Bart Briers: Gamification — Because Everything Serious Needs a Laugh

You’re speaking at the IG Summit about Gamification and about how to convince management to Gamifiy. What can attendees expect from your session?
I will share a lot from my personal experience dealing with companies and their efforts around gamification. I want to explain tactics I used in convincing management to gamify — both tactics that worked and those that didn’t — and I hope we’ll be able to get into the matter of why some of them didn’t work.

Have you ever used games for work or just gamification?
I use games just as much, if not sometimes more than gamification in my work. Roleplaying for example, is a big part of all my training classes and other dealings with company management. Especially when giving feedback to a presented solution or a proposition, this technique is very valuable. The feedback given from the perspective of different role than the one a person usually performs is valued much more than it would be otherwise.

Many of the games I use are from the Gamestorming book or self-developed.

Do you commonly use gamification in your work? How?
I often use gamification in my training courses, but also in helping my clients with their strategic decision-making.

What has been your overall experience with games?
I’ve been working with games for over 15 years now, and my experience so far has been immensely positive. Games are very useful in showing people new approaches to solving seemingly unmanageable problems.

Do you have a favorite Innovation Game or Technique? Why?
There are so many. My favorite technique actually depends on what you try to achieve with the respective game. Is it about getting consensus? Is the goal to generate innovative ideas? If I had to pick one, then I’d take The Anti-Problem because it makes people think in a completely different way when they can’t find a solution to a problem. The anti-problem technique is an easy way to make them think about what can work, because it starts by brainstorming around the question “how can we make sure it won’t work” (the anti-problem) and then you derive a solution from that. It’s a great technique, especially for brainstorm-haters and negative thinkers.

What are you most looking forward to at the summit? Any particular sessions?
I’m looking forward to seeing some of the people and speakers that I met on a similar event in Belgium. And I’m curious to learn about some new serious games myself.

The Social IT Game: Myers-Briggs for IT Organizations

The Social IT Game: Myers-Briggs for IT Organizations

Kevin Parker, Serena Software’s VP and Chief Evangelist, spoke at the Innovation Games Summit about how Serena Software is using Serena Software’s Social IT Game. The game is powered by Knowsy, and is an iPad-based 90-minute workshop that uses gamification to reveal cross-functional priorities within enterprise IT organizations. These revelations allow IT leadership teams to move forward with a new clarity about how common challenges are prioritized across the organization. In one recent game with a large retail chain, the entire IT management team had uniform consensus that Delivering Measurable Value to the Business was everyone’s number one priority. But there was clear division between the DEV and the OPS communities over the relative importance of More Rigorous Controls versus More Timely Execution in the release management process. And from this an informative debate ensued. Find out what Serena has learned about their target market, and how the company is using the Social IT Game powered by Knowsy to create dialogue, solutions and revenue.

Watch Kevin Parker’s The Social IT Game: Myers-Briggs for IT Organizations.


[vimeo width=”450″ height=”360″ id=”58927563″]

Help Us Transform Government Through Innovation Games and IndieGoGo

This is both a very simple, and a very personal, post. It announces our IndieGoGo project to use Innovation Games® online to engage thousands to millions of ordinary citizens around the world in working together to identify and prioritize the best possible solutions to our challenging budget problems. Please donate $25 to our cause. When you’re finished, please ask your friends, colleagues, neighbors, from everywhere in the world, to join us.

Don’t want to watch the video? No problem. Here is a transcript. But the video has some very helpful captions that you may not want to miss.

For over 10 years, we’ve been using our serious games to help companies around the world do serious work by having serious fun. But Innovation Games are about more than just helping companies work better. Which brings us to IndieGoGo.

We’re a little silicon valley startup. Which means we dream big. And one of our biggest dreams is to revolutionize the way that citizens interact with their governments.

We all know that our governments, federal, state, and local, are broke as a joke. Worse, no one seems to be able to come up with solutions.

We have. And we’ve proven it through the in-person version of our games.

Often, special interest groups don’t really represent the priorities of mainstream Americans, and therefore most people have no way of effectively expressing their priorities to their representatives. If thousands of ordinary citizens could truly engage with the difficult budgeting decisions that governments face, they could work through competing priorities together, and achieve the compromises that these problems require.

We’ve already made it possible for hundreds of citizens to engage in this way. With your help, we’ll take our proven solution online, and engage tens of thousands of citizens in solving our toughest problems.

On January 29, 2011, we made history, working with the mayor’s office in San Jose, California to empower community leaders to express their shared priorities through our games.

The result? Over 100 people from all parts of the city, representing every constituency engaged each other to fund and cut programs cooperatively, giving the mayor’s staff unprecedented insight into the real budget priorities of ordinary citizens.

And they used these insights to craft a better budget.

We know now that games can work for serious civic engagement. And now we need your support to bring our community games to thousands of citizens around the world.

While we already have an online version of Buy A Feature, our powerful virtual market game, we need further development to create an online implementation that supports the customized game design that we created in San Jose.

Once we have made the necessary changes to the game, we will then engage between 24K and 40k citizens of a major U.S. city—three cities have already expressed interest: San Jose, wants to play these games at a large scale, as do Lafayette Louisiana, and Portland Oregon.

Our game will be carefully timed to the budgetary cycle of the city in question, to maximize the impact of the game, and to ensure that the insights generated have a direct effect on budgeting decisions. We will then make this system available to other municipalities interested in engaging their citizens to produce the type of actionable results we generated for San Jose.

We will also use a small portion of these funds to promote the program to other interested civic leaders.

You’ll know we’ve succeeded when you join thousands of your fellow citizens to play in-person and online games, and the results of those games lead to specific, measurable actions from your civic leaders. We will measure these results continuously, and provide up-to-date information through our website.

We’re ready and willing to apply our proven games to large-scale problems. We just need your help to get started.


Since you’ve read this far, I thought you might like a summary of links that describe our commitment to civic engagement.

  • The San Jose, CA, Budget Games:  Take a look at our game design, results, and how we envision Innovation Games can be used to to help nonprofits and governments in the future.
  • Watch how ordinary citizens can use the Innovation Game Product Box to promote their city to small businesses, using San Jose, CA as an example, in this post.
  • Attacking Poverty Project with Grameen America and PDMA : In this video, Katherine Rosenberg of Grameen America gives us her initial impressions of the Attack Poverty games we designed and produced at the 2006 PDMA conference.
  • Pro-Bono Work by our Globally Trained Network of Facilitators: Over the years, we’ve helped churches and other faith-based communities, the Agile Alliance, the Scrum Alliance, the Agile Product Leadership Network and the Project Management Institute, to name a few.

We have a proven record of using serious games to solve complex problems. Our unique approach is such that the same game design can be used with both in-person and online populations. But we need your help to bring these tools to the global community.

Your Next Move! April 2011

Welcome to latest issue of Your Next Move!, our monthly newsletter covering the latest news, events and announcements from the Innovation Games® community.

This month in the Innovation Games® at Work section, we profile VersionOne’s adaption of Speed Boat and how it’s been used with VersionOne clients attempting Agile Transformation. Luke blogs about gamification and executives and how serious games have taken hold a real and useful tool for the enterprise. From the community, there are several thoughtful posts on creative adaptions of Innovation Games like Prune the Product Tree, and a slew of posts on how different industries are using Buy a Feature.

Click here to read the newsletter online.

Gamification, Innovation Games and Seriously Fun Executives

Arguably the most amazing change I’ve experienced in the 10+ years that I’ve been playing serious games is the change in attitudes among senior executives regarding Innovation Games® and other serious games. A decade ago, we had to spend an extraordinary amount of time convincing quite skeptical senior executives that “serious games” could solve complex business problems and provide amazing insights into market needs. In 2004, O’Reilly, rejected my Innovation Games book proposal as being too novel (fortunately, Addison-Wesley had better insight about market needs). And when we launched Innovation Games® online, let’s just say that our servers didn’t crash from an overwhelming amount of traffic.

How things have changed. We’re now getting calls from senior executives who have clear goals and wish to work with us to explore how games can be leveraged in their business. There are more than a dozen books on serious games and gamification, including O’Reilly’s book Gamestorming (for which I wrote the foreword). We’ve sold enterprise licenses to Innovation Games® online and sign-ups are increasing. And although we have a long way to go – just this week I had to explain to a skeptic that “real” companies like Cisco, Reed Elsevier, SAP, and Oracle play Innovation Games® – the changes I’ve outlined are here to stay. In this post, I’ll share some of the reasons why executives are embracing the seriously fun side of business, and why serious games are no longer a trend, but a new business reality. My inspiration for this post is the May 2011 TTI/Vanguard Serious Fun conference, in which I’ll be a speaker.

Serious Games Means Serious Results

Let’s contrast two game contexts: playing Blokus with my family on a Sunday evening and playing Buy a Feature with our customers to help prioritize our development backlog.

When playing Blokus®, the result I want to achieve is pretty simple: Having a fun time with my four children. And, if you press me, yes, I also want the pleasure of beating Cres, my second son, every now and then (hey – he’s really good!). That’s it. Pure entertainment. And while you can certainly argue that playing Blokus increases critical thinking skills, helps develop spatial thinking, and teaches important life lessons about turn-taking, rules, and fairness, I don’t need all of that when my goal is fun with the kids. That’s enough.

The result I want to achieve when playing Buy a Feature is a prioritized feature backlog, one that is informed by critical feedback and candid conversations amongst my customers as to how they want our products and services to evolve to better meet their needs. This result needs to be multi-faceted: I want their preferences and priorities (the purchased features) AND I want to understand why these features were purchased. I want the conversations to help me shape the features to better meet their needs. Oh yeah – I want my customers to have fun, because if they’re having fun they’ll provide more actionable insights, they’ll have a higher perception of my company and our brand, and they’ll develop their own relationships amongst each other. And people playing Buy a Feature have a boatload of fun. Instead of sitting through a boring PowerPoint presentation or taking a painfully dry survey, they are actively engaged in negotiating features with other players, buying the best features, and identifying ways to get what they really want.

In both games I want the players to have fun. In the case of my family, fun is the primary goal. In the case of Buy a Feature, fun is the secondary goal. Which leads me to my first point. Don’t misinterpret executives who are focused on the results of a game. They’re just doing their job. However, if you show them that serious games produces serious results, my experience is that you’ll find they’re eager to have fun.

Serious Games Uncover Serious Motivations

Discussing the benefits of serious games to the businesses that play that feels a bit one-sided. And it is. If the only beneficiary of the games are the companies that produce them, then people won’t play. So, let’s consider some of the benefits and motivations of the players.

And while I’ve already talked about fun, let’s start with fun. Serious game players playing games like Prune the Product Tree or Bang for the Buck are having fun, just like I’m having fun with my family when we’re playing Memory® or Cows in Space. But it isn’t the same kind of fun. “Serious Fun” is more related to the concept of Total Engagement that Byron Reeves and J. Leighton Read cover in their book of the same name. When I’m playing a serious game – a game that involves topics I care about, and in a way that motivates me to demonstrate expertise, knowledge, wisdom, and skill, according to a set of collaborative rules that govern play, I’m totally and completely engaged in the game. Serious gamers find themselves wrapped up in the flow of the game, losing track of time and often expressing disappointment when the game is finished.

More broadly, serious games enable their players to express themselves more thoroughly and more completely than traditional forms of interaction. This has critical implications for market research and market insights. Instead of quickly answering a survey, or sitting around a wooden table eating stale pastry and drinking burned coffee at a focus group, serious games engages players in a way that produces unusual results. And contrary to many people’s perceptions of marketing and market research, your customers would much prefer the challenge and engagement that comes with a game than the relatively simplistic approaches taken with most market research.

Serious Games Benefits Everyone

So, it turns out there is a pretty simple explanation as to why we’re seeing businesses embrace Innovation Games® and other serious games. Business gain benefit because these games create better, more actionable results. Players benefit because they appreciate the engagement that only games produce. The question then, is not if you are going to start playing games with your customers, but… when.

Luke Hohmann Joins Gamification Gurus on Faculty of Serious Fun Conference

On May 4, 2011, CEO and Founder of The Innovation Games® Company Luke Hohmann will speak at the Serious Fun Conference in Chicago, IL. Luke’s presentation, “Surveys Suck: Why Serious Play Creates Serious Insights,” will shed light on why traditional market research methods pale in comparison to using serious games to uncover customer insight. Traditional approaches to internal and external market research are time consuming, expensive and not fun. In this session, attendees will get the chance to experience how Innovation Games® for Customer Understanding produces amazing research results through collaborative play.

Event Details

[list style=”disc” color=”blue”]


Innovation Games Exchange – Problem Solving Game

Here is the cool new game we created with inspiration from Bruce Honig at the Innovation Games Exchange.

Announcing Innovation Games Exchange

Changing the world with games.

March 19, 2011
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Hacker Dojo, Mountain View, CA

Are you interested in how games can be used to solve problems? How collaborative play can help teams communicate, prioritize and reach decisions together? How serious games and the concept of gamification are transforming the world of work?

Join us on March 19, 2011 for the Innovation Games Exchange, an unconference where the Innovation Games community will explore creative ideas around playing, planning and designing serious games.

This one-day forum is open to anyone with an interest in learning how collaborative play can help teams collaborate, prioritize and communicate more effectively—from those who have heard provocative things about serious games and their application through those who use games on a regular basis—to those who design and develop games in the physical and digital worlds.

Your Next Move! December 2010

Welcome to latest issue of Your Next Move!, our monthly newsletter covering the latest news, events and announcements from the Innovation Games® community.

This month in the Innovation Games at Work section, we profile PKG’s Robert DeNola’s use of Remember the Future, as his team uses the game to move a key client towards an aggressive goal. Luke stokes the flames of debate with his post on Gamification–and the fact that most folks miss the point entirely. There’s also several thoughtful blog posts from the community on such topics as the neuroscience behind Remember the Future, product pricing and company reputation, and Innovation Games around the world.

Click here to read the newsletter online, or download a PDF version.

Gamification: Badges and Points are Missing the Point!

The “Gamification” movement continues to gain speed. And while I appreciate some of the careful thinking and discussions, the entire movement is at risk of getting it more wrong than right. Quite frankly, badges and points are, well, missing the point. Gamification should not be based on simplistic, Pavlovian responses to stimulus. Click on a button. Get points. Brush your teeth. Get points. No cavities? Wow. I get a sticker. If that’s the best that game designers can do, the world is going backward, not forward, and I don’t want any part of the Gamification movement.

At The Innovation Games® Company, we think that serious games are more about actual problem solving than racking up points and badges. To realize this vision, effective serious game designers need to create collaborative interaction models that naturally motivate high levels of engagement and participation. The key word is naturally. Not artificially induced and potentially farcical behavior, but games in which the “play” produces a result. The root of this is understanding that serious game design is actually quite a bit different entertainment game design. Not better than entertaining games (which we, of course, need). Different. In this post, I’ll elaborate on these concepts and show how they have informed the design of two of our games: Buy a Feature and our recently released iPad game, Knowsy.


Choice Modeling: A Multi-Billion Dollar Market Research Industry

Before discussing the design of our games, we need to take a step back and understand one of problems we’re solving through our games. Simply put, we’re trying to create a low-cost, high-quality alternative to traditional choice modeling market research.

Choice and Preference modeling is a multi-billion dollar industry, and encompasses such techniques as conjoint analysis, forced rank, and MaxDiff (to name a few). When done well, choice modeling is one of the most powerful forms of market research. Unfortunately, doing traditional choice modeling market research well has significant challenges. It requires specialized knowledge and skill to construct surveys, develop / select the sample, and post-process the results. It typically requires sophisticated tools and the ability to use these tools properly. As such, choice modeling tends to be expensive and take a fair amount of time to complete. For example, the last conjoint analysis study that I helped produce (I helped design the attributes and levels) took about 7 months from conception to result: 3 months to plan, ~1 month to acquire the data, and 2 months to post-process the results. Fortunately, the lead designer was a PhD in statistics and was able to create very powerful results.

The challenge occurs when you can’t wait that long, or don’t need as great a result. Perhaps more importantly, choice modeling market research techniques are designed to test things that are well defined. They don’t work so well when what you want to explore is not well defined. And they don’t provide the insights that you get when you explore a topic in a group, because these techniques are all based on solitary behavior.

And, they’re not very fun. This may might not seem that important. But it is, as I’ll explain shortly.


The Bad THING That Happened to Choice Modeling…

Every one of us engages in choice modeling research every day:

“Hey, Honey, what movie do you want me to put to the top of our NetFlix queue?”

“Hey, team – what kind of food do we want to eat today? Mexican? Indian? Sushi?”

“Hmmm… We’ve identified 46 potential new product concepts. We can probably fund around 12 or 13. Which ones make the cut?”

“What’s the best set of features to include in our next release?”

From our personal to our professional lives, we’re constantly engaging in choice modeling market research. Constantly. And since we do it so frequently, many of us haven’t noticed the bad thing that has happened to choice modeling: Too many people have been convinced that they can’t do it on their own without a fancy method. Not surprisingly, since there is a multi-billion dollar industry who needs you to believe that you can’t do good, actionable, and useful choice modeling research.

That’s wrong. More often than not, you don’t need an expensive choice modeling research project to generate the insights you need (and, if you do need the fancy methods – then no worries – there are a lot of people who are happy to help you – more on this later).

It is time to right this tragic wrong and give you some great tools so that you can engage in “Market Research 3.0”.


Buy a Feature: Preference Research Through Collaborative Virtual Markets

Overcoming the challenges of traditional market research and righting the wrongs of the traditional market research industry are, of course, an opportunity for entrepreneurs like us! Our first game to tackle this problem was Buy a Feature. Buy a Feature is a choice modeling game based on a scalable virtual market, where a group of 5 to 8 players collaborate to “purchase” any of 12 to 20 items. The trick? They don’t have enough money to purchase everything they want, so they must collaborate with other players to get the best items (full details of the game are here). The game is fun, fast, and deeply engaging. It produces results that you simply can’t get through any traditional market research technique. Let’s explore why this is so.


  • It is collaborative. To purchase high-priced items, players must work together. To work together, players argue and debate the relative merits of each item. By reviewing these debates you gain deep insights into why items are being purchased. These debates also serve to shape the items that are being purchased.
  • It is fun. Players enjoy working with each other to get the items within the group. In fact, many times people will change their bids so that more players can join in purchasing highly desired items. Suppose, for example, an item costs $120 and each player is given $70. Technically, only two players must collaborate to purchase the item. What we often see, however, is that groups of 5 or even 8 people will make bids that purchase the item.
  • It is engaging. As players review the list, they see items they want. To get what they want, they have to find ways to convince other players to join them. Who says what to whom is market research gold.
  • We don’t overwhelm the players. By presenting only 12 to 20 items, we keep the number of items completely understandable. By structuring the game with 5 to 8 players, we promote meaningful participation.


Buy a Feature overcomes many of the challenges of traditional choice modeling techniques.

  • It is fast. Unlike traditional market research, you have have a Buy a Feature game up and running in less than an hour, more than likely leveraging existing information about the projects.
  • It is easy to post-process the results. You don’t need a PhD in statistics to understand the purchase patterns. You don’t need a degree in linguistics to understand how players negotiated purchases with other players.
  • You don’t need well-defined items to play the game. In fact, one of the most important benefits of the game is that the act of negotiating purchases actively shapes the items desired by the players.
  • You can see how collaborative purchases signal preferences. One of the most interesting results of a Buy a Feature game occurs when more players collaborate to purchase an item than necessary. This, of course, stands in stark contrast to traditional “rational man” theories of economics.


The concept of a scalable virtual market can be applied whenever you need to understand the preferences of a group relative to a set of items. For example, we recently helped the Cisco Collaboration Business Technologies team prioritize 46 projects through a specially designed set of tournaments. Think of a competitive sports tournament, like a swim meet, in which individual swimmers advance to the next round of the tournament by placing in their respective heat. In our tournament, the best projects advance based on the purchases made by Cisco employees. Each game within the took less than an hour. The results provided substantial insights into the highest impact projects.

There are NO points or badges within Buy a Feature. Because the Cisco employees are highly motivated to purchase the highest impact projects – the projects that enable Cisco to win and provide them the best opportunity for personal growth and achievement – there is no need to provide artificial motivation. The “motivation” needed for deep levels of engagement and participation is built into the structure of the system.


Knowsy: A Brand Engagement Choice Modeling Game

Knowsy is the first game that lets you determine how well you know your friends, your family, and your co-workers – while simultaneously testing how well you know them! The person who knows the other players the best wins the game. Originally designed for strategic sales account managers, who need to research the preferences of different constituents real-time, in a fast, fun, way, we’ve decided to release our first version of Knowsy as a consumer iPad app when our testers just kept playing the game for fun. Knowsy is even faster to set up and play than Buy a Feature, and the fact that it is a consumer game affords new kinds of choice modeling market research on entirely new kinds of data.

To understand why Knowsy is a serious game, you have to know how Knowsy is played.

  1. The game is played in rounds.
  2. At the start of the game, one player is selected as the first VIP (the Very Interesting Person). The VIP selects a topic (such as “Favorite Flavor of Ben and Jerry’s Ice Cream” or “Favorite iPad Game”) and announces this topic to the other players. As you can guess, players can also create their own topics.
  3. The VIP then privately selects and rank orders up to five items on the topic (Phish Food, Coffee Heath® Bar Crunch, and so forth) to create his or her Knowsy like-list. While the VIP is ordering their list, each of the other players are each of the other players are privately forming their own opinions on what the VIP likes based on their existing knowledge of that person’s personality and preferences.
  4. Once the VIP is finished the iPad is passed to the other players. Each player orders the list based on what they think the VIP likes.
  5. When everyone has had the chance to try their turn at guessing the preferences of the VIP, a score is computed based on how well each player knew the VIP, with more matches producing a higher score.
  6. Play continues until each person in the game has been the VIP. After the final round, the score of all the players are shared.

Knowsy is simple, fun to play, and very revealing. We’ve tested the game with adults, with children as young as five years old, and with people from different cultures. All enjoy playing the game. And we’re creating and will be soon releasing white label versions of Knowsy.


So, you may wonder, how is this a brand engagement and choice modeling game – and – why should I care? Let’s start with brand engagement. In Knowsy, players actually interact with the brand by dragging around beautiful images of the brand. The concept of choice modeling is built into the game structure. And you should care because people don’t find surveys fun – by they love playing Knowsy. Let’s consider these relative to our game design concepts.

  • It is collaborative. Knowsy is played in a group, and players collaborate to discuss how “knowsy” they are about the other players.
  • It is fun. It is quite a lot of fun to see how well you know the preferences of other players.
  • It is engaging. The direct interaction model of Knowsy means that players directly interact with a brand in a really fun way.


One key advantage that Knowsy has over traditional choice modeling research is that it is a really cheap way for brands to conduct research. This is a really important point, as respondent recruitment and incentive fees can easily top $200/respondent. Knowsy acquires its market research data for free as a result of a natural gameplay. As Knowsy grows, we suspect that we’ll be hiring PhDs in statistics to help us process the massive data sets we’ll be generating through gameplay. Fortunately, our SaaS platform will make getting the insights you need from Knowsy easy.

What about points and badges? Admittedly, Knowsy does have points. We use them to keep track of the players status within the game. We don’t have badges. We added points to Knowsy because it is a natural way to capture a fun response. More thoughtfully, we are starting to realize that when you’re designing collaborative games for corporate problem solving things like points and badges may not be all that important. In the consumer realm, points, and yes, badges, are likely to be more important. We’ll be working on better understanding these design ideas over time.


But You Like Stickers, Right?

You bet we like stickers. They are part of our corporate values. And we’re not inherently opposed to points and badges. Indeed, we intend to explore the use of points and badges within our online games to see how they can motivate repeated play, mostly likely in longitudinal research. We’ll do this very carefully, as we want the players of our games to be engaged and highly motivated to participate through the structure of the game, and not because they are being paid $10 or because they get a players badge. Our points and badges will be based on engagement, participation, and the choice of the other players, much like players earning certain powers or rights for playing well in other games.

To illustrate, consider a few design ideas on how we could aware points in Buy a Feature.

  • We could award points for playing the game. Uh, bad idea, because we’d motivate people to play about topics they don’t care about, invalidating the results. The game works because participants inherently care about the outcomes and strive to purchase the best ones.
  • We could award points for certain behaviors – like more points for more chats in the chat log.Uh, another really bad idea. It isn’t the number of actions that a player takes in the game that matter, but the impact and effect of each action.
  • We could award points for how skillfully a player negotiates with other players during the game. That’s a much better idea – provided the points were awarded by the other players, after the game was over, and these players had a limited number of points for distribution. Which means we might be better off having players award each other negotiation badges.

The take home point? Although we’re proud to be recognized as a leader in the serious gaming industry, we’re more than a bit concerned that the gamification movement is missing the point about points. So if you’re playing the gamification game, play it carefully. Because it is a serious game.