Week 285

The best news last week was the go-ahead on SHACHI. We’re excited to start work on that in the new week.

Work on the next ver­sion of Camparc has star­ted for the STRP bien­nal.

Kars ran a work­shop at Berenschot together with Jeroen van Mastright. As research for the work­shop I looked to find dilem­mas in games and had a harder time than I at first would have thought. This scene from the Walking Dead is a clas­sic example but many other large scale games are some­what dilemma free.

For KLM Kars pre­pared copy and sent the work by Hedgefield to the cli­ent for feedback.

I talked with Sebastian Quack about the Playful Commons pro­ject. I also met Güven Çatak of the BUG Game Lab at Istanbul Bahçeşehir University.

Kars wrote this highly neces­sary post of what it exactly is that we mean when we say “play­ful design” and why that is an import­ant way of look­ing at design.

We had very stim­u­lat­ing update calls with our asso­ci­ates Sebastian and Ianus as well this week.

Today's office

Because we are in between offices in Berlin I am now tem­por­ar­ily resid­ing in the Rainmaking Loft. It’s a fun and inter­est­ing change of scene though I haven’t found a place in the area yet where I want to have lunch a second time.

We’re explor­ing sep­ar­at­ing ship­ping costs from Bycatch’s cur­rent price so we can recoup the money we lose on inter­na­tional ship­ping (so get it now while it still includes ship­ping!). We’re also going to repack­age the game to fix a minor print­ing error.

Bycatch on display in Vechtclub XL

You can now see the game on dis­play at the Vechtclub XL.

I demon­strated Bycatch at the tab­letop game design­ers meetup here in Berlin’s Spielwiese game cafe and left behind a copy there for inter­ested people to try out. I gave an inter­view for the Dutch Design magazine dude about my career in design with a heavy focus on Bycatch.

On Friday even­ing I met Marcus Richter and Dennis Kogel of Superlevel to record a pod­cast about Bycatch where I talked about the game, explained it and played it with my co-hosts in German. I look for­ward to listen­ing to the result.

Next Tuesday I will be talk­ing at IXDS’s pre-work talks about design­ing for Bycatch and privacy.

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An Outline of Playful Design

In the sum­mer of last year we announced a new dir­ec­tion for the stu­dio, which boils down to us no longer fram­ing our work as game design, but as play­ful design. We are inter­ested in design­ing a wide range of playthings, and we are also inter­ested in design­ing things that aren’t primar­ily meant for play but which still bene­fit from allow­ing for it.

In recent talks I have been point­ing to sev­eral ideas that I think together out­line part of what we con­sider play­ful design. I thought I’d write them up here.

1. Community

I have referred to The Well-Played Game by Bernie De Koven, to emphas­ise the social con­text within which play hap­pens, and the import­ance of enabling groups to adapt playthings to their needs. One example of how to do this is by not encod­ing all of a system’s rules into soft­ware but in stead let­ting people socially nego­ti­ate those rules. Johann Sebastian Joust does this, and so does our Beestenbende.

2. Flux

I also think David Kanaga’s idea of flux dogma is very import­ant: “allow all con­stants to become vari­ables.” By doing this, a plaything can become like an instru­ment, an express­ive tool that can be put to many (unex­pec­ted) uses. David’s own Proteus is a great example of this, and we were think­ing a lot about flux dogma when we were mak­ing Camparc.

3. Invention

And finally, when it comes to how we frame design itself, Jack Schulze’s pro­voca­tion “design is about cul­tural inven­tion”, oppos­ing it to design as prob­lem solv­ing, has always made a lot of sense to me. Thinking about design in this way allows us to go bey­ond the instru­mental, even when we are design­ing things with a pur­pose. The work done at BERG often had a whim­sical char­ac­ter, pos­sibly best exem­pli­fied by Little Printer. Our own Standing is an attempt to do some­thing that is both use­ful or even ser­i­ous but makes fun of itself at the same time.

So those are three ideas that taken together give a sense of how we approach play­ful design: 1. Understand and design for social groups and let them adapt things to their own needs. 2. Make fixed aspects of a thing vari­able, and put them under people’s con­trol. 3. Conceive of design as a dis­cip­line that cre­ates things that are not “just” use­ful, but that open up new unex­pec­ted possibilities.

Of course, these ideas don’t sit apart from each other. When sup­port­ing a play com­munity, one applies flux to a thing, and is nat­ur­ally prac­ti­cing design as inven­tion. A vari­ation on this state­ment can be made start­ing from the per­spect­ive of flux, or invention.

A play­ful design dis­cip­line like this can lead to bet­ter playthings, but per­haps more import­antly, it also leads to pur­pose­ful things that are more pleas­ur­able to use because they allow people to make them their own, to express them­selves while using them, while being more present in the here and now, because they can weave them into their own social and phys­ical contexts.

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Week 284

A large chunk of my time this week was taken up with con­trib­ut­ing to E-Motive Day, a con­fer­ence organ­ised by an inter­na­tional net­work of organ­isa­tions work­ing on social change of vari­ous kinds. We were asked to demo Standing, and talk about our per­spect­ive on play­ful design for act­iv­ism. People said nice things about both and I had inter­est­ing con­ver­sa­tions about a sub­ject that I hold dear.

There were good talks from oth­ers too. I was par­tic­u­larly taken with the work being done by CEW-IT in Uganda to empower cit­izens, Emer Beamer’s efforts to reima­gine primary edu­ca­tion as design edu­ca­tion, and Lino Hellings’s photo walk meth­od­o­logy developed at PAPA.

Meanwhile, work on KUMA con­tin­ued apace. I went over to KLM to review story­boards, and handed over feed­back to Tim for a first ver­sion of mockups. It’s been a pleas­ure to see the first few of those roll by in Dropbox already.

Finally, I pre­pared two upcom­ing work­shops. One is together with Jeroen for Berenschot, about using adven­ture games to increase aware­ness of integ­rity issues in the work­place. The chal­lenge here is to design genu­ine moral chal­lenges for play­ers, in stead of obvi­ous right/wrong choices.

The other is for a group of exhib­i­tion design stu­dents at Reinwardt Academy, about play­ful design. The plan is to have them remix a fam­ous Peggy Guggenheim exhib­i­tion and make a play­able scale model of their plan. Should be fun.

We also con­tin­ued to do mar­ket­ing on Bycatch. And as we sol­diered on this week, we were occa­sion­ally delighted by a mes­sages from play­ers shar­ing their exper­i­ences with the game.

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Week 283

The biggest event this week was that we ful­filled the pre­orders for Bycatch and sent every­body a news­let­ter with updates. That took up a lot of our time and atten­tion as well as fix­ing some last minute hic­cups and mak­ing sure everything was right. At the time I’m writ­ing this I’m see­ing the first games arrive at people’s homes on Twitter which is a pretty amaz­ing feel­ing. We’re now mov­ing towards our offi­cial launch.

We played Bycatch in the stu­dio with Eelco for the first time with the actual cards and even for us play­ing the game is still fun.

A play session with the actual cards of Bycatch. It turns out this is a really fun game!

What also got released is The Gameful World book over at the MIT Press. It’s been a long time in the mak­ing but now the defin­it­ive book on gami­fic­a­tion is out.

We’re work­ing on a con­sult­ing engage­ment for Berenschot. Our work for KLM is pro­ceed­ing with the con­tent hammered out and Tim Hengeveld start­ing on the art.

I pub­lished our 2014 recap as a by product of our OKR sys­tem with a solid over­view of the many things we did that year. Michelle Thorne pub­lished this amaz­ing treat­ment of the work­shop Ianus and I held at Thingscon Amsterdam last year.

I made a big round of Amsterdam vis­it­ing old friends and busi­ness pro­spects before I made my way back to Berlin on Thursday to attend the games.net new year’s party (at the KING offices).

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A 2014 recap

Each year we review our Objectives and Key Results for that year and adjust them for the fol­low­ing one to provide guid­ance for our stu­dio. The goals sum­mar­ized are to be the best known and respec­ted play­ful design stu­dio that works with the best people in the field to deliver value for our con­sult­ing cli­ents and pur­sue rel­ev­ant pro­jects of our own.

Projects

We star­ted and con­cluded many self-initiated pro­jects last year which was one of our key res­ults for 2014. We can call the year a tre­mend­ous cre­at­ive suc­cess. The pro­jects we have shipped are all in some way front-runners of the wider industry and a great show­case of what our stu­dio model is cap­able of.

What was new this year is that many of our own pro­jects are becom­ing their own entit­ies with their own web­sites, brand­ing and rhythm. This makes it easier to talk about them as things in their own right.

Standing

standing-iphone-closeup-01-4x3

We com­pleted and launched Standing to crit­ical acclaim and we then updated the app with an attract­ive visual design. Playful act­iv­ism is a very import­ant theme in our work and Standing serves as an example of our think­ing and prac­tice on this topic. We think that Standing will remain rel­ev­ant for the fore­see­able future and we’ll refer back to it regularly.

Camparc

We con­ceived and cre­ated Camparc for STRP on an open brief and we are extremely happy with the res­ult. Camparc is a very inter­est­ing and deep toy, that facil­it­ates play as a per­form­ance and includes live video, a recent interest of ours. We will develop Camparc fur­ther this year into a stan­dalone trav­el­ing attraction.

Bycatch

IMG_3688-v01-16x9

We star­ted con­cep­tion and design of Bycatch last year as our first col­lab­or­a­tion with Subalekha Udayasankar. This quickly turned into an example of how we think games for ser­i­ous issues should be designed as well as a viable self-published card game. We will be selling the game this year and talk­ing a lot about Bycatch.

Cuppings

This is an odd one out but we still run Cuppings out of a per­sonal interest for cof­fee and because it is a great example of uncom­prom­ising app design. Sales of Cuppings have been stronger last quarter than they have been ever before so it looks like this little app has a bright future ahead of it.

Communication

One of the most import­ant parts of our work is com­mu­nic­at­ing the value of our pro­cess and the­ory. We haven’t been bad at this last year but we need to be even bet­ter this year. The biggest prob­lem is that a lot of things about play­ful design which are obvi­ous to us aren’t even appar­ent to our peers, let alone the wider public.

Most import­antly this year we have changed our core pro­pos­i­tion on the front page of the web­site to very clearly state the work we do for clients—“Strategy”, “Invention” & “Prototyping”—and we split ourselves into a con­sultancy and a stu­dio. The con­sultancy helps organ­isa­tions do things with games and play, the stu­dio cre­ates play­ful products.

We were fea­tured in Vrij Nederland, De Correspondent, Bright, De Gids, Detektor.fm, Mare, Achter het Scherm, Kill Screen, Board Game Geek, Product Hunt.

We did things at LIFT, Behaviour Design Amsterdam, Studium Generale Leiden, Rezone, This Happened Utrecht, Mediamatic, IT University of Copenhagen, De Vuurlinie, Heinrich Böll Stiftung, JOIN, STRP Scene, Vechtclub XL, ASEM, IMPAKT, ThingsCon Amsterdam, Tegenlicht, Lab for City, Talk and Play, Creative Mornings Utrecht.

People

One way to term our approach would be an anti-agency with Kars resid­ing in Utrecht and me in Berlin. We have a list of reg­u­lar col­lab­or­at­ors for many pro­jects and the con­nec­tions to be able to get the best people for any job.

We also have an asso­ci­ate pro­gram con­sist­ing of Ianus Keller, Joris Dormans and Sebastian Deterding which has proven very use­ful. Associates are people who we have worked together with in a part­ner­ship type agree­ment and with whom we want to keep doing this. We have deployed each of our asso­ci­ates on work this year and we look for­ward to doing more.

Logistics

The Utrecht studio—our de facto headquarters—moved to Vechtclub XL. We are immensely pleased with the local facil­it­ies and net­work we have there in an irres­ist­ible industrial-chique loc­a­tion just out­side of the city.

The Berlin stu­dio KANT closed down its loc­a­tion of the past years as sub­ten­ants of Panorama3000. We are wait­ing for our next stu­dio in the newly built addi­tion to the Aufbauhaus Kreuzberg. The new loc­a­tion will have all of the bene­fits of Berlin without its transience.

Looking Ahead

We think Hubbub has an unique per­spect­ive on design­ing for the ludic cen­tury in which we find ourselves. We think we have honed this per­spect­ive over the past years by thinking-through-making and we look for­ward to shar­ing it with you in the com­ing year.

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Week 282

A large part of this week was taken up by our annual OKR review and sub­sequent reori­ent­a­tion of OKRs for 2015. An intens­ive exer­cise, but ser­i­ously worth it. The tech­nique helps us build learn­ing into our tiny organ­isa­tion, and that’s very valu­able. We’ll share some out­comes of this review in a sep­ar­ate blog post soonish.

Looking ahead, we made good pro­gress on a plan for Camparc Mark II, an improved ver­sion of our pub­lic space toy, which will debut at the STRP bien­nale. We expect to be ready to start pro­duc­tion on this baby within the next few weeks and will again be work­ing with the great Aldo Hoeben on it. Next to gen­eral improve­ments we have a few cool new fea­tures lined up, so you might want to mark your cal­en­dars for the event and come over to Eindhoven to play along.

On Thursday Alper and I headed to Fabrique in Amsterdam to talk to their team about our take on play­ful design, and hear about the impress­ive range of work they did for the National Military Museum. The sub­sequent dis­cus­sions over drinks, about engage­ment, mod­el­ling game eco­nom­ies, and pro­to­typ­ing, were very enjoyable.

We also received the first print run of Bycatch this week, and had a lot of fun unpack­ing the ship­ment and admir­ing the qual­ity. This means we’re now ready to start ful­filling the pre­orders we’ve received so far, as well as send out pre­view cop­ies to select pub­lic­a­tions. I’m very excited—and a little apprehensive—about see­ing what people will write about our strange little game.

Bycatch unboxed

By chance, our friends at Playful pub­lished Subelakha’s talk about the design of Bycatch this week also. So you can go and have a look at that and hear about the ori­gins of the pro­ject and some of our design considerations.

Other than this, I con­tin­ued to work on the mockups for KLM, while Alper ran around and had lots of meet­ings with poten­tial new cli­ents, friends and peers.

A solid week!

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Week 281

To make the most of the first full work­week of the new year Alper arrived from Berlin to work with me at the Utrecht stu­dio on a num­ber of things.

We kicked off our second pro­ject with KLM on Wednesday. I went over to “build­ing 600″ on Schiphol Noord to share our pre­lim­in­ary ideas for the series of mockups we’ll be pro­du­cing to illus­trate a game concept. We divided some tasks (KLM will be very much involved hands-on in this) and set some milestones.

Later that day I also briefed Tim Hengeveld on the pro­ject, who will likely con­trib­ute concept art to the project.

On Thursday, Alper and I went over to Rotterdam to meet up with Simon to cel­eb­rate wrap­ping up our work on Standing. We’ve pushed out a few bug fixes on the 2.0 ver­sion and con­sider the pro­ject “done” for the fore­see­able future.

Which isn’t to say we won’t con­tinue to think and talk about tools for play­ful act­iv­ism though. For example, Standing will be part of E-motive Day 2015 and I will be there to share our ideas on play­ful activism.

We’ll also be part of this year’s CounterPlay fest­ival and in all like­li­hood will also talk about Standing and act­iv­ism (along with other areas of interest).

By the end of the week, a big box con­tain­ing pack­aging for send­ing out Bycatch had arrived. We expect the games to be delivered from the printer on January 16 and can’t wait to start send­ing them out.

On Friday, Alper and I reviewed 2014’s OKRs and star­ted mak­ing plans for this year’s object­ives. Aldo dropped by to make plans for a second ver­sion of Camparc which we hope to be pro­du­cing for this year’s STRP bien­nial. And we fin­ished things off in style at the very con­vivial Vechtclub XL new year’s drinks, but not before sampling the shōchū Alper had brought from Berlin’s Sake Kontor.

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Week 278–280

HNY! Well, we have three weeks worth of notes to catch up on. Week 278 got stuck in the mail because I was a bit too eager to dive into my Christmas hol­i­day. Week 279 and 280 were unevent­ful, as is to be expec­ted this time of year. Let’s get into it.

I wrapped up and delivered our work for SocialReferral in the form of a low fidel­ity click­able app pro­to­type. We’ll stay in touch to see of we may be of ser­vice at a later stage again.

I also sent out a sum­mary of the concept we developed for our pitch for the Dutch Museum Association. Next up: Sitting down with all the parties involved to rough out a pro­duc­tion plan.

I atten­ded an excel­lent edi­tion of Big Brother Awards, pro­duced by Dutch Dutch digital rights organ­isa­tion Bits of Freedom. Seeing Snowden live on a big screen from Russia was quite the exper­i­ence, as was the rest of the even­ing. I blogged some quick impres­sions on the train ride back home that night.

Snowden at Big Brother Awards

We did some bug hunt­ing and fix­ing on Standing 2.0. An update will be pushed out soonish.

I star­ted doing some plan­ning on our next pro­ject with KLM, which involves pro­du­cing a series of mockups to visu­al­ise the concept we developed for them earlier.

Alper is start­ing to push harder on mar­ket­ing Bycatch. I am assist­ing by send­ing out the odd email to people in my net­work. Meanwhile I have been on the hunt for the best pack­aging mater­ial for when we start ful­filling our pre-orders.

Alper has also been driv­ing sales efforts for the con­sultancy, with an ample range of meet­ings with inter­ested parties.

Finally, Alper moved out of Oranienstraße 6 along with the rest of KANT. In February they will reopen doors on Moritzplatz, their new space.

Over Christmas and New Year, I took a break and sub­sequently got my ass kicked by a flu. Meanwhile, Alper caught up on half a dec­ade of PS3 games.

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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.

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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).

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