explor­ing next steps.

On Wednesday, a fun inter­view with us about our way of work­ing together remotely was pub­lished in Dutch on Achter het Scherm.

I spent most of that day and the next fin­ish­ing up the web­site for Bycatch and then traveled to London on Thursday, as did Alper.

That Friday, we atten­ded Playful, where Subalekha talked about our work on Bycatch so far, and we flipped the switch on pre­orders. If you want to be one of the first to own a copy of this card game about drone sur­veil­lance and remote war­fare, go on and click that “add to cart”-button.

Playful was a pleas­ure as always, with standout ses­sions (as far as I’m con­cerned) from Aardman’s Dan Efergan and George Rowe on easter eggs in video­games, Boneloaf’s James Brown on the mak­ing of Gang Beasts and Ida Marie Toft’s lovely and weird hybrid performance-game Lovebirds.

Team Bycatch united at last

The day after Playful, while watch­ing the first orders trickle in via our Slack-Stripe integ­ra­tion, we made good use of the oppor­tun­ity of being all three phys­ic­ally co-present and furi­ously tweaked and tuned Bycatch’s rules.

I traveled back that same even­ing. Alper stuck around for a Cuppings cof­fee tast­ing exped­i­tion in Fitzrovia and headed back on Sunday.

While recov­er­ing from a pretty intense week, our friends at ThingsCon Amsterdam announced the work­shop Alper and Ianus will run on play­ful product design.

Posted in Weeknotes | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments closed