#ONALondon keynote: What journalists can learn from game design

Speaker: Lindsay Grace – Associate Professor and Director of American University’s Game Lab and Studio, American University

Lindsay is a game maker and teaching games and interactive media for 12 years. He is an associate professor at American University and founding director of the American University Game Lab and Studio. More about his work here http://professorgrace.com/

He is interested in producing games that match the pace of news and engagement through play.

So he also kicked off his session with some facts

  • 1.2bn digital game players worldwide
  • 60-87% of the Western Civilisation have an active gaming community
  • It is a $100bn industry
  • Average player is 31
  • 48/52% male/female player ratio
  • People send about 60% of their time playing mobile games and about 4% on news but the reach is pretty much on par. They spend a lot of time, and a lot of money, on games. How to get them doing the same with the news?

He believes the driving force is engagement. There is a lot of content in the world (maybe not all of it good) but what makes content special? The answer: Experience.

Keeping people informed of the product of being repeatedly engaged; engagement design for news is informed by games design.

Content may be kind, experience is the kingdom. 

Game designers design experience, and games are useful for finding new experiences. They can inspire empathy (e.g. Darfur is Dying puts the player in the middle of the crisis), improve habits, develop skillsets, and help form the art of critical questioning. Game content is rarely as important as game experience.

Design the news experience and understand the many ways to engage the news community. For online dialogue many news organisations kick people out for ‘bad commenting’; we suggest you provide moderators with tools that are precise, actionable and effective, so they can carefully incise rather than smash.

Designing engaging news experiences. 

Consider ‘flow’ – in this state they lose track of time, but to achieve that you have to balance their anxiety and boredom states. This photo of the slide probably illustrates it better than any number of words could…



And what about monetising games? In the free to play mobile game space, minnows pay $0-$10; dolphins spend more, whales spend lots. Minnows make you popular, but whales make you money in the mobile gaming market.

In games there is something called Rubberbanding: Pulling 2 different players together for a shareable optimal experience.

Online and offline news standards and structures are relatively unchanged but his view is that you don’t just adapt the limitations and structures of print – you rubberband your audience. Think of ways to bring two different audiences (perhaps generational) together.

Employ dynamic audience adjustments so you use the real time reader feedback loop to make real time adjustments.

Engagement is dynamic: News is a dynamic system but we don’t always report it that way. There are 3 ways dynamics have been done in news – Interactives, toys and games – interactives provide feedback but aren’t playful; toys lack goals but can let you learn through play; games structure play by adding rules to how we do things. Game are interactive, playful and contain goals.

Games are really good at helping us make other people’s stories our stories – like news games around the Haiti earthquake, or being a Syrian refugee, but most of all games are about doing.

Among his case studies cited was Phone Story, where the player enforces slave labour, catches workers who kill themselves rather than work, and use hazardous materials that cause damage to people and the environment (Apple banned this gem because of its content).

Games help us understand the world in various ways. ‘Papers Please’ is a game where you play a border crossing guard –  the idea is that you are reviewing people’s lives to see who can enter a country. People think differently about immigration after playing this game.

Short experiences invite new people but long experiences appeal to the committed.  ‘This War of Mine’ depicts the civilian experience of war, and is a long experience compared to other games. Games and play experiences don’t have to be big experiences.

Angry Birds is something that people think of when we talk about games and successful games – Rovio made 51 bad games before they hit on Angry Birds. Games success formula is about failing quickly and failing often. Get it in front of people, see what they think, refine it on their feedback. You will learn more from your mistakes than your successes.

Games designers also respond to the force of the outside world – they will turn moves or books into games.



One thought on “#ONALondon keynote: What journalists can learn from game design

  1. These numbers are shocking to me!

    -48/52% male/female player ratio
    -People send about 60% of their time playing mobile games and about 4% on news but the reach is pretty much on par. They spend a lot of time, and a lot of money, on games. How to get them doing the same with the news?

    I knew that people spend more time on their smartphones on games but that much more than news and information? Also, more females play games than males?!



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