A few of us were at Playful on Friday.

There were a number of great talks, but one of the themes that stood out for me was gamification, as elaborated on by Sebastien Deterding in his talk. It’s almost a recurring theme of sorts nowadays, with Dan Hon having touched upon it in his PSFK conference talk too. Sebastien spoke about how, with the advent of Foursquare, plenty of services seem to have taken it upon themselves togamify their sites in some way or the other. We now get badges and/or points not just for checking in to a place on Foursquare or Gowalla, but for reading blogs and even for eating food (Foodspotting, if you’re wondering). And that’s where people start losing the plot. He mentioned an excellent quote by James Carse:

It is an invariable principle of all play, finite and infinite, that whoever plays, plays freely. Whoever *must* play, *cannot* play.

I think this is the conundrum that games designers will have to grapple with in the coming days. Duncan said this too: how do you design a service that does not make use of badges in its reward system, and is still engaging and fun enough for people to come to repeatedly? Sebastien also quoted Raph Koster:

'Fun from games arises out of mastery.' I found the full quote later: 'It arises out of comprehension. It is the act of solving puzzles that makes games fun. With games, learning is the drug.'

So I guess essentially the question is, how can you embed learning into a fun project with rewards that are not badges?

Here's Sebastien's talk:

Margaret Robertson gave an excellent presentation - well actually her presentation was a game itself. She played Minecraft, to show us how 'games = points' is a flawed philosophy. Ultimately, people play games because they are fun. Nothing more needs to be read into it. I subsequently went to see how Minecraft (still in alpha) came about, and was thrilled to find that games developer Markus Persson is an Agilist!

Waterfall is dead, long live agile!

I've got a few plans and visions, but my only true design decision is to keep it fun and accessible. There's no design doc, but there are two lists; one for bugs, and one for features I want to add but think I might forget. I make sure to play the game a lot, and I've built my share of towers, and flooded my share of caves. If something ever doesn't feel fun, I'll remove it. I believe that I can combine enough fun, accessibility and building blocks for this game to be a huge melting pot of emergent gameplay.

I strongly believe that all good stories have a conflict, and that all good games tell a good story regardless of if it's pre-written or emergent. Free building mode is fine and dandy, but for many people it will ultimately become boring once you've got it figured out. It's like playing a first person shooter in god mode, or giving yourself infinite funds in a strategy game.. a lack of challenge kills the fun. For survival mode, I'd rather make the game too difficult than too easy. That also means I'm going to have to include some way of winning the game (or some other climax) to prevent it becoming too exhausting.

But if it's no fun, I'll redesign.

Paul Bennun from Somethin' Else gave a very entertaining talk on audio games - the kind of games that just don't get enough air-time (pardon the pun) in our world. One of the videos he played was Audio Ping Pong, and at the end he had two volunteers from the audience play a NSFW game that involved Wii remotes. You had to be there.

Richard Hogg spoke about being contrary - you know, like being a BlackBerry owner in a world full of iPhones. I really identified with his talk because I see myself as somewhat of a contrarian too (I actually do own a BlackBerry - shock, horror!). His slides were amazingly funny and he clearly put some effort into them. Here's one, which I nicked from his blog:

Pat Kane spoke about Old Jews Telling Jokes and how it gave him back his sense of humour. It had references to Paolo Virno and Marxism, and Frankie Boyle. His point basically was that jokes are a form of wit, and often surface things that would stay hidden otherwise. Here's his presentation.

Roo Reynolds and Leila Johnston conducted a Skype interview for Shift Run Stop with Dominik Diamond, LIVE (Dominik was in Nova Scotia). It was funny, as was Diamond, who happily kept pulling in references to his new book. And you know what? I think I'll buy it! One successful sale achieved, Mr. Diamond.

Bertrand Duplat was in the latter half of the afternoon and his was one of those presentations that truly made me gape. Les editions volumiques is up to some cool stuff, go and check out the projects on their site. Bertrand spoke about his company is re-interpreting the book with instruments like the iPad and iPhone.

James Huggins, a last-minute replacement for a speaker who couldn't make the event, spoke about the difference between toys and games, and how children approach games. His company, Made in Me, makes creative software for kids that encourage learning, such as the Land of Me, their first project.

I was also quite happy to see he popped in a reference to the Sugata Mitra TED talk I quite like, that discusses how children, given technology to play with, teach themselves how to use it with no guidance.

<!--copy and paste--> The finalists of Cadbury's Pocketgame competition presented their respective entries: James Wallis' entry is Flick Racer, a lovely take on car racing, and Sally Manning's is Egg-a-thon, which is a fun egg-race, more or less. I like the fact that they're sustainable, and that they're such social objects by definition. People need to play more games in life, like the people on the streets who play Hopskotch on the chalked-up street when they think no one is watching, whom James referred to! Anyhow, both games will be sent to 25,000 people who've signed up to receive Matterbox later this year, and they'll decide which one wins.

Alexis Kennedy from Fail Better Games spoke about how people sometimes embrace games that embrace misery, like Echo Bazaar, which they built. There was an interesting insight I took away from his talk: success in games is inevitable (usually), but misery is escape. Given that there are more than 10,000 people playing the browser-based game and it is integrated with Facebook and Twitter already, perhaps there's more to that than meets the eye.

My favourite part of Bea-Davy Sutherland's talk (all of age 9, if you please) was her interview with Leila Johnston where she admitted to 'going on Facebook a bit, don't tell anyone', liking LOLcats, watching programmes on BBC iPlayer and using Skype to talk to her family in Australia. We were also privy, via a video clip, to her encounters with a couple of game companies, where she asked them what they were doing with the power they wielded. I wish I was half as technologically literate and aware at her age!

Naomi Alderman spoke about the 4 key features of any story: desire, fear, secrets and character development and how Red Dead Redemption really doesn't fulfill some of that.

I loved the way Jonathon Smith introduced Mad Men into his talk. I haven't seen Season 4 yet but I forgive him for showing us a pretty good scene where Dr. Fay Miller (also a character I didn't know existed till then!) teases out of Don Draper that he is the way he is because of the difference in what he wants versus what people expect of him. Jonathon is development director at TT Games which makes the LEGO Star Wars games and his point was that LEGO gives you infinite possibilities and people like the fact that they can do what they want with it. Players don't want to be indulged - the 'awareness of permitted possibilities' is all they really need.

Nicholas Nova spoke about the evolution of game controllers through the years, and Tom Muller's rather long talk was about his interest in comics. Last but not the least, Dom Hodge and Dave Haynes (from Frukt and Soundcloud respectively) took us through music mash-ups and playful hacks, such as Swinger, a hack that jazzes up any tone.

Thanks to Toby Barnes and the Mudlark team for putting this on. Not your usual kind of presentations, that's for sure!

Leave a comment

Required fields are marked. Don’t worry - we won’t do anything fishy with your email address.