Appendix: September Workshop Report
Summary: Overall we feel the CfC Game Jam workshop on September 11 2015 was successful. It gave valuable guidance for improving our direction, validation and support of our foundational ideas, and key stakeholders say they came away impressed and wanting further involvement with the project.
We had a two-day onsite group meeting 9-6 in CfC Headquarters. 2 day Agenda (link) shows several key features in addition to typical workshop features (expert presentations to group, group discussion, breakouts, walk-n-talk):
- Two prototype playtests and discussions with targeted users, in group meetings
- Overnight game jam, where we built a prototype of a game and tested it the next day.
Attendees could be divided in three groups:
- Required Participants (we will cancel the workshop if we can’t get them)
- Recommended Participants (influencers and valuable voices in the discussion)
- Stakeholders (people who decide or greatly influence the outcome of the project)
[confidential information redacted]
Workshop Design Critique
The design of this workshop embodied many experimental, innovative ideas. We feel these were successful:
- Live playtest was successful in engaging key stakeholders, generated insights for all participants. A teen mentioned, during interview, that his mom never suggests games to play together, but his dad does. This was a hugely powerful “aha moment” that changed the whole project.
- Identifying key roles first, then picking specific people, was very successful. We had a good mix of commercial game industry, nonprofit, and academic.
- Game Jam (building something overnight) was great. Possibly not essential, but really beneficial in that industry experts generated an exciting design, and all experts were able to comprehend the design changes that occur during producition.
These successful elements are not unique, but important:
- Top-notch attendees. We were successful in convincing relevant world-class experts to attend.
- Number of people was great. (fewer still might be even better – see below)
- 2 day length was about right. Some requested a 3rd day
- Breaking up sitting time – ie walk-n-talk was great.
Key possible areas for improvement:
- We had intended the final session of workshop to identify the specific features to build in the jam session – the “rubber meets road.” That actually happened after the workshop over dinner with Josh and Robin and others: integrate the workshop, name a specific feature for the game jammers to build. Recommendation: Don’t try to name features to build in a workshop setting. Let a few (1-3) people interpret workshop findings and design, afterward.
- Next time, make sure a psychologist is part of in the jam design session.
- Playtest structure was pretty loose. This is appropriate for exploring, but could have been more clearly called out as informal, exploratory conversations as opposed to other kinds of more structured research.
- Set a backup protocol for playtests in event of production failures. The pre-workshop prototype “failed”, developer was unable to implement the design in time allowed. Perhaps more productive to playtest a commercial game in the event of a production failure.
- Perhaps better to have marketing talk at beginning, not end, of workshop.
Additional possible areas of improvement:
- Fewer attendees makes better discussion. Could we have been more successful with a mini-workshop?
- Discussion/lecture ratio was OK but more discussion may have been better.
- Pre-session dinner was poorly attended.(but even so it was valuable – Isabela and Brian talked informally, Josh and Kate met and bonded, etc). Venue was “The Garage” and the noise and space was not a great fit.
- Was cost of note-taker worthwhile? The ideas were high-level and we made major design changes, so detailed notes after the workshop were outdated. However, having dedicated note-taker was useful during the workshop it was unclear at the time if notes would later be important, and key people didn’t feel obliged to take their own notes instead of participating in the discussion fully.
Mapping important outcomes to workshop design
Several major project decisions occurred during and immediately after the workshop. Not all decisions can be directly attributed to a specific aspect of the workshop design, but a few can. Paired with the workshop element that generated them, here is a list of key decisions.
|Key Decision||Where this decision came from|
|For indie games, go PC first, then mobile later||group discussion, and “walk and talk” – agreement from marketing consultant and Valve (industry experts)|
|Intergenerational gamer focus – father/son is best way to generate maximum effect sizes||Day and 2 playtest comments, and player videos, plus Isabela’s knowledge from previous work|
|More multiplayer game mechanics, less story-driven design||Pre-game jam dinner (Robin Brian Dhabih and Josh) and individual “walk and talk” conversations industry experts (Robin and Mia), validated at workshop group discussion|
Here are the reasons for the changes above:
- For indie games, go PC first, then mobile later. This decision was market-driven: Robin, Keith, and Fred Dillon all felt like mobile apps are extremely difficult environment for innovative game designs to be discovered in, because of the volume of new games (1000 per day was cited). The PC indie game scene has much lower volume, and much higher interest levels. Mobile is useful for its size, but better addressed as a followup product once PC market has shown success and raised some awareness.
- Father/son: This decision came in the 2 days after the workshop when Josh and Isabela discussed the new directions. Josh became confident that the game would be engaging and thus marketable, so wanted to focus all our prototyping effort on the question of effects. He challenged Isabela: If we want maximum effects, what design direction would you take? She said: make it 2-player couch-co-op father/son, because the nonspecific effects from building that relationship will best improve rejection sensitivity (along with a host of other benefits.)
- Multiplayer vs story-driven: This direction primarily came from Robin Walker and other Valve advisors, who observed that writing good content is hard and doesn’t scale (in production context); e.g. to add another level requires doubling the hours worked, whereas discovering a good mechanic needs to only be done once.
Summary of Revised Design
At the end of the workshop, we described our game like this:
This game is a tool for dads to help their internalizing boys aged 11-16 learn a few cognitive skills related to social rejection and isolation. The game is as engaging and entertaining as similar competitive indie games, but its novel mechanic embodies a playable model of social rejection, based on Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and lets players discover good coping skills as winning strategies.
The following fake press and user reviews illustrated our vision for the full version:
- “Parents and teens co-op to beat the social acceptance game”- EDGE/
- “Frenemies as social RPG mechanic” Kotaku news item title
- “Cliques as Puzzles in this novel co-op RPG” – Polygon
- “Social psychology as a core RPG mechanic, for dads and teens to learn and explore together – Jordan Shapiro, Forbes
- “It’s a unique RPG with social psychology at its core. Great for parent/child play.”
– Common Sense Media
TEEN PLAYER: “It’s a co-op RPG with this “vote off the island” mechanic so greedy players get punished, but sometimes nice guys do too. The battle mechanics are like Final Fantasy or Child of Light, but way more co-op social – you can piss off squadmates and even if you are an excellent fighter, if you don’t think about how other players are going to perceive it. I like playing with my dad especially – we’re a good team and it’s interesting to hear his take on the social puzzles.”
DAD PLAYER: “It’s a game about mastering multiplayer politics. There’s RPG mechanics and my son is good at those, but he often gets booted “for no reason.” …but he missed something or did something that pissed off the other players – I can find strategies to keep them onside, and together we get through the level. But it’s tough too – one level he got rejected over and over, and he got pretty mad – and we ended up talking about this girl that never called him back. At this age, anything that opens him up like that, I love.”