Announcing Deterding, Dormans and Keller as first Hubbub associates

Today I am very pleased to announce we have been joined by three brilliant gentlemen: Sebastian Deterding, Joris Dormans and Ianus Keller have joined Hubbub as associates. They are immediately available for consulting and will also help us guide the company in the future.

Each of these associates is an expert in their field and has a formidable track record as a designer, researcher and educator. They deepen as well as broaden what we can bring to the table in projects related to game design, interaction design, product design and beyond.

Below are brief bios listing some of our associates’ achievements. We’ve also suggested areas you might want to work on with them. Of course, we will also suggest an associate if we think a project will benefit from their participation. For good measure, we’ve thrown in selfies taken at the workplace.

Alper and I have collaborated with each of these three in some way in the past years and we are humbled and proud they have chosen to work with Hubbub. If you’d like to know more, get in touch.

Sebastian Deterding

Sebastian Deterding is a leading researcher and designer in the field of gameful and playful design. He is co-editor (with Steffen P. Walz) of “The Gameful World: Approaches, Issues, Applications”, poised to become the de-facto handbook on gameful and playful design, appearing 2014 with MIT Press. Having completed his PhD, Sebastian is now visiting assistant professor at the RIT Laboratory for Media, Arts, Games, Interaction and Creativity (MAGIC). He has worked for more than nine years as a game and experience designer, and is an internationally sought-after speaker. He published his first RPG adventure in a now-defunct magazine at age 17 and saw it promptly plagiarised.

Topics to work on with Sebastian include: gameful and playful design, serious games and gamification.

Joris Dormans

Joris Dormans is one of the first to complete a PhD on a topic that explicitly connects game design to computer science. He is the inventor of the “Machinations” framework and co-author (with Ernest Adams) of the book “Game Mechanics”. Joris is a highly rated speaker at the Game Developer Conferences in both San Francisco and Cologne and an internationally respected researcher on procedural content generation. Joris has an entry as game designer on and is always tinkering with multiple boardgame prototypes of his own.

Topics to work on with Joris include: modelling game mechanics, automated game design, procedural content generation.

Ianus Keller

Ianus Keller is a staunch proponent of interaction design and one of the first to see it as the field where products, interfaces and other concerns converge. He completed his PhD cum laude at TU Delft ID-StudioLab on the design of Cabinet, an inspirational tool for designers. Since 2008 Ianus has co-organised 29 This Happened events in Utrecht, Amsterdam and Rotterdam, documenting the making-of of over a hundred interaction design projects. Ianus is a voracious early adopter of gadgets and online services; in 2005 he was the first Dutchman to post a tweet, which read “I am at home”.

Topics to work on with Ianus include: tools for creativity, hybrid digital/physical products.

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Week 233

This week was all about Lift 14. Alper and I traveled to Geneva on Tuesday. We prepped our workshop at a local coworking spot and later at our apartment.

Warming up for the Playing with Rules workshop with online "Mens erger je niet!"

The next morning, we ran Playing with Rules. We followed roughly the same format as at Mozilla Festival last year, slightly adjusted based on feedback from some of the participants from back then. We had a nice group with a varied background. There were less people with game design experience this time around, which was fine as we have training wheels built into the format. Outcomes were interesting, including one game about road rage with some mechanics that actually generated traffic jams on the board.

In the reflection during the wrap-up we discussed things like how to argue with games, how with applied games it’s not so much about being realistic as it is about interesting. We also observed that some issues seem to naturally emerge from the starter game we picked, things like immigration, traffic, discrimination. It might be interesting to swap out Mens erger je niet! for something else next time. The main point of the workshop—the importance of iteration and the importance of experiencing a design first-hand as soon as possible—clearly came across.





After the workshop, Lift 14 kicked off in ernest. On the first day, I particularly enjoyed Alexis Lloyd’s criticism of seamless design, the making-of of the first lab-grown hamburger and gorgeous still and moving images produced by Lia Giraud using algae.

Countdown till launch at Lift 14

Lift 14

That evening, we headed to the traditional Lift fondue, ate lots of cheese and drank a sufficient amount of wine. Good conversations were had.



During the remained of the conference, we found some time to play around with the work on display at the exhibition, including a demo of third-person perspective live video goggles by OuterBody Labs (which reminded me of 3RD by Monobanda) and neat retro-compatible games and playful interfaces made by HEAD media design students.

Playing with the OuterBody Labs exhibit


Towards the end of the conference we were treated to two excellent talks on algorithmic culture. Ian Bogost revealed how the algorithm has become a dominant metaphor of our time, highlighting but also obscuring certain aspects of the world, such as the fact that much work still involves humans, even when we think it’s just code. (I was reminded of recent reads Metaphors We Live By and We Have Never Been Modern.) Dan Williams took us on an enjoyable tour of what it means to be a maker in a world dominated by the algorithm, and arrived at similar conclusions. Making things—physical things especially—is still messy and a lot of work. It won’t do to defer all responsibility for how the world is organised to engineers or even designers. Reality is messy and demands equally messy assemblages of disciplines to deal with it.

We would depart on Saturday, but not before we were treated to a genuinely mind-blowing tour of CERN, including a visit to the control centre and down below to the LHC. It’s amazing to think humans are capable of projects of such enormous scale and encouraging to know science can bring nations together to jointly pursue such peaceful ends. James Bridle wrote a nice thing about this after his visit two years ago. I’ll leave it there, and let the photos below speak for themselves.

Control Room

CMS Badge

Packed elevator

Detector thing


More racks

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Week 232

Last week was a bit of an in between week for us preparing for some changes that will realign Hubbub in 2014.

One such change is Kars moving his studio out of the Dutch Game Garden into a holding state before he moves into Vechtclub XL. Vechtclub and Vechtclub XL together are one of the most exciting creative developments in the city of Utrecht and we look forward to be a part of that in the future. I’m sure he will write more about this when he’s settled in.

Kars also published the write-up of our brief over at the RCA. The work the students delivered was great and I encourage you to take a look at it.

I kept stuff running over here in Berlin wrapping up our client engagement for CHUTORO and working on paperwork and on my skillbuild. I’m exploring doing more video sketches here at Hubbub since that is one of the most effective ways to communicate our kind of work.

Censorship game

I dropped by our friends from Third Wave Berlin to catchup over drinks on Monday. On Thursday I also dropped by the Berlin University of the Arts to see the boardgames developed by the Preenaction group. They are also using games as a way of addressing social issues but with totally different considerations.

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A Free-to-Play World, our brief for IED students at the RCA

A while ago, we were invited by John Fass to come up with a play-focused brief for students of the Information Experience Design programme at the RCA. De-Computation is a theme running through a lot of the work there, so we though it would be it would be interesting to ask the students to deconstruct a logic prevalent in the games industry (F2P) and to then apply that logic to a real-world system (in this case, a London transport) service.


Students worked in groups on the assignment over the course of two weeks. Without a doubt, we challenged them with the assignment as it not only required them to digest a concept from a field not central to their area of study, but to also formulate a design using tools and techniques from that field. Nevertheless, we were pleasantly surprised by the outcomes. Here are some highlights.

Jaekyung Kim and Carrolynne Hsieh, going slightly off-brief by cleverly suggesting telephony transports voices, proposed a new life for London’s phone boxes in the form of a location-based free-to-play game. I am reminded of the common gesture of checking for coins left in the dispenser before making a call and like to think this design breathes new life into it. That phone boxes can be a viable platform for gaming has been shown in the past by games as I Love Bees and Nike’s GRID.

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Francesco Tacchini, Michael Pecirno and Emily Groves proposed an alternative to TfL’s Oyster in the form of Golden Wheels, a tiered system sure to heighten the tention on daily commutes. Participants try to achieve gold status by playing competitive games against others. Gold users get perks such as free coffee but are required to constantly protect their status from challengers in the lower tiers. Certainly dystopian, but not that far removed from some of the shenanigans airline companies engage in on a daily basis with their loyalty programs.

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Below is the brief we came up with. We certainly enjoyed doing this, presenting the brief and seeing the student work afterwards. We think it could be developed further in the context of other studies and are very keen to run it again with other groups of students. If you’re an educator and this is something you’d be interested in, get in touch.


The games industry has been taken by storm by free-to-play. As a business model, its simple premise is that players do not need to pay for access to the game. A wide range of other techniques have been introduced to generate revenue instead. For example, a free-to-play MMO (massively multiplayer online game) player might pay real money to obtain a powerful in-game item without having to go through the drudgery of obtaining it in-game. In recent years virtually every game genre has been re-imagined as a free-to-play game. While clearly a commercial success, it has also received criticism. For example, people have argued free-to-play leads to exploitative game design. (In many free-to-play games a very small part of all players generate the majority of revenue.)

Experiences with digital media condition our expectations of how the world works. People might be annoyed (or relieved) to find a simple service such as a bakery operates according to something other than the free-to-play logic. On a different level, free-to-play as a ‘business model’ is a persuasive idea. Entrepreneurs, technologists, artists and designers might be seduced to imagine new products, services or experiences that operate on the free-to-play logic. For example, one could argue collaborative consumption services such as AirBnB are free-to-play. Things can be free at the point of sale when the value of the object is reimbursed in a non-monetary way.

Anything can be framed as a game. What happens when we deliberately think with a gaming mindset as we (re)design a thing? Does this trivialise the beauty of play? Is this dystopian game design?

We challenge you to deconstruct the logic of free-to-play and to apply it to a transport service operating in London. This could be a public or private service consisting of one or more modes (air, rail, road, etc.) aimed at the movement of people, animals or goods from one location to another. Reinvent such a system so that it becomes free-to-play. In doing so, we will ask and possibly answer the question: Who does the code of free-to-play compute for? The player, or someone/something else?

Suggested activities:

  • Visually map the networks of actors and interactions of both free-to-play games and the transport service of your choice.
  • Cross-breed and mutate such networks, inventing new forms of play.
  • Rapidly prototype your system. Physically act it out; body-storm, don’t brainstorm.
  • Write up your free-to-play system as the rules of a physical game. Test it for intelligibility.
  • Design and produce the materials required for your free-to-play system.
  • Tell a short visual story of a person’s experience with the system.

Suggested reading

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Week 231

Last week both Alper and I were almost fully occupied with wrapping up CHUTORO. On Monday, I built a deck of slides providing a rationale for the design while Alper put the finishing touches on the prototype. On Tuesday, we both traveled to Karlsruhe. I read a lot of Metaphors We Live By. I believe Alper played a lot of Hearthstone or Dota 2 or both. On Wednesday, we demoed the prototype and presented the rationale. Despite a small glitch things went quite well. Since this is a project about exercise, I was pleased we managed to get everyone out of their chairs and into the fresh air for a stroll through a park nearby. We also critiqued the work of other participating studios. As with last time around, I felt a bit like being a student in art school again. When done well, I really like crits. The day after it was back to Utrecht for me and back to Berlin for Alper. The rest of the week was taken up by documenting the design further, and some admin, ops and delivery stuff on the side. It’s a luxury to be able to focus exclusively on one project. This was a good week.

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Week 230

Last week went by pretty quickly and by now it turns out we are almost through this week already before I had a chance to write the weeknotes. In brief: we were fully engaged preparing deliverables for CHUTORO.

Kars spent a lot of time knee deep in scientific models to further ground our design work. Applying scientific results to real world solutions has been very refreshing and it is something we think that many other projects could greatly benefit from. We have been lucky to get a solid feed of scientific literature for this project to work with.

Meanwhile I was working on technological re-enactment by building an app relying on SMS as its main medium of interaction. I realized that this is the sort of thing that many of my friends have been working on in the early 2000s. It still takes an awful lot of effort to get things to work across non-internet cell phone networks but it is definitely worth the effort.

Dusting off the Hubbub feature phone

For our SMS needs we are using Nexmo who have been very easy to setup and actually do work in Germany (many other providers say they do but in fact do not).

We worked on this project exclusively the entire week and the time we spent made that we were both theoretically and technically in good shape for this week’s meeting.

Playing Maharaja

In the weekend there was time to play some games. Kars highly recommends Maharaja and I rather enjoyed my Drive on Moscow.

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The Gameful City, a preview of my chapter for The Gameful World

This year, MIT Press will publish The Gameful World, a book edited by Steffen P. Walz and Sebastian Deterding to which I’ve contributed a chapter. The book will cover approaches in gameful and playful design, how it can be applied to a range of fields and its common issues. For example, Ian Bogost will expand on his infamous essay Gamification is Bullshit and Eric Zimmerman has contributed the much discussed Manifesto for a Ludic Century.

Those who dislike jargon might be thrown off by the term “gameful”. I admit at first I wasn’t too convinced we needed yet another new term either. Without going in too much detail—those who enjoy chewing on definitions might want to dig into the paper From Game Design Elements to Gamefulness: Defining “Gamification”—gamefulness serves as an alternative to gamification, the idea of using game design elements in non-game contexts. Compared to gamification, gamefulness proponents often emphasize the importance of retaining people’s agency and focus on supporting intrinsic motivation.

My chapter is an essay on the relationship between game design and the built environment and how the former can be used enliven the latter in various ways. It has turned out to be a nice summary of my thinking on the topic over the course of the past few years (if you can call over 13000 words a summary). Below is the abstract for the chapter. I look forward to when the book will be available and you can read the chapter in full, and tell me what you think. For now, this will have to do.

In this chapter, designer Kars Alfrink argues gameful design can contribute to the liveability of cities. His approach is grounded in his professional practice of making games for public urban spaces. Kars argues gameful design can provide citizens with tools with which they can counterbalance the top-down planning actions of governments and corporations. Such organisations have a preference for highly legible structures, which tend towards fragility in the face of uncertainty. A recent example would be the interest in ‘smart city’ solutions to problems faced by the new megacities. In this chapter Kars describes the workings of many forms of gameful resistance from citizens. These include urban sports, neo-situationist street games, playful platforms for civic organisation, subversive art interventions and participatory planning tools. Together, these enable citizens to act as a generative force which injects the city with some much-needed illegibility, giving rise to a gameful city.”

Sign up to be notified of the book’s publication at

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Week 229

This was was the first full workweek of the year, which meant it was time to review our work of 2013 and set goals for 2014. To this end, Alper traveled to Utrecht and on Monday we sat down and strategised. We’re still using Google’s OKR method, which continues to be a useful and relatively painless way of turning what are sometimes nebulous business goals into actionable, measurable things.

The rest of the week, we worked on CHUTORO. Having finished and documented the first two-week sprint, we started up the second and already final one on Tuesday. We had a number of calls with our friends at GEElab in Karlsruhe in which we jointly decided on which concept to develop further from the portfolio we had delivered in sprint one. Satisfied with the course to take, we got to work on Wednesday through Friday.

It had been a while since I last experienced a design process which did not flow. For a large part of the week I wasn’t satisfied with the work we were doing. Not that it was bad—it certainly was good enough, but it just lacked a certain character and whimsy. We worked through the concept, detailed its interactions and did some technology explorations—with help from Tom, who generously shared his experiences working with SMS and conversational UIs from Hello Lamp Post and Havasu. We detailed all the messages going in and out of the system. We considered embellishments and alternatives to the core concept. Etc. etc.

It was only when we went over the main scenario of use once more that we realised a subset of all the things a user would do—which we initially saw as a minor practical hurdle to smooth out with some clever design—that we realised we could take that activity and turn it into a fun, interesting thing to do in and of itself. In stead of smoothing it out so that we could move on to the thing we’d initially felt we wanted people to do, we could leave it as a fun challenge and offer it to people as such. Finally, I was satisfied with what we’d come up with. Relief.

In between, we had the usual range of activities on the side, such as a call on Tuesday with Magaly in preparation of our soon-to-be-announced workshop at Lift 14 and new year’s drinks hosted by the Dutch Game Garden where we got to catch up with many friends of the studio.

A solid first full week of the year, in other words.

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Week 228

So we’re back from break and managed to get some projects wrapped up just around the turn of the year which is a great way to start with a clean slate. I’m writing this from the Netherlands where I’m keeping touch with the motherland though I can’t wait to be back in Berlin.

We wrote up and sent out the final document for KAZUNOKO which is meant to be used for the following steps of the project. A design project like this is a lot of fun for the breadth of ideas you explore and the potential of the various concepts. The final document contains all of them so as not to prematurely close off any potential avenues of exploration.

We have shipped a final update for Beestenbende with a fix for a tenacious last bug in it so the iPad ready version of the game should make its way into the museum pretty soon now.

And we wrote up our intermediary concepts for the CHUTORO project which we’re about to dive into again right about now.

Kars made an end of year list and collected all of our Recess! posts from earlier this year. Writing something like this regularly bored me quickly but looking at the collection I’m pretty proud of what we managed to churn out.

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Week 226

These will be the final weeknotes for 2013. We’re putting the studio in stationary until January 6. The last proper workweek was a mean one though, let me tell you…

On Monday, I was frantically sketching out scenarios for CHUTORO while Alper wrote up each concept. He did the same for KAZUNOKO. Alper has a particular knack for coming up with catchy concept titles. That day I also had a meeting with Irene and Clemens to discuss the future of Pig Chase.

Tuesday, we met with Niels to review his and our work on KAZUNOKO so far and to talk about how we were going to do the concept review meeting that Thursday.

Afterwards Alper and I both hopped on a train to Karlsruhe from Berlin and Utrecht respectively. During the ride I worked on finishing the CHUTORO deck. I also started doing quick sketches for KAZUNOKO using a Japanese brush pen on index cards, a bit of a challenge given the unexpected bumpiness of the ICE’s ride. Alper did some more writing for KAZUNOKO in the meantime.

Ironically, Karlsruhe is a bit closer to Utrecht than Berlin so while Alper was still on his way I checked into the hotel and immediately took a taxi to neighbouring Durlach. There I caught up with the GEElab team at a medeaval Christmas market. We had glühwein and flammkuchen.

On Wednesday we spent the whole day at GEElab, who have their offices in a converted slaughterhouse filled with shipping containers. In a few of these containers we presented the results of our first CHUTORO concept sprint and critiqued the work of other studios who are also participating in the project. These things are always challenging, but rewarding. I look forward to our second sprint, which we’ll start in the new year.


The next day I took an early train back to Utrecht. During the ride I finished the final drawings for KAZUNOKO and built a deck of slides. Upon arrival I more or less immediately traveled to Bilthoven where I met Niels and presented our work. The ideas elicited a good amount of response from the people at RIVM. Next, we’ll process their feedback, elaborate on a few promising ideas and document it all for future reference.

As I’m sure you can imagine, by the time Friday rolled around we were rather pooped and so took it easy. I was interviewed for a report on Victory Boogie Woogie. We surveyed all the work on deck and discussed its status in a video call. Then, we wished each other happy holidays, and called it a day, a week and a year.

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