Bret Wardle on Connecting the Business and the Games | Episode 333

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Based in Salt Lake City, Utah, Bret is a seasoned Game/Software professional with over 15 years of experience in crafting immersive games, innovative software, and user-friendly apps. His passion lies in bridging the realms of design psychology in both gaming and software landscapes. He’s dedicated to uncovering the intriguing parallels between professional e-sport players and software power users, as well as exploring the social dynamics ignited by elements like “hi-scores” in e-commerce platforms. Bret delights in translating these insights into tangible enhancements, creating products and experiences that resonate deeply with users. Don’t miss his enlightening 2022 TEDx Talk, “Can a 90s video game be a standard for experience design?”, available online for a captivating dive into his perspective on the fusion of gaming and design.

 

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Full episode transcription (AI Generated)

Rob:
Hey, engagers, welcome to another episode of the professor game podcast and we have an exciting guest. As usual today we have Brett and Bret. We need to know, are you prepared to engage?

Bret:
I am. I’m always prepared to engage. I’m super excited to be here. I’m so glad you had.

Rob:
Amazing, amazing. Glad to have you here for sure. So Brett, let’s get started. We want to know who Brett is and, you know, have him here because Bret is based in Salt Lake City in Utah. He’s a seasoned game software professional with over 15 years of experience in crafting immersive games, innovative software and user friendly apps.

Rob:
He’s passion lies in bridging the realms of design psychology in both gaming and software landscapes. And he’s dedicated to uncovering the intriguing parallels between professional esport players and software power users, as well as exploring the social dynamics ignited by elements like high scores in e commerce platforms. Brett, he also delights in translating these insights into tangible enhancements, creating products and experiences that resonate deeply with users. And you don’t want to miss his enlightening talk in 2022. TEdx talk.

Rob:
Can a 90s video game be a standard for experience design which is available online for captivating? Dive into his perspective on the fusion of gaming and design. So Brett, is there anything that we’re missing you want to make sure we know before we dive into our regular questions?

Bret:
I think you covered all of that. That is pretty much my background. I spent years as a game designer and then moved my way over to software and bounced back and forth a few times, but now kind of work pretty much primarily in software. But yes, that is exactly where I like to spend my time. As a lifelong gamer and someone that’s enjoyed video games my entire life.

Bret:
I like to try to find ways the mechanics and the fun that we find in video games can translate their way to the products we use every day, to the activities we do every day, and try to engage our everyday life in the same way that video games captivate us and keep us up and playing later than we should be. And playing when we should be doing homework or work work or anything like.

Rob:
That later than we should be is a very accurate description of the situation. So, Bret, what does a regular day with you look like? We want to sort of feel your shoes. We want to be there with you. So whatever you want to go for a day, a week, I don’t know.

Bret:
Whatever it makes you every single day for me is a little bit different. Right. And I think this is the case with a lot of product designers, product managers, like anyone designing in this realm, especially, I think our kind of niche, our gamification and game based learning and that kind of stuff naturally draws people that are a little bit more eccentric. And so our days are kind of a little bit wild. I don’t know that I live by a schedule by any means.

Bret:
I’m very much like, I wake up, look at my calendar for that day, and then start planning stuff out. But if I were to break it down, I spend probably, unfortunately, the life of a modern product person. I spend probably 25% of my workday in meetings, which is one of the things that I am kind of adamantly fighting against. Like, I’m one of those people who will always fight against meetings, but unfortunately, that’s the reality we live in. Outside of that 40% of my time, I would say, is probably dedicated to just research and analysis, which I think a lot of people don’t realize.

Bret:
Whenever I talk to people about being a product manager, being a product designer, a lot of times they think like, oh, so you’re in there doing art and maybe you’re in there doing code, and I kind of have to respond like, no. Nearly 50% of my day is just spent doing research and analysis. And that’s diving into analytics, that’s looking at usage analytics, that’s talking to customers, that’s doing site tests and organizing play tests and that kind of stuff. It’s also just playing games. I try to pride myself in sitting back and playing a lot of games and just trying to get a feel for, like, hey, what’s new in the industry?

Bret:
What’s fun? What are people playing? What are they doing? And so that takes up a good chunk. I mean, outside of that, I probably spend, I’d say, like 15% on what I would call ideation.

Bret:
Like, ideating new ideas, coming up with things that I can bounce off of users or put together, like pen and paper prototypes or whatnot, to try to get something fluid. And then I would say, like, 10% is probably actual design work, like sitting down and doing mockups or creating those prototypes or doing something like that, which is crazy to think that your average day is spent 10% doing the work that you are actually doing. But that’s honestly probably the truth. Like, I spend the majority of my time preparing for that 10%. And if you spend that extra time in research, analysis and study, I think you get a significantly better result.

Bret:
That 10% becomes laser focused. And so on any given day, I may jump around to different things. I may spend a whole day doing research or a whole day doing design work. But ultimately, like over the course of a week, a month, it probably breaks down into those types of percentages.

Rob:
Amazing. And you were talking about the research and that part, I think that is part of the design itself, or at least that’s the way I view it, especially when you think about UX design, a significant part of the work is exactly that research to understand what are you creating actually, because otherwise, I like to quote Jonathan Peters here when he says that it’s self hugging. You’re thinking about yourself, you’re hugging yourself. You’re saying, oh, this is what everybody wants. Because it’s what I want.

Rob:
So that research can never be understated.

Bret:
In my view, it’s such a crucial part of any design, like whether it’s gamification, whether it’s traditional design, anything, that research is incredibly important.

Rob:
Totally. So actually, even with all that research and really understanding your users, which is what we should be doing, and we do it all the time, there is a lot of room for failure as well, or first attempts in learning or fail moments. And we learn from those and we get to places we get, thanks to those failures in many different ways. So I actually want you to go into one of those times, maybe what you might call your favorite fail, because we want to be there with you. We want to take some of those lessons, especially in this world of games, gamification and so on.

Bret:
Yeah. So one of my favorite stories to tell, and I usually tell this whenever I’m talking to people about what it was like to work in the game industry, because a lot of times I’ll talk to Uiux and product designers and that, and some people that are studying gamification haven’t necessarily worked in the game industry. So it’s fun to talk about like, oh, this is what this looks like in games. But one of my favorite and probably the hardest stories for me to sometimes tell is I was working in the game industry here in Salt Lake City. I was working for a studio that was called Sensory Sweep, and you can look it up, but this studio had a pretty famous crash and burn in the mid 2000s around like 2009, 2010.

Bret:
But one of the projects we were working on was actually a Michael Phelps game. So we had a publisher reach out to us and say, hey, we’ve secured the rights for the intellectual property to Michael Phelps. We want to make a Michael Phelps game. We don’t know what this game looks like. We have no looking.

Bret:
They’re basically taking what’s called an RFP a request for proposal. And they had a bunch of game makers, game creators, submit these requests for proposals that you say, hey, this is the game we would like to make utilizing the Michael Phelps intellectual property. And so we went through this process and we designed this. We called Michael Phelps’s pool party and it was a Mario party clone, but it was all water based games. It was Michael Phelps and his swimmer friends playing these water based games.

Bret:
There were balloon fights, there were swimming competitions, and kind of in this board game style, like a Mario party is. And it was a pretty solidly designed game. To this day, it’s probably my greatest regret that this game did not get released. But that’s the story is we went through this design, we were starting development on it like we had started getting the engineers building some of the prototypes for the games. And the news came out about like, this was 2009, this was right after Michael Phelps’s success in the 2008 Olympics.

Bret:
But then he had that photo published where he was smoking cannabis. And the Michael Phelps, he lost sponsors and more or less, like, the publisher came back to us and said, hey, we still want to do a Michael Phelps game. But in light of this recent news, we don’t think a Michael Phelps party game is the best medium for this intellectual property. And all of us at the studio were like, no, this is going to blow over. This is going to be three months and Michael Phelps is going to be back to Michael Phelps and it’s going to be a six month plus development cycle anyway.

Bret:
By the time this game gets released, this is all going to have blown over. But the publisher just wasn’t having it. And so I think they ended up going with like a Michael Phelps fitness tracker or something that was less of a game and more of an app. But still to this day, it was like a huge regret of mine, that game. We had the whole game design document written.

Bret:
We had started engineers on prototyping. And what that taught me, I think the biggest lesson that I got from that is it was the beginning of the end for me, working in games, because ultimately losing that contract put that studio in a really bad position. They had built this team around this pretty high monetary value game and it was just pulled out from under us like a rug. And very quickly the funding for the studio went away. They didn’t really have time to go and find other RFPs.

Bret:
And it really just helped me realize, a, how volatile the game industry was and b, that it doesn’t matter what you’re doing, you’ve kind of always got to be looking out for the next thing. You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. I mean, that’s what we did with this game. And when it got pulled out from under us, we didn’t have a backup, we didn’t have a second game going. And that’s traditionally what we had been doing as a studio is we would have been working on three to four games.

Bret:
And so losing that one game put the studio in a really bad position and it really leaned me to jumping over to software. And that’s where I’ve been since is after we lost that game, I just was like, I did a stint at EA working on the sims after that. But that was the start of me jumping back and forth from software to games and software to games and was just a crazy time. But it’s a fun story to tell because, like, we were right. Within a few months, Michael Phelps was back winning gold medals at the next olympic games.

Bret:
And I’m still positive that game could have been fantastic. Like, it could have been a really good Mario party type clone with the Michael Phelps name on it and could have been a fun game. But unfortunately it never will be. Or at least the game we had designed.

Rob:
Never will thing many things there for sure, but one of them is, to be completely fair, I didn’t even remember that there had been an episode on this. So you’re saying it blew over? Like, it blew over, at least for me, so hard that I didn’t even remember that.

Bret:
Yeah, most people don’t. When I tell this story, that’s what most people. Most people are like, yeah, I don’t even remember that happening. Yeah, I know that’s what we said would happen.

Rob:
Totally. So that’s one of the things. But beyond that, and you mentioned also not putting all your eggs in one basket, is there potentially any game design or game design strategy that you would have done differently to get that other than like the business side, at least from my perspective? I totally get it. But is there anything else on the game side that perhaps would have helped you avoid something like this or you maybe would have done differently now that these things are a possibility?

Bret:
Yeah, potentially from a game design? We definitely had some games, some of the mini games that we laughed at afterwards, like what they were named in light of that news. But ultimately, I think the biggest lesson was that business practices stuff. And not only, I think a lot of times we stress understanding your users and building stuff that appeals to your users, but there’s also a give and take there where you need to design for your stakeholders as well, and take your stakeholders into account, because we had built a great game for what we thought was for the users. But ultimately, the stakeholders didn’t see that same thing.

Bret:
The stakeholders read the dollar signs, basically. And so I think that’s kind of, I mean, it’s also a business lesson, but I think that’s another key important fact is, like, not only do you need to pay attention to the users, which is imperative when you do this work, but you do need to keep your stakeholders involved and keep them part of the process. And I wonder if we had done that more along the way, if we could have eased them out of that a little bit better. But I think the fact that we weren’t involving them in the design process as much, and to a certain extent, it was designers locked in a room doing something and not sharing those designs along the way maybe made it a harder pill to swallow for the executives. So I think that could be a good lesson to take as well.

Rob:
And that is totally in the business of what we do in gamification and game based learning and games based stuff in general. It’s all about achieving some sort of objective. So keeping those stakeholders in line is very important because otherwise you might have wasted your time trying to do whatever it is that you were trying to do because you’ll never get to do it right.

Bret:
We’ve all experienced that. Right? We’ve all experienced taking what we know is a good idea, and we’ve done the research, but we’ve all worked with an executive team at some point that either just views gamification as a, oh, that’s just a buzzword. It doesn’t do anything. And I don’t believe in games.

Bret:
I’m some rotten person that never plays games. We’ve all dealt with those types of people, and it’s a challenge. And you’ve got to be able to transcend that, being able to talk about games and gamification to really proving their business value. And I think that’s a big part of our jobs, is being able to say, no, I have the research, I have the analysis, I have the data that shows that this can affect the bottom line. This isn’t just because I want to do this because it’s fun, and it will be fun for our users when it’s all said and done.

Bret:
Ultimately, we’re trying to affect that bottom line. Whether that bottom line is a metric, whether it’s revenue, whether it’s engagement, like, whatever that bottom line is for your product, for your experience, you’ve got to know what you’re trying to enable change on. And if you don’t, it’s an uphill battle to try to get those things approved totally.

Rob:
And it is something definitely to consider every single time for sure. Because again, whether you are in business development or you’re part of the design team, you still have to consider those because otherwise, without them, you don’t have a business to do, you don’t have a design to do, you don’t have anything to do because it’s not going to be there for sure. So again, even if you’re angry at businesses and talking about business gets you in a bad mood, you still have to consider it and you still have to do stuff around that for sure. So thank you for that lesson. I was just saying it to see if there was potentially, at least in your view, anything that could be drawn in the sense of a game design perspective.

Rob:
But that works just as well. So, Bret, let’s actually turn it around and look for something where you feel you had a significant success, something that went really well. Any success story they want to talk us, guide us through, again, 180 degree spin on the previous one.

Bret:
Yeah. So for me, I think my biggest successes come in applying the game based techniques to my real life. A lot of times I think we think about what we did with a product or what we did with a software technology, and I have a handful of those that I enjoy. But I think my greatest success is coming out of the game industry. I was burnt out.

Bret:
We were working 100 hours, weeks. We were sleeping under our desks. To be honest, it was just miserable. And my life wasn’t in particularly great shape at that time. I was out of shape.

Bret:
I was sitting at a desk all day. I was eating the catered meals that the game studio will bring in. So I was just like gaining weight like crazy, not getting good sleep, being incredibly high stressed. And I had a really hard time as I moved out of games, getting my mind and my body back into what I would call peak kind of shape. And I found myself just like struggling to get a good night’s sleep and struggling to eat well and struggling to do activity or work out or anything like that.

Bret:
And for years I was fairly overweight and just not in good shape. And my health was really taking a toll. And I tried doing some things here or there and I tried like, well, I’ve just got to get back to the gym or I’ve got to eat better. And nothing really stuck. I found myself just not getting motivated and being drawn back into like, okay, well, I just want to play a game, or I just want to do something that doesn’t involve that sort of stuff.

Bret:
So ultimately, that was where I started to learn, like, no, I need to use, what are these game based techniques in my own personal life? Like, I need to take this and apply it directly. And so I started using programs like, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Habitica, but I started using programs like Habitica to track what I was doing and make sure that I had these daily check ins that said, hey, you need to be drinking this much water a day. You need to be doing this much activity a day, eat these fruits and vegetables, and really tried to motivate myself. And using something like Habitica turned it from a chore that I had to do.

Bret:
It took what was essentially a to do list and turned it into almost that quest log where I was used to that in games. I was used to having that. Okay, what’s my next quest? Who do I need to talk to? Who do I need to turn these gems into?

Bret:
Like, where does this quest go from here? That resonated with me. Like, for whatever reason, I could do that in games all day long. I could go and play Diablo or play one of these RPGs that had me doing these quests for hours, and it didn’t phase me. Like we said earlier, I would stay up playing these to the detriment of my lifestyle.

Bret:
But when it actually came to my health, I had a really hard time. So using programs like Habitica honestly really helped me. I took that, applied it to my real life, and it changed. It changed what I could do, and it got me into better shape, it got me eating better, it got me doing activity, and from that point on, I felt my mind start to sharpen, and I felt just better about where I was. And I think part of that is exactly that.

Bret:
You have to find what works for people, because that doesn’t always work. Like, a lot of people may not be motivated by something like an RPG style quest log or a program like habitica. And I think that was the biggest realization for me, is I loved those type of games. Not everyone does, but I do, and it worked for me. And I think that was the biggest awakening for me.

Bret:
As far as gamification goes, is it really taught me, like, no, you can’t just. I mean, this was early. These were, again around 2009, 2010. Gamification was really just starting to get off the ground, and it really was embedded in that sort of points, badges, leaderboards. But those types of things never really worked for me.

Bret:
Like the points, badges, leaderboards. I was never the type of person that would go and play a Pac man for hours trying to get a high score. That wasn’t my style of. And so when I saw people applying points, badges, leaderboards to stuff, I was like, this may be great for this certain type of people, but it’s not great for everyone. And I think having that realization in my life helped me realize, like, no, there’s more to gamified experiences than points, badges, leaderboards.

Bret:
And at that point, as I started researching more, as I started trying to draw parallels from the games I was playing, that really helped me understand that, oh, no, storytelling and narrative is a huge part of this, and psychology is a huge part of this. And I started getting into more and more learning about cognitive biases and all these kinds of things where I started to understand, like, hey, this isn’t like, adding a high score list isn’t the way to do this for the majority of things. It gets done over and over and over, but it’s not effective. And I think that’s exactly what other people were starting to find out. In that late 2000s, early 2010s, people were getting burnt out on gamification because it was like everything had points, everything had badges, everything had leaderboards, and it became this kind of, okay, well, we can’t just add that to everything.

Bret:
And that really got me started to think about, how do we add story and narrative to these experiences, or how do we add game psychology? How do we add, like, landmarking and these other things that video games have used for decades? How do we start adding those to software now that we’re past points, badges, leaderboards, what can we do to appeal to other people? And that really got me thinking about the different user types and how we can appeal to different users of different softwares. And I think that’s where we’re at right now in the industry, and I think it’s incredibly important.

Bret:
And you have, like, the hexad framework to determine player types, I think is such an incredibly powerful thing to use. And I advocate for that a ton. Being able to say, hey, it’s not about what game techniques you think might work. It’s about what game mechanics will resonate with those particular users, because every user is different. And depending on who’s using your software, who’s using your experience, who’s trying to learn whatever in your system, it’s different for every single one of them.

Bret:
And that’s what I took from that is, hey, what might work for some people, doesn’t work for everyone. And long story short, that’s what I got from it, is you have to tailor experiences to your users.

Rob:
Absolutely. And from that and the other experience and all the rest that you’ve had, I’m guessing that when you approach a problem that involves using games and gamification, you have some form of a process, series of steps. I don’t know, how do you do it? Essentially, we want to have a sneak peek into your mind when something like this is happening.

Bret:
Yeah. So I’ve been working on what I call the gamification. Triforce is sort of the process that I use. And coming up in the summer, I’ll actually be at the US Distance Learning association kind of talking about this. I’ve done this workshop for a few private companies, done it as a private workshop, but it’ll be part of the USDLA conference in June, I believe.

Bret:
But it’s this idea that just like the Legend of Zelda, you have the triforce, where if you have power, wisdom, and courage, and you bring those three things together, you have the ultimate power. Gamification is the same way, but your arms of the triforce are your KPIs or your metrics, your users, and then the game mechanics. And so you have to meet all three of those. And so I’ve started developing this system where you can pinpoint what metrics you’re trying to get to, whether it’s a monetary metric or an engagement metric or a retention metric. All of those different types of metrics are best suited for different game mechanics.

Bret:
You also have your user types, and using the Hexad framework, like I said, is your user a philanthropist or an achiever, or is this someone that finds joy in disrupting others? Are they a disruptor? And different game mechanics resonate with those different user types. So you take what KPIs you’re working with, what users you’re working with, and then that leads you to specific game mechanics. And by using that sort of triforce, you can pinpoint what might work best and at least have a starting point.

Bret:
Because a lot of times we go through a lot of iterations, we kind of think like, oh, let’s try a leaderboard, or let’s try some storytelling, or let’s try some avatar customization. And you test it. You try it, and it’s like, okay, well, this didn’t increase the metric we wanted, and sometimes it was hard to find that starting point. And so that’s why I started ideating on this. Triforce, as I call it, is because I had a few experiences where it was like, I don’t really know where to start and start my testing or start my research.

Bret:
And so that’s what I did is I started researching like, okay, well, what mechanics work best for what metrics. And this involved like asking a number of professionals and doing some surveys and my own experience and combining those. But ultimately that’s the process I try to follow now is I try to use that triforce to give myself at least a starting point for this is the mechanic that I think works well for the metric that also matches my user type. And now we can go to work because we understand what game mechanics and what game psychology work best for those two things. Because those two things are incredibly important.

Bret:
If you throw a game mechanic at a particular metric that doesn’t resonate well, then it’s not going to succeed. You’re going to have a hard time succeeding. And if you try to use a game mechanic that your particular user doesn’t resonate with, it’s also going to have a hard time to succeed. So having that starting point I think is incredibly valuable and that’s the process that I’ve been using as of late to try to create those sorts of solutions, to try to create those gamified experiences.

Rob:
That sounds brilliant and it’s a good way to see how you are connecting those things together. That sounds very interesting. I think gives a lot of fruitful thought. There’s things that you talk about that I use a lot, sort of the KPIs or the metrics or the objectives, the players and then how to join that with the game mechanics and what happens after that? You start prototyping and that kind of stuff.

Rob:
But the perspective of what KPIs are best hit by, what game mechanics is something know speaking my personal interest in that sense. So thank you very much for sharing that, Bret, for sure. And Brett, with all this experience with your process, is there anything that you would like to call as a best practice in gamification?

Bret:
For me, it really goes down to understanding where gamification came from and the bottom line there. And this is kind of the mantra that I tell everyone I’ve talked to about this is play more games. That’s really all we have to do is there’s games that have come before gamification. It’s not necessarily new. Like humans and civilizations have been playing games for 6000, 8000 years.

Bret:
Like since the beginning of civilization. We have tried to seek out that socialization and that competition and all of those things. And it’s been around forever and go and do that. Play video games, play board games, play tabletop games, play any game you can get your hands on and just play it. And not only play it, but look at it from a critical eye.

Bret:
And I think that’s the difference between being able to do this well and being able to do this spectacularly, is understanding what makes games fun. And you can’t do that unless you go and play them. You have to go and play games. You have to analyze them, like, put them to a critical eye. We do this all the time with other products.

Bret:
We go and research other products every single day. Every day. We’re trying out products, we’re evaluating them, we’re looking for what they do well, what they don’t do well. But sometimes as practitioners, we don’t go and do the same thing with games. And to be honest, it boggles my mind because this is what we’re trying to build.

Bret:
Like, we’re trying to build these experiences that resonate with users in the same way that games do. But we don’t give a critical eye to games as much as we do software. But it’s incredibly important to go. Like, for me, playing more games and having a critical eye towards those games is the best practice. Someone that’s interested in this aspect could possibly do is be a scholar of not only products and software and technology, but be a scholar of games.

Bret:
And that includes all types of games. That’s sports, that’s tabletop games, that’s board games, that’s video games, anything like go and absorb them and get a feel for what’s fun, what’s engaging. Why did you enjoy it? What made it exciting and start to note those down. Like, I have a little game journal that I keep to my side, that anytime I play a new game, I take a few notes that say, hey, what was the best part of this experience?

Bret:
What was the worst part of this experience? How did this experience make me feel? What were some of the mechanics that were involved that caused those emotions? And it kind of has become a powerful sort of piece for me to be able to go back and look at those and say, hey, if I ever need reference on making my users feel silly, I can go back to that journal and go, hey, what are some of the games that helped me feel silly, that gave me that creativity, that was sort of that silliness, and I have those all logged, and I have that journal to go back to.

Rob:
Amazing. So play games and have a log I think would be the complete one, right? Does that make sense?

Bret:
Yep. Ultimately, just start with games. Start by playing games and play them with a critical.

Rob:
Totally, totally. So Brett, you’ve heard the podcast now, you’ve mentioned you’ve listened already to some episodes, you’ve been through many of the questions. Is there somebody that comes to your mind that you say, oh, I’d really like to listen to this person answering those questions. Again, real alive or not. Who would that person be if you were to name one?

Rob:
Hopefully, and ideally that we haven’t interviewed before, if possible. But again, I know there’s plenty of episodes out there.

Bret:
All you’ve done so many, and you’ve done some, like some of the ones that I would go to standard, you’ve done, and that’s fantastic. Like, I love Nicole Lazaro’s work, Yukai gay, like tons of people in this space. What I would love to see, I would love to see traditional, I mean, in the same vein as the previous answer, I’d love to see traditional game designers come on and talk about this. Someone like a raff coster, Will Wright, Tim Schaefer, like, those are some of the classic game designers that have been designing actual. I mean, in their case, it’s video games primarily.

Bret:
I think Raph has gotten more into some board games as of late, if I remember correctly. But I would love to hear traditional game designers talk about some of this stuff and give some of the insights they have, because they have a very different psychological approach than someone like you or I might have. And I think it’d be fun to hear those perspectives.

Rob:
Totally. That sounds brilliant. And in that same vein, how about a book that you would recommend? The engagers.

Bret:
Yeah, books. Tons of books. I mean, obviously I could say my book, but we’ll put that in the.

Rob:
Show notes for sure.

Bret:
That’s beside the point. The one that stands out to me, which I’m sure others have recommended, is gamification by design by Gabe Zickerman. That was the book that kind of helped me realize as a game designer that there was a space for me in software. And I think it’s a fantastic book. Outside of that, there’s a really good game design theory book called Rules of Play.

Bret:
I unfortunately cannot remember the author on it, but it’s an amazing game psychology book. It’s like a fantastic intro to understanding game psychology and game design, which I think is a fantastic book.

Rob:
Certainly sounds like it. I think rules of play, I’ve heard it before, but I’ll put in the show notes, who is the author, and so on. And please do give us a link to your book. I’ll look it up anyways. But if you have a preferred place, please let me know so we can put it on the show notes too.

Rob:
And talking about recommendations and what other people do. Great. How about you, Bret? What do you think is your superpower? That thing that you do better than most other people?

Bret:
The thing that I kind of pride myself on is my empathetic design. Like, I really pride myself on being able to step out of my own shoes and put someone else’s shoes on and try to say, hey, your distinct problems may not resonate with me personally, but I can remove myself from this equation and listen to what you have to say and ask why. When someone says, oh, I really need to be able to do this or accomplish this, I kind of go back to that. I can’t remember who came up with the philosophy, but the five whys, where you ask why? Oh, that’s really intriguing.

Bret:
Tell me more about that. Oh, why is that important to you? Oh, really? Why does that change your day to day activity? And really trying to understand and not only understand but empathize with user problems, I think that’s probably one of my strongest suits is being able to say, hey, I’m removing all of my own bias from this and I’m going to sit down and genuinely listen to you and genuinely try to empathize with your problem.

Bret:
And not only just say, okay, you said you needed to do this, but why is that important? Is it because you want to accomplish your task or at the end of the day, is it because your work is stressful and you want to get home to your family? And there’s tons of reasons behind why people want to accomplish something. And being able to take that step back and empathize with it is a huge part of that.

Rob:
Definitely is. Absolutely. For sure. It’s really, really important. And you mentioned the five wise, I think, but I could be definitely wrong.

Rob:
But that’s at least the reference that I use. It has to do with lean manufacturing in Toyota. Asking the five wise, I think you’re exactly right.

Bret:
Now that you say that, I think that’s exactly where it’s from. Yeah. And it’s a beautiful strategy. It’s so powerful.

Rob:
And for those of you who, you’ve probably heard me mentioning this before, but those of you who haven’t, Toyota, what they have is I’m also an operations and supply chain management professor, so I look into these things every now and then. And what they started doing was that any employee in the factory could stop the factory at any time, they have a button and they can stop the factory. Right. Why do they do that? Because if there is any quality problem, they want to figure it out as soon as possible and fix it, not just for this car, but for every other car in the line as well.

Rob:
So they stop the factory, and they ask the employee, why did you stop it? Well, I saw this, and the next question is, why did that happen? So you go back and you go back until you find what they like to call is the root problem. And that’s where, I don’t know if it’s five, but five is a general good reference. It could be four.

Rob:
It could be six, it could be ten. Right wise. Until you actually find something where you can make the difference. It’s not. Oh, that.

Rob:
This guy put the seat in the wrong position. Well, why did he put it in the wrong position? Like, what happened there? Is it because his back is aching and he has a problem of job design, so we have to solve for that. Or he needs a robot to actually move the piece around and then adjust it manually.

Rob:
Like, what is the real reason why this happened? And that’s crucial, significant in operations, definitely. But here I would even say it’s even more important that we actually gather what those objectives really, really are.

Bret:
Yeah, it’s such a powerful. I mean, it’s just like you, like anyone can stop the. Like, that alone is an incredibly powerful.

Rob:
Totally, totally. So we get to the difficult question. Now, Brett, you said that one of the recommendations is to play more games, so I’m guessing that you’ve played quite a few. However, which one would you call your favorite?

Bret:
My favorite franchise has to be the Legend of Zelda. I grew up on the original. I’ve played pretty much every iteration of the Zelda franchise as far as pinpointing a single one for years and years. Majora’s mask was my favorite legend of Zelda’s game, which, it’s an underrated one, but the mechanics in that game are just beautiful. Like, they’re so different for a Zelda game.

Bret:
And it honestly kind of like, I mean, this might be a too long winded of story. I’ll try to be fast, but the idea that you live these same three days over and over had a profound experience on my life. I had struggled with organization and getting stuff done and being on time, and I would get to these points where I was, oh, man. Like, I’m so behind now that I just can’t do it. And Majora’s mask, like, really helped me understand like, hey, you know what?

Bret:
At the end of these three days, it’s just going to reset and you’re going to have time to do it again. And it had a profound effect on my life and that mechanic of reliving time and being able to keep track of your journal and know, okay, the mailman is going to be here on this day at this time. The mechanics in that game are just so beautiful and the mass collection and these different mechanics, I just loved that game. And I have to say that breath of the wild probably came and took that best Zelda game from it, but it is still so close. And that franchise far and away is my favorite franchise.

Rob:
Totally. It’s a fantastic. To be fair, I liked the ocarina of time more than Majora’s mask. That was the one that I had. My brother have different mothers.

Rob:
My brother had Majora’s mask and I didn’t enjoy it as much. Like I played it when we were together. When I went to my dad’s, I didn’t enjoy it half as much, to be honest. I really liked Ocarina of time and I recently started playing it again a bit when I went to a retro video game arcade hotel. It was total blast.

Rob:
It was a total blast. I even got an n 64 again. I purchased one which can connect to HD and so on. So I’ve played it a bit once again. So I absolutely love the franchise, just as you.

Bret:
Yeah, Ocarina of time is definitely the popular answer. That is what the majority, and that’s, to be honest, being that Zelda’s entry point to 3D, it’s an amazing game. Ocarina is such a beautiful game and the use of music and that was so groundbreaking for that franchise and for video games in whole.

Rob:
Yeah, I agree. I have to agree. But anyways, Brad, before we let you go, because we’ve been spending quite some time, there’s a lot of stuff so that people can dive into and maybe even listen to the episode once again. But before we take off, is there anything else you want to say? Any final piece of words, any call to action as well?

Rob:
I don’t know. I already found your book on Amazon and I’m putting the link for the show notes. But again, is there anything else you want to say before we take off?

Bret:
I don’t think so. I think going back to it again, my mantra and what I encourage everyone to do is play more games, get out and experience them. Think about why they’re good, think about why they’re fun, study their history, engage yourself with this other medium. I think a lot of times we get too tunnel visioned on products or technology or software design or whatever realm we’re in, and we forget to go and look at the source material. I talk about this in the TED talk that you mentioned, but I genuinely think that super metroid for the super Nintendo entertainment system is the greatest digital experience ever created.

Bret:
And it’s a video game. And I don’t think we understand that enough. I don’t think we understand that, hey, these experiences and these mechanics and psychology that we’re trying to mimic, they exist. We are mimicking. After all, we’re not creating.

Bret:
We’re mimicking mechanics and psychology that exist and have been around for thousands of years. And we can go and study them. We can use these blueprints. We can create engaging experiences by looking at what experiences have been created in the past. That’s my mantra for everything is play more game.

Rob:
Sounds like a good one. So thank you once again, Bret, for investing this time in the engagers, for giving us all of those insights, all that experience that you’ve had in the industry. Thanks also for writing your book. I know that’s a big endeavor. Gamification for product excellence.

Rob:
Sounds like a good one. I have not read it. I probably will sometime from now. However, brads and engagers, at least for now and for today, it is time to say that it’s game over. Engagers.

Rob:
It is fantastic to have you around. And you know that this podcast really makes sense because of you. So how about we connect on LinkedIn so you can let me know what you think about the podcast? Who would you like to have as a guest? If you have any questions, what we can even help you with, you can find us as professor game on LinkedIn.

Rob:
We’re always sharing content on the podcast gamification game, inspired solutions. And remember, go ahead and find us as Professor Game on LinkedIn. And before you click continue, please go ahead and subscribe or follow. This is absolutely for free using your favorite podcast app and listen to the next episode of Professor Game. See you there.

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