Green Door Labs: THE BLOG

Building mobile games for spaces. Museums, games, education and other great adventures.


Leave a comment

No budget? No excuses! 12 game prompts for limited budgets

I love museum games. I think there’s no better way to get people through the psychological door of art, science, history and culture than through play. I recently chatted with a small history museum who loved the idea of games and interactive media but said they were too small: they had no budget and therefore, they can’t build anything at all. Alas!! That line again!! I do understand. I see why people would think  you can’t have playful, interactive experiences for your visitors if you’re not a large organization with a budget but I hate hearing it because it is just completely and absolutely not true.

49425258

 

Meaningful play can absolutely be built with zero budget. All it takes is a little bit of time, some clever ideas and a willingness to test prototypes and see what really resonates with your audience. If they go for it, that gives you the momentum to try again- and again- until maybe your board takes notice and says, “hey! Visitors are really responding to this, why don’t we give you some help?”

 

In fact I bet can think of a dozen ways that you can be building playful interaction in your museum even with no budget, a small collection and being short of staff. Do you dare me? Well then… challenge accepted. Here are 12 FREE things you could be building right now for free to make your space more fun and interactive.

 

1. Choose your own adventures:

Remember those awesome books where you get to decide where to go next? You can make those with a paper and pen. “There are reports that X museum is being haunted by the ghost of X. You’ve been recruited to investigate. Enter the main parlor. If you investigate the cabinet, turn to page 2. If you pass through to the dining room, turn to page 5”. If you’ want a digital version, check out the wonderful (and free!) Quest http://textadventures.co.uk/quest and write a computer-based choose-your-own text adventure.  Let visitors play through the settings of your paintings, time periods, through the perspective of one of your historical characters or from the point of view of an atom.

choose-your-own-frac-sand-adventure-picture

 

2. Clipboard games:

Leave behind clipboards with paper and a pencil tied to a string. Let people leave (respectful) messages, questions or observations for other visitors. Have them draw pictures of artifacts and let others guess what they drew. Use it to create an “exquisite corpse” game where they start a story about an artifact or historical event, fold the page over and let other people continue it. Put your exquisite corpse histories on FB, your blog or your website. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Exquisite_corpse (The Baltimore Art Museum is doing a great job of this on their blog http://blog.artbma.org.) Lots of stuff can be done with clipboards!

 

3.  Twitter games. 

Take a close-up pictures of your artifacts and let people guess what they are. (This was one of the Smithsonian’s favorite games for a while.) @Midnight is doing an amazing job of twitter games right now with “Hashtag wars” where they give challenges like “#sadtoys” (answers: Strangers with Candy Land, Really Really Really Hungry Hippos” http://nypost.com/2014/02/06/crowdsourced-hashtagwars-have-midnight-owning-twitter/) Museum hashtag wars? For instance, #failedarttoys. (possible answers: Jackson Polluck Rubik’s cubes…Rothko paint-by-numbers)

tumblr_n02ooilXX71skfk58o1_500

4. Game Jams!!

Don’t want to build a game? Let your visitors do it for you. Set aside 48 hours and challenge your visitors to create the best scavenger hunt, choose-your-own adventure or interactive tour of your space. We just ran Edventure Builder game jams with kids at the Field Museum and the Harvard Museum of Natural History with some great results! The MIT Museum had an excellent board game jam as part of the Cambridge Science Festival. Set aside a time invite familes, arm them with a bunch of junk and a piece of cardboard and you might be surprised what they come up with! The best part is that they bring other visitors back to your space to play their games. http://www.greenapplecamps.com/events/

 

5. I spy

The Getty is running a great digital version of ISpy called Switch  http://www.getty.edu/games/switch/ but Gore Place in Waltham Mass is also running a fabulous, simple paper-based version with questions like “find a chair back that looks like this”. You can create your own “switch” with simple digital pictures, some photoshopping and a printer.

5862194692_f6a4f87feb_z

6. VTS is a GREAT GAME! 

Challenges to help people look at art, and they’re also good play. Give folks a clipboard with questions on them or add them to whatever platform you have to deliver content. “Name as many colors as you can in this photo until you run out. Whoever gets the last one wins.” “What is the person in this picture thinking?” http://www.vtshome.org

 

7. Themes: 

Follow a theme through a museum- this is really fun because when you have a hammer, everything is a nail. If you send people through your space all looking for different things: eyes, pyramids, eagles, skulls, the color red, even you’ll be surprised how much they find.

 

8. Photo hunt: 

If you can have pictures taken in your collection, there’s a lot of fun that can be had with that. Give people a list of photos that they have to take during their visit but make it super vague: The Bluest Blue, Me and My Fine Arts Doppelganger, Me and Elma Mae— see what they come up with and encourage them to send you their photos. Post them on your FB page and give prizes for the photos with the most likes.

 

9. Timelines:

hstry.org is a great place to build (free!) digital interactive historical timelines. Feeling non-techie? Create your own post-it note timelines near your exhibits and let your visitors add their own. Add a clothesline with some pins and put out index cards for visitors to add a new event to the timeline and clip it into the line. Start with something you’d like to add in 1: Louisa May Alcott is born….. (empty space) 20: Louisa May Alcott Dies. Encourage people to fill in the blanks and rearrange each other’s input as they add to it.

 

10. Borrow and share:

Museums are building great stuff and more often than not, they’re building it open source to share with YOU! Look around to see what you can use from other
museums before you reinvent the wheel. The MoMA’s “everyone’s a critic” is open to use: http://www.instituteofplay.org/work/projects/everyones-a-critic-2/
(In fact they just tweeted yesterday “use this in your museum!”) Incorporate existing games into your museum experience like “Play Brave” missions http://www.playbrave.org or “Ingress” locations. http://www.ingress.com

moma2

 

11. Abuse college students

If you’re in New England and you don’t have a student intern in your space well then you’re not utilizing your resources. Even if you’re not in New England, I would wager there’s probably a college or high school closeby with intelligent young people who would love to build their resume by making something fun for your organization. Reach out to these organizations! I find it’s best to be very targeted: if you say “we want a game”, you may get a lot of starry-eyed post-teen writers. But if you go to a professor and say, “We’re a respected cultural organization, we’d like an experimental history game for families to play in August and it needs to be paper-based. Do you have any crackerjack students who could play with it for credit or a resume builder?” then see what you get!

 

12. Cannibalize other games

I think the folks at the incredible Fablevision said it best (and I steal their line all the time) “the best games have known game dynamics and market-quality graphics.” We might not be able to get the market-quality graphics with our time and budget but we can give folks a twist on something they already know and love. Murder at the Met was successful because it built on a game that people knew: Clue. Candy Crush is just a variation on Bejeweled. Tate Trumps looks like a card game. Use simple games that people like to play: monopoly, go fish, 20 questions and make simple, paper variations on these games that use your space. Remember your goal is to have people learning and having fun, removing barriers to entry and letting people be more comfortable with art, science, history and culture so if you have to cheat a little and give people something they recognize to get there, that’s a-okay.

 

And last but not least, TALK! Follow hashtags like #musegames,  #musetech and #G4C (games for change.) Connect with people like James Collins who’s heading up the search for better learning games at the Smithsonian or Susan Edwards, building great stuff at the Getty. Laura Huntimer from the Joslyn has great advice on how to run game jams with school groups and Sharna Jackson, formerly of the Tate and now of Hopster, always has excellent ideas. Keep an eye to the Museum Games Wiki: http://museumgames.pbworks.com/w/page/38863237/FrontPage If you’re reading this blog then you already know me and I’m always game for a 20 minute call to hear about what you’re trying to do.

49425584

Or maybe “parlez” – Who ever knows the appropriate spelling of piratespeak?

So you may not have a million dollar grant or a staff of 500 but you DO have some ideas- and you can start testing out those ideas right now!! Happy gaming!

Advertisements


2 Comments

2 Red Flags When Building Fun Stuff…

People often bring the Green Door crew on to a project to make it fun. “We want people to be happy. Can we add badges to it? Can we add some graphics? How about points?”

This is known- of course- as chocolate covered broccoli or: gamification. Can we have all the mechanics of a game without it actually being playful? Can we make people do exactly what we want them to do in the way we want them to do it but make it look like they’re enjoying it? Oh boy…

red-flag1

oh no…

People’s hearts are in the right place: they care about something. Maybe it’s their product or their cause or their business and they want people to enjoy interacting with it. Badges and points seem at first glance like a quick way to make people happy. So actually- making unfun things fun, I do think this is possible. The key is to have clear user goals and then flexibility in getting there. In fact, In my mind, those are only two really serious red flags that can kill the fun in your fun project. Shall I elaborate? Well if you insist:

#1. Unclear User Goals

What do you want people to do? “We want people to just have some fun, reach out to a younger demographic, engage people in 21st century media.” Wait, what does that even mean?? What are we actually trying to achieve? These are probably good “throughlines” or overall big picture things but how do you know when you’ve achieved them? You need to really narrow down what you’re trying to get people to do, don’t waste your players’ time! What are some good goals?

  • We want 100 people to visit 5 places in Boston
  • We want people to look more closely at these three pieces of art
  • We want people to make connections between art and science.

These are things we can actually achieve and we know when we’ve done it. If you REALLY want people to just “have fun” you’d hand them a bottle of beer and a can of silly string and set them loose. I suspect you want something more, so figure out what that thing is and then you can figure out how to achieve it in a playful environment. Now as you may have noticed, if you don’t have clear goals… then just get them. Not impossible. The only deal-breaker is when people refuse to clarify, they cling to vague goals, they list like 20 goals or they keep shifting their user goals.

#2. Inflexible Dynamics

MY WAYYou want to build an app to make people eat healthier food. Great! But it has to have a flower in it and it has to be blue. They have to get points and they have to reach goals and they have to get badges and they have to play on Tuesdays between 12 and 2 and that’s how it is. NOW U GO HAVE FUN!

If we have user goals, we need be flexible on what to do to make them happen in a playful way. Our goal is not to do it OUR way or the way we pictured it, our goal is to do it in the simplest and most achievable way possible. Sometimes you take a look at your user goals, restrictions and resources and find out that what you need isn’t actually a game at all. Maybe it’s a personality profile, branding, a storyline or more instructions. Sometimes you do need a game but the best way to do it would be with a word game or a board game.  Your goal is not to build a game- it’s to achieve something through a game. If what you want can be more easily achieved through other media, that’s what you should be doing. (Unless your goal is to build a game… and that’s valid too… but chances are you have to build a game FOR something: you want to get more media, more attention, show your technological abilities, research how games work etc..)

So these flags aren’t a big deal, right? You can totally set clear user goals and then be flexible about how to achieve them! So with that in place, can you make your boring training session/ orientation/ historical tour/ conference fun? Probably. Just be super clear about what you want and then be flexible about how to get there.

chocolate-covered-veggies1-670x531

So I’m not gonna lie, I like broccoli and chocolate covered broccoli might not be half bad. In fact I think often chocolate covered broccoli is better than no broccoli at all so if badges are the only way you’re going to get your project on the road, go to it.

What do you think? Have you come across these problems before in building or playing? Were they deal-breakers for you as they were for me? Are there other red flags that you’ve seen derail a game design project? Come on readers, I want to hear from BOTH of you! (heheh…)

 

 

 

 


Leave a comment

Game Jams and why you should be running them with every kid you know right now.

Grunge vintage televisionWhen I was a kid, I remember watching movies and TV and genuinely being upset that there was a media monopoly: I had to watch the stations’ programs because I couldn’t produce my own. They could reach millions of people. I never could.

Well those days are long, long over, aren’t they?

I remember that frustration and think of what a much, much better world we live in today, where kids can build music, movies, games, art- anything- without having to be the child of a media producer. Even things that ARE hard to build: metal sculptures, machines, robots, wooden structures, 3-D printing aren’t out of our reach. Organizations like the Art Institute of Chicago and the Peabody Essex are creating quality maker spaces to ensure that anyone can build anything they feel like building with just a little chutzpah and the necessary time. So maker stuff is HAPPENING! What about games? Well- we can make those too.

Kids building STUFF at the Newark Art Museum maker space.

Kids building STUFF at the Newark Art Museum maker space.

People ask me all the time: “what language should my kid learn to program to build games?” The easy answer, right now, is Unity. But I’d like people to think of game building the way they  think of a maker space: “What machines does my kid have to learn how to use to build a robot?” Well… the machines aren’t really the barrier to building, the process is. Even if you know how to weld and use a lathe, you still might not build much of a robot. I’d love to see people learn more about the process of building games than the machines to build them: How do you tell an interactive story? Where do you start? What do you need? The only way to learn is to do it – and that’s where Game Jams come in.

GlobalGameJamA Game Jam is when people get together with lots of pizza and coffee, form teams and then have 48 hours to build anything that’s playable. Usually there are some sort of game parameters like “It has a heart” or “It’s a game for change”.  The goal is more like NanoWrimo, not to build a perfect game, just to build A GAME from start to finish- and one that can be played.

The catch with Game Jams is that often you need to have a programmer of some sort- and I think that’s bunk. Programming means kids, teachers and museum educators don’t have access to the awesome process of building games- that’s why this weekend we’ll be running our very first Kids’ Museums Game Jam with the Field Museum and Green Apple Camps. The kids have 48 hours to build a mobile game for the Field Museum in Chicago (and then in two weeks, at the Harvard Museum of Natural History).

Kids at the Joslyn Art Museum play mobile games they built themselves!

Kids at the Joslyn Art Museum play mobile games they built themselves!

I’m so proud and so excited that this Jam will run off of our very own Edventure Builder: no programming required- focus on the storytelling. And I suspect  the kids will be building some weird and very cool things. (I’ll share them next week.)

So what are you waiting for?! There are things for kids to build and you can be the one to make that happen right now. Run your own Game Jam for kids! Don’t fall victim to the falsehood that you need special programming technology to build games. You can do card games, board games, ball games, guessing games- games need nothing but people with a willingness to play. Here’s a quickstep list of the steps that I use to run a lightning Game Jam.

  • Choose a theme and a medium. You can have kids build paper scavenger hunts, field games, ball games, interactive stories, trading games, role plays… whatever you want. It helps when you set some content parameters like “sweet”, “red” or “historical”. Remember that parameters help people to be more creative. Say “build a game” and people clam up. Say “build a card-trading game with three people about blueberries” and you get some stuff.
  • Find a location… have your kids show up there Friday night, form teams and choose roles. You’ll want a Producer, a Writer, an Artist, possibly a techie/logic person and of course, playtesters.
  • Let the kids loose. Worksheets are a good place to start. Always have them build a paper prototype and have the kids from other teams play it while they take notes. We always say “no game survives its first player”.
  • Have them build out the final version and go crazy with the art assets
  • Have a launch evening where families come in to play the kids’ newly minted games!

 

So don’t delay! There are games to be made and kids to be inspired! And if you happen to live in Boston or Chicago, join us for our Green Apple/Green Door Museum Games Jam!

 

April 12th: Chicago’s Field Museum

April 26th: Harvard’s Museum of Natural History

Read more about it (and sign up!) here: http://www.greenapplecamps.com/events/

ONWARDS TO GREAT EDVENTURES!

balloon_car


Leave a comment

On Magic Vests, Cloud Hats and the Oxymoron of Needing Rules to Play

I was really struck by Nina Simon’s post on “Magic Vests” and then Jay Cousin’s post on “Tag Cloud Hats”– all about getting strangers to interact with each other in a positive way. Nina talked about how as a gallery guide at a science museum, she would wear her magic docent vest and people would chat with her. Jay talked about how he made people wear silly hats at a conference and it made it easier for them to chat with one-another. I think one thing that’s interesting about these two examples is the concept of permission to interact. Permission to play. Which is essentially what games are: permission to play.

Ideally every museum visit would be a Ferris Bueller adventure but in reality, people need some prompts.

Ideally every museum visit would be a Ferris Bueller adventure but in reality, people need some prompts.

We have this romantic movie idea that play just magically happens- like we live in an 80’s movie and food fights erupt or people giggle and dance on the street or join 1st grader tour groups in museums. In real life usually play only happens in highly structured environments. Where do you play? Playgrounds (notice we need a specific, fenced-in ground to play), clubs, games, sports, events, fairs, playdates, concerts, laser tag. Even kids don’t have much unstructured play right now. Play is actually something that need lots of rules and lots of permission to happen. Boundaries, tickets, age limits, liability waivers, Is this ideal? No way. I would love a world where people trusted each other enough that play spontaneously erupted everywhere. But since that’s not going to happen, if we want more play we have to acknowledge people’s nervousness and safely guide them to the positive interactions that we’d like them to have.

I’ll get a little more philosophical about it. I suspect the reason that people are so very socially anxious in our day and age is that there are no rules to fall back upon. Anything goes- and that’s really stressful. Once upon a time, social interaction was highly structured. There were calling cards, cotillions, dance cards, sirs, ma’ams and misses, neighborhoods, churches, hat tips, curtseys, ladies’ circles, gentlemen’s clubs (a la 80 days around the world, not a la strip clubs). Even imagine this- when you danced, there were steps. Signals were clear. We know what those clear social signals caused for years and years: racism, classism, repression of some groups, lack of opportunity for others, lots of bad things happened from those strong social structures. We’d like to say we’re past that and that’s a good thing… but it’s stressful thing because now that signals aren’t always so clear, I don’t always know if I can say hello to you.

Prof. M J Koncen's

There is no Prof M J Koncen’s Ball Room Guide to interacting with strangers in our era. But games can help.

This is where magic vests, cloud hats and games come in. As game builders we need to understand two things:

#1: People need permission to play. We want play to be something that’s easy, fun and sanctioned, not weird and uncomfortable or makes people feel like they’re “acting up” and drawing attention. That happens with adding more rules, not less. Set the fence, the rules, the expectations.

#2: Establish a framework for how they can begin to interact, don’t expect them to figure it out on their own. You’re not letting them be free and creative, usually you’re stressing them out. The truly creative souls will find out how to break the rules anyways- and let them. But you don’t want the bulk of your audience’s energy to go into trying to figure out how to appropriately deal with this social situation. You want their full attention on learning and sharing.

Please understand, I don’t think people are all walking stress balls thinking “can I talk to you? can I talk to him?” Mostly stranger danger is just part of our normal lives: I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me. But then there are those moments at conferences or cocktail parties or on the train or at the library where you’d love to have someone to chat with but you think “it’d be weird.” Would that be weird? Would I be creepy? We want to use play to remove that question from people’s minds. Remove that stress- that barrier to entry. “weird?!” Nope, not weird. This is part of the game. Talk to that stranger. Share your stories, learn some stuff. It’s a safe place.

The magic vest did just this. Nina was in a museum, she could approach people while wearing the vest and it was okay- they had permission to speak with her and a framework to do it in: things to talk about, an environment where people felt safe talking, a person that they could clearly talk to. She mentioned that later at a zoo, she saw a lost child and attempted to help but she was vestless- just a creepy stranger. Jay’s project did something that I think is always fascinating: silly hats. The rules of civility have already been broken: you’re wearing a silly hat. We might as well talk. I like to set up these same parameters when I teach dance classes. The first thing I always do in a dance class is a ridiculous group warm-up. Bunny hops. Chicken pecking. shake your butt. We’re all in this together and we’re not here to look sexy. Permission to play, here are the steps, now let’s dance.

So the moral of the story is that if you want people to have fun, relax, share with strangers and create community, you need more rules, not less. Give them permission, rules and frameworks for meaningful interactions to happen. Having a party with alcohol and social media and lots of screens around your art collection is sort of cheating. Dulling people’s senses through loud music, dark rooms and alcohol will also make them into interact but for very different reasons- it’s sort of like blue comedy where people laugh because they’re uncomfortable but they still laughed so we think we got it. You don’t want people just to party in a cultural space, you want them to have meaningful interactions.

ferris-buellers-day-off-3-2

How long would it take museum security to detain you if you actually joined a 1st grade art tour?

This is no cotillion. You’re going to set people up to be a little uncomfortable and you may not have a ton of takers at first but as the person building the game or running the class, you have the authority to set up a play space and see what works. Give them permission, set up the frameworks, break the barriers by getting a little silly and then… let’s dance.


Leave a comment

PLEASE OH PLEASE Play my game!! The Art of Engaging People Part 2: Five action items

PLEASE PLAY! Part 2:

“Who will play my game??!” I hope you’re asking this because it is exactly the right question. Sometimes people forget that if they build a game, people will not magically come out of the woodwork to play it: user acquisition is one of the hardest parts of game building. Part one had three big ideas on how to design your game to be more playable. Here for part two are five real-life, real-time for realz things that will give people permission to play. Ready? GO!

First of all: BEWARE YE THE BADGES

Don’t get caught in the trap of thinking that points and badges will get people to play. Points and badges are fun where there’s an existing community of people that you know to compete against or you’re competing in real time. Foursquare mayorships were fun because you stole them from your friends. Game leaderboards are fun if you’re playing multiple times to best your own score. Yay! I got 10 points. Who cares. If you can answer that question, think about points but if there’s no way to gloat over your success, points and badges can end up feeling a little more like a test (which also has
points, and yet is critically un-fun.) I’ll write more about that later but I think I can say confidently that badges and points won’t make people play your game.

1.Use your testing as marketing
You’re testing right? You’re testing EVERYTHING with at least 5 fresh-faced, non-builder test players before it ever goes live, right? (Serious face….) Of course you are! But use that testing as part of your marketing outreach. Set testing dates or testing parties where you invite a very limited number of people to test out the game before is live. People love to be involved in the design process and often testers blog about it, share and can be interviewed and give you marketing quotes. Tweet pictures of them playing, put on your FB page “can’t wait to test the X game with families today”. Send out an email blast looking for testers etc.. This way by the time the game releases, people have heard about it already, if even in passing.

2. Throw a launch party

NatM_Murder_2

The Met’s launch party for Murder at the Met encouraged teens to dress up and provided them with fake mustaches, which really set the tone.

Once your testers have tested the project out and given everybody a sneak preview, have a launch event! If you can do something where people are competing for an iPad or something, that’s great! (one iPad is worth it’s weight in marketing gold). For a non-competitive challenge, launch it as part of a party where people will just be psyched to have something fun to do while they socialize. Again- tweet, FB, media and website all of your pictures of people having an awesome time!

 

IMG_2387

Students play the Art Deco Treasure Hunt at the Joslyn Museum

3. Encourage groups to play

If you encourage classes, homeschool groups, Nick Cave fan clubs, church groups, meetups, stroller moms, girl scouts etc… they bring a group of 5 to 20 with them. Encourage groups. You’re still trying to get the word out and having people play in groups will get the word out faster, make people more likely to play and increase your numbers faster than encouraging individual players with a scatter marketing effort. Reach out to these groups directly- call them! Email them! People have so much noise that it’s easy for them to miss you if you’re not speaking to them directly.

4. Be specific with your target market

I’ve found that it’s easier to reach out to people when you have someone specific in mind rather than just a blanket marketing thing. The Met launched their murder mystery for their teen group to play at an event. The Quartermaster museum uses their game as part of soldier training. The Joslyn is reaching out to kids from Buffet Middleschool and their families. The Smithsonian American Art museum built some fun stuff but they haven’t done any of the above and so nobody knows to play it yet. (We’re working on it…)

7c83de0f-b72c-4236-b57c-3819a4940d96.png.ashx

The University of Minnesota built games specifically for incoming freshmen- as a result… all the freshmen played. Much better than making a “school game” for everyone.

5. Do your marketing legwork 
I know I know- signage is hard but you should put a MINIMUM of 3 hours (minimum) of regular old marketing into any game launch. If you put any less than 3

Postcards cost like $100 for about 500 of them and you can either mail them to people or keep them at an entryway.

Postcards cost like $100 for about 500 of them and you can either mail them to people or keep them at an entryway.

hours of marketing into a launch, you’re not allowed to be surprised if nobody plays. This is pretty standard stuff. One removable sign in the lobby of your space. A link on your website. Send out postcards to your museum members, students or staff. An email blast. Use catchy names and fun pictures to remind people that this will actually be fun. Reach out to local reporters, student newspapers, radio shows and bloggers! Remember that FB and Twitter are ephemeral, the post will be up for a day and then it will get lost in the sauce so don’t cheat, post it on FB and Twitter and say you’ve done your marketing. You’ll need to put in the time… at least three hours of time. (Or get an intern to do it.)

 


1 Comment

PLEASE OH PLEASE PLAY MY GAME… The art of engaging people Part 1: Three ideas

This last weekend I was a judge at the Mass Digi Games Challenge. It was a completely exhausting and really wonderful experience- practically a full 8 hours of games. There were a lot of games. http://www.massdigi.org/gamechallenge/ They ranged from half-done student projects to fully fleshed-out game design studio projects but for those of us who have seen a lot of games, we consistently saw one problem that was overlooked. WHO WILL PLAY YOUR GAME??

This happens a lot: You have an idea. It’s awesome. Everyone will love it. They’ll all see the value. It will definitely go viral. Wait. That’s your plan?

47389303-2Sometimes magically everyone does play. But educators and ed gamers, we need to get it firmly planted in our brains that this won’t happen to us. It’s irresponsible of us to act as if our game about gravity or the history of the Bread and Roses protests will catch on and get a half a million downloads. Like the lottery, it does happen to some people rarely but it’s a very bad idea to bet your organization’s budget on that. Who will play for real? What will YOU do to get them to play? Give this question the due diligence that it deserves! Whatever you do, don’t fall into the “if we build it, they will come” trap.

It’s not all doom and gloom. People WILL play your education game but you need to work at it. I like to geek out about the psychology of getting people to play. To me, here are three of the most important concepts I’ve learned about how to get people engaged:

#1: KNOW THE STORY

Describe the person who will play your game. Careful, don’t say “everybody” and don’t say “millennials” because none of that is specific enough. Think of individuals and their stories. Marketing companies make user profiles and so should you! Fast forward 1 year, who is playing your game? Ask these kinds of questions about that person:

47389477

  • How did they find your game?
  • Why are they playing?
  • How much time do they have to play?
  • How long does it take them to actually begin playing? (Not learn how to play)
  • Are they playing alone or with friends?
  • Where are they sitting/standing as they play?
  • What are they thinking about? What are they worried about while they play?

After you ask, things may start to get more clear: Is it a mom keeping her kids busy on an ipad while she drives? Is it my husband, obsessing over playing a video game better than his friends? Is it someone who walked into your gallery with a friend and has 60 minutes to look at art? Think about how to reach out to precisely those people.

#2: BE A HERO MAKER

Now that you’ve thought about the story of your target, think about how they might share their experience with your game with their family or friends. How do they feel? How do they share it? Do you make it easy for them to share it with others?

Don’t let people be embarrassed by your game.

“Wanna play??!” “Sure!” “Do you have a smartphone?” “Oh I have a dumb phone.” Fail.

“Play with your kids!” “My kids won’t really spend time on things like that.” Awkward.

“Learn all about science!” “Actually, I don’t really get this.” Oh… right.

You want people to show up to your game prepped, ready to play and feeling like they’re experts. Don’t let them walk away from your game feeling defeated! How to make heroes will be different according to your game: maybe you’ll need to let people download it ahead of time. Maybe you’ll need to let people test it. Maybe you’ll need to put it in multiple languages. Either way, watch very carefully for play testers feeling dumb. That’s the sign that it’s going to be hard to spread this and you need to make some changes.

Let people be the hero who went to the museum and found that cool activity that the family all had so much fun playing. Let them be the kid that introduced all the other kids to that fun game. Let them be one of the cool, “early adopter” parents. If you can put people in this position, they will love you for it.

#3: UNDERSTAND THAT YOU HAVE 16 SECONDS TO NEVERMIND

People are BUSY. They’re overwhelmed and they don’t have very long to make sense of what you’re trying to get them to do. If you have a video game and your player is alone at home in front of a screen, you have a lot more leeway than if you’re building a location-based game.

47389616

I build almost entirely mobile games so it’s become a rule of thumb for me that I have 16 seconds to nevermind. Somebody opens my game! HUZZAAAH! Can they play now? No? How about now? Try this exercise:

Open your smartphone and just fiddle with it blindly counting slowly to 16. Don’t check your mail or read the Times for 16 seconds- just poke at things and be confused. 16 seconds feels really long when you don’t know what you’re doing, right?

This is why your games have to have SUPER LOW barrier to entry. People have to be able to figure out how to download it, know where they’re going, know what is asked of them and be able to get there.

It’s not a great thing if you have a bunch of people open your game and close it- in fact, it’s much much better to have a few people open it and actually play. So do what you can to draw people in the second they open your game. You have 16 seconds to engage them, otherwise it’s going to be really hard to get them back.

Next week: 5 real things that you can (and should) do to get people to play your game!