Ep 027 Amy Jo Kim shows the importance of finding the fun as a game designer

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With a background in neuroscience, computer science, and psychology, Amy Jo Kim is part game designer, part web community architect.

Her design credits include Rock Band, The Sims, Ultima Online, eBay, family.com, nytimes.com, indiegogo.com. and numerous startups. She’s well known for her 2000 book, Community Building on the Web, and her work applying game design to Web and mobile services.

Kim holds a Ph.D. in Behavioral Neuroscience from the University of Washington and is an adjunct Game Design professor at the USC School of Cinematic Arts.

Amy’s days tend to be quite different, especially depending on the phase of work that she’s in. She gets up early before her kids and having a coffee, then a meeting with a member of her distributed team (which is distributed in several parts of the world), sending her daughter off to school and perhaps followed by a meeting with clients, normally online. Lunch it outside of the (home) office with someone looking to meet with her or looking for advice. Then more meetings with clients, certainly walking the dog in between and having dinner with her family. It might also involve either a school event in the evening or some activity to share with her family. Occasionally she might need to stay up later due to different time zones, but normally she’s early in bed and up early as well.

Her favorite failure was related to understanding and process, it educated her a lot as well as the founders. The good thing is they were able to pivot from there and be successful after realizing the problem. They were working together to shape the minimum viable product (MVP) and every time they were going to show something to possible clients, this founder was very attached to beautifully polished graphics so whenever any possible UX was to be tested, it was very worked. At that stage, this is a real problem because you need to iterate and this just makes it a lot harder. This created a dramatic slowdown, which led to a frustration that translated into wanting to ship earlier than would make sense, with only a beautiful onboarding phase. She disagreed but in the end let this happen, but it didn’t go well at all, she was right from the start. She considers this a failure on her behalf since she wasn’t able to show the client how important the process is. Now she creates an experience to let them understand the importance of how the process should go and what the stages are, and why. It is important to understand in which of the stages you are, discovery, design or production.

One of her most proud applications of Game Thinking has been with the creation of Happify. It just started with two people, an idea, and a paragraph. What was though initially changed a lot thanks to the process and they were able to successfully pivot to the right direction and become what they are now. “Happify is the hottest company that you’ve never heard of.”

Amy’s process of Game Thinking can be found in gamethinking.io. It has three pivotal ideas, the first is finding and leveraging superfans (high value and high need customers). It is not just potential customers, it is finding a small high need group of customers who can give you articulate feedback, those can help you shape the product for the rest of your market really effectively. The second idea is to drive sustained engagement with a path to mastery, people want to get better at something we care about. This is also a core of what games are built upon, what’s the story the customer tells himself of what is their path to mastery, to, once again, something you care about. It is important to remember that there’s many things to learn from games, but the ones that do it right, because there’s a huge amount of games that are no good! The other thing that those games do great, and its related to her third pivotal idea is that they start by creating the simple “learning loop”, as step one, what game designers call “finding the fun.” The iteration happens especially here, and you treat it scientifically so you test to see what works and what doesn’t. This process makes a lot of sense, I wrote a post related to this and how I believe it is applicable to education, “Amy Jo Kim’s Game Thinking got me thinking…

Amy’s new book is also just about to be launched, on may 31! It will be available both physical and digital. Right now, it is possible to go to gamethinking.io, it will be available for early bird purchases and right now you can read excerpts like the intro and chapter 1.

Something she feels almost any project related to Game Thinking can benefit from is to start by doing a strategy canvas to get really clear on your assumptions. Her favorite game right now is Just Dance. There’s several people Amy would love to listen interviewed in Professor Game, such as Dan Cook and Raph Koster. A book she would recommend to the Engagers is Kevin Kelley’s “The Inevitable” which includes 12 trends that he sees as inevitable in the future, they are mind opening. She would certainly recommend “A Theory of Fun” by Raph Koster as well as Kathy Sierra’s “Head First” series, but the latter probably just for programmers.

Amy’s superpower is synthesizing and communicating actionable frameworks, which I must say is as well communicated as synthesized! Her persona is very cross-boundary even since she was studying.

If you want to know what she thinks about the use of game-based learning and how she would convince skeptics, you can find it around minute 30 in this interview!

We can find her on Twitter @AmyJoKim or LinkedIn Amy Jo Kim and her page is gamethinking.io where we can also find out about the book. Her final advice is to show don’t tell, don’t be afraid to start small, make something you know doesn’t work well yet and find someone who can collaborate with you and help you make it better.

7 Replies to “Ep 027 Amy Jo Kim shows the importance of finding the fun as a game designer”

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