Ep 026 David Mullich 3 decades of game design experience now for gamification

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David Mullich has been designing entertainment and educational products for such companies as Activision, Age of Learning, Disney, Edu-Ware Services, Encyclopedia Britannica, Mattel, and the Spin Master toy company for over three decades. In recent years, he has focused on applying game design techniques to academia and business. David has served as an industry mentor at the USC GamePipe Lab, co-created the Boy Scouts of America Game Design Merit Badge, and earlier this year was ranked the 4th leading “gamification guru” in social media. He has lectured and led workshops on game design, gamification, and Game Thinking at the annual Game Developers Conference, Game Thinking Live, Loyola Marymount University, New York Film Academy, and the USC Institute for Multimedia Literacy. David currently lead the Los Angeles Film School’s Game Production degree program, serves as the Education & Research Director for the International Game Developers Association’s Los Angeles Chapter, and consults with educational and business clients on how to make their projects more engaging.

We wanted to know what’s up with Encyclopedia Britannica nowadays, but David worked there long ago on developing games for an interactive platform (yes, they do exist nowadays!). In general, David alternates between teaching days and non-teaching days. He teaches on several subjects which are 6 hours every class! On other days he’s doing consulting work and it depends very much on the clients.

In his journey, he’s seen that the largest mistake is to slap extrinsic rewards to an experience, rather than really exploring the objectives, the journey, the motivations, the obstacles and others. Many people just look for a “simple add-on” but gamification is a lot more than that. Going a bit deeper, a story (whose character’s names will remain secret) where it didn’t go well at all, was for an online retail business that “wanted gamification” even though they didn’t know exactly what their product/service was yet. The approach he took was to give them a workshop which was not what the client expected, so he proposed to either work with them on the design of the process itself or come after they knew what the details of their own business were! An important learning is that generic solutions, in the best of cases, are able to create engagement for short periods, not over the long run. It is also important to understand and manage expectations, even to educate the clients on what it means, what gamification implies and what it can achieve!

The biggest challenge he’s faced is probably in education. Making education more gamelike is a BIG challenge, in not making “chocolate covered broccoli” but rather finding the fun. For example, since people like to be in control, when he provides assignments he gives them several choices over which assignments to do to achieve the learning objectives. He also incorporates storytelling into lessons, we have longer retention of learning if there is an emotional component in the experience. One example was in a class he gave about how to give pitches, elevator pitches. So he took them to the elevator, did a role play so all the students pitched, received the pitch and was an “innocent bystander” inside the actual elevator! I have to say it sounds pretty fun, it even included a creative way of using business cards, a lot more details in the episode around minute 15.

David’s process, even after developing games for 3 decades, hadn’t really been something he could articulate until he met and worked with Amy Jo Kim in her Game Thinking Live event. His process is exactly that 8 step process, which starts with determining first what you’re trying to achieve, what’s the outcome. Next is to identify the “super fans” to provide feedback. Then you have to identify what their habits and needs are, especially related to the problem you’re trying to solve. Design thinking is then put to use to create job stories, understand what motivates the users. The next step is to identify the entire journey of the players in the system, from newbies to masters and everything in between. Then it is necessary to understand which is the core loop, the activity that they will be doing over and over, what is the motivation and what is the reward for that activity. With all that plan in your hands, you create what entrepreneurs call the minimum viable product and show it to possible users to see how they react and have metrics to see if you’re meeting your goals or not! Don’t rely on emotions to see if you have achieved success, find a way to use numbers.

A best practice for David is to really understand your target player and figure out what motivates them on a deeper level, could be creativity, empowerment, social connectedness, in general more intrinsic rewards to the experience. Also taking a look at what are the “pain points”, the places when people can get stuck and figure a way around them or how to make it interesting for users. Gamification is not really new, we’ve seen it for years in many places and things, but done well can make a huge difference.

His favorite game is also Sid Meier’s Civilization like Karl Kapp! It is super fun but also a great way to understand history, the connections and how things played out to advance humanity. David would love to listen to Amy Jo Kim, Yu-kai Chou (already here! Listen to his episode) and Andrzej Marczewski . He would recommend reading Amy Jo Kim’s “The Game Thinking Playbook” to the Engagers, as well as “Even Ninja Monkeys like to Play” by Andrzej Marczewski and Jesse Schell’s “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses“.

The superpower of David is identifying the core loop of an experience and making it more engaging. He analyzes the difficulty, the complexity, the depth, replayability and finally pace of the experience. He brought this from games and implements it into gamification!

As a final advice, don’t get stuck on the term gamification, it is simply to find out what motivates and engages your players!

If you want to get in contact with David Mullich go to his website davidmullich.com or Twitter @David_Mullich!

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