Ep 052 Karen Sikkema travels through the gamification journey

Listen to this episode on your phone!

Karen Sikkema is an experienced game, gamification and experience designer. With her creative companies Living Story and Wintertuin Experience BV, she is designing experiences, location-based games, adventures for cultural heritage, and game-based learning for teams and businesses. Her aim is to create meaning in the world by connecting people to themselves, to others and to great locations, and thus contribute to creating a sense of belonging, connection and respect for yourself and others. Karen is also a visiting professor at HKU Utrecht University of the Arts (NL) and Politecnico di Milano (IT), teaching on game design, gamification and entrepreneurship in the creative industries.

Days are very different for Karen but if you pick a specific day she visited a potential new client who is looking for a team building experience and also to have everyone work on the broader goal of the company and not only on their specific objectives per department. That was the first part of her morning and then went back to the current office space at a botanical center where they are creating an escape room! So she had to brainstorm for this and another escape room they are assembling. There is also a team building game that they are getting together in a forest. It is not always the same but those are the types of things that they are regularly doing.

Her “most interesting” fail was when they were planning and designing a location-based game for touristic and cultural heritage purposes. It is called Lost in Time and is played through an iPad going around the city. For it, they used a lot of video (which can get expensive) and the game is really nice, however, they haven’t been able to really figure out how to make it really profitable, they have lost a significant portion of the investment and not many people have played it! In the years they have learned a lot about how to do these types of games (including a lot fewer costs) and the business model side of things. Karen learned from Design Thinking and iterations to really understand the players you are designing for.

A story of success was actually from a personal experience where she was trying to do like twelve things at a time and she designed her own planning game for this hectic and chaotic situation she was at. Another experience that she has designed is when she was teaching entrepreneurship, for which she designed a game together with an innovation consultant. She went to the Business Learning Games as a finalist (in Lisbon), it is a board game that tiles like Carcassonne game. She claims that most of the entrepreneurship games are around the “you have a business” narrative, so instead they designed a game called Adventure that consists of going with your team for the exploration of a new continent that has been discovered. There you have to select a mission together, your character based on entrepreneurship skills and during your travels, you discover the importance of things like diversity, which is something they wanted to teach.

Her process always starts (especially in learning contexts) with figuring out the learning goals and what you want the learners to be able to do or discover. Once that is clear, the next step is often finding some narrative or theme to wrap the game around, this really helps to get the players into the game quicker. With this, the game goals almost naturally follow. Then it is important to think about the players, what motivates them, what actions they will perform, what are the player types that will participate, she also believes it is also important to make sure there is a social element to this. Once this is done they always take a look back to see how the game translates into the learning goals, so it is not only fun but it connects back to real life.

A best practice for Karen it is thinking less about making a technological solution and more about what you want people to behave and be able to do, and this can often be achieved by non-digital experiences and this helps connect people with each other. Her favorite game is Myst (like Michiel!) Karen is also a big fan of Jane McGonigal and would love to have her on Professor Game! A book she would recommend is “Reality is Broken” by Jane McGonigal and “Drive” by Daniel Pink as well as the book “Flow”.

Her superpower in this field would be bringing together the people who are playing together and the location! For the random question is related to escape rooms for higher education! Press play and listen to the great ideas we discussed. Her final piece of advice would be to think in a playful way more than wanting to design something complex, to instead try different ways to make things more playful. Like Jesse Schell says, game design can be very complex and interesting but you have to start somewhere, and everyone started at some point by saying you are a game designer and going out to test things!

She also really recommends finding someone you can bounce ideas with which makes it more productive and a lot more fun!
She invited us to “Baarn” in the Netherlands, but if we’re not around then perhaps a visit to their webpage could also work: livingstory.nl or emailing her directly!

Karen will also be speaking at Gamification Europe! Her talk is centered around bringing physical and digital gamification together using narrative, which is one of her main areas of expertise. She will talk about her experience with the game Lost in Time and what she has learned from designing digital gamification for locations in the real world. Remember that you can get your discounted tickets for Gamification Europe 2018 in Amsterdam just by going through this link: professorgame.com/GamificationEurope. You will get a 10% discount and you will also support Professor Game’s mission because we will receive a small reward if you purchase the tickets through that link.


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!

Looking forward to reading or hearing from you,


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

one × 3 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.