Podcast 13: How does a gamification project compare to a big name game?

Welcome to a Question of Gamification. My name is An Coppens. I’m the show host, and also the chief Game Changer at Gamification Nation.

And today’s question is: how does a gamification or serious game project stand up in cost, benefits and impact in comparison to a big name game like a World of Warcraft, FIFA,`Grand Theft Auto, Fortnite, you name it, any popular game that people are playing these days?

The first answer to this question is that it is a question of budget and resources.

Typically, the bigger name games have more budget available than most corporates are willing to pay us for a gamified process or gamification or a serious game, which is the first given. Most budgets in the corporate sector are relatively limited. And the second part is the resources available. So in gamification studios, the majority of us work in quite a lean production team, and we adopt quite a lean methodology to get to the end results. In the larger studios like Blizzard and EA who produced some of the fantastic games that we all love and would love to aspire to create someday. They work with bigger teams. They have many more stages of inputs.

We, for example, have a game designer, a graphic designer and a developer at the core of what we do.  We don’t necessarily have a story writer, a narrative writer, a level designer, several versions of graphical asset designers, several developers and in-house access to a wider skill set. So whilst it is something we’d love to aspire to, realistically, the budgets that we are given to work with don’t allow us to get us there.

Does that mean that the benefits of what we create are compromised? Well, actually, not always.  First of all the bigger studios are creating for fun and for lasting engagement and to commercially making the most out of any given game that they dream up and create. Whereas for us, the measures of success are different. Yes, it should be fun to engage in, if it is a serious game. In gamification, the purpose is always the business objective first. The benefits of a serious game and gamification is typically whether it has hit the objective that it was designed for. And the first objective is usually not, it has to be super fun.

In most cases, well, it has to attract people to join the organisation if it’s for recruitment, it has to improve sales numbers if its sales related, it has to improve skills if it’s training related. So that’s the first thing, so the objective is different. It should still in terms of fun aspects, and levels of wanting to play again be engaging enough. But some games, you will not replay over and over in a gamified setting. For example, if you’re dealing with a game for recruitment, then obviously this is not going to be repeated over and over again by the same person. The intention would be there that the person may play it for a number of times, over a short space of time, even a week, or to gain access to the highest level so that they gained interview or they gain the skills that they need to prove to deliver.

In some sense, the purpose is different. So the reusability for any one player is limited. Can it be reused for many more players? Yes, of course. That’s a given. The other thing, if, for example, and I’m thinking about recruitment games that are built for competency testing, for example, once you have the result, would you go back again, it’s different, it’s a different kind of game than a game of Fortnite, a game of FIFA or where you have levels and other types of things that you may want to create. They actually are so much harder, there’s much more to earn for so many more levels, so many more interactions and the multiplayer experience. For us, it’s back to that question: does this make sense for the purpose that we’re building?

For some learning related experience it may make sense. And that’s where simulators for quite some time have played a big part in training and for pilots, for drivers of specialists equipment, for oil rigs, etc. So in some sectors, it is worthwhile investing in something of high enough quality that can replicate reality. But that also typically means a mega investment.

So for the smaller purposes, like recruitment, like a short term intervention, even a game just to attract people to use your product, you wouldn’t necessarily need to go as far as having seven or eight or 10, or hundreds of levels. You may just be sufficient to actually have one level one simple game, and an outcome at the end of the game. It really depends what you’re after, does it stand up and look and feel as it should?

I mean, just because you’re writing or designing something for business purposes, that doesn’t mean that it should look bad. It doesn’t mean that you should compromise on a quality experience. It doesn’t mean that it should be substandard.

Recently, I was presenting a series of games that we produced for recruitment purposes. And in my view, in comparison to the game that we based the whole idea on, I think we did as good in parts and better in parts and then also worse in parts than that specific game. Pretty much because we had specific things that we wanted to test for. There was problem-solving, there was creative, resourceful thinking, there was showing the reality of life in that particular role. There were a few things that we had to incorporate, which obviously, made it more challenging in some sense to create. But also, some of the reality was grinding, in the sense that there’s repetition. For example, you will have to do maintenance on a regular basis, you will have to face up to the realities of the job, not everything is rosy. That was also something that the client wanted to convey in a game that may come across as a little bit boring.

But at the same time, a lot of games when you have to repeat levels, and especially in the casual game variety, it’s not unusual to have to do repetitive tasks over and over again, in order to reach the end of a level. Does that mean it’s less engaging? Well, we still do it. But we do it for a different purpose. We play those kinds of games for a different purpose than let’s say, a multiplayer online game where you come together at a given time to go to battle, go to war, and, you know, deploy the specific skill that you bring to the party.

In my view, it’s horses for courses, you have to always think about, okay, is this good enough to deliver for the purpose that we have? Yes. Can it be better? In most cases, probably, yes. And if it can be better done, what kind of budget do you require to make it better? Because that is the one thing that I would say most organisations don’t want to face up to. They want to buy a Ferrari on a bicycle budget. And we really do need to be realistic in what is possible? What can we do? I mean, I’m always amazed at what we can produce, even for relatively limited budgets. And, you know, that’s thanks to a great team of fantastic collaborators.

Would I love to produce the next big name game? Yeah, absolutely. I think every game designer would love to do that. Give me a budget, give me resources, give me access to the tools? And, yes, we’ll do our best to deliver.

Does it mean that a serious game or gamification should be less engaging, less fun? No, it never should. Those types of games should still be fun, they should still hit their objective, the challenges is that some of the objectives are not what we consider fun.

So getting a job is that fun? Completing a course, you know, that could be fun, because you want to learn the skill. If you’re driven by learning skills. Getting the job also can be fun if you really wanted to get that job. The hardest thing to describe is how do you describe fun?

Is it like a belly laugh fun, probably not what we will be designing for? But rather you know, a little smile a little, “Hhhmm… that was okay.” I enjoyed that. Those kinds of experiences, yes. That’s what we do design for.

I hope that answers the question, and puts certain factors into perspective, that impact gamification and game design for business reasons. Because we are not in the business of designing the next FIFA or the next World of Warcraft or the next big name game. We are in the business of delivering business results. They go with a variety of fun levels and fun experiences, and perceptions of all the things in between.

I hope that answers the question.

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