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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Play Matters

Crowd at Ann Hamilton, The Event of a Thread

When Miguel Sicart’s Play Matters was pub­lished in August of last year it imme­di­ately went on my to-read list but it took me a while before pick­ing it up. When I did I was imme­di­ately hooked. Not since The Well-Played Game have a I come across such a thought­ful treat­ment of play.

Play Matters is also the best dis­cus­sion of play­ful design I have read in book form or for that mat­ter any place else. Given the fact that we have adop­ted the term “play­ful design” to describe what we do, I am always look­ing to improve my own think­ing on the sub­ject. In that regard, Play Matters is very help­ful as it provides a vocab­u­lary for talk­ing about play, play­ful­ness, and playthings, and the craft of design­ing for them.

In fact, it is such a good book on the sub­ject, that I would recom­mend it to any designer, not just design­ers of playthings, by which I mean games, toys and play­grounds. It will make you think dif­fer­ently about the rela­tion­ship between the things you make and the people you make them for. It will help you under­stand that any­thing can be played with, and that this is a good thing.

Miguel con­vin­cingly argues for an under­stand­ing of play as an act of per­sonal expres­sion. Play is a way for people to under­stand and engage with the world. Seen this way, play is an act of pro­duc­tion, not con­sump­tion. Put in lofty terms, which Miguel doesn’t shy away from, when we play we are fully human.

Because of this, play mat­ters. And because of this, it is import­ant for us design­ers to acknow­ledge the role of play in our work, even when it is our job to make things that are primar­ily meant to be use­ful. Even use­ful things can be approached with a play­ful atti­tude. When we design for this kind of playing-while-working we break out of technology-as-servant-or-master dichotomy.

Play Matters is a mere 176 pages long. The final third of the book is taken up by notes for those want­ing to do fur­ther read­ing and research. It may be short, and writ­ten in an access­ible style (which I wel­come) but it is not shal­low. The book rewards con­tem­pla­tion, and per­haps more import­antly it invites dir­ect applic­a­tion in daily practice.

In short, Play Matters is highly recom­men­ded to any­one inter­ested in play. But per­haps more import­antly, I think it is required read­ing for any­one inter­ested in design.

Update: I blogged some annot­ated high­lights from the book.

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Week 287

A week in which we got a lot of things done.

KUMA is near­ing com­ple­tion with another round of mockups run by the cli­ent. Aldo is mak­ing steady pro­gress on the next ver­sion of Camparc. We are going to do an early concept explor­a­tion for SHIJIMI about games in urban development.

Most of my time went into a museum game we’re design­ing code­named SHACHI. We are find­ing our feet in Unity and play­ing around with beacons right now. We’ll jump into devel­op­ment in earn­est this week. I have got­ten into the habit of shoot­ing a video of the day’s find­ings with my S100. This is an easy high-fidelity way to share the design progress.

I also wrote a piece on why we are using Unity for this pro­ject and why we think it’s an import­ant design tool.

Bycatch had a quiet week while we pre­pare to launch it.

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Unity makes iterative design easy

We are cur­rently in the middle of a pro­ject for which we are using Unity 3D to quickly cre­ate a work­ing pro­to­type. We had wanted to use Unity for a while now because other tools felt too con­strained. Now we finally have the oppor­tun­ity to do so.

Other design com­pan­ies and depart­ments are also find­ing out about the bene­fits of Unity. I saw two jobs for Unity experts through my net­work in the past weeks as opposed to abso­lutely none before. IXDS were look­ing for a Unity expert and this week I saw that HERE have a per­man­ent pos­i­tion for a Unity pro­to­typer.

There are two main reas­ons why Unity is a great tool for iter­at­ive design.

First, Unity is a pro­duc­tion qual­ity tool in which you can pro­to­type quickly. Unity will allow you to drop your assets into it and place them in a 2D/3D scene. Unity will take almost any­thing you throw at it and if not you can find a lib­rary for it (for example see this work­flow by Zach Gage). If you add some beha­viours to these objects, you can then quickly have some­thing that is inter­act­ive. These beha­viours can be pro­grammed fully but Unity is aimed fore­most at non-programmers. Finally you can pub­lish your pro­ject with a single action to a mobile device, desktop or web­site. There are simply no other tools that sup­port this work­flow and are this mature.

2015-02-20 17_49_08

Second, the fact that the editor and the engine are within the same applic­a­tion enable things that are oth­er­wise impossible. In Unity you can declare any prop­erty of an object to be pub­lic. Unity will then auto­mat­ic­ally gen­er­ate a con­trol in the inspector which you can use to tweak this prop­erty. You can then run your applic­a­tion in the editor using the play but­ton and tweak the value while it is run­ning. In the GIF above (from this tutorial) you can see some­body play­ing around with the speed of a car. This ‘live-coding’ cap­ab­il­ity is one of the most import­ant fea­tures of Unity.

During almost every pro­ject we have done we wanted to be able to tweak vari­ables of a run­ning applic­a­tion. When you want to do play­ful design, you need to fine-tune things to make your game or app feel just right. Currently the only way to do this is through a dif­fi­cult and time con­sum­ing edit-compile-run-test cycle. Xcode has some ways to expose vari­ables but they are dif­fi­cult to set up and share within a team. Unity has this as a key feature.

This being said, actu­ally get­ting star­ted in Unity isn’t easy. There are lots of ways to do everything which doesn’t make it very straight for­ward. But the doc­u­ment­a­tion has improved massively since the last time we tried it and the basic ver­sion is now free. There are also many power­ful lib­rar­ies built on top of Unity for people cre­at­ing games. It seems like a mat­ter of time until there will also be lib­rar­ies and assets for people mak­ing other things.

Unity is one of the most pop­u­lar engines for doing game devel­op­ment right now. Larger com­pan­ies pick­ing it up for design pro­to­typ­ing is an inter­est­ing devel­op­ment. It shows the need for hav­ing tools that allow design­ers and pro­gram­mers to be able to pro­to­type together. One of the few other tools out there that facil­it­ates such an integ­rated pro­to­typ­ing work­flow is the increas­ingly pop­u­lar Framer. I look for­ward to see­ing more tools for bet­ter iter­at­ive design like these emerge.

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Week 286

We made some good pro­gress on sev­eral pro­jects this week. The big one is Home Rule. Alper and I kicked it off with some plan­ning for the next two weeks. Then we imme­di­ately star­ted crack­ing on things. Alper got a pro­to­typ­ing setup in Unity up and run­ning, includ­ing iBeacons integ­ra­tion, and pro­ceeded to do some “mater­ial explor­a­tion”. Meanwhile I did some pre­lim­in­ary game design, out­lining mech­an­ics and ima­gin­ing a player’s exper­i­ence when going through a full game loop.

On the Bycatch front, we had to fix a little prob­lem affect­ing some cus­tom­ers when they tried to make a pur­chase. All should be func­tion­ing prop­erly again, so why not go an grab your­self a copy?

Alper wrapped up his review of an inter­view by Dude about his mot­ley career, and had some rather dash­ing por­trait pho­tos taken for pub­lic­a­tion along­side it.

Alper also presen­ted on Bycatch and our approach to play­ful design at IXDS.

I pre­pared and ran a work­shop on play­ful design for a group of stu­dents fol­low­ing a minor in exhib­i­tion dir­ec­tion at Reinwardt Academy. We redesigned Peggy Guggenheim’s fam­ous Art of This Century gal­lery to be more play­ful than it already was, and in the pro­cess got some exper­i­ence with phys­ical pro­to­typ­ing and playtest­ing. All in less than 2,5 hours.

Playful exhibition design workshop at Reinwardt Academy

On the pro­ject KUMA front, we received and pro­cessed feed­back from KLM on the first round of mockups, and I spent some time with Tim going over all of it and mak­ing a plan for the required adjust­ments in the second round, which we’ll deliver in rough story­boards first.

I spent some time research­ing the 4G offer­ings of the major mobile oper­at­ors in NL for Camparc Mark II. I was pleas­antly sur­prised to find that Vodafone offers monthly con­tracts for data sims. In the­ory this should suit our needs per­fectly so the next step is to test one in the field. If all goes well our Camparc balls will be able to roam the city abso­lutely free, which would be glorious.

And on Friday, I headed over to Aldo’s labor­at­ory to review the first Camparc Mark II devel­op­ment sprint. Quite a few struc­tural improve­ments had been made des­pite delayed deliv­ery of vari­ous parts. Getting a live demo of all the nice little details and mak­ing plans for the next sprint was a lovely way to end a pro­duct­ive week.

SD card protector on Camparc Mark II

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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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