Vince Siu Defining the Constraints for Games and Gamification | Episode 129


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Vince Siu is the Co-founder and Managing Partner at Press Start Hong Kong, a games consultancy with a mission to change the world through play and games, and leads Press Start Academy, its after-school education arm. He is also the Founder and CEO of Epiphany & Labs, a boutique innovation consultancy with a social conscience.
Outside of work, in a voluntary capacity, Vince serves as Vice Curator of the Hong Kong hub of the Global Shapers Community, a youth leadership initiative of the World Economic Forum.

A regular day for Vince has changed massively recently with all his in-person classes been canceled, they’re now all taking place online and this comes with its own set of challenges.

Vince’s favorite fail comes from his first project when he approached it with a blank slate, he learned that having constraints put on you is a good thing. He woke up one day and saw an email in his inbox regarding creating a board game, at this point, it was still a part-time venture for Vince and they hadn’t done anything like this up to now. They decided to go for it and landed the deal. As the project had no requirements, they thought it would be easy. However, they learned this was much harder because they had to build the requirements themselves. The key learning here was to always ask for constraints and if they don’t know them to work with them to set those first so you know where their boundaries lie and what their objectives are. What having no constraints led to in this example was having to run lots of different playtests until they found out, via trial and error, that fashion design was really hard to create a game around with it being so subjective. This led to running twice the amount of playtests, which was already budgeted and certainly not paid extra for.

A story of success for Vince comes from when he was working on a project for McDonald’s in Hong Kong, this was part of their recruitment drive hiring top tier university students which involves a comprehensive multi-staged interview process. The challenge they set Vince is to make the candidate experience more enjoyable and collaborative as they’re wanting to assess for more than just their academic skills. In the end, they created 2 games, each around 1 hour and a half. The first was more a competitive experience where the candidates in a team created their restaurant concept and pitching to each other. The second half was a collaborative experience based on tabletop roleplaying games, they would be made to become collaborative partners instead of competitors (as in the first game) which were very interesting to see.

When consulting with a prospective client, the first thing Vince always asks is if a game is really what they need. This is because a lot of people are attracted to gamification without fully understanding what it can and can’t do. This leads to the first question being “What is the actual problem that you want to solve?”. When starting to work on a project Vince always starts by looking at the constraints and reverse engineering from here, looking at such things as space limitations, time restrictions, etc. to then create something within those boundaries.

Vince would love to hear Joey Lee on the podcast, he directs the games research lab at the teacher’s college of Columbia University, he also teaches and coordinates the digital games master’s program. A book that he would recommend is called Wonderland by Steven Johnson and it is about how play and playfulness have impacted major innovations throughout history. One thing that stood out to Vince was the invention of the department store, a lot of us don’t see this as a game-like-experience, however, this was only created to delight customers and excite and bring joy to them.

He would say his superpower is the joy he finds in creating the educational experiences and that is the foundation he is building Press Start Academy on. At the core, it’s about taking games that aren’t designed to be educational and creating educational curriculum or narratives using these. As they aren’t designed to be educational, they’re fun to begin with, which means its easier to create educational experiences from them.

Vince’s favorite game is a board game called Above and Below, it consists of gathering your resources and building your village above ground while also having the option to explore caves below. This game comes with a book so when you’re rolling the dice each story can be different combining a strategic game with a Dungeons & Dragons influence.

An audience member asked Vince’s opinion on playtesting and how they should approach it. Find the full answer in the episode!

We can find Vince on Press Start Hong Kong’s Facebook and Instagram and through their web


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