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How Game-Design / Gamification Influences Non-game ventures?

Posted on Apr 19, 2012 by in ThiNK First | 0 comments


I’m the guest on #Kaizenbiz on Friday 20th April 2012 9:00am PST

Elli St. George Godfrey (aka @3keyscoach) asked me five questions in advance. Here’s my answers by way of a pre-amble.

So, on Friday we can just chat about how game-design has changed my perspective for non-game ventures. I think that’s a lesson that everyone can embrace.

I really think it has changed my life and connected so many dots. It took me a lot to figure that out. It’s been quite the journey. So here’s the questions:

  1. How do you understand Gamification?

    The biggest thing for me is “Feedback”. Generally, life (or reality) gives poor feedback. You MUST read “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal to get this, but this video sure gives you a good start.

    I didn’t set out to make a game about feedback. That’s just how it turned out. That’s what worked in play testing. Gamification wasn’t a term in 2004. GiftTRAP added the feedback loop that real world gift-exchange so badly needs. Creating the game taught me that. My research shows 1/3rd of gifts are unloved and unwanted! That’s awful in my opinion and massive validation of Jane’s research.

    We always tell people their gift is lovely. With no feedback, we cannot become better gift givers. Perfect validation that reality is broken!

    In gamification speak, GiftTRAP gamifies that act of gift-exchange. By gamifies, I simply mean it enhances reality by adding a feedback loop.

    Sure gamification is more than just feedback, but if you can embrace the idea of feedback, in gamer speak, you’d be ready to LevelUp. Become a “Feedback Hunter”. Seek it out. Add it at every turn. There’s all sorts of ways you can give feedback.

    Level2 Gamification is about appreciating motivation and habit. By understanding motivation you can design the feedback needed to trigger the desired behaviour. Gamification is really just figuring what makes us tick.

    Gamification comes in for a lot of flak. Ignore the name. Embrace its values.

  2. What was your experience like while creating your game?

    It was fun. I was in no rush. I’ve learned ideas improve by resting them. I also used it as a great excuse to network and connect with old friends. I went beyond friends. I sourced 500 people to play test GiftTRAP.

    Some people give amazing feedback. A friend suggested the “No-Way” gift ranking. This was genius. It created conflict, fear and surprise. It added an edge to the game.

    Having studied gamification, today, I’d add that by design. I’d create conflict. By listening and reaching out I was lucky enough to add it by serendipity. I made my own luck.

  3. While developing your game, what did you learn about the business of game design?

    Two things

    1. We’re all human. We all make mistakes. Mistakes is how we learn. Board game design is no different that digital. I may be cheaper to fail digitally or iterate. The total production costs of video games are much higher. We both get people to play (and come out of their shells) and engage emotionally. That’s a repetitive or repeatable process. I believe the feedback I’m talking about is in process-feedback. The parallel is video games, where players learn and improve by repeatedly failing.
    2. Ironically, as an innovator, you can have too much feedback. I joined the industry as a decisive novice and fearlessly published my first game. This wasn’t really in-process feedback. There is a difference.

    I took on a barrage of feedback about my aspirations to produce “Mini GiftTRAP” as an expansion pack that also doubled as a standalone card game. As a result I temporarily became an indecisive expert. In the end if took 3+ years to launch the Mini game instead of 3+ months. The photo above shows us testing some packaging ideas for the mini game in a real Toy Store.

    It took me a while to appreciate this. I finally shed my skin of excess feedback and reclaimed my decisive voice.

    I should not have listened to any of it. I was in a new space. I had not idea which was good or bad feedback. If you are ploughing a unique furrow – keep going! As an example, I listened to a potential paying customer (no names – a big US Retail chain). We made 6,000 units of totally the wrong game (GiftTRAP California) – The retailer didn’t buy a single copy. Ouch! Worse yet they diverted my energies from making a mini game.

    When I did get to focus on the mini game I got so much feedback I got paralyzed. I’d have been better to make a small batch and learn from failing. Instead I failed making 6,000 games that weren’t even on my plan/vision. Big lesson!

    Customer feedback is a long, winding complicated snake and not the topic of this post! Feedback is probably more like a bowl of spaghetti.

  4. Why are stories important to games? Or does gamification require a story?

    Stories are important to people. Stories are like gravity. They hold us to the track. We’ve craved stories since we first congregated around campfires.

    Gamification requires people (and motivation), so story is everything.

    I’m a huge fan of “Metaphor”. Metaphor gives you a skeleton around which to hang the flesh of you story. Gift-exchange was a powerful metaphor that we executed throughout the packaging. Opening for the first time is therefore a wow experience.

    I strongly recommend you go try some Euro-Board Games. Here’s my list of favorites.

    Headline for Board Games to Play with Kids to learn Strategy & Failing
    19 items   12 followers   20 votes   2.1k views

    Board Games to Play with Kids to learn Strategy & Failing

    During #beonfire with @bfeld as guest the topic of kids needing to learn to fail came up. I shared how I play strategy games with my kids.

    I don't let them win. They earn/learn their way to victory

    I've put together my favorite strategy & party games


    Jan 09, 2012 - - 362
    Power Grid

    Power Grid is the updated release of the Friedemann Friese crayon game Funkenschlag. It removes the crayon aspect from network building in the original edition, while retaining the fluctuating commodities market like Crude: The Oil Game and an auction round intensity reminiscent of The Princes of Florence.



    Jan 09, 2012 - - 359

    In ancient Greece - the cradle of European culture - Athens, Sparta, Corinth, and Thebes compete for dominance of the Greek peninsula and influence on the shrines. Each player oversees the building of his city-state. Temple, theater and oracle, a harbor with ships, vineyard with vintner, and many more must find space on the Greek peninsula.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 383

    Bohnanza is the first in the Bohnanza family of games and has been published in several different editions. As card games go, this one is quite revolutionary. Perhaps its oddest feature is that you cannot rearrange your hand, as you need to play the cards in the order that you draw them.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 404
    Ticket to Ride

    With elegantly simple gameplay, Ticket to Ride can be learned in 3 minutes, while providing players with intense strategic and tactical decisions every turn. Players collect cards of various types of train cars they then use to claim railway routes in North America. The longer the routes, the more points they earn.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 316

    GiftTRAP won a special Spiel des Jahres prize in 2009, and was voted "Best Party Game of the Year" by Games Magazine in 2008, proving that while buying real gifts can be traumatic, giving virtual gifts to find out how people really feel is heaps of fun. Be prepared for some surprises!

    Confession. This is my game. As in I invented it. I've included it as it teaches kids important skills about learning about people andmaking decisions with partial data. Not to forget that adults will learn about their kids

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 291
    Stone Age

    Players struggle to survive the Stone Age by working as hunters, collectors, farmers, and tool makers. As you gather resources and raise animals, you work to build the tools needed to build your civilization. Players use up to 10 tribe members each in 3 phases.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 412
    The Settlers of Catan

    In Settlers of Catan, players try to be the dominant force on the island of Catan by building settlements, cities, and roads. On each turn dice are rolled to determine what resources the island produces. Players collect these resources to build up their civilizations to get to 10 victory points and win the game.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 391

    "What's that game with these cute little figures?" "You mean meeples?" "Yes, I see them everywhere on the Geek!" "They are from Carcassonne." Carcassonne is a tile-placement game in which the players draw and place a tile with a piece of southern French landscape on it.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 304

    Elfenland is a redesign of the original White Wind game Elfenroads. The game is set in the mythical world of the elves. A group of fledgling elves (the players) are charged with visiting as many of the twenty Elfencities as they can over a short period of time.


    Le Havre

    Jan 10, 2012 by Robert Masson
    Le Havre

    Another great Ewe Rosenburg games.. this one teaches the Web of Connections that is an Economy... Simple Mechanics, interesting cards and lots of player interaction make this fun and challenging. Definitely for older kids though.

    Mar 18, 2012 - - 304
    Funagain Games: Dominion (AKA: Game X)

    Dominion (AKA: Game X)

    Nov 28, 2012 by Rekha S - - 350
    Blokus Classics Game Blokus Classics Game: Toys & Games

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 350
    Walk the Dogs

    "From the SimplyFun website" Walk the Dogs™ Unleash 63 Miniature Dogs That Won't 'Flea' From Your Table Grab your leash and get ready to Walk the Dogs! Play cards to take the best dogs and include them in your line. Yes, the dogs are very cute but can you get five of the same breed in a row?

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 379

    A very simple railway game. Each player has a set of 5 cities strung across the US that need to be connected by rail. Players place either 1 or 2 rails each turn. The game ends when the first player completes a connected route between his 5 cities.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 412
    Ca$h 'n Gun$

    In an abandoned warehouse a gangster band is splitting its loot, but they can’t get an agreement on the split! It’s time to let the guns talk and soon everyone is aiming at everyone. The richest surviving gangster wins the game! Ca$h 'n Gun$ will make you relive the best scenes of your favorite gangster movies.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 412

    You are specialists at the CDC/Atlanta where you watch several virulent diseases break out simultaneously all over the world. The team mission is to prevent a worldwide pandemic outbreak, treating hot spots while researching cures for each of the four plagues before they get out of hand.

    Jan 09, 2012 - - 291
    Wits & Wagers Family

    Wits & Wagers Family is the family version of the most award winning party game in history. This edition is more simple, has less down time, and is more portable than the original Wits & Wagers. It also removes the "gambling" element and has questions that are appropriate for kids and the whole family.

    Jan 09, 2012 by Lance Weisser - - 412
    Scotland Yard

    Great game! I was introduced to it by some family friends in Toronto, Ontario in the early 90's and loved it so much I hunted for a couple years until I found a fully intact game at Goodwill, still have it today!

    Nov 28, 2012 by Rekha S - - 291 Sequence Game: Toys & Games Sequence Game: Toys & Games

    Euro-games are all about theme and story. Themes create immersive experiences. I would NOT embark on any gamification initiative unless you and your team have acquired an appreciation for game (both cardboard and digital).

    Oddly I think cardboard/board design is harder. You are so much more exposed. Digital games shield players from complexity so they are harder to appreciate from a design/ motivation/ gamification perspective

  5. Where has the experience of designing a game changed how you view non-game situations?

    Life is a game with very few rules. Many winners and many losers. It’s a never ending game (until…). We have an infinite set of leaderboards to follow or not. We can constantly re-choose our team-mates, or play alone.

    A startup is a game. I live that every day as co-founder of Listly. I try to blog that experience. I regret not live blogging the GiftTRAP experience. I just couldn’t find my groove back then. It just feels more natural now.

    As a result of the GiftTRAP experience, I seek much more feedback (and I give more feedback too).

    I’ve learned trying matters. Failing is fine. Failing is not game-over. Or rather take small steps so each step cannot signal game over.

    I’ve learned even the pro’s fail. I’ve learned I was normal.

    I’ve learned I was a pro. And gaming is no different. I didn’t need to think differently to be a game designer. I used my software skills to make a board game. The fact I succeeded wasn’t a miracle, it was a function of hard work and determination.

    I was lucky enough to love games, so appreciating game design was a pleasure. I don’t see games as games anymore. I see them as influences and mini components from other games. They are all connected, just like ideas are connected.

  1. How do you describe gamification?
  2. What kinds of engagement between people does gamification encourage?
  3. How is game design similar to designing a startup/business venture?
  4. If the best game designs rely on story to help engagement, what role does storytelling play in creating a business?
  5. How would you know a team/staff has an appreciation for game?
  6. Where would gamification make a difference to the momentum/growth of a startup/business?

Here’s a video on GiftTRAP

Nick Kellet (164 Posts)

Nick is co-founder the social curation platform Listly, that combines crowdsourcing, content curation and embedable lists to drive high-level community engagement, live inside your blog posts. Connect with Nick on Twitter · Linkedin, Facebook and G+ and follow his writing via his other guest posts and on his blogs at and



  1. This Week’s Chat Plays With Nick Kellet and Gamification | Kaizen Biz - [...] creating GiftTRAP, he got to explore game design and discovered there is so much more. Read his framing post…

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