#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.



#ONALondon ‘When news breaks bad: UGC in the newsroom’ session 

Panel: Mandy Jenkins, VP ONA board, head of news, Storyful; Fergus Bell, ONA Ethics committee, and Dig Deeper Media 

Ok, so for this blog post to make much sense you probably need to head straight to http://toolkit.journalists.org and have a look at that, because this is what we’re talking about.

Done that? Good – the roundup from the session starts… now:

In 2012 the first discussions around UGC and eyewitness protection began.

FB we didn’t have the luxury of several years to develop; we needed to come to a level of understanding quite quickly, and so we set up a working group and many conversations have ben held over theyears.

MJ: We are constantly dealing in a world of unknowns and what we have learned has meant we’ve started to figure out the day to day world of news.

The ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code is a document to gather the support of news and journalism organisations internationally to endorse a set of standards and practices.

Here’s a quick screen grab:

ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code – ONA s Digital ToolkitExample: ‘The Eiffel Tower has gone dark’ – many news organisations were posting on social in the aftermath of the Paris attacks that the tower was switched off out of respect. Actually, the lights are switched off every night.

Example: The video bandied around as being of the Brussels terror attack that turned out to be Moscow, 2011.

MJ: Readers and journalists are coming to standard terms that indicate where we are in a breaking news story. We will say ‘confirmed’ and how we know what we know, or ‘unconfirmed’ or ‘checking’ which says ‘we are looking into this right now’. The transparency is there and our audience can see what our status is with regards to verification of a story.

FB: For journalists, thinking of how we say we are reaching conclusions around stories is an alien concept but what we need to get our heads around is that the audience is now searching social media themselves, and if it doesn’t look as though you are going through a verification process as a professional journalist they may well question why.

Considering the emotional state and safety of contributors is about the way we deal with people who are creating content we need, and who we are using to tell stories.

FB used the example of a campus shooting eyewitness who was asked by hundreds, if not thousands, of media for her experiences – while it was still going on.

Journalists were getting abuse from other people who could see them asking for content.

Storyful approaches it like this:


FB: Be aware there is a difference between getting that story when someone is in fear of their life, and when they are safe. If you are communicating with someone who is hiding from a gunman, as in this case, what happens if their phone is not on mute and it makes a noise when they receive a notification?

Or if there is a particular geographic reference point or angle on a photograph that shows where they are?

MJ within your own newsroom there needs to be communication to say if someone has reached out to an eyewitness, so they are not getting bombarded.

Assignments v discovery – asking people to create content for you is different to finding content they have made. A snowy day photo shout out is low risk – a hurricane pic shout out is not.

MJ: during the Kenyan mall attack you could see people hiding while journalists reached out to them asking them to shoot video. These people were being asked to put their lives at risk to film for a news organisation. It was very ethically unsound.

Storyful works with content that exists and does not create assignment situations (i.e. asking for content to be created rather than provided post-creation)

FB: I worked with UGC on various uprisings in Libya and other areas and we would never ask them to capture anything that was live. What they captured informed the reporting rather than vice versa. We had a responsibility to their safety.

It is not only about protecting the source who provides the content but also protecting those who are featured in it – like making sure witnesses captured in a video are not identifiable.

Embedding can also be an area that needs negotiation: Sometimes people also don’t realise their content is public – they think it is contained within their network and don’t expect to see if in other media.

In breaking news if you are asking for permission to use something, do you have archive rights? Use beyond one time? Multi-platform? What if people later change their minds? If someone retracts at any point, if you’ve negotiated use on Twitter, you have to comply.  (This is a key point that newsrooms need to understand, as far as I am concerned)

If you throw a bunch of legalese at someone around usage, you aren’t likely to get anywHere.

By being more ethical you can also be more effective.

Keeping journalists safe online

MJ: I have had a member of staff stalked by someone they reached out to in pursuit of a story. We have to know that we are not supermen and superwomen when it comes to dealing with this.

FB: I know investigative journalists who will meet some potentially unsavoury contacts in public places with colleagues nearby. If you have a junior staffer reaching out through social to people, as newsroom managers do you know that staffer’s exit route? Do they know how to protect themselves?

Not everyone is bad out there of course but perhaps if you are able to speak to a source on the phone or company email rather than expose your personal account is useful in some cases.

*Also see the work by the excellent Eyewitness Media Hub. I’ve been some small involvement with this, and and blogged about it here and here.