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Meet , a visionary in human psychology who wants to fundamentally change the way brands and audiences connect. As the CEO and founder of , an AI-powered platform for human-centric experiences, Joe is pioneering the use of video games for cognitive assessment, opening up new possibilities for not only the gaming industry but for mental health diagnostics and treatment. Armed with his experience leading UX strategy for Big Fish Games and MRM // McCann and his impactful work as a startup advisor, adventure-based psychotherapist, and ski ambassador for The North Face, Joe intrinsically understands the power of a people-first approach and is ready to help companies create healthier and livelier experiences for users without leaving them overstimulated and disconnected from the real world.
Guest Links and Info
Links to episode mentions:
- Proposed guest: David Helgason
- Recommended book: Adventure Therapy by Michael A. Gass, H.L. “Lee” Gillis, Keith C. Russell, Gil Hallows
- Favorite games:
- Wellbeing Assessment from Solsten: wellbeing.solsten.io
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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)
Rob: Hey Engagers. And welcome to another episode of the Professor Game podcast. And we have Joe with us, a very special guest. However, Joe, we need to know before we start, are you prepared to engage?
Joe: I believe so.
Rob: Let’s talk about Joe Shaeppi. Is that is that a decent way to pronounce it?
Joe: That works. Sheppy.
Rob: Yeah, sheppy. Sheppy. All right, I’ll try that. He’s a visionary in human psychology who wants to fundamentally changed the way brands and audiences connect. He’s the CEO and founder of Solston, which is an AIpowered platform for human centric experiences.
Rob: He is pioneering the use of video games for cognitive assessment. This opens up new possibilities for not only the gaming industry, but for mental health, diagnostics and treatment. He has plenty of experience leading UX strategy for Big Fish Games and MRM. McCann and his impactful work as a startup advisor, adventure-based psychotherapist and ski ambassador for the North Face. He’s intrinsically understanding the power of people first approach and is ready to help companies create healthier and livelier experiences for users without leaving them overstimulated and disconnected from the real world.
Rob: So, other than that, is there anything we should know about you, Joe, that hasn’t been said yet?
Joe: Wow, that was quite the intro. No, I think that pretty much covers yeah.
Rob: Amazing. Amazing. So, Joe, we always like to dive in to understand our guests a little bit better. So can you guide us through a day, a week? We kind of want to be in your skin for a little bit and understand what it feels like to be Joe Sheppy in these days.
Joe: Sure. Running a company in 2023 is interesting. I was just talking to someone about how just in the United States last year, there was about 7000 companies that were founded that got venture backing, venture funding, and this year it’s only been about 1000. The overall entrepreneurial landscape is very different than it was before. And I think your number one job as a founder or somebody building a company is, at the end of the day, making sure that your company has the money to run, to grow and thrive.
Joe: And it’s very close how well we take care of our team and make sure that we’re really optimizing the ideal environment for the team, because I’m a firm believer that what the team has and what the team does reflects, at the end of the day, on our product, on our experience, on our science. But if you don’t have any money, you don’t have any team. So a lot of my day to day, it’s still focused with whether it’s talking to investors, talking to customers, making sure that the experience continues to grow and scale with our customer base. We work with many of the top companies in the gaming industry, so that’s from Epic to EA to Supercell to you kind of name it, so that’s really important. Customers are very then, you know, ensuring that I think Mark Randolph said this to me, the founder of Netflix, but he said you really only have two jobs and it’s making sure you have the right people and that they have the right information.
Joe: So a lot of that is my day to day is making sure that we have the right people, they’re in the right positions, and that they have the right information to really excel and grow.
Rob: That sounds like very good advice, to be honest, because there’s lots of things CEOs do. I’ve also heard that the first product manager of any product in any company tends to be the CEO, right? Yeah. But a lot of that job as well is getting the right information at the right time, right. Being a product manager.
Rob: So it sounds like pretty good advice and I hope it’s been working out for you in that sense.
Joe: Yeah, we’re getting there. And I think it’s a journey. Like, we started this about six years ago. And originally I was the person that developed all of our psych assessment stuff, the product, the UX, the UI, because that was a big part of my past. And you kind of go from being a player to a player coach to an orchestrator.
Joe: So I think there’s another person that mentioned to me know a lot of founders who they’re the type of people that can create something from nothing. So it’s not always interesting for them to run something once it’s up and running. But for me, Solston’s, like this has been a lot of my life. My passion, human understanding, how we improve experiences, flow state, human awareness. So for me, it’s a joy to be able to help navigate this ship with an incredible team towards some really cool breakthroughs, I think.
Rob: Well, it sounds like you have an amazing job. An amazing job for sure. And Joe, we like to talk about the highs. We’ve been listening to some of the great advice you’ve received. But of course, great advice usually comes from a place of learning.
Rob: And we like to talk about our first attempts at learning or fail moments. Right? So what would you say is in the gaming industry and creating games with a purpose, as you are now? What would you say is maybe your favorite fail or a significant one that has led you to big learning or to lessons that you would have probably not expected? And essentially we want to be there in that story.
Rob: We want to be there with you and take some of those lessons home.
Joe: I think there’s two major things. I’ll say, like, one thing for us at Solston personally and then one thing just that I’ve gotten to see working with a lot of incredible teams over the last six years. And I think that starting with gaming, because I’ve gotten to all Angel Invest too, I’ll see kind of really talented teams and they’re growing. I get excited about entrepreneurship and looking at a lot of the experiences that haven’t made it and what has made it. I think one of the hard things is a lot of gaming, especially early on, wasn’t art.
Joe: It was just, hey, I have all these creative ideas. Back when I was at Big Fish, sometimes we called them like Moses designers, where they’re like, hey, I have the Ten Commandments, I have the tablets, and this is where I’m going. I think that can be really interesting. And back maybe ten years ago, 20 years ago especially, the whole industry was just this wide blue ocean. And so you could go even as recently as I think it was like eight years ago, when Merge Dragons came out on the mobile side, you could say, hey, merge games are popular, dragons are popular.
Joe: Let’s make bird dragons. And before you know it, you’re making $100 million because there’s just so few people. Well, the gaming industry, if you think of it today, it’s been so incredibly successful that it’s become incredibly competitive. So think of all the best games that got released just this year. Most gamers will not have time to play all of them.
Joe: You have to choose, like, oh, I’m going to play Balder’s Gates or I’m going to play Zelda. What am I actually going to focus on? There’s just so much really good stuff out there. So the transition of any industry, when it starts to mature, becomes more and more and more about going from the introspective to considering what is in the industry. And this literally means considering the audience, considering who we’re creating for.
Joe: If you’re the only tailor in the city and you make pants, you’re going to be selling all the pants in the world. But all of a sudden, if there’s a lot of tailors and they’re all very good, you need to start to understand your audience, the fit, the shape, the size, what they care about, what their expectations are, and that’s going to make the more successful tailors. So when I see a lot of the biggest failures over the last year and a half, especially they’re companies that tried to kind of do things the old way. By that I mean they didn’t really take the time. To deeply understand the human beings that they’re making their experience for and really making sure that almost it’s like your audience is like your so, you know, it is something that we do at Solstice, and this is part of why we see this as a failure so often, is companies will come to us.
Joe: Hey, we’re in soft launch. Can you help us out? We’ve spent a lot of money and things aren’t working how we hoped. And we’ll go in, we’ll look at the audience, look at the game, and we’ll come back and say, hey, you guys basically made a game for the totally wrong audience. And so by that time, the sad part is you kind of at that point, you’re better off sometimes killing the thing and moving on.
Joe: And I always see it like some of the most creative people in the world are in the gaming industry. And when you spend two to three to four years building a game and that game doesn’t work, to me, that’s a tragic loss of talent. So, yeah, I’d say the number one failure we’ve seen recently is because of the gaming industry’s success and because people are so good at what they do, there’s so much more competition and avoiding understanding the audience and thinking, hey, I’m the gamer, I play these kind of games. All of us who make games are actually not the audience. We’re already in this other world.
Joe: So, yeah, that’s, I think, a big failure point. And personally, I think as a founder, building a company back to it’s all about team. I think Richard Branson said something when someone asked, hey, how did you become a billionaire? And he said, I had really good ideas, then I created a really good vision, then I hired smart people and then I just got out of the way. And I think one of the challenges to scaling a company and growing a company is it’s definitely hiring.
Joe: I remember reading something that said the best managers at Microsoft when it went from like 1000 to 40,000 employees, and this was from someone who is in the HR department there, they said that the best ones only were successful about 50% of the time in hiring future leaders or future successes at the company. So I think if I look at my biggest mistakes personally at Solston is throughout the years we’ve hired some incredible people. We have amazing team, but it’s definitely mishires too. And it doesn’t mean that those people are bad people, just not a fit for Solston and not a fit for the type of mission that we’re on. So we had a talk with a bunch of entrepreneurs at a conference a couple of weeks ago.
Joe: It was one of our investor summits. And this seemed to be a common theme actually, in 2023 hiring during COVID because it’s so much different hiring when you’re not in person. And so one of the things that because a lot of what we do is psychological assessment, we’re starting to lean in more and more on doing psychological assessment as a part of our hiring process. And it’s an incredible tool. And also looking at value alignment with what are the values of the company, what are the values of people that were really successful at the company and do we have value alignment with the people that we’re hiring.
Joe: So, Red Bull actually does a really good job of this as a company. It’s a big part of their hiring process. But yeah, implementing more of that now and wishing I would have done all that four years ago, five years ago.
Rob: So I love what you’re saying because it’s so interesting how when you’re building whatever it is that you’re building, it’s very far in between where the success is the success of one single person. Right. It’s always about a team. And of course, having a good team has all these difficulties and so on. And you were saying it was something that you were not having a great time doing.
Rob: Again, because when we get to specific examples, people can relate to them a little bit better and really understand and grasp what was the extent to what happened. Of course, you don’t need to name any names or super detailed specific, but do you remember maybe one of those hires where something went wrong? What is it went wrong? And perhaps what would you have done different with maybe that specific hire? Again, you don’t have to mention the title, the person, or whatever, just not to relate it personally.
Rob: Is there one of these experiences that comes to mind?
Joe: Yeah, I think it’s very easy to get excited about people’s past it’s very easy to get excited about what they’ve done. The problem is that what people have done is only one element of a predictor of future success. What we found actually past achievements based on who we’ve seen perform within the company, probably only account for about 25% of predicting success. The other and bigger one is the person’s attributes. A third one is their motivations, and then a fourth is their actual skill set.
Joe: And I think one of the scenarios where when you’re growing a company, it’s so hard, like work from a financing perspective, we’re past our Series B now. We’re in our growth stage. It’s so hard. And sometimes people come along who either they’re friends or they’ve done a lot, and you’re like, wow, they did this at this other place. They’ll definitely really succeed here.
Joe: I think game teams fall. This is maybe an answer that can knock two birds down with 1 st, because I see a lot of the games that we’ve seen fail over the years have suffered from the same sort of issue. We worked with one game company and the person who is leading the game said, I’m one of the best match three designers of all time. And that’s already a bold statement, and we should probably be pretty skeptical, but that person had worked on a match three game at one of the top gaming companies in Europe. I’m not going to name the game.
Joe: We can probably guess sometimes just because that past experience is there, or that the credentials are there, it doesn’t always mean that person is going to be really successful. Where the opposite of that? We’ve seen too, where a person has zero background in gaming, hasn’t worked at any of the big game developers, has even minimally cares about gaming. They’re like, yeah, but they’re really interested in what our mission is as a company of how because a lot of what we’re doing is we’re literally building out the cognitive layer of the Internet. And they’re like, wow, I can really see how moving from an Internet of relevance, where it’s like, what I click is what I’m shown.
Joe: Everyone’s had Instagram or Amazon follow you around with irrelevant ads, for example, to an internet where it feels a little bit more like breath of the wild and it’s inspiring and it’s like cognitively, it resonates with you and it’s enduring and you leave the experience feeling better than you did entering the experience. So how do we talk about things like regenerative technology and some of the best performers at the company have been people that didn’t have all that other stuff. And so I think you do your best, but sometimes just stopping with, hey, they were amazing at Enter name brand company that is highly respected. It’s not the full picture and just because there’s been past performance doesn’t mean there’s always going to be future performance. So yeah, I think it’s either way.
Joe: When you interview someone, there’s a lot of trust involved. It’s a time, it’s a set place and you’re kicking off a journey together. But the more we can get to know people up front, like, this is one thing that I think we lost during COVID was in person interviews and flying people out, spending time with them, getting dinner with them. These things can really go a long way. So, yeah, whether you’re a game studio or an entrepreneur or building out a company, hiring is, I think it’s one of the most important things in crafting that team.
Joe: It’s kind of like when Iceland played England, right? Like England was a team of absolute superstars and Iceland was able to beat them because they really played like a team. So how do we architect the best team possible? And that’s where I feel like as a company, we haven’t failed there, but it would be failure if we haven’t learned. And I do feel we have just.
Rob: Learned a amazing, amazing I think there’s a lot to learn from those types of experiences. Right. There’s many ways in which you perhaps could have failed and and hopefully didn’t, but thinking about things from a different perspective is, I think, one of the things that games have taught us directly or indirectly, right? Like you don’t have just to see from the typical way, the way you’ve always seen things, give it a different angle, a different spin, and you might be onto something. Right?
Rob: So Joe, actually, let’s give it a spin itself. Right? So we’ve been discussing these not so good experiences this time where it didn’t go right, or where you think things could have gone in a different direction from the start. How about we do the opposite? What is perhaps one of the successes you guys have had as a company that you would like to share with us?
Rob: Where you say, well, we did this and we can attribute a significant part of our success to that experience or whatever happened after that experience to something or something that you did at those moments.
Joe: Yeah. So I guess you’re going to love this, Rob. I’d say building an incredible team. For example, last year we were not that it means anything, but by Fast Company we were voted as top hundred places to work for innovators globally. And this is like among all companies.
Joe: So Fortune 500s, you name it. And I think what makes Solston an incredible place, not just to work, but in terms of the impact that we’ve had already with customers, is I think we really started out along a quite strong vision. If you talk to most people and say, hey, do you think the Internet is like a really optimal awesome place? And some people are like, oh, I remember the old days of the Internet, the Internet was awesome. But right now it’s this global thing and there’s all this information, there’s all this discourse and there’s data showing that certain platforms cause depression.
Joe: There’s all this stuff happening. And really you can’t improve something if you can’t measure it. And my background, I used to do clinical psychology. I did a lot of neuropsychological evaluations. And if you look at the science of clinical psychology today, it takes like 7 hours of filling out bubbles on questionnaires to really actually get a decent psychological assessment of somebody.
Joe: So when we go on the Internet today, the Internet’s, for as smart as it is, it’s also pretty dumb in terms of human understanding. And what I mean by that is imagine Google and your Google Maps and you see two user IDs do the exact same thing at the exact same time. And your data science team predicted that they were going to go purchase the same exact thing, but both of those ideas go to the same store and then they walk away. Well, today most people would say human beings are just predictably irrational. That’s what behavioral economists would say, when in reality we’re very rational when you take cognition and personality into account.
Joe: So like what Solston would know, for example, is maybe ID One has super high social anxiety and the reason why they didn’t go buy anything in the store was it was really crowded that day. So it was a really rational thing not to buy anything. And so now they’re able to actually maybe go to the store next door that still has the same thing, but it’s not crowded. ID Two that behaviorally did the exact same thing. Maybe they’re forgetful they’re low on conscientiousness.
Joe: They just forgot their wallet. So for them, maybe we’re sending them a push notification. Hey, did you remember your wallet? So if we think of how do we make a healthier Internet, the first thing is if you can’t measure something, you can’t improve it. And so a lot of what Solston does is we’ve really pioneered the future of psychological assessment.
Joe: And one of the beautiful things about play, there’s a saying that I really love, which is like, show me how you play, and I’ll tell you who you are. Play really sits at the most authentic seat of who we are as human beings. And sometimes people will go, yeah, well, when I play games, I dominate people, and I’m like, angry and pissed. I’m like, that’s interesting, because that’s who you are when no one’s watching. And play.
Joe: Is this great? Teacher and so if we look at how much repetitive actions it takes to form from a neurogenesis perspective, form a new synapse, it’s about four to 500 repetitive actions for a new synapse to form. But when you do something under a state of play, it’s only about ten times that a new synapse can form. So play is just incredibly powerful. Teacher and with digital play and games, we have 3 billion people that play games every single day almost in the world.
Joe: So one of the biggest successes I think, of Solston is we’ve literally already changed how the gaming industry is starting to view audiences. And they’re starting to not just view audiences from, hey, I got this really good idea and I think it’s going to be awesome for people, but, hey, I want to create a product for, let’s just say Call of Duty players or something like that. And I’m really going to actually understand the psychology of the people who play this game, and I’m going to really make a game that resonates with them, that’s healthy for them, that’s enduring for them, and I’m going to be aware of these sort of metrics. I’m going to be actually able to optimize for them. I always say one of the dirty secrets that we know is that the healthier your game experience is for a player, the longer the player is able to play the game.
Joe: So we’re talking like it’s good for business, literally. If a game is addictive, that’s one of the biggest predictors of churn, if a person becomes too addicted to a game. And so what we want is enduring experiences where you play for an hour, you play for a couple of hours, you’re like, wow, that was, like, really awesome. I’m going to go do these other things now, and then maybe you come back in a day or another day, a couple of days, and then over a long period of time, this is something that’s really helpful in your life. So to me, the biggest success we have is when we see 20 year old games like Eve Online and they came to us and they optimized the game, we found that altruism actually for that audience.
Joe: So helping other people or the personality trait of wanting to help others was actually very high in Eve Online players. And we have this prediction engine, so we call it Impact Indicator. You can actually put metrics in from a game and our engine will be able to literally tell you what psychological traits are positively or negatively impacting a certain metric for your game. So in the case of like, Evon, lying, altruism was positively impacting day seven retention. So we’re like, cool, why don’t we allow the game to allow players to help each other more in the first seven days?
Joe: And their retention goes up by 20% in this case. And this is a game that is 20 years old, a lot of a B testing, a lot of optimization work, and a lot of the players came back player sentiment, because the head of research at Eve Online used to be an employee at Solston too. And he said, when we dug into the data and we saw what was there, players felt more understood. They felt like the game team, the game company was really listening to them and they were so excited to hear that. But really what was happening is the developers were actually really just understanding their psychological needs and helping the experience fulfill those and basically seeing good ROI as a game company.
Joe: And then the players are getting what they want too. And ultimately, that’s what Solston is here to do, is create the shared value between developer and player and help experiences just continue to exceed the experiential expectations of players that are out there. And so I think one of the biggest achievements we had is obviously the science that there’s really cool medical stuff that we’re starting to do on that side of things, which we’re just thrilled about. But then just the science of being able to help these brilliant creatives just make absolutely incredible experiences for gamers that go beyond all of our imaginations. So that’s really special, pushing the boundaries of experience and amazing, amazing.
Rob: So, Joe, very quickly, you’ve had a lot of experience with gaming and definitely with what you’ve been doing for the past few years with Solston. If you were to create a new game experience, I’m sure it would start definitely by the understanding your players and their psychological profiles. Would you have a process? Like, how does that work? How do you do this?
Rob: We want to get into your head a little bit and see perhaps if we can take some ideas to implement ourselves.
Joe: Sure. So first off, I have to give the kind of the don’t try this at home. And where I’m coming from with that is psychological assessment is really hard to do. Like, if you go to the psychologist today and you say, hey, I don’t know if I’m depressed, I don’t know if I have ADHD, one thing they’ll probably start with is giving you something called the MMPI. It’s about 500 questions.
Joe: It evaluates a number of different mental health issues or disorders, and it does so at an accuracy rate of anywhere from 80% to maybe 97%. And best case scenario, and if you’re a medical doctor and someone told you, hey, you know what? We’re going to do this surgery, but there’s a 15% chance that I am completely wrong, you’d be like, no, I’m going to go get a second opinion. But in the case of modern psychology, the best tools we have are these self report tools. And so it’s not a survey.
Joe: What you’re doing is figuring out what specific questions actually measure a trait or a mental health issue, like depression, for example. And some of those questions have more validity for different populations than others. Like in the United States, there’s something called the PHQ Nine. It’s nine questions that measure depression. Your doctors might give it to you.
Joe: It has okay validity for the US. Population. It has, like, really bad validity for some countries in Africa. It has actually bad validity for other doctors. So if a doctor has depression and takes it, it’s not valid.
Joe: And so one of the big challenges to begin with is measuring psychology is really, really hard. The 1960s was basically when cognitive psychology really started to take hold. And today, now we have cognitive behavioral psychology. Well, pre 1960, it’s not that people didn’t believe that human beings didn’t have cognition. They didn’t just think we were like, these behavioral zombies.
Joe: It’s just that we didn’t know how to measure any of it yet. And we started measuring it through self report questionnaires. And so the science really has not evolved. Like, we’re here, it’s almost 2024, and we’re still using the same science to measure cognition that we used in the 1960s, which is mostly self report questionnaires. And the problem with self report questionnaires and I hope this isn’t a huge newsflash for most people, but it could be shocking, but human beings are very poor observers of our own cognition.
Joe: We lack a lot of self awareness. In other words, Jung said something like, most people have thoughts and accept those thoughts as truth. The other scary part is about 20% to 30% of the population doesn’t even have an inner dialogue. So that’s another topic. But if you have thoughts, if you’re one of those other 70% to 80% of people that has thoughts, most of us just kind of accept those things to be true.
Joe: And if you actually look at what a good thinker does, because a lot of our thoughts are not true, you have kind of a devil. Yeah, they just happen. They arise, and you have a devil and an angel, and you debate those thoughts, and then you discuss those thoughts with other people who are objective as they can be. You get different ideas. You triangulate, and then you kind of get a sense of whether that’s a good thought or not.
Joe: And you can kind of do that with your personality, too. Like, I’m half Finnish, and let’s say there’s a person up north, and they’re in Olu, and they know I’m a really extroverted guy. I’m like super. Extroverted because they’re basing that off of their community and the people around them. And then they go on a trip to Puerto Rico and are like, I’m not that extroverted, actually.
Joe: Maybe in the north of Finland they are. But a lot of who we are and who we think we are is based off of our surroundings and our experiences. And so how we do what we do, getting to that is we said we got to go beyond what has been just questionnaires and things like that. So we built an adaptive psychological assessment. What that means is if you’re familiar with things like the Sat or act and how there’s a machine basically asking you questions, and if you’re getting good answers for physics questions, for example, it might give you an even harder question.
Joe: Well, our assessment, what it does is it pulls from a big item bank, and that means big bank of questions, basically, that are already pre validated to measure what they are trying to measure. So if they’re trying to measure Extroversion, we already know that question is really good at measuring extroversion, for example. And so what happens is when people are playing a game or using a product, like we work with non gaming companies too, like Peloton, for example, but when they’re using a product, there’s a pop up and it says, hey, we want to improve your experience. Are you willing to take a ten minute questionnaire? They click on that.
Joe: They go into our environment. So one of our firm beliefs is that privacy is power, so we never collect any personally identifiable information whatsoever. That’s part of where a lot of game companies like to work with us too, because we’re separating the real identity of the person from their psychological information. They take this adaptive assessment. And this is kind of like since I’m using doctor metaphors, it’s kind of like a COVID swab or like a strep test.
Joe: It’s a small sample of the overall audience. So we’re randomly sampling the audience players, then click on a deep link and they go back into the game. Now, what happens next is the show me how you play and I’ll tell you who you are part. So now as people are playing the game, what we’re doing is let’s say you rebuild your base really fast, and we can see that in that environment that’s actually a predictor of psychological resilience, how likely you are to bounce back from a negative experience. And then what we’re able to do is cross compare that against the questionnaire that we have to make sure that it actually has good validity.
Joe: And then we’re saying, okay, cool. We can actually now measure through play in this environment resilience. And so we invented basically the ability to predict psychological traits from gameplay. We have the patents on this and all that kind of stuff. So if you ever wanted to build, like maybe a nice version of the matrix, you would need Solston.
Joe: So it’s like our Matrix patent, but then what we do is we go from the Matrix to Harry Potter. So now we play Sorting Hat. And one of the things we do is basically cluster these people into like minded groups. And like minded groups are way more powerful than lookalike groups. I think a lot of people have probably seen there’s this meme that’s gone around.
Joe: It’s like 77 year old male from the UK, top income bracket. It’s all the same demographics. One’s King Charles and one is Ozzy Osbourne. I think if you had to design a game for Ozzy Osbourne and King Charles, they’d probably be different games. So what sets people apart is not our demographics, it’s really our psychology.
Joe: And if we’re designing to a like minded group of people, which is what Harry Potter did, oh, you’re gryffindor. Why? Because you’re courageous, you’re in Slytherin. Why? Oh, you’re power oriented and this and that.
Joe: So we organically are generating these like minded groups of people and predicting that across the whole experience. And what happens is, I think there is a Chat GPT, they just did a keynote and said, we scrape the whole Internet and we’re selling it back to you for $20 a month. And in a way, what Solston is doing is we’re training, we’re using the nature of play across the entire gaming Internet to more or less sell it back to game developers to understand their audiences. So we’re enabling not just an Internet where the full human being is a part of and accessible, but we’re allowing for true human centered design to happen. And then beyond that, there’s incredible amounts of, I think, futuristic and scientific applications to this where you are able to actually allow environments to adapt to people based on who they are and what resonates with them.
Joe: And I think that’s really powerful because it’s the opposite of the Internet we have today, which is really based on attention and addiction. And the reason if you think what’s the opposite of Instagram? It’s like, well, what if you were shown one post, just only one post today, but that post was so valuable and so interesting that you converted on it, you maybe bought things related to it and you came back to the platform because of that. Well, all of a sudden, instagram would play a very different role in your life. Where Ogilvy and Mather, the big ad agency, said at one point, in the future, advertising will move from being kind of predatory to being more like a gentle tap on the shoulder from a very good friend.
Joe: And I believe that there is a future where that gentle tap could be there, but that doesn’t happen without the human psychology part of it. So for us, building that out, creating that, enabling that reality to happen, and doing so in a way that’s privacy forward and anonymous, where every human being owns their own psychological profile and can snap their fingers and take themselves out of the system when they want to. We see that as a world where we can build an Internet and a digital environment that’s regenerative, meaning people get more from it than they put into it rather than the one we’re at right now, which is in the most cases, people get done with their internet time and feel a bit drained, which is not ideal.
Rob: Absolutely. So, Joe, let’s go to the Rapid Fire section of the podcast and we would like to know if there’s know you’ve been listening to these questions, you have an idea of what the podcast is about. Now, does this ring any bells to you when I tell you if you wanted to have somebody else on the podcast, would you recommend a featured guest? Who would you like to listen to essentially in a future podcast episode?
Joe: All the amazing people that I get to talk to, a lot of these people, david Helgeson is one of my favorites, the founder of Unity, just a brilliant mind, and I think they’ve gone through a big journey building. 50% of games are still built on the Unity engine and there’s been some controversy this year and what’s there, but I love David, he’s a great guy, so I’d probably bring him up. And then outside of that, I think there’s some really good thinking that’s happening and it’s not one particular person, but especially in the adventure therapy and adventure psychotherapy space, that’s what I specialized in. So there’s a book called Adventure Therapy. I think Gillis is the last name, and Russell are the two main authors of that book, professors at the University of Georgia, I believe.
Joe: But I think these people can offer really deep view of play and the healing side of play and what play is really about. So I’d say shout out to the authors of that book and the professors that have kind of led the way for adventure therapy to start to proliferate, because I see adventure therapy and games. You mentioned it earlier that there’s so much that we can learn from games in terms of theory of mind and putting ourselves in different realities in different worlds. Yeah, I would say that might be a cool twist on the myth for this podcast, but yeah, amazing.
Rob: So you already gave us a book as well, which is Adventure Therapy. And we come to a difficult one, especially for a person like you and the work you’ve been doing. But however, with building your own profile, maybe it might help you understand which one it is, because we want to know what would you say is your favorite game?
Joe: It’s hard, I think. Overall. Can I say two or do I have to say one?
Rob: Okay, we’ll give you a pass on this one and let you get to.
Joe: Okay, so definitely then ocarina of time and line Ultima online.
Rob: That’s the newest one, right? The one that’s online. Right.
Joe: So Ultima Online is the very first MMORPG game ever. Richard Garriott made it. It’s kind of what inspired Evercrest and World of Warcraft and Eve Online and all these games that followed. So if people are like, hey, the metaverse, I’m like, yeah, it’s already been done multiple times. But that’s a whole other topic, and I’m sure I’ll get shit for that.
Joe: But yeah, Ultimate Line was, I think came out in maybe mid 1990s.
Rob: That’s true. That was the first one. Yeah, I got that completely backwards. But yeah, and I’ve heard pretty good references from that game. To be fair, I have never played it myself.
Rob: I’m getting the desire to play myself and sort of brings me back to something you mentioned before. All the games that are being created and you have to choose which ones you’re going to play. Yeah, I think it was in a meme that I saw that when you’re a kid, you don’t have enough money to get all the games you want to play, then you get to have sufficient money to play a lot more games that you can actually get to play, and you actually play less than you used to play before. I’m exactly at that point, and it just keeps going down. Now that we have kids, it just gets more difficult.
Rob: Hopefully we’ll be able to enjoy them when they grow up a little bit.
Joe: More as well, or together. That’s actually back when I exactly. Back when I was a psychologist, I told that to parents. I’m like, be really interested in the games your kids are playing and play them with them, and that’s some of the most meaningful things you can do with them. It’s incredibly meaningful to do that.
Rob: This is a completely side question in that sense, but I’ve been reading lately, and she’s getting to be a year old very soon, so she’s very young, but we’ve been reading on how much. So she’s getting no screen time at this point. Like, there’s no screens. We turn off the TV when she’s around and so on.
Rob: But then when is a not so bad time to be able to introduce screens is also I don’t want to say controversial, but there’s so many different opinions. I even read one of zero to six years. They’re so impressionable in the sense that they can get distracted easier if they see screens. Do you have any opinion on this? Have you seen anything around this kind of thing?
Joe: Absolutely. And there’s actually a lot of research on this topic. And I think that’s the hard part is most of the good studies are not really accessible publicly speaking. And then some journalists from the New York Times might hear one friend at a dinner party and then they write a whole article on it that’s like, it has some general and it’s always going to change. But I think the general thing that we see today is no screen time up until the kids about three years old.
Joe: When they’re three years old, it’s okay if it’s like less than 30 minutes a day or so and it’s like Sesame Street or it’s learning games. So if the screen is related to puzzle games or learning games, it can be okay. But again, it shouldn’t be early in the morning, shouldn’t be late at night where it can disrupt sort of sleep cycles or things like that. And I think where it gets interesting is because your children, their brain is sort of in a different brain state all the way up until they’re like six, seven years old. That’s why kids often we watch them play and they’re like little drunk people and then kids turn seven, eight, because they’re just sponges, they’re learning so much.
Joe: And around seven years old, an hour or so of gameplay screen time, six, seven, that’s when depending on the studies you read, it starts to become okay. And then where it really gets interesting is around the age of eleven to 13. So there’s like one study for example, that showed that actually children who are around that age who played video games for 3 hours on average a day, well outperformed classmates in all other subjects at it’s might have been one of those.
Joe: And I think like Solston for example, we have the largest psychological database in the world. And I said to the team, I said, hey, can we just get an overall view of gamers psychologically, what are the most frequent trait clusters and trait groups? And I think what’s pretty interesting is about 20% of gamers globally fit into the 95th percentile for being overachievers, being smart, being highly motivated people. So that’s not the typical or the stereotypical sort of gamer, I guess from maybe media how they project gamers. But the other part that’s interesting is there’s another group that’s about 19%, so a little less than this other group that is in the rock bottom percentile for motivation, for basically overall mental well being, mental health, these kind of things.
Joe: And so I think that the picture that paints is games are incredible. Teachers and healers, people that are not doing well go to gaming and people that are doing really well go to game for human potential and human optimization. So yeah, I think between the age of six to eleven, an hour, a day or so is not going to do any harm and I think the main harm comes from sleep cycles and that sort of thing. So I think kids are better off not probably gaming on phones, but social gaming. So if you’re able there’s always board.
Rob: Games as well, which are pretty good too.
Joe: Board games like couch, co ops stuff, where as a family you can do things together. I think that’s vital. But yeah, once the kid turns like around twelve or so, I think there’s a lot of parents out there that are like, oh, my teenager keeps gaming. And a lot of the research definitely points to it being really good for them.
Rob: That’s interesting. I’m sure that there were no studies at the point I was that age. I started a lot earlier than 1011, that’s for sure. But it’s good to see how things change and hopefully change for the better in that sense as well.
Joe: Well, yeah, and maybe to add to that, because we did an analysis on all of the games globally and the different psychological impact that games have. So one of the things that I think is interesting, if you look at the overall healthiest game that’s ever been published, maybe guess do you have a guess of what it might be?
Rob: I’ve been hearing about one which I haven’t played, which is something like Travel or I keep forgetting the name, which is Game Without Objectives. It’s just like a pleasant game where you’re sort of walking around or something like that.
Joe: I’ll look that up. But in the meantime, what was interesting is what definitely outperformed every other game was chess. And that goes back to what we were saying earlier, that the healthiest games for people often are the most enduring games. So it didn’t matter whether people were playing digital or physical chess. Chess seemed to be associated with higher levels of mental well being, lower levels of depression, lower levels of anxiety, all these sort of things.
Joe: And so how we see games at solston is games are more like food for your nervous system. So when you play digital experiences, one game, we can see certain people in the game, like, their sleep is actually getting better, while other people’s sleep is getting worse. It’s kind of like food. Like, for one person, maybe fish is a superfood for them, like, salmon is their superfood, and for another person, they’re allergic to fish. Like, you should probably not eat fish.
Joe: So people ask me like, well, how do I know what I should play? And what’s cool about the research is what it actually shows overall is the more fun you’re having, the more psychological benefit you’re getting. So the more you pay attention to.
Rob: It’S more about the fun rather than something else, I guess, right.
Joe: I think fun is a signal for us as a species that we’re learning. Learning is fun and growth is fun. And I think it’s almost like when you follow your fun, when you follow and by fun, I don’t mean necessarily like hedonism and pleasure, because that can lead to drug addictions, for example. But when you follow that lightness, that joy, that enduring joy that’s there, oftentimes what happens is that’s just your body signaling that you’re doing something for your nervous system. That’s awesome for it.
Joe: And deep down, it could be the actual specific game mechanics that are actually there’s a thing in adventure therapy called kinesthetic metaphor it’s how our body moves and how we learn through our body, and it’s one of the ways we learn as human beings. And that’s why kids physically play. But I think that’s a big thing that gamers do as well. There’s some research showing that the more you really like your avatar or if it’s know a character in the game or a book, it’s maybe Harry Potter. If it’s a book, the more you relate to that avatar, the more likely if you look at brain imaging and things like that, your own brain will fire up when you’re standing on a big cliff, as if you were actually standing on a big cliff.
Joe: So we have this sort of embodiment that happens that’s really interesting. And so I think if we really relate to the theme, if we relate to the characters, we get pulled into the story. And then there’s these interesting metaphors that can take place as we play. Whether it’s losing or winning, some really interesting growth happens because of that. So it’s good with games anyway to follow.
Rob: That fun, amazing, and we’re definitely way above the time we usually have for an episode. But this has been a lot of fun and I think there was a lot of interesting info that you were sharing, so I definitely didn’t want to stop at any point. But time is basically up at this point. I don’t know if you have any final message you want to give us, of course, where we can find more about Solston, about the great work that you guys are doing. And then we’ll say that at least for now, it’s game over.
Joe: Yeah, just really appreciate you having me on and taking the time today. If you go to Solston IO, you can learn more about our business. If you go to, wellbeing, Solston IO, you can actually take a little assessment there and see some cool stuff about your own psychology and brain, which is pretty neat. It’s actual clinical grade assessment, so it’s something that your doctor might make you pay like a $1,000 for. So it’s a free tool that we put out during COVID that can be a nice way to learn about us.
Joe: And yeah, I think we have a newsletter as well on the website, so if you want to keep up to date with us, that’s available. But overall, Rob, just really appreciate you having me.
Rob: It was great having you, Joe. Definitely plenty of stuff to think about after the podcast and to analyze and to continue researching and continue thinking about for even personally, the discussion we had about kids, I’m sure are not the only one making these questions in their head. It was, again, even personally, very interesting and very thought provoking. Plenty of years ahead for me to still not be able to play with my daughter, at least on video games. But anyways, that was super interesting, as well as all of the other information.
Rob: However, joe, however engages. As you know, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Hey, engagers. And thank you for listening to the Professor Game podcast. And I’d like to know, how are you listening to this podcast?
Rob: How are you listening to me right now at this moment? If you’re doing it through any of the existing podcasting apps on your phones or anywhere else, have you followed, have you rated this podcast? Please do so. If you haven’t already, please go ahead and follow rate review. That way we can reach more engagers like you and achieve our fantastic mission of making, learning, and perhaps even life a lot more amazing.
Rob: And if you want instructions how to do this, go to Professorgame.com itunes and you’ll get some instructions to some of the main ones. But it’s relatively easy. Where you see those stars, click on however many stars you think we deserve and just click on it there. It’ll perhaps ask you if you want to leave a review that is very much appreciated. Of course, this comes at absolutely no cost to you.
Rob: And again, remember, before you move on, before you click continue, remember, please to subscribe or follow for free using that favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.
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