Week 295

The vast major­ity of our time this week was spent on SHACHI. I draf­ted copy, Alper did soft­ware devel­op­ment and Tim worked on art­work. Next week we’ll playtest the first beta.

I what time remained, I did the odd bits of design dir­ec­tion on BANKEN, which has transitioned into pro­duc­tion. As a res­ult my role has shif­ted to a less hands-on one.

Next week is A MAZE in Berlin. Alper atten­ded a big edi­tion of Talk and Play which served as a sort of pre­lude to it.

As we inch ever closer to the offi­cial launch of Bycatch, we took care of a few more mar­ket­ing tasks. Alper talked to a big German news­pa­per and I worked with Ties on addi­tional images for our press kit.

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Week 294

Here are some brief (belated) notes on last week.

Project SHACHI saw good pro­gress. I pinned down the game design for the first beta in a bunch of screen sketches on index cards and some state mod­els on white­board. Alper con­tin­ued to do soft­ware devel­op­ment on the pro­to­type in Unity while Tim fur­ther developed the artwork.

I reviewed the high fidel­ity pro­to­type for BANKEN and also joined Bureau Drop for a present­a­tion to the client.

Lekha, Alper and I had another call about Bycatch in which we planned the offi­cial launch, which I am happy to report will be at TWO5SIX. A fuller announce­ment will fol­low in due course but you heard it here first!

Alper pre­pared and gave a present­a­tion at CounterPlay in Århus. He reports: “The con­fer­ence was a lot of fun and I met a lot of people who think play is the future.”

Finally, I atten­ded the first Hacking Habitat lec­ture. Saskia Sassen talked on the theme of “How to Be Seen”. She described how high fin­ance has the tend­ency to make cer­tain groups of people super­flu­ous. They are pushed out and no longer offi­cially accoun­ted for. Zihni Özdil provided a brief response in which he argued that crit­ics of neo­lib­er­al­ism should make an effort to com­mu­nic­ate their con­cerns in plain lan­guage. Otherwise, the people affected by it the most are simply not reached.

The lec­ture was fol­lowed by a two-day event in which par­ti­cipants from vari­ous groups of con­cern worked together on solu­tions to the issues raised in the lec­ture. Our Playing with Rules work­shop format was one of tools they used. It was also a first step for us towards “open sourcing” the format, because facil­it­a­tion was handled by Hacking Habitat. I received some encour­aging reports from the organ­isa­tion on how it was received.

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Week 293

Last week Kars did lots of work on BANKEN cre­at­ing among other things a pro­to­type in Marvel of the inter­act­ive video. Based on pre­lim­in­ary res­ults that seems to be con­sol­id­at­ing the design for the project.

Kars briefed the people from Hacking Habitat how they can run our work­shop format Playing with Rules at their first life hack mara­thon. Hacking Habitat is an incred­ibly ambi­tious event about sys­tems and soci­ety and we’re proud that they want to do this.

My desk

I spent the entire Monday mov­ing my stuff out of stor­age and into my new office. It took part of the next day as well but KANT 2.0 is finally up and run­ning. I’ll be work­ing back on Oranienstraße at the Aufbau Haus, a build­ing teem­ing with organ­iz­a­tions and hap­pen­ings. We share a fairly large space with our friends of Syspons and on a clear day we have a view on the Fernsehturm.

The rest of the week Hedgefield and I spent sketch­ing the new dir­ec­tion of SHACHI with sup­port from Kars (who was oth­er­wies tied up with BANKEN). We are under­tak­ing a fairly ambi­tious pivot of the concept but we think that the end res­ult is going to be worth it. By the end of the (short) week we had some­thing that we think we can imple­ment dur­ing the rest of the sprint.

Bycatch was played dur­ing the Apple tv show OMT LIVE about pri­vacy thanks to our Ianus Keller and Hans de Zwart. You can see them enact­ing a sur­veil­lance action over on the VOD.

The pro­file that dude, the Dutch design­ers’ magazine wrote up on my col­our­ful career as an engineer/designer came out. It was promp­ted by Bycatch but it hap­pens to treat most of the stuff I’ve done at Hubbub over the past half dec­ade. I haven’t had the phys­ical thing in my hands yet but friends say it is great. I’d like to thank Viveka van de Vliet and Antony Sojka for work­ing with me on this. Here’s a pic­ture of the first spread.

Dude profile 1

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Week 292

Some sig­ni­fic­ant achieve­ments this week!

Let’s start with Camparc Mark II. We had a suc­cess­ful run dur­ing the week­end. Hardware and soft­ware per­formed admirably—a tip of the hat to Aldo and Arnaud—and people seemed to really enjoy it. Later this week we provided the STRP crew with some addi­tional doc­u­ment­a­tion so that they can run it inde­pend­ently in the week­end to come. We also pub­lished a nice little teaser video made by Sylvan with foot­age shot on Sunday. An expan­ded video will fol­low shortly.

I spent a large chunk of this week build­ing a low fidel­ity pro­to­type of a num­ber of inter­act­ive videos for BANKEN. We are now in a good spot to have our film­mak­ing part­ner shoot rough video, after which we can trans­ition into high fidel­ity prototyping.

For SHACHI we had a week in between sprints in which we reori­ented the game’s fic­tion so that it allows us to more eas­ily adapt to a range of phys­ical con­texts. This was a hard nut to crack, but we man­aged it mainly through some Boydian cre­ation and destruc­tion. Alper did the heavy con­cep­tual lift­ing and Tim rap­idly sketched out a story­board of the new player exper­i­ence. We are now con­fid­ent that we can build a game about free­dom that includes the his­tory of warfight­ing and res­ist­ance in the Netherlands dur­ing WWII as well as cur­rent issues related to sur­veil­lance, cen­sor­ship, etc.

On to Bycatch. We received a great review from Kill Screen. We are pleased not just because they liked it, but more import­antly because they very clearly describe how it feels to play the game. Also this week Alper talked about the game at Hacks/Hackers Berlin and Lekha did the same at Playcrafting NYC. All of which res­ul­ted in a nice bump in pre-orders.

If you like hear­ing Alper talk, I have good news. He has two present­a­tions com­ing up. One is on play­ful organ­isa­tions at CounterPlay and the other is on issue games at re:publica. Both should be worth your while.

This was Alper’s final week of being without a stu­dio. He benefited from LOLCATBIZ’s hos­pit­al­ity while pre­par­ing for the move into KANT’s new digs at Aufbau Haus on the Monday ahead.

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Week 291

I’m writ­ing this from the Netherlands where I spent this week tak­ing meet­ings along­side Kars. I’ll be off to Berlin tomor­row while Kars is in Eindhoven for the first run of Camparc II at the STRP bien­nial. He did a tech­nical test on Monday and final bits of pro­duc­tion for what should be a spec­tac­u­lar launch tonight at the festival.

We’re not work­ing on Home Rule right now. We demoed the pro­to­type and talked about the next sprint at the Museumvereniging on Monday and at the Airborne Museum “Hartenstein” on Thursday. Key dur­ing the fol­low­ing sprint will be the pos­sib­iliy to integ­rate with one museum while still allow­ing other musea to par­ti­cip­ate. I was also really impressed by the cur­rent immers­ive exper­i­ence they have there about the battle around Arnhem.

Lecture by Kars

On Tuesday both of us went to Rezone in Den Bosch for an after­noon of play­ing with and talk­ing about urban devel­op­ment with people from Heijmans. Kars presen­ted on mov­ing away from gami­fic­a­tion to a broader approach on play­ful design. I presen­ted draw­ings we have made for CityCraft, our concept of how the nego­ti­ations around redevel­op­ment could become more playful.

For BANKEN Kars reviewed the cur­rent sprint at Drop and on Thursday we spent part of the after­noon cre­at­ing the first pro­to­type with Public State.

For Bycatch we dis­cussed our mar­ket­ing strategy and tied up some odds and ends before we go into the final stretch. The next thing we are due to pub­lish is a video of people play­ing the game and per­form­ing its sig­na­ture action.

This week Kars received his copy of The Gameful World from the MIT Press with his con­tri­bu­tion along­side those of more or less every­body we admire in the field. I’ve helped with the pro­cess from the begin­ning and I’m chuffed that it has become such an amaz­ing and solid book.

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Week 290

We fin­ished sprints on two pro­jects this week.

For Camparc Mark II, Aldo and Arnaud pushed hard to get a release can­did­ate ready. Lots of hard­ware tweaks were made and devel­op­ment on the Oculus Rift soft­ware was done. In the mean­time I focused on some final pro­duc­tion details, such as mak­ing sure we have plenty of 4G SIMs on hand to burn through when we start stream­ing dur­ing STRP.

Tim, Alper and I worked to get the alpha for SHACHI done. Most of the week was taken up by tweaks, bug fixes and other kinds of pol­ish. In the mean­time we are start­ing mak­ing plans for a first playtest, and the sub­sequent two sprints on the beta.

Aside from those two sprint end­ings, we also worked on two con­sultancy projects.

I lead two sketch­ing ses­sions on BANKEN, banging out ideas for spe­cific play­ful inter­ac­tions which will be part of the inter­act­ive video. In the mean­time another part of the team shot some rough video, which we will use to develop a pro­to­type in the next few weeks.

Alper worked together with Marius Mörders in Berlin on some nice concept visu­al­isa­tions for SHIJIMI. After one more iter­a­tion those will be ready for a present­a­tion next week. In the mean­time I pre­pared a talk on mov­ing from gami­fic­a­tion to play­ful design, which we will deliver along­side the concept.

And aside from this, I vis­ited Leiden University to review crit­ical game pro­to­types made by human­it­ies stu­dents who have the great for­tune to be taught by Joris. I blogged high­lights from Play Matters, Alper vis­ited the boardgame design­ers meetup at Spielwiese again, and I’ve heard rumours of an impend­ing Cuppings user inter­face overhaul…

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Highlights from Play Matters

In my review of Play Matters I talked about why I think it is a must-read for any designer. I thought I’d fol­low that up with some high­lights from the book.

These are mostly from the first two chapters. Miguel first talks about what play is. He offers a min­imal defin­i­tion which states that play is con­tex­tual, car­ni­valesque, appro­pri­at­ive, dis­rupt­ive, autotelic, cre­at­ive and personal.

Miguel then goes on to dis­tin­guish play from play­ful­ness. The former is an activ­ity, the lat­ter an atti­tude. In addi­tion, play does not have a goal besides play itself, while play­ful­ness does. This move of dis­tin­guish­ing between play and play­ful­ness is very pro­duct­ive. It allows us to be more artic­u­late about play­ful design.

Play hap­pens in con­texts cre­ated for play, in those con­texts in which the autotelic nature of play is respec­ted. […] The con­texts in which play­ful­ness hap­pens are not designed or cre­ated for play: they are occu­pied by play.

The basic idea of play­ful design is that things can be used for prac­tical pur­poses but with a play­ful atti­tude. Things that are expli­citly cre­ated for this are play­ful designs. The act of cre­at­ing play­ful designs is a chal­lenge to the tra­di­tional rela­tion­ship between users and designers.

Playful designs are by defin­i­tion ambigu­ous, self-effacing, and in need of a user who will com­plete them. […] Playful design breaks away from designer-centric think­ing and puts into focus an object as a con­ver­sa­tion among user, designer, con­text, and pur­pose. […] Playful designs require a will­ing user, a com­rade in play.

If we accept that users are the ones who com­plete play­ful designs, the role of the designed sys­tem itself also changes. It is put on the same plane as users, just as the designer was before. Miguel’s account of the con­texts within which play hap­pens is one of flattened hier­arch­ies or per­haps more accur­ately: net­works. Networks of people, things, spaces, etc.

This approach to design down­plays sys­tem author­ity, a minor but cru­cial revolt against the rel­at­ive sci­ent­ism of design, from games to word pro­cessors. […] Playful design is per­sonal in both the way the user appro­pri­ates it and the way the designer pro­jects her vis­ion into it. […] Playful tech­no­lo­gies are designed for appro­pri­ation, cre­ated to encour­age play­ful­ness. These objects have a pur­pose, a goal, a func­tion, but the way they reach it is through the oblique, per­sonal, and appro­pri­at­ive act of playfulness.

I love that last bit, because it loops back to the first dis­tinc­tion between play and play­ful­ness. Play is autotelic while play­ful­ness isn’t. But play­ful­ness isn’t a thin layer on top of an oth­er­wise goal-oriented exper­i­ence. There is a back and forth between goal pur­suit and playfulness.

This may seem trivial. But put­ting tech­no­logy aside for a moment, we can see tiny acts of play­ful­ness in human activ­ity all the time. They can be tiny flour­ishes by which we express our per­sonal iden­tit­ies. Even so, they are what make us humans engaged with the world.

With tech­no­logy medi­at­ing, enabling and con­strain­ing our engage­ment with the world the poten­tial for play­ful­ness is not a given any­more. People may play regard­less of their con­text, but we can act­ively accom­mod­ate for it. This is a designer’s responsibility.

At stake is more than our cul­ture of leis­ure or the ideal of people’s empower­ment; at stake is the idea that tech­no­logy is not a ser­vant or a mas­ter but a source of expres­sion, a way of being. […] Playfulness allows us to extend the import­ance of play out­side the bound­ar­ies of form­al­ized, autotelic events, away from designed playthings like toys, or spaces like the play­ground or the stadium.

After the chapters on play and play­ful­ness, Miguel goes on to talk about toys and play­grounds. Games have attrac­ted most of the atten­tion in the con­ver­sa­tion about play­ful design. But we can play with all kinds of playthings, not just games. In this regard, games don’t matter—play matters.

Miguel then goes on to dis­cuss beauty and polit­ics, which should be of par­tic­u­lar interest to artists and activists.

In the final sec­tion, one chapter is devoted to the chan­ging role of the designer. Miguel sug­gests we should not model ourselves after game design­ers, but in stead aspire to be archi­tects of play. The book closes with a med­it­a­tion on the role of com­pu­ta­tion in play­ful design. The state­ment quoted above about tech­no­logy as a source of expres­sion is expan­ded upon. I will end with it here, but not before recom­mend­ing this inspir­ing, evoc­at­ive book one last time.

com­puters should take their place in the world and play with us—not for us, not against us, but together with us.

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Week 289

Camparc Mk II is in its final stages of devel­op­ment with some touch ups on the soft­ware and con­struc­tion still to be done. There was also a break­through with the stream­ing of video over a 4G con­nec­tion work­ing for the first time. This is great since it will mean the balls can be deployed anywhere.

Received a bunch of Kontakt beacons for the current project

SHACHI saw a bunch of devel­op­ment where we are nearly at a fea­ture com­plete alpha ver­sion which we will be pol­ish­ing a bit this week in pre­par­a­tion of a playtest. We also received the beacons from Kontakt.io which we will use for playtesting.

For BANKEN Kars par­ti­cip­ated in a sketch­ing ses­sion to cre­ate on over­view of the product and plan out the course of the project.

For SHIJIMI I did research and sketched out what we think the concept should be. I then briefed our artist Marius Mörders to illus­trate the concept model for a present­a­tion next week.

We put on a blurb by Hans de Zwart on the Bycatch web­site. More blurbs and release updates are forthcoming.

Unity Berlin Meetup

I closed off the week attend­ing the reboot of the Berlin Unity meetup. I was pleas­antly sur­prised by the turnout and the insight about game design you get by talk­ing to people actu­ally cre­at­ing games.

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Engagement loops are the best way to motivate people using game mechanics

It has been a pleas­ure to see our asso­ci­ate Sebastian Deterding’s think­ing evolve through his present­a­tions over the years. It has been a treat to read every new deck and to fol­low his reas­on­ing in detail. You can also trace a very dis­tinct line about games, user exper­i­ence, psy­cho­logy and eth­ics that has become more pro­nounced over time.

Recently Sebastian pub­lished “Magic Wonder Pixie Dust”, a present­a­tion which serves as our main ref­er­ence when design­ing for motiv­a­tion. This one comes in at 204 slides and it touches on everything you need to know to do this. I’ll go through it tak­ing the engage­ment loop slide as a guide (below and 101 in the present­a­tion) and talk about how we apply it as a design method in our day-to-day con­sult­ing work.

Engagement Loops

We use this engage­ment loop as a way to struc­ture activ­it­ies around learn­able chal­lenges. People who start a chal­lenge go through this loop and get rein­force­ment while they try to achieve mas­tery. Multiple loops can be inter­linked where cer­tain actions or com­ple­tion will move you to another loop. Other people can also go through this sys­tem and their social inter­ac­tions will also feed into the vari­ous loops.

I’ll walk through each ele­ment of the engage­ment loop below.

Business Goals and User Needs

Whenever we start the design of a motiv­at­ing and enga­ging product or ser­vice, we try to find a cor­res­pond­ence between what the organ­isa­tion wants and what users want. Finding this is a pre­con­di­tion to be able to do any­thing at all. To find out user needs, we’ll look to see what con­crete user research is avail­able. We’ll also fig­ure out what the busi­ness actu­ally wants to achieve. Asking through a series of “Why?” ques­tions is a good way to get to a core busi­ness goal.


The next step is to see what kind of inter­est­ing chal­lenge we can find. This needs to be some­thing that a user would like to get bet­ter at. We will then cre­ate a loop around this chal­lenge to rein­force that pro­cess of improvement.


The motiv­a­tion (slide 113 and onwards) is the thing that makes a user actu­ally want to be bet­ter at this chal­lenge. This can be any of the social, psy­cho­lo­gical or phys­ical factors from slide 117. The spe­cific motiv­a­tion informs the kind of goals we can work towards.


Goal/Call to Action

The goals (slide 175 and onwards) we offer users can be any­thing, but they need to be clear and rel­ev­ant to the cur­rent situ­ation. If they aren’t, the sys­tem will lose cred­ib­il­ity and quickly ali­en­ate users. The goals also need to adapt to a user’s increas­ing mas­tery of the challenge.


The resource a user can per­form an action on (slide 189 and onwards) should be small enough to quickly over­see and make pro­gress on. This makes it easier and quicker to go through the loop. It can then tie into a lar­ger sys­tem if that makes sense.

The action that some­body can per­form should not be con­strained to a single but­ton or value. The agency of the per­son going through the loop is valu­able. We should use that by giv­ing them the free­dom to act and express themselves.

If the action is too big, we’ll split up the loop into sev­eral loops.


The feed­back we offer (slide 151 and onwards) should appeal to the motiv­a­tion we iden­ti­fied earlier. This feed­back could either be imme­di­ate feed­back on the action the user just per­formed, or pro­gress feed­back on where they are with regards to the challenge.

Giving people feed­back in the form of extrinsic rewards is effect­ive in the short term but it is not sus­tain­able in the long run. Either avoid it entirely or prop up your external rewards with intrinsic rewards so they trans­ition into some­thing that is longer lasting.

Player Journey

The player jour­ney is about embed­ding the loop in a broader con­text and see­ing where some­body comes from and where they can go when they are done with this par­tic­u­lar loop. You could pic­ture this as a cus­tomer jour­ney, but with all of the touch points replaced by loops.

The engage­ment loop model makes it fairly straight-forward to design enga­ging products and ser­vices. We identify chal­lenges, come up with loops and decom­pose those into whatever kind of inter­ac­tion flows are neces­sary for the prob­lem at hand. In our opin­ion this is the best method to design for agency, com­pet­ence and motivation.

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Week 288

I was joined by Alper in the Utrecht stu­dio again this week. With all that’s going on in NL at the moment it’s nice to have him on site a little more frequently.

One of the things we did was start the second sprint on SHACHI. Alper and Tim worked together on the alpha ver­sion of the game with some guid­ance from me. It involved a lot of tweak­ing of our pro­to­typ­ing setup in Unity, which was con­veni­ent to do while co-present. For the remainder of the sprint they will try to con­vert my very simple phys­ical pro­to­type into some­thing digital. We will iter­ate from there. In addi­tion, art styles were explored and iBeacons were selec­ted and purchased.

Prototyping Home Rule

I was present at the kick-off of pro­ject BANKEN with the cli­ent and the rest of the team, which is col­lec­tion of dif­fer­ent small com­pan­ies each spe­cial­ising in a part of the product. Hubbub is con­sult­ing on this. We’ll be doing some design dir­ec­tion and some pro­to­typ­ing. Later in the week I did some think­ing about how to best approach this.

I did some copy writ­ing for Camparc Mark II and I headed over to Aldo’s work­shop on Friday to review the pen­ul­tim­ate sprint. I got to admire more nifty 3D prin­ted parts, such as the tape cable pro­tector below.

Tape cable protector part

Alper, Lekha and I dis­cussed Bycatch’s pri­cing at length. After much tweak­ing of a spread­sheet we were suit­ably fried but we had determ­ined a course for­ward. We also reviewed a story­board for a pro­mo­tional video. Once we have that in hand, we’ll be in a good place to offi­cially launch.

Other pro­ject work included Alper doing some think­ing about SHIJIMI’s concept visu­al­isa­tion, and us deliv­er­ing the final batch of KUMA mockups to the client.

On the people front, we had a long over­due chat with Joris, catch­ing up on our work and explor­ing things we might do in the com­ing period. Arjen also dropped by to share his exper­i­ences at Knutepunkt.

And finally, I blogged a review of Play Matters and we were very pleased with a com­pre­hens­ive item on Deutschlandradio Kultur about Bycatch.

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