Announcing Camparc – a public space game for STRP

Over the course of the next two months we will be creating a new public space game commissioned by art and technology festival STRP. The game carries the working title Camparc and Hubbub codename FUNKOROGASHI. It will be playable September 12–14 at Strijp-S—a Philips industrial site converted into city neighbourhood. Read on below for a sneak preview of what we have planned. STRP have also posted an announcement in Dutch.

Strijp-S overview

Camparc consists of large-scale, connected objects with built-in cameras. Players can freely move these “camera toys” around Strijp-S, using its streets, squares and furniture as a playing field, obstacle course or race track. Meanwhile, the toys will capture the players and the space and show the footage back to them on screens placed in the same space. Besides free play, we will also suggest games to play using the toys, described in simple written rulesets placed at strategic spots in the game’s area.

The project is inspired by Katamari, goal line technology, new games earth balls, camera surveillance, selfie poles, panoramic camera balls, skateboarding and Parkour. We hope it will produce an eye-catching, fun and inclusive experience which invites players to reflect on new ways of tech-aided looking and mapping.

Camparc moodboard

We have invited Aldo Hoeben to join us for this project. Aldo is a veritable wizard when it comes to installations involving photography and video. Keep an eye on our weeknotes to follow the game’s development in the coming weeks and mark your calendars—we’d love to have you over to play.

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Week 256

Last week I traveled to Utrecht to do some maintenance work on an old project. I took the opportunity to work at our Utrecht office and check out the Vechtclub XL’s new cafe De Klub. I am severely impressed how the venue is shaping up to become Utrecht’s number one destination. Another old project that saw some work—summer time being maintenance time—was Beestenbende for which we shipped a new release.

The big event for the week was closing FUNKOROGASHI and kicking off development for it in rapid succession. This is going to be an installation game for STRP festival which we’ll be posting more on this week.

Playtesting KEGANI at Dutch Game Garden

Kars and I playtested KEGANI which is shaping up nicely. It’s a fast paced card game with a serious payload. Kars then also tested it at the Subcultures game night at the Dutch Game Garden. We talked a bit more about studio strategy and how that is influenced by the realign of a couple of weeks ago. That discussion helped us to further polish our tagline to “design studio for playful products” which we think is concise and covers everything.

TI

I traveled back to Berlin on Thursday evening and did some remaindered sales work on Friday before heading to our local esports cafe Meltdown to watch the opening games of The International. I’m a big fan of Cloud9 who unfortunately have been knocked out of the tournament as I’m writing this.

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Week 255

This week started on a high note with the opening of restaurant De Klub at Vechtclub XL—the creative workspace in which our Utrecht studio is located. It is a lovely space serving good food and drink (including fine coffees) but most importantly a great place for serendipitous encounters with other Vechtclub residents and people from outside of the building.

De Klub opening day

Much of my attention was dedicated to getting project FUNKOROGASHI set up. On Monday I adjusted the proposal we had sent out earlier with a new concept Alper and I had come up with in Berlin the previous week. On Thursday I headed over to Eindhoven for a meeting with the client. We discussed and adjusted the concept, then went out for a tour of Strijp-S which will be the site of the project. When I got back I immediately banged out a third iteration of the proposal and sent it out, ready for signing.

Exploring Strijp-S Eindhoven

Meanwhile Alper went hunting for a rather elusive Beestenbende bug. With help from the mighty Chris Eidhof he eventually managed to locate and fix it.

We were also pleased to sign a contract for a new project with KLM which we’ve codenamed KUMA. It’s concept development, which includes workshops and studio work, aimed at providing insight into the possibilities of game-based learning for a particular application domain. This will kick off next month and we are very much looking forward to it.

Dutch news weekly Vrij Nederland published a piece on coffee and was kind enough to include a link Cuppings—our super simple app for finding great coffee near you. This immediately propelled it into the app store charts again.

Cuppings mention in Vrij Nederland

I finally found the time to write up and publish the talk I gave some time ago at a Behavior Design Amsterdam meetup. It’s an attempt to describe an alternative approach to design for behaviour change which puts people first and strives to increase in stead of diminish their agency.

Throughout the week we had numerous meetings. Alper welcomed a group of students from Belarus to the studio who were on an outing organised by the Heinrich Böll Foundation. He also entertained friends-of-the-studio Ernst-Jan Pfauth and Justus Bruns. I met with curator Ine Gevers to discuss games and art, visited our friends Perceptor at their the Hague studio and talked interaction design education with Viktor Wijnen who has just become head of the game and interaction design program at the Utrecht School of the Arts, my alma mater.

We also visited a Utrecht escape room and once again failed to solve it in time. I did however manage to nail one whole puzzle, largely thanks to its visual nature.

The week ended for me with a very welcome monthly Bierclub (“beer club”) in the sun at De Klub. Over the weekend I watched a few games of Dota 2 at The International and Smash Bros and Street Fighter at EVO. Meanwhile in Berlin, Alper tells me he caught up on email.

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Five Behaviour Design Principles You Never Suspected Would Work

A while ago, I was invited by friend-of-the-studio Iskander Smit to speak at a Behavior Design Amsterdam meetup. Much of our work is related to behaviour change, but we try to steer clear of the reductionist thinking that is quite prevalent in the field. So I decided to use the opportunity of presenting to a room full of professional “behaviour designers” to try and destabilise some of those ideas. What follows is a summary of what I talked about, plus a section I had to skip due to time constraints.

Aerobie

As a first provocation I showed this joyful image of a girl throwing an aerobie. It is considered the best frisbee ever. Its inventor is Alan Adler who would later go on to create the awesome aeropress coffee maker. To me, this is a superb example of the kind of behaviour design I think we should aspire to. Something that makes us more human, not less so.

Girl throwing aerobie

COM-B system

Around the end of 2013 and the beginning of 2014 we were involved with a project in the healthcare field. We created concepts for products that would help people lead healthier lives. Sadly that work is all under NDA so we can’t get into specifics. But I can share some useful theory we were introduced to, and a playful design tactic we employed.

The COM-B system which is described in an open-access journal article offers a coherent and comprehensive way of thinking about how to affect behaviour through various kinds of interventions.

In this project we used the system to help us evaluate our designs for potential effectiveness. It can also be super useful for constraining your design space beforehand.

Article describing COM-B system

However, it did not help us with inventing interventions that would be interesting to engage in from an individual person’s perspective. To be fair, this isn’t the goal of the COM-B system. But it was something we ran into in this “behaviour design” project. The tendency to create a system that goes about driving behaviour in a purely instrumental way is hard to fight.

We designed our way out of this by using a tactic that I think might be of use to others as well. For a while, we found ourselves painstakingly trying to remove all sources of friction from the product. In doing so we also removed many opportunities for surprise, delight and expression.

So in the end we went back and actually made those sources of friction things for users to deal with, in a playful way. We used this playfulness to frame the activities we would like people to engage in. As a result they became fun to do, in stead of a chore.

“Fun is only fun when it is stupid”

So there is a tension in designing for behaviour change between instrumental rationality and playfulness. It is captured in a wonderful way in a story that Dave Eggers tells about a visit to the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut. He goes there to see 70s revival band Starship play live. A friend of his has joined the band for the occasion and they’re being very snobby and ironic about it.

But at the end of the night to his own surprise Eggers finds himself singing and dancing to the music along with the rest of the audience. “Fun is only fun when it is stupid,” he writes and I think this is almost always true. There might be certain kinds of fun which aren’t completely stupid, but I think we have to acknowledge that there is something deeply irrational about all sources of human enjoyment. As designers we ignore this irrationality at our own peril.

Starship performing

Yellow Claw

As a further example of this tension I contrasted an Apple ad that I spotted in the New Yorker with a video by Dutch trap music production outfit Yellow Claw.

The ad, which is part of the Your Verse campaign, shows sumo wrestlers using an ipad to analyse their movements. So technology is used to make a very messy human pursuit legible, measurable and quantifiable. This is how Apple markets their tools.

Apple Your Verse sumo wrestlers ad in New Yorker

The music video is for a song titled Krokobil which is a weird pun on the Dutch words for crocodile and buttocks. A krokobil is a crocobutt. I’ll leave the lyrics of the rest of the song to your imagination. In short, this is stupid fun in the Eggers sense of the word. But here’s the rub: Krokobil is made with the same kind of tools Apple markets as machines for making the immeasurable measurable, the very opposite of stupid fun.

“If you can measure it, then it’s not the change I want to see”

It’s not just a matter of acknowledging the human desire for irrational pleasure. Contemporary capitalism is in love, or perhaps more accurately in lust, with gamification. Measuring the immeasurable as gamification does is the first step towards commodification. Today’s tech industry privileges instrumental rationality over other modes of human thinking and doing. This approach favours propagating existing institutions over (re)inventing new ones.

So in the cases when we want to transform things connected to the status quo, we should also transform the practice of how we determine change. All of this and more is passionately argued for by Paolo Pedercini at Indiecade East 2014.

Tweet by Bogost quoting Pedercini at Indiecade East 2014

Communities of play

As Pedercini points out, computing technology is great at counting things. This is fine and useful in many cases. But this does not mean we should always count things, or try to make everything countable. The question is: How do we allow for less rational and arguably more human ways of acting within the context of technological or computational systems?

Breeze

One way suggested by Pedercini is to push parts of a system’s rules outside of the software and into the social physical space of people using it. This is a tactic we have employed ourselves as well.

A great example would be the “no-graphics digitally-enabled playground game” Johann Sebastian Joust. It uses technology, but a large part of the game is socially negotiated. Douglas Wilson, the game’s designer, calls this “deputising players”.

Johann Sebastian Joust

Our game Beestenbende has similar characteristics. We use an app as a game master of sorts, but it is the players who we depend on for upholding the rules.

Beestenbende

These kinds of games, and products that share their dependence on social negotiation, are more malleable by the groups of people using them. This is similar to what Bernie DeKoven describes in The Well-Played Game. He talks about communities of play and how the ability to jointly change the rules of any game they are playing is super important for its continued existence. From this perspective players are always more important than any particular game. Extending this to the subject of this talk: People are always more important than any particular persuasive product.

People playing with earth ball at New Games event

Adding degrees of freedom

Another tactic is suggested by David Kanaga in a response to Eric Zimmerman’s ludic century manifesto. At one point Kanaga proposes an alternative to traditional gamification, which he calls “soft gamification”. It is aimed at increasing possibility spaces as a opposed to making things measurable and decreasing uncertainty.

“Soft gamification solves no quantifiable problems; instead, it poses questions. It merely takes an activity/situation, and ADDS DEGREES OF FREEDOM such that it is more malleable (more PLAYED, more of a game).”

Kanaga discusses the same idea in a different way in a talk at GDC 2014 which is every bit as brilliant as the aforementioned ludic century post. Using music theory as a lens for understanding games, at one point he introduces flux dogma: “allow all constants to become variables”.

Tweet by Heather Kelley quoting David Kanaga at GDC 2014

Flux dogma is best explained through examples. Kanaga himself is fond of using Infinite Sketchpad. In this case, the constant that is the traditional drawing canvas is made variable.

Playing with Infinite Sketchpad

A less obvious example is Proteus, for which Kanaga created all the sound and music. In this “wildlife simulator” the player roams a procedurally generated island. Every piece of scenery she encounters has sound attached to it, in a non-binary way. Meanwhile with the passage of time the island continuously changes. There is a day/night cycle and a passing of seasons. Kanaga offers “shifting possibility space” as a definition of what a game is. Proteus fully embodies this.

Proteus

This idea of adding degrees of freedom connects to Pedercini’s resistance to measurable change as a way of institutional reform. Behaviour design often happens at the individual level. But true change also requires intervention at higher levels of abstraction. It is here that adding degrees of freedom is of most importance.

Two further examples of shifting possibility spaces, before I conclude with a note on ethics.

Open-endedness

When we made Victory Boogie Woogie, we took on the challenge of connecting literature with playfulness and ended up with something like a playground for writing.

For this we were hugely inspired by the practice of tabletop roleplaying games and storytelling games. A great example would be Fiasco, which enables a group of players within the timespan of one evening to tell a Coen brothers-esque tale of small-time criminals meeting unfortunate fates.

Storygames like Fiasco support a generous form of play. Play that is non-instrumental. The rules are there to support the players and not the other way around.

Shifting possibility spaces like Fiasco, Victory Boogie Woogie, Proteus, Infinite Sketchpad, Beestenbende and Joust enable a different kind of change. One that is not easily measured by virtue of being socially negotiated. One that adds degrees of freedom in stead of reducing uncertainty. These qualities support a more ethical way of using technology for behaviour change. Finally, they start from an understanding that many sources of enjoyment are fundamentally irrational.

Ethics

Ethics is a major concern of mine when it comes to what I see going on in the behaviour design field. Most often, the question of ethics is reduced to this: Behaviour designers should use their awesome powers for good. The issue I have with this is that it presupposes perfect translation of a designer’s intent into a product, and from the product into a user’s behaviour. It should be obvious that this is a wholly unrealistic depiction of how tech culture actually is constructed, deployed and used.

In stead of limiting ethics to a question of designer intent, behaviour designers who are concerned with ethics should take their audience seriously and allow for them to be full participants in the shaping of a system’s workings. I would argue that a product that does not allow for the kind of user appropriation that I have been describing so far is inherently unethical.

This position is hugely inspired by Miguel Sicart’s article Against Procedurality which questions the fetishisation of systems in the games industry. It is about games, but I would argue it equally applies to any technological product. By way of explanation I’ll offer two short quotes:

“Without the player there are no ethics or politics, no values and no messages. Objects can have embedded values, technology can be political, but only inasmuch as there is a human who makes the politics.”

“Against procedurality an army of players stand and play, breaking the rules, misunderstanding the processes, appropriating the spaces of play and taking them somewhere else, where not even the designer can reach.”

Pig Chase

As an example of how this could work, I will point to the game Pig Chase, which we designed and developed together with the Utrecht School of the Arts and Wageningen University. It is a game people play together with pigs. Humans get an iPad app, pigs get a custom display which responds to their touch in their pen. They are invited to coordinate their movements and “dance” along a sequence of goals which triggers colourful fireworks.

Pig Chase is about how we as humans relate to these animals, but there is a lot of ambiguity built into the design. There is no clear message we are pushing. In stead, we allow humans and pigs to play together and in the process come to their own conclusions about the topics such as pig farming, meat consumption and animal intelligence. It is a great example of adding degrees of freedom, and it is also a good example of allowing for socially negotiated play (in this case across species).

Pig Chase

The scientist and the mouse

One of my favourite takes on how games work their special kind of magic is from Frank Lantz:

“Games are Skinner boxes in which you are both the scientist and the mouse. You pretend to care, and then you get to experience what it means to care, only at one remove, like, with a clipboard.”

It is this double loop of action and reflection happening at the same time which I think is also vital for a kind product for behaviour change which does not just propagate existing states of affairs, but also invents new ones and transforms existing ones.

To do this, we need to always remind ourselves of the irrational side of human behaviour. To strive to make room for it, in stead of reducing it. So I’ll end similar to how I started. Like the aerobie, the game Animal Upon Animal is an example of the kind of behaviour design that inspires me. I would invite you to play it and study it. And the next time when you sit down to design a behaviour change product, think back to it. Can you create an experience that is equally social, dynamic and open to change?

Girl playing Animal Upon Animal

I collected links to most of the articles and projects referenced in this talk at my tumblr.

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Week 254

Last week was travel heavy for both of us but Kars joining me here in Berlin on Tuesday (after I got back from Barcelona on Monday) meant we could get things done that required our combined presence.

Most importantly we did our second quarter OKR review. The OKR results were informative and motivated us to take things a step further. Q2 has seen us getting a huge amount of press and publicity for the things we have done (you can read that back in the weeknotes) and the question we asked ourselves is how to best put that attention to use.

Peter and Alper's messy desk

The OKR review also helped guide a long overdue rewrite of Hubbub’s offering. We are pleased to say that we are now a studio that does ‘digital product design for a playful world’. We adjusted most of the copy on the website and wrote a blogpost about the new direction in an afternoon.

I posted a piece to Medium that is tangentially related concerning designing based on user wants. Wants these days are indistinguishable from needs anyway. I got some nice feedback on that piece and the experience of writing on Medium is smooth (though also similar to current studio favorite Quip). We have some more writing forthcoming in this vein that challenges the status quo in product and service design.

The proposals we have on deck are moving forward with one pending for a festival which promises to be a lot of fun and should go into production soon. The other ones are moving forward with some concluding and others being pushed back while awaiting a round of funding.

We are also continuing working on our card game KEGANI with Subalekha Udayasankar and we are at the point where it can be tweaked endlessly. That means that the game is fun already but that there is still a lot of work left to be done.

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A new direction for the studio

"Everything is play(able)"

Today we’ve updated our front page and about page to reflect a new direction for the studio: digital product design for a playful world.

The way we see it, playfulness has become an important quality for a wide range of products. It invites people into an experience, enables them to connect to others and express themselves, and offers a way for them to understand the world.

The things we find ourselves working on nowadays aren’t necessarily “games” in the strict sense of the world. We have a very relaxed attitude about what games are and have always pushed the boundaries of the form in both our applied and free work. But although the group of people who share our views has grown, the reality is that for many people still, a game is a very specific category of media product. And so when they are introduced to Hubbub as a game design studio, they aren’t always able to imagine how we might help them with inventing and building other types of products that are playful and engaging.

So we’ve decided to bid the label of games and game design farewell and instead frame our work in the more general terms of products and design while retaining the notion of playfulness. In doing so, we hope to invite a wider range of clients and collaborators to work with us on new and exciting things.

Of course, this does not mean we are no longer interested in games and game-like projects. We are proud of the body of work we have built up over the years. The games will stay in our portfolio and in fact we are working on a few new ones right now. We hope to continue to do so, while at the same time expanding our range into more things similar to Cuppings, Standing and so on. Things that aren’t recognisable as games per se but that are in fact deeply playful in various ways.

As we get settled on this new direction, you can expect more changes in the coming period. And of course we’d love to hear your thoughts. So as ever, do get in touch.

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Week 253

We kicked off the week with a review of the latest sprint on Standing. The app now has a completely new look. Aside from a few final tweaks we deemed it ready to ship. For the next sprint we decided to focus on getting the web site aligned with the new look.

That same day I prepared and delivered a This happened talk on Ripple Effect. It was fun to dig through the archives and collect artefacts from the game’s production. Many of the project’s team were present and afterwards we agreed it had been one hell of a ride.

On Tuesday I headed to FreedomLab in Amsterdam for a closed workshop with Eric Gordon on what he calls “engagement games”. The Mobile City had collected a diverse group of thinkers and makers and it was a pleasure to spend the better part of a day reflecting on issues that have been part of our work ever since Hubbub started.

Alper left for Barcelona on Wednesday, from where he would spend the remainder of the week doing maintenance work and sampling the city’s many delights.

On Thursday, I visited TU Delft on invitation of Ianus to attend the final presentations of a group of BA industrial design students who had created physical games and toys for Id-8. Many designs featured innovative use of mechanisms or materials while remaining simple and affordable to produce.

The week ended for me with another playtest of KEGANI, this time at the Dutch Game Garden, with a couple of seasoned game professionals. Alper had done a test earlier in the week with his newly minted “game designers anonymous” meetup group. This second iteration was an improvement over the first and the idea is still received with great enthusiasm. Nonetheless, based on the test outcomes I would say we have our work cut out for us; many different directions appear equally promising from here on out.

A final note on logistics: Kars will be in Berlin working from our Kreuzberg studio together with Alper.

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Week 252

Last week we were again in lots of talks with people for potential future projects. We are getting a lot of attention on many fronts so we are rather pleased about that.

On Tuesday Nina Polak of Dutch online journalism platform De Correspondent published an interview with us that we are very pleased with. It is unfortunate that it is in Dutch because it is a very nice portrayal of the kind of things we do and want to do. We got a bunch of responses and inquiries based on that interview through many channels which was a nice side effect.

The rest of the week we were busy working on the next release of Standing which is looking rather stunning. The app is getting a whole new visual style designed by Simon Scheiber and we can’t wait to have it in an app store near you.

Kars started work on his talk on Ripple Effect for the 20th This Happened Utrecht which is happening tonight. Attend that if you can, I hear they suddenly got more space.

Playing at being a frog

The week ended with me attending the birthday of Wigwam and the house warming of EyeEm here in Berlin and with Kars going to Den Bosch to meet friends and play games at the Playful Arts Festival.

Games for People by Pat Ashe and George Buckenham

Logistically I will be in Barcelona later this week and Kars will be in Berlin later this month.

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Week 251

We kicked off this week on Tuesday following the extra-long Pentecost weekend with a review of the work that lead up to Standing’s launch at Mediamatic. After taking stock of the way it was received, we strategised a bit and settled on a direction for the next few iterations. We drew up a list of things to work on for the next sprint, and decided to lower the pace a bit; two-week iterations in stead of one.

Standing course at Take a Stand

On Friday we had another session specifically looking at a new visual design Simon has come up with for the app. This will be a huge improvement over the current “placeholder” design and I can’t wait to start implementing it in Xcode.

Another thing which took up considerable amounts of my attention this week was a lecture for the regional division of the “Beter Benutten” platform, which works to improve mobility nation-wide. Their focus has shifted from improving infrastructure to “behaviour change” so I headed over to share our approach to this, going over such things as the COM-B system, Sebastian’s MAO model, strategic design and lots of examples of innovative projects in the mobility space.

We closed off the week with a hangout with Subalekha to go over the results from mine and Alper’s playtests of KEGANI. The direction this is headed looks promising so we’ve committed to doing another iteration of the rules and playtesting again, which should happen over the course of the next two weeks.

In between we had a number of meetings connected to possible new projects and also sent out a couple of proposals. The amount of interest we’re getting from all sorts of fields is very heartening. It’s one of those phases in the studio’s life cycle where there is a ton of potential new stuff up in the air and we are waiting for something to coalesce into definitiveness.

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Week 250

Last week I was in the Netherlands to wrap up some stuff at our Utrecht studio and to discuss a realign of the studio (more on that later!). On Tuesday I caught up with some people in Amsterdam and on Wednesday I made my way back to Berlin, just in time for the games.net summer party, always a great event for people making games in Berlin.

Games.net summer thing

On the projects front: the SHIJIMI proposal needed some adjustment before being final. There is a bunch more stuff in the pipes that will make its way into a future weeknote. Standing got written up on Bright. We are glad about the attention it is getting and we’re now in talks about development. Kars met up with a couple of Dutch cultural attachés to talk about the role games and play can take in the Netherlands’ representation abroad.

Thursday evening I organized a get-together at our Berlin studio for game designers to discuss open problems together and find solutions. This proved to be immensely valuable and will likely become a regular thing.

Kars playtested KEGANI, a game we’re making together with Subalekha Udayasankar and we’re really excited about the results from that.

Playtesting KEGANI

I did maintenance on (your daily) Victory Boogie Woogie on Friday before I went to an event in the Grüner Salon about the protests in Taksim.

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