Lauren Ferro and player research as the basis for gamification | Episode 092

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Lauren Ferro has a Ph.D. in player profiling and modeling. She is currently an Adjunct Professor and researcher at Sapienza University, in Rome. She is also the co-organizer of the Unreal Engine Meetup in Rome. In addition, she created the game design resource, Gamicards, which is a prototyping tool for game experiences. At heart, she is intrigued by how we interact with the world and those in it.

For Lauren there’s no regular day it depends on what projects she’s working on and so recently she’s working on a few academic projects as well as a few client projects. In the morning Lauren will start with things that are a lot more complicated and complex, tackling those type of things means that by the afternoon she can work slower and work in something a little bit more relaxed. This could be reading or doing some research, maybe even paper writing. Towards the end of the day again Lauren will then start working again on projects, often leaving the middle part of the day for less demanding tasks (emails/calls). By leaving the start and the end of the day for things that require a lot more attention or focus.

Lauren’s favorite failure was when she first started out doing consulting work, Lauren made the mistake of assuming that the person she was working with had the same basic understanding of what a gamified experience has. A few months into the project everything seems to be going right with developing it and Lauren wanted to go out to the preliminary testing. The client found it was not like what he was imagining. However, when they sat down and reverse engineered the problems and tried understanding why the two visions weren’t quite aligned, she found out that the concept of what they had for gamification was very different. What Lauren learned was that it was a very important lesson because in subsequent projects she knows how important it is that the client has the same definitions or at least a common understanding.

A project that went very well for Lauren was one she worked on 5-6 years ago. The core of the project was to get educators, who were not using technology as part of their lesson plans (smart boards, interactive discussions, Twitter), to use the available technology. The problem was that the classrooms had actually been equipped with the latest technology and that a lot of their lectures they were stuck in traditional methods. For some people, this works fantastically but a lot of the students are on smartphones/tablets taking notes, they’re engaged with technology and there’s this expectation that lessons should also adapt to this change in media usage. Lauren’s job was to find a way to not only educate these lectures about the technology but also to provide them and encourage them in ways to adopt this technology. This was very challenging because a lot of the lecturers don’t play games, so they don’t really like even basic games like Candy Crush and in general none of them engage with these things.

Lauren decided to look at the general demographics of who she was designing for, what things they were interested in. What games did they play? What kind of experiences have they found enjoyable? From there she implemented different incentives, less focussed on badges or points but more focused on a raffle where they could try to present lesson plans with the option to win something like a gift voucher to have coffee or a free lunch. It aligned more with the type of gamified experiences they were more interested in, in a more personal way. A lot of the lecturers, she found out, had a fear of using technology. Lauren then had to find ways to ease them into what to do in case technology fails and make sure she provided them with all the support and all the instructions. By the end of it not all the teachers were completely on board with this technology in their classrooms but Lauren did manage to create a dialogue and understanding which they could build on.

The first step Lauren starts with when developing is understanding who are you designing for, even if you cannot find a lot of information you can find information on apps that are similar and find out as much as you can about that audience. Then you can start to think about the game design or the gamified solution. Once Lauren has started developing it, as soon as she possibly can, she will start user testing. Testing as often as she can with a diverse range of people that fit the demographic. These are the most important steps in Lauren’s process.

One of Laurens best practices is not to go into design with the intention to make something fun. In her opinion fun should be the result of what you’re designing but it shouldn’t be what’s driving it, with gamification projects she focusses first on meeting the goals and then looks at adding that extra layer of enjoyment for the player.

Lauren’s favorite game of all time would be Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysee simply as if it wasn’t for that game, she would never have gotten into the world of game design. Another favorite for Lauren is Assassin’s Creed, the first one, as when she finished that game the amount of tangential learning that she’d done really inspired her and opened up the potential of what games have. Lauren’s favorite game at the moment is Detroit as it really challenges the way that you think about a future as well as challenging you morally and ethically.

Lauren would love for Alessandro Canossa to be on the podcast as it is someone that when she was doing her PhD she read a lot of. He has a lot of interesting perspectives when it comes to understanding the player as part of the gamification process. She would recommend The Alchemist as it, in her opinion, is probably one of the few books that after she reads it helps you to put things into perspective.

Lauren would say her superpower is being able to think in a very abstract way because she has played so many games, in her opinion too much time. It gives her a really good way to think outside the box that looks beyond typical approaches.

The random question this time comes from Vasil, who says “I would love to know more about using gamification in business and enterprise software, do any good examples come to mind?” listen to the end to find out how she answers this question.

Lauren’s quick piece of advice for anyone getting into gamification is to play games, try to understand how they work, play different genres and have different types of experiences. We can find Lauren especially on Twitter as @R3nza.


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