The 60/20 principle - work out who you want to use the game and what for
It’s vital to understand which audience you are targeting when developing the game, not just in terms of who uses gaming but how they will benefit from using it and how they will be able to play it.
Focusing on specific issues which impact on a particular group of people in their everyday lives is the most effective way of achieving this, as when you simulate the impacts of their actions, they can identify with them more easily. However, don't make it sound condescending or inappropriate – if people are reporting a child protection issue they’re likely to get upset at having to use gaming tools to do that.
Making each sequence of the game time-limited and changing the visuals when they take an action are also important design principles, as time lag and repetition lead people to become distracted.
Like in any learning environment, games need to be designed for 60% of the target audience, 20% of the learners will keep asking questions and 20% want to try and beat the game.
Equally important is to start the game off with simple instructions and make it more complex as it develops, so users are confident in playing, but stay interested as you add extra dimensions to the tasks.
I’m aware making sure the game development is agile and adaptable can mean needing more specialist skills than procuring “off the shelf” software that may be cheaper but not too flexible. How about investing more in developing the skills than in the technology in this area?
Do they love bees?
Attract people to join the game
Using hooks to get people signed up to games and sending a clear message about its purpose or social benefit is vital given the assumptions about gaming not being “serious”. The “I love bees” game sent the most active players they knew jars of honey to provoke a reaction and get them on board.
This example may not seem serious, but drawing lateral parallels with the real world can be a subliminal way of training people, in a similar way that Pet Society can help children learn to look after themselves.
Although the conventional approach for councils is to target the general public, we could mobilise groups who may be strongly involved in a very niche area – like geocaching. They may be a smaller target audience, but more likely to take part. In this instance, it makes sense to promote the game through their existing channels first – as that is where they are.
There is a possibility people may not take the purpose of the game seriously if they don’t understand what it’s objective is.
Why not then promote the game through viral channels, such as payslips for staff, email signatures for stakeholders, geocaches in country parks or forward to a friend tools for the public?
Make them play - mix up real world and virtual gaming
Using the real world as a platform for gaming developed online not only makes the game relevant and customisable to its players, it tackles the challenge of digital inclusion and gets people to have to actually change their behaviours to be able to complete the tasks.
For example, in “World Without Oil”, people have to grow food in their gardens to complete the online game or in WiiJog you have to run 7500 steps yourself.
There are many different ways of mixing offline and online within a game – from getting people to play as if the scenario was really happening rather than just role playing or organising gaming meet-ups to improve a service or product.
Pervasive gaming, is probably a technique that would fit in very well with the blended learning and engagement that councils need to work with (given the digital divide).
For example, “And I Saw” encourages people to notice the environment around them by placing stickers on locations with codes that you can text in. It reduces the distance between seeing what you can do and how can you do something about it. This could be used to report potholes or recruit apprentices.
The broader value behind this is giving developers or gaming enthusiasts the tools to customise games for other groups in the community or even businesses who don’t have the time or expertise to do it themselves but may have the money to pay for it.
Train people to make the best use of the game
Given that gaming is not widely used within local government, training people up in how to make the best of these techniques is crucial and there is already good practice in KCC schools of walking through how to use the technology with teachers as well as “how to” guides used elsewhere.
If people have never used “serious games” they may require training on using games in general, before learning how to play a specific one. How about using guides or screencasts to walk through people on how to play the game?
Choose whether to develop single or multiplayer games If you have multiple players, some people will become more influential than others. If you’re training care managers for example, other people may need to play the user, which isn’t being trained. If you have single player games, the computer automates the other roles and stakeholders that you’re not training.
There is a risk that broadening the scope of stakeholders can lead to too many variables needing to be included in the game.
How about mapping the stakeholders involved in the environment you want to simulate and decide which should be “featured” or even need to play the game concurrently?
My next blogpost in this series will talk about what groups use games, how you can involve them in designing them, how you can use psychological techniques in gaming design to influence behaviours, how you provide flexibility to impact different learning styles and make the best use of the skills people develop through gaming.
If you want to find out more about what we're thinking about and looking at around simulation & gaming, see here. Contact us if you have an idea. Do they love bees?