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Steve is CEO of Pug Interactive, a technology & design leader in engagement, retention, and community activation. He has 17+ years of direct experience in the video game industry, having designed and produced several AAA games for Disney Interactive, Electronic Arts, Sega and Ubisoft that have generated sales in excess of $650 million. He is frequently sought as a speaker, having spoken at Game Developer’s Conference, South by Southwest, SIGGRAPH, Banff New Media Festival, GameON Finance, nextMEDIA and several others. He recently enjoyed an amazing Lebanese dinner with an actual Canadian Astronaut.
Steve is based in Vancouver, Canada, so the day starts really early because there are customers all around the world. The systems they put in place typically are quite complex so they need to keep a close eye on most of them, they have calls for projects in development and once all is settled on the urgent stuff he is looking at more strategic, including advancements to their platform as well. And the astronaut he knows is because of a project they are working on right now for the Canadian Space Agency! It is a project that he has particularly enjoyed because of all that he has been able to learn from it as well.
It goes all the way back to when he started doing “edutainment” at Disney, quite early in his career, for a very young audience. It was especially hard because what your instinct tells you should be done, is probably what you shouldn’t do because it is for an audience completely different to you! He learned this quite quickly in this project when it started facing the final users. He’s found that usually when projects go south it is because there isn’t a balance between the engagement and the business objectives, so one of them gets pushed too far forward and the other is left behind. The best way to be prepared for this is for your projects to be able to iterate and shift very quickly because they will not work as you expected, the audience always surprises us in different ways.
One of his favorite successes was with the History Channel TV series Ice Pilots produced in Canada, it is a docuseries. They had some problems with the response of their community in social media and they were willing to do things differently. Still to this day, it is one of the most ambitious projects they’ve embarked on. Within the FB page, you would be earning codes for the game, to earn benefits, on the websites you could play games to find mini icons that gave currency within the system, all this could be used to purchase collector cards. As a fan, you could do all these things to show loyalty and get these collectible cards and use them in to answer slots for the weekly questions. The system would socially connect to people with whom you would have things in common. They made interesting choices which then had consequences that were relevant in the future. Even with how well it went, he still wishes they could have left some more easter eggs and tied back directly into the series itself.
From his process, Steve talked about two of his favorite elements (perhaps the full process would look more like a semester-long course!) One of them was about how to determine which are the best mechanics for a project, they start by taking an inventory of all the possible interactions between the customer of the brand and the brand. For example with Coca-Cola, it would be purchasing a Coke, following social media, seeing a billboard and many more on the left. On the opposite (right) side, there are the objectives you expect to achieve with the system. In the middle, they construct the engagement model with the game mechanics they use, the characteristics of the personality of the brand, which they call the 5C, and they are competition (which is the first thing that is typically thought of), then collaboration, collection, customization and completion. The second question is how are we going to measure it, and he is starting to use what he has called the “Steve’s Net Engagement Score” (SNES) which he spoke about on his talk during Gamification Europe 2018. He will, hopefully soon, publish the whitepaper related to this soon. The principle is to look at three things that drive people’s interest and enthusiasm, the first is interesting choices, multiplied by the consequence of those choices and then is the time pressure. He even argues that you don’t want to over-engage people, so it is a balancing act.
Introducing decisions, consequences and dilemmas is something he believes is really central for engagement. Another one would be to focus on collaboration over competition because this second one is just easier. His favorite video games could almost be sliced by the decade! He mentioned quite a few but today he would mention Shadow of the Tomb Raider as he’s been playing it quite recently. He would really like to listen to Shigeru Miyamoto and not only because of the amazing things he’s done but also because of the way he draws inspiration from everyday things. A book he would recommend to The Engagers would be Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi but beyond books he would recommend us to go to gamasutra.com.
His superpower would be this sort what he feels is common-sense, regarding the layout of all the things that could possibly be done, the open creativity and then the scoping within the budget and time is something he has had the opportunity to be exposed to both sides. Both the expansion and then the focus especially because he’s been both a designer and a producer for games, which is something not many people have had the opportunity of doing in the industry.
His final advice would be to always be looking for those mechanics that make sense for the situation, find things through Gamasutra and others because if you only have a hammer everything looks like a nail! We can find Steve on his company’s website puginteractive.com.
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