One Demola experience richer

It has already been over 5 months since we first started sketching out ideas for our Demola project. Time has passed swiftly, and now it is time to conclude the whole project.

Our project was not the smoothest one. We all had to learn lots of things and that caused as to start slowly and then speed up towards the end of the projects. In the process, we improved week after week.

To start with, we had probably one of the hardest of the whole Demola autumn campaign. Making welfare something concrete and tangible and then making a game out of it is not an easy task.

In the end, we came up with a playable demo which, I feel, reflects our concept.

The amount of public speaking we had to do during the campaign came as a surprise. I found pitching very beneficial in many ways. Now I feel much more confident stepping up in front of an audience and using English in my day to day life overall.

I would definitely do the Demola experience all over again.  You literally get to widen your horizons time after time as you brainstorm with people from different backgrounds and with different views and try to make value out of it.

The fact that you never know who your next team members will be and how everything will turn out is probably the most beautiful thing about the concept of Demola.

So thank you, dear team members and Demola staff, for providing an excellent learning experience and taking us out of our comfort zones!

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Testing…

Christmas is arriving soon – and what could possibly be a better present to all our close ones than the possibility to try out our brand new game prototype! In two weeks we will have our minimum viable product out for the most important part of our project: testing.

We have already gathered valuable data through a survey. Yet a survey will not take us very far per se . It is a good way to gather insight on the general issues such as the game concept, but it is only the first step. We have to show the tangible, playable, concrete demo to really see whether our product really works or not.

Exciting times ahead!

All hail the end users!

About a week ago we had the first meeting with our graphic designer who gave us valuable insight on the technical aspects of making a mobile game. Which also means that we have to rethink some of our previous ideas that wouldn’t probably have worked in the platform we are using.

Another Heureka moment happened at the second Demola Jam where an expert on user experience testing lectured on the importance of coming out of your isolated box and starting to interview and investigate the end users as early as possible. However talented you are and however brilliant your idea is, you can not just assume you know your product’s potential users. The fact is, you don’t know them. Not before you have carefully investigated them.

In the previous post, I mentioned the importance of having a multi-disciplinary team to encourage outside-of-the-box thinking. I believe the same thing goes for the end users’ role. It is sometimes too easy to fall in love with your own ideas. Of course, having faith in your skills is necessary, but it is not a very fruitful position. As Todd Harris, COO of game company Hi-Rez Studios states in an Edge magazine article:

I’ve always felt that the best products are made by putting them in the end users’ hands as early as possible.

The art of processual thinking is of vast importance. It requires courage to open up incomplete ideas for criticism, but in the end, it is the best – and often the only – way to create something truly fresh, creative and useful.

Which reminds me of anothe great quote, this one from the creator of Child of Light and Far Cry 3, Patrick Plourde. Who is, in my opinion, one of the great creative minds in the game industry:

“We just try things, and of course there is going to be stuff that’s never going to see the light of day. It’s part of the experimentation process. But if we hit the bullseye with one, then it’s like, ‘OK, we can continue’, andwe maybe have more arrows to shoot as a result.”

Tomorrow we will probably have even more Heureka moments as we have a meeting with Antti Salomaa, the ‘game guru’ of Demola.

I see a learning curve ahead!

You know nothing about games? Make one!

How can a person who knows nothing about games (in technical terms at least) contribute to designing and making a game? I mean, if you have absolutely no idea how coding happens or how to test user experience?

Being in a game designing team and having no previous experience in the field sometimes makes me wanna jump for joy (How fun this is! I could definitely do this for a living!) and a bit confused at the same time. In the early phase it was easy to toss ideas around and visualize what my dream game would look like but, as our project is now advancing to more specialized work such as coding, avatar animation and graphic design, I sometimes wish I could speak the technical language as well!

Anyhow, many indie game designers have deliberately used workforce from other fields of expertise and often this method has proven very successful. Deep down I believe this holds true. People from other fields sometimes ask questions that the experts had not even thought about. You could call them the stupid questions if you like – yet in my opinion they are the most important questions. Our users will mostly be casual players after all. They want something fun and simple that brings joy in their everyday lives.

Finally, the core idea of Demola projects is to get out of your comfort zone. I think the slight frustration may actually be a good sign. Two months ago I couldn’t have even imagined that I would be thinking about avatar animation while I’m having my morning coffee!

Self-help and entertainment, an unusual match?

At our first Jam and Value Creation Workshop we explored the deeper needs and values of the potential players of our game. In our case, the most important value is already apparent in the project name: welfare. Our potential customer is someone who wants to increase his or her quality of life, and develop better coping mechanisms and happiness skills for the hectic, modern everyday life.

Now the real work is about to start and it is time for the background work, a vastly important part of our project. We are now digging deeper into the self-help market and gamification industry to see what has already been done and where we stand.

The self-help market is huge indeed, but a self-help game is something different. Sometimes the line between a game and an app is vague. In some cases gamification is something that happens in the person’s imagination. For instance, studies show that setting up normal everyday activities in the form of games and competitions increases productivity. Here gamification could mean goal-setting or success statistics rather than using game technologies or platforms.

Anyhow, gamification is an effective tool for increasing motivation and work experience, as well as making people commit to their work. We believe that the same thing goes for increasing welfare. Yet a welfare game is not supposed to be flashy and entertaining per se, but rather the game mechanics should support the sense of achievement and personal development. We have to combine fun with functional.

By far, the Demola experience has been challenging yet rewarding. Working in a multi-disciplinary team challenges your own way of thinking and pushes you to see things from another perspective, such as the one of game studies (does this work in a game?) healthcare (what would a psychologist or doctor say about this?) and marketing (how to brand our game to make it compelling?).

Also, never before has anyone in a work meeting asked me to define happiness. Not an easy task indeed!

Happiness Boot Camp made fun

Unhappy once, unhappy forever? Not so much so. A growing number of studies suggests that you can teach your brain to be happy. Brain is a muscle after all, and the genes only account for about 50 percent of our happiness. So even if you are constantly feeling down or stressed out, there is still a lot to do. Try practising meditation or compassion, for example – these are scientifically proven ways to increase your long-term happiness levels. And do not forget to meet up with some friends afterwards: social life keeps our energy levels high and worries at bay.

Unfortunately, the brain is a stiff muscle. It resists change. Just like gym training, a happiness boot camp requires consistency and patience. No wonder many of us slip back to old habits before long. But what if training happiness could be fun? This is the main issue we want to address in our Demola project, developing a mobile game for increasing welfare, happiness, and joy.

The first weeks of our project have now passed. After the first meeting with our project partner we have already gathered for a brainstorming session. We are proud to say that we already have some promising ideas to represent to our partner next week.

It is becoming more and more clear that our main focus will be in measuring and increasing mental wellbeing. To gamify such an abstract issue is a challenging task indeed. One thing is for sure: the game needs to be useful, fun to play, rewarding, and backed up with some psychology. Also, we have to have a holistic approach to welfare – after all, balance between the different areas of life is the key to happiness.

Jenni, from the Welfare Index Game team