Flappy bird and business

Last night I discovered a mobile game called Flappy Bird. When I say that ‘I discovered it’ what I mean is I gave in to temptation and downloaded the same thing that every else has. The game that is sitting on top of the charts for both iPhone and Android. Lesson: people follow crowds. We assume there is value where other people have found value

Upon starting the game it became clear that there was only really one game mechanic at play. Press your screen to flap your birds wings. This is interesting to me because games have been getting more complicated over recent years and focusing on the continual ‘upgrading’ of capabilities. Think new combos/sweets in Candy Crush. Flappy Bird just asks you to do one thing well Lesson: when everyone else is creating complexity, simplicity can be refreshing

The one aim of the game is to not die and keep moving. This is a pretty compelling goal and you score points for every obstacle you fly through. When I started I was delighted to get past 3-4. Now I’m chasing progressively higher scores and slightly disgusted when I don’t hit double figures. I need to be pushing on and increasing my High score Lesson: we value progress, what looked big to us yesterday looks small to us today.

The obstacles in the game are generated randomly. The easiest way to get a high score is to be lucky and have several obstacles appear that don’t need you to adjust your height. If the obstacles are randomly generated so you have to move about too much you are more likely to die. Lesson: success is a function of randomness and luck. Don’t kid yourself that it isn’t, but equip yourself to be able to fly well enough to make good when it’s possible


As soon as I hit what I thought was a reasonably high score I checked online to see what other people were scoring Lesson: our sense of progress and achievement is normally grounded in how we have done relative to others.

Now I have scored a decent amount I wanted to share it, I wouldn’t have done that when I wasn’t doing so well. Lesson: I’m a show off. Bring it on. People share their achievements selectively


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Gamification – the early years

It was my daughter’s birthday at the weekend. Two things happened which made me reflect on the nature of playing games.

The first was that Kate Griffiths-Lambeth gave my daughter a game, it was actually a Christmas present, but I wanted my daughter to open it early. The game was one that I’ve never seen before and is designed, at its core, to increase collaboration. It says that on the box. Kate said it was one of her favourites as a child.


I’ve worked alongside Kate for the past few months and had a chance to observe Kate in action. Collaboration, help, support, team – I smiled when I saw the game – as it was exactly the kind of thing you would have expected to see Kate play as a child.

I wonder how much impact what we play as children has on how we behave when we are older. We are now starting to appreciate the power of the systems of games as tools in the workplace.

How much of a difference does what we play in our formative years make?

Did the individuals behind the banking crisis play Monopoly with their pals and delight in everyone else going bankrupt? Maybe rig the card deck so that they always got out of jail free?

Are the top surgeons in the country the individuals who just kept on playing Operation long after everyone else had finished? When the batteries died they wouldn’t rest until they could test their steady hands again?

Are our best structural engineers the best Jenga players?

I was addicted to Trivial Pursuit as a child. All I wanted to do was test myself against the adults. If somebody wanted me on their team on Trivial Pursuit then I got to stay up late . My freakish capability at Trivial Pursuit at a young age became something for my family to show off when people came over. That stimulated me to read more and get even better. In the end we used to play all of my family against me to make it fair. If you keep doing things you keep good at them. There was nothing special about me, it wasn’t about me being smart or making claims about my ability. It was about what Matthew Syed describes as ‘purposeful practice’.

Believe you can get better, approach learning in a controlled way and test yourself. Trivial Pursuit allowed me/encouraged me to do this. I was a product of that environment.

So, what lessons is my daughter learning? Well, at the weekend she had  a birthday party. We had a game of pass the parcel and my wife and I fouled up. A real parenting low point. My daughter waited for all of the other children to receive presents and then there was nothing left for her. Her bottom lip quivered but she kept it together.

I can imagine the moment being played back as part of an interview on a chat show when she is older.

‘I’m sure my parents did love me, but one of my first memories is being the only child not to receive a present in pass the parcel – at my own party’.

Plenty of other parents came up to us to say that their child would have thrown a tantrum. We are lucky we don’t have one of those children.

Doug Shaw suggested that it was a genuine life lesson for her. He may be right, but it isn’t one that I had planned. Maybe I should have. The Marshmallow Test is a fantastic example of understanding the importance of self control and more and more work on the importance of ‘grit’ to success is being produced.

Maybe I should be planning more life lessons through games for her. Or maybe if I really want her to help others I should just dust off Operation?

Final thought.

People play games every day. We tend to view people in the office who ‘play games’ as a bad thing. It suggests engineering a result for them, using other people as pawns. It is worth remembering there are more positive results available if you play nicely with others. Same is true for Social Media, same is true for life.

(written on the train, may have multiple errors, all apologies)

Gamifying me 0.1

I am the Podgemeister General. 

A week ago I stood on the scales and I was 14st 13lb.  That weight would be acceptable if I was an international rugby player, however, it seems that currently the Welsh rugby squad is strong enough to cope without me. 13st 10lb is about fine for me as a normal weight – 14st 13lb is only about fine for me if I was holding my daughter at the same time. To be clear, when I was on the scales I wasn’t holding my daughter.

A brisk sprint through Gamification

Earlier this year I took an online course through Coursera on Gamification, hosted by Kevin Werbach (https://www.coursera.org/course/gamification) . Gamification is the concept of taking the science behind games and applying it to real world situations.  It is becoming increasingly popular (as it proves very effective) and comes in pure forms (creating a whole world for people to experience) to lighter forms where you will recognise badges, levels etc without necessarily recognising it as ‘a game’. You might be part of a forum and notice stars and levels next to people’s names – this is to give them a sense of progress and achievement – mechanics that game designers have been refining for years. Consumers spent $20.77 billion on video games, hardware, and accessories in 2012 (ref: http://www.theesa.com/facts/). It is a serious business ,with serious people, who understand almost perfectly what makes us tick.  A computer game budget can now be as much as a Hollywood movie – so the teams working behind the scenes to understand what mechanics get people coming back time and time again are in the top of their field.

There are instances of successful gamification that you might not have reflected upon: when everyone was suddenly moving about AND playing computer games when the Wii was released? Gamification of physical activity. This was enhanced with the Wii Fit and Wii Sports – you were enjoying exercise whilst you beat scores, played with friends and progressed through games. It made exercising easy, fun and rewarding. Recently Aviva have gamified driving your car –  see video below – you get your car insured, your driving skills rated and you get to share your skills on Facebook. Suddenly people are competing to see how well they can drive – and Aviva can take your money knowing you are less likely to crash,,,

Richard Bartle came up with a useful way of categorising gamers called Gamer Types (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bartle_Test), The four categories typically used are

  • Achievers – gamers pushing on for recognition or to test themselves
  • Explorers – gamers who like being able to do things at their own pace, discovering things others might not notice
  • Socialisers – gamers who are there for the community rather than the game itself
  • Killers – gamers who thrive on competition and outdoing others

For anyone who says that games aren’t relevant to business I’d ask you to look at the list again. Seemingly if you can tap into those motivations people will be having fun and achieving without noticing. If you can create communities, a sense of progress, an opportunity for people to elect to compete and space for people to explore – you are creating an environment that people would choose to be part of. That is why gamification is useful – it isn’t a fad, it’s been about as long as fun has been – and probably since warriors chalked up their kills for other people to see them or people competed on cold nights to see who could get the fire started first.

It isn’t the next big thing, it is a part of our toolkit that we are starting to understand, one that provides us with evenmore opportunity to help businesses and people succeed. It isn’t just about games in training – but also about socialisation of performance management and possibly even pay.

So does it work then?  

In short, yes. It can work when used well http://goo.gl/mXiBJz – although unsuprisingly you’ll also hear of failures where people have just thrown in a game without thought of culture fit or outout or people and -puzzlingly – this has proved less successful. It isn’t a silver bullet – it’s another tool.

You joined me when I was 14st 13lb . I’ve been using an app called ‘Mapmywalk’  this week that gives me all sorts of stats and typical gamification features (how do I compare to yesterday’s walk? what is my speed? what’s my biggest climb? How do I compare to other people doing the route? Congratulations, here is a badge for being quickest up that hill). The app has helped build habits and encouraged me to stick to them –  it’s allowed me to email my route and stats – my success and effort-  to my wife and friends (sociable), encouraged me to try new paths (explore) and to push on for slightly longer and quicker walks (achievements).  in short, getting fit has become a game.

I’ve just got back from a walk that has now become my favourite – a bit quicker than last week, but no less enjoyable. I lost 8lb in seven days. No funky diet, no starvation, no punishing regimes (I had two bbqs and a couple of beers…) – just playing by the rules of the game. Update: I’m now down to 13st 13lb (as of 14/08)

We want business to be fun – and we want people to try

People enjoy games and put effort into succeeding in them

Not complicated to put them together.