Simplify gamification with Oscar Garcia-Panella | Episode 074

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Dr. Oscar García Pañella, Telecommunications and Electronic Engineer, has enjoyed several stages abroad (IMSC (USC, LA, CA, USA, 1998); VIS Lab (The Henry Samueli School of Engineering, UCI, 2005) and at the ETC (CMU, 2008-2009)). Oscar directs the “Videogame School” ENTI-UB and he also partners as a senior Gamification consultant in Cookie Box. He also directs an online masters on Gamification and Transmedia Storytelling at IEBS.

His days are really diverse because there are many things happening. Thursdays tend to be more or less similar because he is teaching in the morning and in the afternoon and in the middle something happens (though that might be different each week!) At Cookie Box he co-creating solutions with colleagues and clients, at the university he tries to connect with the reality he has fresh from everyday. Even when teaching algebra he looks for ways to tie it back to what they are excited about studying in their respective degrees.

As we are, Oscar is also convinced that we learn A LOT from failure. A special one he remembers was his first gamification, that before it, even though he was teaching VR, the class was quite boring even for him! He started reading on flipped classrooms, project-based learning, other professors and what they were doing. What he included was something with a lot of scarcity, working with many real projects. It started working well at that level and then he decided to include game elements like potions, guilds and a lot more. The big problem is that he felt “it was about to kill him!” All this Tolkien-looking class, a lot of narrative and not a lot of tech, talking about missions and his students were really engaged and started to perform. The problem was that the assignments were super difficult to grade and certainly not automated, the students were not happy because they were not getting feedback fast enough. He realized they were really motivated, so it worked in that sense but he wasn’t able to keep up with the rhythm of the feedback, and now it is something he really takes into account. Even though it was tough, we also reflected on the fact that this “paper” prototype was actually also something great to test out how it works and after that putting automation in place because you know that you are getting their motivations right. Another key learning is to simplify as much as possible and to start with small steps because you don’t need to go from 0 to 100 in a single day.

At Cookie Box around 3 years ago, they got a huge project for train drivers. It was related to another client who was already doing simulations, VR and more. They realized they had a lot to train hard skills but not that much with soft skills so they approached Oscar. They spent around 2-3 months co-creating with them and then over a year to create, with this client who is the one commercializing it. It has a deep narrative related of course to trains, it includes non-linear storytelling, includes mini-games where you can even have PVP (player versus player), social area for seniors to train seniors, of course, some points and collectibles (badges) because they realized their players were very much into collecting as well. A very exciting moment for him was during the playtesting with around 8 train drivers who were initially reluctant, especially one of them who seemed upset from the start. Even though he seemed upset, he decided to stay and this large, almost military-looking man, ended up with tears in his eyes thanking them for creating this that is so special especially for train drivers like him.

For Oscar the gamification process implies a lot of listening. Clients know their field very well and they kind of know something is not working well and you need to help him figure out what it is, related to behavior-change usually and it ends with a co-created briefing. It usually involves what the problem is, the objectives (ideally already with KPIs to measure success) and in particular the behaviors they expect to have if this is to be a success. It should include empathy maps, user personas, motivators and in general a better understanding of the users. For him, a gamification system usually involves a narrative so it is something that is very important for his projects and of course, budget and restrictions! This is the analysis phase that allows them to synthesize the information they need to create.

A best practice for him would be to customize solutions in gamification because otherwise, it will hardly work at all. It is not always possible to do something absolutely from scratch but it is necessary to customize it for the audiences. His favorite game would be perhaps something like Operation Stealth!

He would like to hear women in Professor Game, in particular, he mentioned Ruth Contreras who is doing a lot of research in serious games and Laura De Llorens of Rovio! He also mentioned Sandra Lara. A book he would recommend to the Engagers it would be “The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses” by Jesse Schell! His superpower would be to have a global view, how everything connects. The random question is related to UX and gamification!

We can find Oscar on LinkedIn and at He’s of course also available through the university channels at and about the online master’s degree (in Spanish) on Gamification and Transmedia Storytelling.


There are many ways to get in touch with Professor Game, 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,


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