Ep 045 Lennart Nacke the Acagamic and Games User Research

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Lennart is an Associate Professor and Research Director of the HCI Games Group at the University of Waterloo in Canada. Before he worked as an Assistant Professor at UOIT and as a Postdoc in the interaction lab of the University of Saskatchewan. He has a Ph.D. in game development and loves to work in human-computer interaction and game design. You can find his latest research in his Google Scholar profile.

Lennart is currently in his sabbatical from the university, and days go by with making a tea or coffee, review a current book and combine the insights into a new book or article. In the non-sabbatical time when he’s teaching, he typically reviews his slides before the class, teaches the class, interacts with students and then reviews the outcomes. In summer he does a lot of research with some international visitors, so they’re setting up the things in the lab for experiments, checking experiments, talking of the outcomes, writing papers and targetting them towards some conferences.

Lennart says that failure is a normal thing as an academic, the usual thing is that a paper gets rejected at least once before getting through. Regarding the experiments themselves, he has a research project on audio with physiological measurements and it is still not working as he had anticipated. After years of research, he has found that he used to be too focused on quantitative and has now embraced a lot more mixed research and takes a deeper look at qualitative data as well. He has seen how statistics can fool you with even contradicting answers, so he now recommends to keep always a skeptical mindset, especially at the numbers, question if there could be other perspectives.

In the early days of gamification, many mistakes were made about how to use games for gamification. He used to have a project to track social media and tracking how students are or not active in social media and how it could influence their performance. In hindsight, however, he has seen how it is important to see what actually drives the students’ motivation beyond just the mechanics and it has become clear that it is not as simple as it seemed. Great design requires many constraints and a lot of thought behind it to create the user experience. It is important to take a deep look, into what are the motivations, what are the objectives, what are the profiles of your players. As it turns out, this has actually become a field of study!

Lennart feels that part of the reason that games work well is that they are voluntary. The first thing that Lennart does when approaching projects is to decide whether the project will be more game design focused or rather user experience (UX) oriented. On one hand he would be building obstacles for engagement, whereas in the other he would be looking to remove obstacles and making the experience smoother, even if it is still gameful in its design. After this, and very related to the research that Gustavo Tondello is making about user personality and preferences, the next thing is to figure out what the players would be engaged with. Then it is about iterative design in general, including prototypes and collecting feedback from the players. We then had a discussion around the difference between the two types of project that Lennart mentioned and how this relates to the creation or the elimination of obstacles for the user.

He doesn’t like to endorse silver bullets in general but he does like the different models with Marczewski’s User Type Hexad to help with personality assessments, even more generally speaking to pay great attention to the user. It is also important to try and get inspiration from as many places as possible, Professor Game is here to help you with that 🙂

His favorite games (unable to just name one! I’d probably be in the same place) for a cinematic experience he loves the Uncharted games series, he really enjoys the Metroid games as well, of course the Zelda games are on the list and a certain favorite for him is Overcooked and Lovers in a Dangerous Spacetime (which they play often in the lab).

He would like to listen to Daniel Johnson, Anders Drachen (Co-author of Games User Research with Lennart),   Ian Livingston of EA Vancouver, Zach Toups, Regan Mandryk, so quite a list! Of course, the first book he would recommend reading is his book Games User Research, he also named The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses and the Game Design Workshop: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games.

Lennart’s superpower would be to ask the right questions! The random question is related to AI and gamification, so click play and listen to this interesting answer! His final advice is to practice active listening, as with most design practices. This is fundamental to find out which is the problem so you can find a solution.

We can reach out to Lennart by reaching out to their web hcigames.com and there you can find all the different platforms that they are on (Twitter, Instagram, FacebookYouTube and Medium for example)


There are many ways to get in touch with us, you can go to my Twitter @RobAlvarezB, my Instagram, our Facebook Page, subscribe to our email list and even ask a question to future guests!

Also, if you want discounted tickets for Gamification Europe 2018 in Amsterdam go to professorgame.com/GamificationEurope! I really hope to meet you there for the first or subsequent time!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


One Reply to “Ep 045 Lennart Nacke the Acagamic and Games User Research”

  1. Pingback: Gamification of Physical Activity with Dr. Dennis Kappen | Episode 083 – Professor Game

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