Nick Metzler Looks for the Emotional Hook in Games | Episode 143

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Nick Metzler has been designing games since he was 4. As a two-time award-winning designer in the Toy and Game Industry, Nick has pushed the boundaries of what board games could be, having worked with major licenses such as Marvel and Disney and integrated smart speakers into his game design. He’s designed challenges for Survivor, helped design an experimental entrepreneurship class at USC taught entirely through game simulations, and has gamified theme park rides. He was recently published in a book about creativity in board games and was named in the top 100 most influential people in the Toy and Game Industry in 2018 and 2019. His first game hit market when he was 17 after winning the Chicago Toy and Game Fair Young Inventors Challenge for a second time and has over 20 games in market today. He is 26 at the recording of this episode.

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Full episode transcription

Rob (5s):
Welcome to Professor Game podcast, where we interview successful practitioners of games, gamification and game thinking brings the best of their experiences to get ideas, insights, and inspiration, to help us in the process of getting the students to learn what we teach. And I’m Rob Alvarez. I teach and work at IE Business School in Madrid, where we create interactive and engaging learning materials. Want to know more? Go to, start on our email list and ask me anything!

Rob (39s):
So Engagers welcome back to another episode with Professor Game podcast. And today we have Nick, but before we get started, Nick, are you prepared to engage?

Nick (50s):
Better power turrets and speed ready to move out.

Rob (55s):
Let’s do this because Nick Metzler has been designing games since he was four as a two time award-winning designer in the toy and game industry, he has pushed the boundaries of what board games can be having worked with major licenses, such as Marvel and Disney and integrated smart speakers into his game design. And we’re talking about board game design in this case. So very interesting as well. He’s designed challenges for Survivor helped design and experimental entrepreneurship class at USC, which was taught entirely through games, simulations and has gamified theme park rides.

Rob (1m 31s):
And he was recently published in a book about creativity and board games, and it was named in the top 100 most influential people in the toy and games industry in 2018 and 2019. His first game hit the market when he was 17 after winning the Chicago toy and game fair young inventors challenge, that was a mouthful for a second time and has over 20 games in the market today. And today, as we record this episode, he is only 26 only, or already 26.

Rob (2m 4s):
However you want to see that Nick, is there anything we’re missing there? Anything you want to highlight?

Nick (2m 9s):
I’m getting old, man.

Rob (2m 12s):
I’m 35. So I guess you’re fine. That’s okay. So Nick, we always like to sort of get to know a little bit more about your usual day to day your, your routine. And I know there’s all sorts of things happening in the world, which routine is a little bit different or a lot different, depending on where you’re standing. What does a regular day for you from Nick look like today six months ago? Like wherever you want to get to that too.

Nick (2m 37s):
Yeah, it kind of depends on if it’s a weekend or weekday, obviously on weekdays, I’m working full time at spin master and spin master. For those of you who don’t know, it’s a massive children’s entertainment company, we make pop patrol Hatchimals and all those. And so as a result were a pretty large board game company as well. We’ve kind of cornered the market on chess sets and Poker sets. Any poker set you’ve ever bought is probably ours. Wow, your entire life. It’s wild. The market share that we’ve got for that.

Nick (3m 7s):
But so I’m, I’m one of the board game designers there. And so I work on a lot of different projects in that company. And so as a result of the, the honor of working out a lot of major licenses, so oftentimes the brand team will come to us say that, Hey, you know, there’s an opportunity here. There’s something trending here. Can you make a game about it? You know, maybe there’s the, a new TV show that’s going to be coming out in a year. We think it’s going to be big. Can you make a game about it? And so I’ll sit down, I’ll get out a pad of paper.

Nick (3m 38s):
I’ll go outside, scratch down some thoughts and pitch the game back to them a day later. And if they like it, then I start working with the factory. Maybe I’ll talk to the retailers, I’ll pitch the retailers, the games, see what they’re interested in, you know, make edits, prototype some stuff, play, test it and go back and forth for a couple of months and eventually put the game into market.

Rob (3m 60s):
It sounds like a one man band, is that correct?

Nick (4m 2s):
No, absolutely not. This is a massive team undertaking, but fortunately the coolest part about this company is it’s like the world’s largest small company. It’s very entrepreneurial and you have a lot of autonomy in terms of, you know, what you drive to market. So as a designer, you end up touching a lot of different parts of the process. So for example, yesterday, I was doing video editing to help sell the product in, but we’ve got a massive team that all works together in concert to really bring this vision to life. It’s just that the designer is often the project manager who touches every point of the project.

Rob (4m 35s):
That sounds fantastic, very exciting and very hands on as well, which is very cool, especially for our conversation. And I’m guessing that you have sort of a second life as well. That’s what it sounded like.

Nick (4m 46s):
Yeah. I do some stuff on the side, nothing really major. So I view games as a really cool medium that haven’t really been tapped in in the world today. And I want to push the boundaries of what games can be and what they’re used for. And so I don’t want to limit myself just to board games. There’s so many more things that games can be used for just as a behavioral tool or as a way of governance. Like it’s just an incredible way of sparking intrinsic motivation. I want to capitalize on that

Rob (5m 12s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s what we’re all about. Of course, we usually focus a lot on learning and education, but there are so many applications for games and that’s what we’re going to be talking about today. And let’s get starting very, very strong here. We want to know of a time. And again, we know you work with very large brands and corporations and your company as well. So if you don’t want to name any names, that’s fine. That’s perfectly acceptable. As long as you sort of deal us into that story, we want to be there with you.

Rob (5m 42s):
We want to live from that lesson of fail, that first attempt and learning that failure. How did you, you know, sort of face it? What did you do about it? How do you come out? Or what did you learn from that? Or both ideally, and especially want to be there with you. We want to see all those and see if perhaps we can learn a little bit from that and not apply those same mistakes that are in our practice.

Nick (6m 3s):
Yeah, sure. I’m actually going to take you back into my childhood and we’re going back to a game that I worked maybe three to six months on, and I was really excited about this game. And obviously back then I was making it just for my family, a little bit of a history about my family. My dad, isn’t a fan of games. He doesn’t like games. He really likes sports playing sports and the physical aspect of games, but he’s not big on mind games and board games and things like that. So always, you know, he would play these games, but he wasn’t really interested. My mom was super supportive of it.

Nick (6m 35s):
So she was already all in my sister. Didn’t like strategy games at any point. She never liked them. She liked the luck games. And so when I was making this game, I wasn’t really thinking about those factors yet. And I made this game, it was called dominant force and it was one of the coolest games that I had ever made. It had multiple levels in the board game and we sat down and play the game and the game took three hours and it was totally confusing and I might’ve been 13 or 14 at the time or something like that. I thought this was my best game to date. Turns out definitely not.

Nick (7m 6s):
And at that moment, my, my family was completely honest with me. And my dad was like, Nick, this is the worst game you’ve ever produced. Like this is not good. And my sister said that she would never play this game again. Cause it was just was terrible. And it was too long. And even my mom was like, you know, it’s, it’s a little bit confusing. Like maybe simplify that a little bit. And from that experience, from those, those obstacles that I faced, I realized a couple of things that it’s extremely important for the other people at the table to be having fun rather than just yourself.

Nick (7m 39s):
And so when you’re designing a game, you must design for the other people in the audience and you must know who they are, what they like, why they like it and everything about, you know, what is fun for that other person. I went to a kind of a journey of, you know, what is fun, a bit of a philosophical journey. And I realized on this journey, that fun is completely subjective. I was trying to make the perfect game, you know, the game that everybody would find fun, but that’s impossible because people decide what is fun before they do the thing.

Nick (8m 10s):
And that’s a, that was a really interesting mindset shift that came to me at the end of this long journey, you know, sparking from this dominant force board game. And now I use that same mindset of trying to imagine what, you know, what do I want the audience to feel while they’re experiencing this game? And how can I dial that in, in the most simple way possible, because simplicity is really hard. It’s easy to be complex, but simplicity is hard. And using that as a framework to determine what is fun for that specific audience.

Rob (8m 43s):
Fantastic. And, and it’s something that we’ve talked about and from many different angles, it’s the importance of understanding who are your players? And I’ve done some workshops as well when talking to people and explaining what it is that you can or have to do depending on the situation. And of course, it’s, it’s a hard pill to swallow. Sometimes it’s saying well, before you dig into those game mechanics, all that fun that you were expecting, you have to think about the people you’re designing for, because this is a design discipline it’s game design board, game design, gamification design, whatever you want to call, what you’re going to be doing.

Rob (9m 20s):
It is about design. And I would argue that design is always for someone or someone’s if you want to frame it that way as well, it’s fundamentally important than in your case, your audience was very well defined by three people, your father, your mother, and your sister. So you were basically designing for a very, very specific set of people. So that is a fantastic learning, fantastic lesson. And it keeps on reminding us, and I can’t say this enough of how important it is for us to know who we are creating this for, especially, I mean, you create a lot of entertainment games as well, and there you’re sort of designing for who you want, maybe your audience to be kind of in a way like you’re thinking, Oh, they, the people who enjoy this would be these kinds of people.

Rob (10m 2s):
And you have a little bit of freer hand than when you’re saying, well, these are my students, for example, or these are my employees and I have to design for them. So, you know exactly well, you know, who they are, how they behave is a completely different thing. But I do think that the lesson, you know, goes through every single border. So thank you very much for that story. And let’s actually turn it around Nick. I don’t know if you want to talk about one of your big successes as well and tell us, you know, the story, how you got to that. And of course, we’d like to know one, two, maybe three things that you would attribute part of that success to.

Rob (10m 36s):
And what would you say is like one of those big bangs that you, you got out of that?

Nick (10m 40s):
Yeah, sure. So I guess changing the topic over to the serious games and focusing on a game that impacted the audience that was locked already. So when I was in college, I started an entrepreneurship fraternity. It was a coed professional entrepreneurship fraternity, and we were pulling together the most diverse organization ever made on campus. And this is still the most diverse organization ever on campus. But we had, we had students from 32 different countries. We spoke collectively like 25 different languages.

Nick (11m 12s):
We spanned every single college on campus and we were kind of the movers and shakers, the passionate people, the drivers. And we were called Sigma at a PI my senior year. I was the president of that organization. And our involvement right, was extremely low. Like no one was coming to the events and things like that. And we did a deep dive on it and found out the reason was everybody was pursuing their own projects. Everybody was extremely busy. And I guess that’s a byproduct of getting the most amazing people on campus.

Nick (11m 42s):
Cause everybody’s doing stuff, no one had free time. And so as a result, nobody was going to the events that we were setting up. But the coolest part about the organization was when we all got in a room and just talked and we shared ideas and synthesize new perspectives based on all our, you know, all the crosses of our disciplines. So we knew as a, because I was the president, it was my job to figure out how to maintain the culture of the organization, make sure that that culture remained, even though everybody was busy. And one of the ways that we found out that we were able to do it is I implemented a, a game structure and made sure that the incentives were aligned correctly to create the result of everybody being in the room at the same time, multiple times during the semester.

Nick (12m 28s):
And the easiest way that we did it was we created something called the initiative program and you were required to be in at least one initiative during each semester. And if you weren’t part of that initiative, or if you weren’t part of an initiative for 72 hours, then you were just out of the fraternity completely. And so that kind of like harshness allowed everybody to jump into an initiative. But what was really interesting about this program is how the initiatives were run.

Nick (12m 59s):
You could make up an initiative as long as you had two other people that want to do that same thing. So if you had a topic that you really cared about, that didn’t exist in the organization, we gave you the autonomy to run for it. And to really do it as long as it had some impact in the fraternity itself. And in addition, we made every single initiative completely autonomous. So they were self run self-selected and they could create their own direction. But the internal VP was in charge of making sure that the leaders of the initiatives each submitted their goals, you know, on time and made sure that they were actually following some sort of process.

Nick (13m 38s):
And we went from a 9% involvement, rate to a 98% involvement rate over the course of one semester. And that seismic shift just really defined where Sigma PI was going to go for the next several years. And so I’m pretty proud of how the game structure worked really well because I set up incentives in such a way, and I set up the rules in such a way that it became a thriving ecosystem. And it goes back to that behavior aspect that I was talking about before, you know, are you able to set up the game to create, you know, the fun aspect?

Nick (14m 10s):
Can you create an environment where fun is continually happening? And everybody loved it. It was everybody had a blast. And the people that weren’t interested in doing the initiatives well, they dropped out and it was only like 8%. So it, wasn’t a huge number.

Rob (14m 26s):
It’s actually a very good number of very good results as well. And there you touch upon many, many important things. And one of them is that you, people had a lot of fun, but then also you had, you know, it was achieving a certain objective that you went for, you achieved it. And that’s where you call that a success. It’s not just because everybody, you know, sort of raised their glass and said, ah, you know, cheers, this is great. This looks great. You actually are measuring it on the right things. And the right things are precisely the objectives That you set forth. And that’s, I think it’s fundamental.

Rob (14m 56s):
I think it’s a key lesson. Is there anything else you’d like to highlight from that, that experience?

Nick (15m 1s):
Yeah, actually there is. Fraternities are weird because you know, in a, in a regular business, you’re paying the employees to do work. In a fraternity, you’re asking your employees to pay you to do work. It’s just the oddest, like it’s just the weirdest culture of, you know, how to understand how to lead this. And it’s purely based on the value that you can get out of it. And the value that the organization provides. Like that’s what you’re paying for. You know, there’s a lot of stuff that you’re saying you’re paying for friends or whatever.

Nick (15m 33s):
That’s not true. You’re paying for the culture. You’re paying for the connections of where everything can go from there and the ideas that you share together. And I mean, that’s, that’s what you’re paying for. And so it was up to us to really make sure that that existed.

Rob (15m 48s):
That is fantastic. And that’s exactly what you were, you were looking for. So Nick, you’ve talked about that process. You’ve talked about thinking of your users use, you thought about, you know, establishing very clearly your objectives when you’re creating a game with a purpose that wants to achieve some sort of objective. Do you have, you know, some process,

Rob (16m 8s):
What do you do when, when you come up with a, with a challenge or something that you want to achieve using your, your game skills, how do you do it? What’s your, what’s your thought process here?

Nick (16m 16s):
Yeah. I’ll start really abstract. And then I’ll go into a story to help explain this. So the first thing that I always do is I figure out what is my ultimate goal and that’s kind of an obvious place to start. Right. But I define it so rigidly. And so specifically, I often define it in kind of an emotional sense too. So for example, I was making a game called Hail Hydra, and this is a social deduction game. And for those of you who don’t know what social deduction means, it’s kind of mafia-like where some people in the group of, so you’re on two teams and one team is usually the detractors, but the other team doesn’t know who’s on their team and who’s not.

Nick (16m 57s):
So it’s, you’re trying to figure out who’s lying to you and who’s not lying to you. So that’s kinda what the game Hail Hydra was. Everybody’s an agent of Shield and you’re all working together to save New York city from these villains that are attacking. But some people on your group of Shield agents are actually secretly Hydra agents. And it’s up to the Shield agents to figure out who the Hydra agents are and knock them out before the end of the game. And so when I was making this game, my initial goal was I wanted a moment in the game where your heart starts beating really fast, right?

Nick (17m 33s):
The adrenaline is starting to come up, especially if you’re on the Hydra team, because you know, you’re about to reveal that you were on Hydra and you were trying to, you know, sew all these lies the entire course of the game. And as your moment of reveal is getting closer and closer to your heartbeat faster and faster. And I want you to be able to flip the disc, the,the loyalty disc that you have over and yell, hail Hydra, just like they did in the movies and things like that. So that, you know, that was your grand reveal. And I wanted that moment in the game.

Nick (18m 4s):
So I built the entire game around that moment. I started figuring out what rules needed to be in place to drive towards that goal. And so obviously the first one was that you are able to flip over your loyalty disc, right? So at some point in time, I needed that to be a benefit. So I added some points, you know, available to flipping over that thing. Okay, great. Now I need attention to rise over the course of the game. So I needed everybody to be throwing out accusations, but not getting confirmation about those accusations.

Nick (18m 37s):
You know, it just has to be based on your gut feel and yeah. There’s information that you’re getting from it, but it might not be completely accurate. So there needs to be a little bit of luck in there. You need to be able to lie effectively in the game structure. So I kind of looked at other games that were around that did that. BS was a really good comp, you know, you’re playing cards face down and then you’re just claiming certain stuff. And so I use a mechanic like that where you kind of know what everybody else is doing, but you don’t know for sure, but are you going to call them on that?

Nick (19m 8s):
That’s the tricky bit like, can you call them on it? How can you call them on it? And so I was working all of those games, those game mechanics into the game itself to drive towards that one goal of being able to yell, hail Hydra, and have that emotional burst all at the same time.

Rob (19m 24s):
That sounds fantastic. So you start up by defining what that looks like, and then you start building the mechanics around that. So we’re and, how does that integrate into thinking, like who we’re going again, if, if, if this part of the process talks about that, like who is going to be your audience? How do you decide? I don’t know, like which game mechanics to use. I don’t know the theme sometimes in a game like Hail Hydra. I’m guessing that it came from the beginning. You already knew what the theme had to be, but what does that look like? Like do you decide who are those people you decide to seem if you have to, where does that integrate into your whole interior?

Nick (19m 59s):
Yeah, it varies. Oftentimes the market is predefined for you. So, you know, for, for a market like Hail Hydra, we know who the market is already. It’s fans of Marvel who are willing to sit down and play a game about lying. So we kinda know who that audience is already. And for the theme, we already kinda know that theme already, too. It’s like, okay, if the game is about Hail Hydra, it has to be about, you know, Shield versus Hydra. Cause that’s common trope in Marvel. If you’ve ever seen Marvel, that’s a common thing and Hydra’s the ones that are hidden, but they’re really all about control and you know, stuff like that.

Nick (20m 34s):
So I made sure to bake those themes into it. Was there anything that I missed in that question Rob?

Rob (20m 39s):
No, I think that that’s, that’s pretty much it and in that example, so that is fantastic. Like you start up basically with what you want to make the people feel when they’re playing your game. Just a quick break before we continue, are you enjoying this podcast? If you’re listening through a podcasting app, please subscribe and rate us on the app. This will be of great help to reach more Engagers so we can change the world together through gamification. So Nick, when you’re creating games, when you’re creating games for, especially when, when they’re are games with a purpose, when some sort of purpose beyond entertainment, is there a best practice, something that you would say, well, if you consider this, you’ll probably get a better result or a faster result, whatever, whatever you want to go for, what would that look like if I asked you for a best practice?

Nick (21m 26s):
Huh? So my background’s in psychology and I, when I was learning psychology, I became obsessed with almost having games act like a laboratory where you put a game in front of people and you see how people behave during that game structure. And then it’s really interesting because you can change one rule and it completely changed the behavior of all the participants. And if you can get that consistently, if you can get a consistent behavior out of people, then you know, you’ve, you know, really paired the game down to its base form.

Nick (21m 59s):
However, some people might not want that. Maybe you want people acting very differently. So you want more of a sandbox game. I think it’s important to define what you’re trying to get out of the game first. And that this is kind of where gamification comes in. Gamification is really focused on motivation of the players. And if you understand what the intrinsic motivations of each player is, then you can build the game to support those motivations as well as driving towards the business goal or objective or, you know, whatever you can do. Think of it like a Venn diagram.

Nick (22m 30s):
You’ve got your business goals on one circle and you’ve got the players’ motivations on the other circle. Gamification is finding that intersection. And that’s kind of what it’s about. There was another part of that question that I’ve missed. Rob, can you repeat that part?

Rob (22m 43s):
No, it was basically what would be a best practice. And I’m guessing that the best practice in your case is understanding what it is you want to achieve very clearly so that you are able basically to, to achieve that. And that makes a lot of sense. Is there anything else that you’d like to, you’d like to put down?

Nick (22m 59s):
Yeah, it’s absolutely that first part. And the second part is, you know, obviously play, test it, throw it out there, see what people do, see how people react and if you’re not getting the right behavior, tweak it, right. That’s on you to create the environment that will create the culture.

Rob (23m 15s):
Absolutely. So two best practices and play testing is something that is easy to forget because we, we think we are not fallible and we happen to be humans. So play testing is our best shot at understanding what we did wrong. And we can assume from the start that there was actually something wrong, already

Nick (23m 35s):
Treat it like you’re a scientist, you know, the hypothesis and use a null hypothesis. Don’t use a regular, you know, like trying to con confirm your, your views, figure out how to disprove your views. Like that’s the real form of play-testing. Look at it like you are the scientist and watching a laboratory experiment because when you do that, you’re going to get so much better data.

Rob (23m 58s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. And you’ve been giving some great recommendations, but I would like to know if there’s, you know, listening to these questions or you were also recommended by a past guest, a past friend, Dustin, and you know, when you’re listening to these things, what would you with these questions, What would you think is somebody that you would like to listen to answering these questions? You know, and this whole vibe of the podcast who is someone that you will be curious to listen to, whether it’s somebody, you know, or somebody you would like to

Nick (24m 27s):
Yeah. There’s, there’s somebody out there that is known: Jane McGonigal. She is absolutely fantastic. And I’m sure some of the audience might know her because she’s kind of a big name in gamification, but she focuses on serious games and games for change and ways that you can apply game thinking to spur creativity in solving the world’s biggest problems like migration crisis or oil crisis and things like that. And she set up simulations where hundreds of thousands of people have participated and brought forward solutions that, you know, we might not have even thought of until the crisis actually hit.

Nick (25m 3s):
And so in my opinion, she’s really showing what games can be as well as a way to just harvest human creativity and figure out protocols that we can use to handle crisis before the crisis even happens. And I think that is really a powerful tool to help society move forward and help our species survive.

Rob (25m 25s):
Absolutely, absolutely. And actually, Jane McGonigal, funny enough, was the first person to be sort of requested in episode one.

Nick (25m 35s):
There you go.

Rob (25m 36s):
Yeah. And she should probably be one of the persons who has been requested the most. And I’ve said this relatively recently, I think I’ll have to check myself on that, that I think it is the time is coming probably to try and get her on the show. So that is fantastic recommendation. And in that same line, I know she has at least a couple of fantastic books, but if you were to recommend what, just one book to the engagers, to this audience, what book would you recommend? And of course, a quick why?

Nick (26m 2s):
Yeah. Other than Reality is Broken, which is Jane McGonigal’s book. It’s also fantastic. I would recommend Gamify by Brian Burke. And the reason I’d recommend Gamify is Brian really breaks down everything that you need to do in order to create a gamified solution for whatever you need. It’s kind of like a really small textbook for how to make anything gamified. And it’s a really excellent, concise book. And so if you’re looking for that, how to path that you can reference all the time, he’s got it.

Nick (26m 32s):
And there’s four pillars to a game, you know, in his book. And I resonate with this a lot. Like I think he defined it really well. The, actually this might’ve been a Jane’s book. I don’t know it’s in one of the two there’s four there’s four pillars to the game. The first one is a clear goal, a clear objective. The second one is a clear rule set that defines the boundaries of the play space. Third one is a feedback system. The more rapid, the better, because when you get feedback, that means you could improve and that pushes you up that skill curve faster.

Nick (27m 3s):
So if you’re looking to, you know, improve students’ test scores, give them faster feedback and then they’ll know how to improve or things that they need to work on. That’s why one on one tutoring works so much better because you’re getting that instant feedback, right? It’s obvious, but the more instant, the feedback, the faster your learning curve, and then finally voluntary action. And that last part is key. That voluntary action is key because it’s what makes something fun. If you decide that you’re not going to have fun then you’re not going to have fun, but if you decide beforehand that, Hey, you know what, I’m open to trying this, you know, I’m down to play, you might have fun.

Nick (27m 37s):
And it was just a really interesting shift that voluntary action piece is what I gleaned from these two books. And that was the piece that I think I was missing before.

Rob (27m 46s):
Absolutely absolutely. The voluntariness of, of, of games and, and how they are voluntary. There, there are caveats to this, of course, because sometimes what you have to create is something that is semi or completely mandatory for, for example, for employees or for students. And you have to find ways of making a lot and allowing a lot of choice in that, that is, I think is, is a good, I would argue is a very good translation in, in many, many situations. And both books are absolutely fantastic and finalizing on this as recommendation’s spree.

Rob (28m 18s):
So to say, what would you say is your favorite game? And you can cheat here and talk about one of yours, but ideally of course it would be somebody another game authored by somebody else.

Nick (28m 30s):
Yeah, really, really quick. Before I jump into that, I wanted to touch one more or last piece on the voluntary action bit.

Rob (28m 35s):

Nick (28m 36s):
Going back to my example about Sigma and a PI and in college, the voluntary action there was choosing which initiative you wanted to be a part of. And if you didn’t have one that you could find, you can make one up yourself, that’s the voluntary action. That’s what made it fun. Yeah. It was required in order to stay inside the organization, but you weren’t forced to stay inside the organization. So all of that was built down to choices and we made those choices prevalent. And we told you about this choices, you know, we made you feel that you had an autonomy.

Nick (29m 7s):
And so I think that was the key to it right there. But going down to the favorite game, my favorite game of all time is Survivor hands down. There’s no doubt in my mind, it’s the greatest game of all time. It’s a longterm game. It uses relationships. It also emotions. And sometimes it’s even a spiritual journey for people. It changes people’s lives. It’s high stakes. It’s on an Island. It’s so cool. The challenges that you’re doing is intense. You’re mentally deprived, sleep deprived, socially deprived, physically deprived.

Nick (29m 38s):
Like there’s so many factors that are all coming together all at the same time. It just makes the ultimate game. In my opinion.

Rob (29m 45s):
That is a fantastic game as well. So heads up for, for that recommendation, if you haven’t seen it, it is absolutely fantastic. And what would you say

Nick (29m 56s):
has gotten a lot better too! It’s gotten a lot better too. Like the game has so evolved. The seasons nowadays are, are so different from when they started, but it’s just, it’s engaging. There’s so much cool stuff going on. They just filmed winters at war, whereas it all winter season and the level of strategy that these players were playing at is just unparalleled. So it’s highly recommend them.

Rob (30m 19s):
I’m going to say something. I’m not sure if I’ve, I’ve talked about this before, when I was a teenager, I was probably somewhere around 15, there was a sort of a spinoff. I’m not sure if on the same brand of Survivor, but for teenagers. So of course it was not exactly the same. We were not entirely on our own. We were on teams as well. There were all sorts of games. The elimination was not exactly elimination, but I was, I had that experience myself, of course, within different limitations. And right before the night before I went there, we had a very special dinner dinner with my family.

Rob (30m 54s):
And we met the people who went to the equivalent of Survivor back home, where I’m from Venezuela. And they, they were there like the, the finalists of the Survivor challenge in Venezuela were having dinner in the same place. So I approached them and got some advice. I’m not sure how useful that was at that time for me, but it was very, very exciting. I really enjoyed that show and I really enjoyed the whole dynamic of the whole thing.

Nick (31m 18s):
Was that called, was that called endurance?

Rob (31m 21s):
It was called “Hasta el Limite” in Spanish. So up to your limits or something like that?

Nick (31m 27s):
Ah, gotcha.

Rob (31m 28s):
Yeah, it was a spinoff. It was the, the, the IP was sort of, of the, the, the whatever TV channel that was on. I can’t, I can’t remember right now if I give it a little thought on, probably remember, but it was, and we were, I mean, the, the, the, the show, it had several seasons, well, it was not exactly seasons. It was like two teams competing for like, I don’t know w we were there for like nine or 10 days, and then other teams were competing and then we went to the finals and we had a final, but that was for like, I dunno, like six months or something. And we were, we were taking audience from one of the main national TV shows that that hour as well.

Rob (32m 0s):
So I can say we were pretty proud of that as well. So in, in, in this, you know, we’ve kind of finished those recommendations, but now talking a little bit more about yourself, once again, what would you say is your super power, your sweet spot that’s thing that you do great, that you do better, at least than most people when creating these, these games with a purpose.

Nick (32m 23s):
Yeah. The thing that I think I do extremely well is social dynamics. And this is the interplay between the players. In a game like Hail Hydra, where people are lying to each other. You can come up with endless strategies of how you want to approach this. And as a game designer, you need make sure that no One strategy is the best, because if somebody figures out the best strategy, then they’ll put it on Reddit and then everybody will know the best strategy. And then the game is broken. So as a game designer, I need to continually be thinking about like, okay, what are all the possible ways that I could approach this problem?

Nick (32m 56s):
And I got to make sure that all possible ways, aren’t a hack, right? And so you get some really interesting dynamics when you start thinking of several people in a group, all lying to each other, how do you convey correct information, right? Like, that’s, that’s a really interesting problem. So I think I got a lot of experience from that project and other social deduction games that I’ve worked on, you know, and Survivor and designing for cultures and designing for, you know, a lot of stuff. So I think I figured out how social dynamics works, especially at board games and in games in general, in a game environment.

Nick (33m 32s):
And then I use that to really bring out emotions and behaviors that I’m looking for.

Rob (33m 37s):
Absolutely. Absolutely. So Nick, we’re, we’re running out of time before we leave. I would like to know if you have any sort of final piece of advice for The Engagers, for the audience. Of course, let us know where we can find more all about you about your work. And then after that, after it’s all done, we’ll say that it’s Game Over.

Nick (33m 54s):
Yeah, sure. One last piece of advice for everybody? The games are almost never original. Game mechanics are almost never original. So if you’re looking to expand your toolbox of a game designer, play more games, like play all different types of games, video games, to board games, to escape rooms, you will find so many mechanics out there and then use and twist those same mechanics to achieve your individual goals. And that’s what game design is. It’s looking at a problem and designing a solution based on the tool sets that you have at your disposal and the more tools, you know, how to use the more mechanics you’re aware of the better and more efficient your games will run.

Nick (34m 35s):
And yeah, I’d say that’s the biggest piece of advice is play more games, especially if you’re looking to design games, to help with motivation or to help a structural change or anything like that. All of those principles are found in other games and somewhere. And the more you play games, the more you talk about games, the more you have friends who play games, the more you’ll find solutions for the problems that you’re facing. If you want to connect up with me, hit me up on LinkedIn, you can send me a private message, just reference this podcast.

Nick (35m 5s):
And I’ll, I’ll respond also a LinkedIn hacks. This is pretty good. Don’t tell anybody from LinkedIn this, if you join any group, you can message any member of that group for free, even if you don’t have premium. So if you’re trying to get in touch with somebody, that is a way you can do it. So if you’re trying to get in touch with me, and for some reason you can’t, you know, shoot me a message for whatever reason, feel free to send me a connection request and type the message in there, or just join a group and message me through that.

Rob (35m 35s):
I think it is kind of an intentional cheat that they have built in there, but it’s not very public as you mentioned. So that’s an interesting one. I think that the message when you’re adding somebody is also very, very useful. So thank you very much, Nick. I know you have a lot of things going on. We’re actually talking on a weekend right now. So there’s a lot of things that you could have going on, but you decided to invest this time in The Engagers, in this audience and sharing some of your experience. So thank you for that, but for now, and at least for today, it is time to say that it’s game over.

Rob (36m 10s):
Engagers! It is fantastic to have you here and thank you for listening to the Professor Game podcast. And I hope you enjoyed this interview with Nick. Do you have any questions that you would also like to ask future guests, then go to and ask your question. If it is selected, it will come up in a future episode and you will get your answer directly from a guest. And before you go onto your next mission, if you haven’t remember to subscribe using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game, See you there!

End of transcription

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