Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Bechdel Test for Video Games: It's time



There is a test that people have created for movies to judge their female roles. It's called the Bechdel Test and I'm starting to see how it is needed across all media. We're making things worse for women all of the time, step by step, taking them back to the dark ages. And it's ​seriously ​whittling down ​real job ​opportunities for our future generations.

"The Bechdel Test is a simple way to gauge the active presence of female characters in Hollywood films and just how well rounded and complete those roles are. It was created by Allison Bechdel in her comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. It is astonishing the number of popular movies that can’t pass this simple test. It demonstrates how women’s complex and interesting lives are underrepresented or non existent in the film industry.  We have jobs, creative projects, friendships and struggles among many other things that are actually interesting in our lives… so Hollywood, start writing about it!" - from The Bechdel Test for Women in Movies

Here's the test, in its remarkable simplicity:
(1) it has to have at least two named women characters in it, who 
(2) who talk to each other, about 
(3) something besides a man.

Why isn't this test being run against video games? 

I've found a couple of references online, but none are curated:
I lifted this quote from a site lamenting about the state of movies:

' There are plenty of people, it seems, who are fatigued by watching films, in the words of Honess Roe, about "men running around blowing each other up while women sit about in inappropriate clothes, waiting to be rescued." '

We're having the same problem in video games, but are we afraid to say it?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective

How important are the "social" aspects of gamification to the overall success of a gamified product or process? There are a few "scholarly articles" on the subject and this is one I have recently read so here's my brain dump.

I completely welcome all comments; I don't think anyone "knows" this stuff, so I'm not ever going to have any ego in the game. This is something we're all looking at from our own perspectives and the best I can figure is that we all have to keep talking about what we see. 


If you don't have a lot of time, just read the parts in bold. Those are the takeaways, filtered into my way of thinking and speaking. 

Badges in Social Media: A Social Psychological Perspective
http://uxscientist.com/public/docs/uxsci_2.pdf

This study goes into detail about five social psychological functions for badges in social media contexts: goal setting, instruction, reputation, status/affirmation, and group identification.

Badges can serve several individual and social functions depending on the nature of the activities that a badge rewards and the application of badges in particular contexts. 


The paper itself culminates with a concern that badges (or certain types of badges) aren't always right for every product and that there should be more research done on that aspect of badge implementation. That certainly makes sense to me.

PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION: GOAL SETTING

Perhaps the most obvious function of badges is as a goal-setting device. Badges challenge users to meet the mark that is set for them. Goal setting is known to be an effective motivator, and experimental studies have illustrated that the most motivating goals are those that are just out of comfortable reach. 

The fun and interest of goal seeking is often the primary reward itself.


Goal setting is most effective when users can see their progress towards the goal. Without signposts to mark the way, there is little or no feedback to keep users moving in the right direction. Furthermore, people often escalate their efforts when they know they are near their goal


To sum this up: The fundamental reason why gaming is fun is "Pleasurable Frustration." This is the human need to strive for success.


PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION: INSTRUCTION
Badges can provide instruction about what types of activity are possible within a given system. Badges often embody the social norms of a system by exemplifying the types of activities and interactions that are highly valued, and in so doing provide a kind of social shaping of user activities. 

Whether they earn the badges themselves, individual users can also gain a Gestalt understanding of the overall community of users. 


To sum this upBadges tell you what to do and what is possible to do.


PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION: REPUTATION
Badges assist reputation assessments at several levels. At a general level, examining another user’s badges can provide a summary of interests and engagement levels, for example by indicating whether a user is a casual or fanatical community member

By providing an encapsulated assessment of engagement, experience, and expertise, badges can be an invaluable tool for determining the trustworthiness of other people or the reliability of content. 


To sum this upBadges are an easy way to see if someone's worth their salt.

PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION: STATUS / AFFIRMATION
The power of status rewards derives from the expectation that others will look more favorably upon someone who has undertaken the activity represented by a badge. More difficult achievements may be assumed to lead to greater status

They mark significant milestones and provide evidence of past successes.


The interplay between status and affirmation is important because it highlights how badges can be engaging from both an individual and a group point of view. 

To sum this upIf people understand what it takes to earn a badge, those that earn them feel pride. 


PSYCHOLOGICAL FUNCTION: GROUP IDENTIFICATION
Badges communicate a set of shared activities that bind a group of users together around shared experience.

Achieving badges can provide a sense of solidarity and increase positive group identification through the perception of similarity between an individual and the group. 


To sum this up: Those that participate in a shared experience bond together.

BADGES MAY NOT ALWAYS BE "RIGHT"

Evidence suggests that badges are not universally appreciated, understood, or attended to. 

The authors' in-progress research on FourSquare indicates that most users find only some types of badges interesting or motivational. Furthermore, just as some have questioned whether badges are actually counter-productive as game mechanics, the "corruption effects of extrinsic incentives" could make some badges harmful to intrinsic motivation. 


To sum this up: Different people are motivated by different incentives. 


CONCLUSION

The social aspect of gamification is, essentially, belongingThe more people can talk to each other with an understanding of the system that they are using (i.e. gamification), the better they feel about the system and their involvement within it. 

Badges are useful tools for many systems and games. They create a bond for those that use them and can help a group follow the goals set out for it through the system's design. A shared knowledge of the meanings of the badges allows for pride and a sense of belonging. 


It is my opinion that badges are only one part of the whole picture. There are many types of players / users and a well-rounded game system hits all of those types as equally as possible. 

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Clients that suck: "But YOU approved the milestone!"

Working as a contractor in the video game industry has taught me quite a bit of things about human nature that I didn't even want to learn.

A couple of days ago, one of my friends was lamenting on Facebook that his client had loved his work and said it was finished and approved, and when it came time to sign the check the client didn't love the work anymore. That ripped off a few scars because that has happened to me. Here are two of my "favorites."

I'M IN CHARGE! REALLY!
The person approving the work may not be the person that is actually signing the check. Put another way, the person that is approving the work really does not have the AUTHORITY to approve the work. This is extremely common. And incredibly frustrating.

You will generally see this problem start rearing its head when the person that approves the work says it is "done," and then slowly backtracks after having time after the initial "done" comment.

The client may have to go get approval from someone else without you knowing who it is or how this process occurs, they withdraw their initial approval, and pretend they never agreed upon its acceptance at all. This can defy logic, because you may have it in writing and an email, but they will find some way to tell you that they did not ever agree to it.

Your best bet is to spend the time up front to find out who is the final approval, so once that approval is given, the check gets cut. "Who has the final say on milestone signoff?" Clients will look at you like you're crazy when you ask that question, especially when they are the only person on the deal (i.e. they are an individual and not a company representative), but it really is worth it to get that check cut on the first try.

SPINELESS
The client may not have a backbone. In other words, when they are with you they are able to say what they want, you are able to repeat back what it is they want, and then when they take your final work to someone else, they are so wishy washy that any question thrown at them from that other person puts them in a tailspin of self-doubt. When that happens, the person that is going to get hurt is YOU. This can be when they elicit feedback from a significant other, a shareholder, or a person off the street. There really just is no way to know. In my opinion these are your worst customers because they literally don't know what they want, and are unable to remember what it is they agreed upon with you in a meeting. In fact, that is a hallmark of this type of client. If they can't remember what you agreed upon that is a BIG red flag.

This is a very dangerous situation.

The first time you have a client indicate to you that they cannot remember what you agreed upon, it is time to start OVERdocumenting.

You should be doing this already, but now it is time to really make it happen if you haven't. Ensure complete documentation happens during and after all meetings. Whatever gets agreed upon gets written in an email. And I mean EVERYTHING gets written down, because until you think things are being remembered, you are in immediate cover your ass mode. If you do not do this, your team is going to be exposed to re-work that is completely your fault, and they will not be able to trust you when you say something is done. That is the most insidious problem with a client of this type. It can destroy your team's belief in you as a leader. It also doesn't do much good for your self esteem, either.

HOW ABOUT YOU?
Am I off base here? Miss anything important? Do you have any good stories about how have dealt with clients that behave this way? Light up the comments! I'd love to hear how you handled it.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Management Memes: How to Run a Successful Meeting, Part Two of Two: Coaching the Meeting

This tip is for anyone that is tired of meetings wasting your time. 

Not like this, I hope.

HOW TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL MEETING, Part Two of Two

The meeting's all set up. The goal is written in plain English on the board. The agenda is clear and actionable. The attendees are in place, facing the whiteboard, and they are paying attention. (See Part One if you need a refresher.)
You're on deck to make it happen. This is going to be easy. 

Does the coach
play the game? Nope!
YOU ARE THE COACH, NOT THE PERSON WITH THE ANSWERS
Getting up in front of a group of people can be scary. Doing it without knowing what's going to happen in a meeting can also be scary. 
Our goal here is to set you up to succeed, so you can be comfortable in your own skin while you allow the team to come up with the answers themselves. 

TELL THEM
Let the team know that your goal is to facilitate and not to dictate. While you are the person with final say, their opinions and experience are to be listened to while things are evaluated.

HOUSEKEEPING
At the beginning of the meeting, let everyone know these things:
  • Your role is to facilitate the meeting, not dominate it.
  • Additional Agenda Items are to be added as we go. 
  • Verify that everyone has enough time to complete this meeting. One hour max. 
  • Any To Do items are to be added to an ongoing list.
  • If new items that are unrelated come up, they are to be tracked separately.

Who, What, When?
START WITH THE FIRST AGENDA ITEM
Read it out loud. Is it something that we really need to work on? Is it written in a way that everyone understands what needs to be done? Who is responsible for this item? Are we asking the right questions? Who knows the right question? When can you get an answer?

TRACK THE ANSWERS
For each agenda item, know WHO is going to do WHAT and WHEN it is to be completed. Write these on the board so everyone knows what they are responsible for. 

TIMEKEEPING
After each item, check the clock and let everyone know how many minutes remain in the meeting. You'll know when you need to update everyone, so this is something you'll have to adjust as needed. 

ACTION ITEMS
You can never
predict everything
For anything that does not fit within a "to do" for an agenda item, add a new section on the whiteboard for Action Items. Keep these together in this section. WHO, WHAT, WHEN are required for these as well. 

NEW ISSUES
Invariably, new problems come up and they may not have anything to do with topics in your meeting. In order to show respect for the person that brought them up, and to allow others in the room to percolate on them, make a note of them on the board. You can come back to those if you have time at the end of the meeting, or handle them in any other way you choose, but do NOT ignore or forget them. 

LATHER, RINSE, REPEAT
Continue the agenda items until you are completed. Then do a gut check with the team. Did we complete our original goal? If not, talk about it and figure out what should be done. This isn't a rare occurrence, so be ready for that eventuality. Start with checking your original premises and agenda items. 

FOLLOW UP WITH EMAIL
Documentation!
The real secret is ensuring full communication that can be shared with everyone. Once the meeting is over, a summary of the meeting must be sent to everyone, with the WHO WHAT WHEN clearly documented. 

If you are in a pinch, you can take a picture of the whiteboard and mail it, but that is not acceptable as a rule.  

Members have 24 hours to notify you of any errors, otherwise they are held responsible for their items.


THAT'S IT! 
There's really not a secret to this stuff other than to not take anything personally. Your role is to perform as a coach and put structure to the experience. 
.


I hope this helps you and if it doesn't, please let me know in the comments section so I can update this in a useful manner!

---------------------------------------

What do I know?

Feel free to look me up here.

meme mēm noun: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

As a manager (and reader of a bunch of management stuff) for the past 20 years, I have had requests for management tips. Some things work; some don't. Some are magical wins. Some are spectacular failures. Your mileage may vary. Whatever the case, these techniques have worked magic for me, time and time again.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Resogun: First Impressions from a Defender Addict


Since I'm a Defender nut, a couple of people have asked me what I think of Resogun, which is a game that is very similar to Defender, yet has enough differences to make it pretty damn cool for this generation of consoles. 


At the risk of losing the awesome link from Game Developer, I've moved all my Defender blog posts to another blog... http://defendering.blogspot.com/

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Management Memes: How to Run a Successful Meeting, Part One of Two: Setting the Stage for Success

This tip is for anyone that is tired of meetings wasting your time.  

HOW TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL MEETING, Part One of Two

I read a book once on running meetings that was pretty dull, like most management books, but it had one thing that was completely worthwhile and I'm going to share it here: 

Meetings should
NOT feel like this
Face the problems; not each other. 

Really. It's that simple. Over the years, I've adopted and adapted other strategies, and I'll cover them here, but that's the best place to start.

You must de-personalize the issues so you're not hung up on your problems or your solutions. Only then can you find the real answer. Believe it or not, a team can do a pretty good job of figuring it out on their own. You just have to enable them.

Here's the gist:

  • Get people to sit facing a whiteboard.
  • Agree to a time limit with a one hour maximum
  • Agree on the GOAL of the meeting
  • .
  • Write the agenda with the help of everyone involved
  • More like this
  • Do the meeting (this is for Part Two)

FACE A WHITEBOARD
The biggest problem you may have is the people in your group, and they are also your biggest solution. You just have to help them navigate to those solutions. 

Get your team to sit at a table (or arrange the chairs in a semi-circle) facing a whiteboard. You're going to put the meeting goal, agenda, and issues that need to be solved on the whiteboard. 

The discussion changes from "us vs. us" to "idea vs. idea." 



One hour limit
ONE HOUR MAXIMUM
Let's get real. An hour of full attention is all you can expect from a groupIf you're aiming for more, why are you making that mistake? It's not going to work. Just get over yourself. 

Set a reasonable time boundary for the meeting. Reaffirm that boundary in the meeting and keep track of it as the meeting progresses.

When a meeting runs over the time boundary, just schedule another, even if it's just after taking a break.  

AGREE ON THE GOAL
Meetings start with their end goals in mind. 

I have been very successful by writing what I *thought* the meeting goal is on the whiteboard first and then asking everyone if that is, indeed, the correct goal for the meeting. 

Oddly enough, it turns out that no matter what I think the goal ought to be, we almost always wind up re-writing that goal. And every time we re-write it... it makes the meeting that much better and gets a better result. 
Can you make a checklist
for a goal or agenda
item? If not, try again.

Lighten up and listen to your team; it's really not all about you

WRITE THE AGENDA
After you get the GROUP to decide on what the goal is, it's time to write up the agenda. They know what they need to get out of the meeting. 

Ensure that these agenda items can create an "actionable" result. 

.
Get participants involved in writing the agenda. Make sure that everyone knows that all agenda items must be measurable and concrete. 


PART TWO: COACHING THE MEETING
.

Please let me know what I got right and wrong in the comments section; that's how I'll learn!!


---------------------------------------

What do I know?

Feel free to look me up here.

meme mēm noun: an element of a culture or system of behavior that may be considered to be passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, esp. imitation.

As a manager (and reader of a bunch of stuff) for the past 20 years, I have had requests for management tips. Some things work; some don't. Some are magical wins. Some are spectacular failures. Your mileage may vary. Whatever the case, these techniques have worked magic for me, time and time again.


Put up Your Dukes!!



Once upon a time, in 1988, I applied for a job at the Austin State Hospital. They had a 2 week paid training program and one of the biggest things they got through to us was that they wanted us to be certain that our clients were always wearing nice clothes and being taken care of all of the time.

When I got through with the training program I was assigned to the Extended Care ward, where they generally had patients that were there for the long haul. 


There, I met Theo, who was the shift manager. He gave me the walk around and I got a high level view of how the unit worked. Then we went back to the day room.
One of the first patients I met was a man named Lloyd who had been there for like 40 or 50 years. Theo told me that he had been an amazing boxer in his youth.

One of the things they were adamant about in training was that we were supposed to be sure that we were to ensure that patients were properly dressed at all times. I noticed that Lloyd was wearing pants that were too big for him and he was holding them up with his hands, so I decided to take it upon myself to help him out. 

I mentioned it to Theo. He also saw that Lloyd had been dressed incorrectly, so when I suggested that we go change Lloyd, he agreed.

I asked Lloyd if I could get him some pants that fit. He said "yeah," so we all walked back to the laundry area. After a few pairs of pants were tried out, we found a pair that fit well (they can't wear belts). Lloyd was happy, and that gave me a feeling of satisfaction! First day at work win!

We got back to the day area and Lloyd re-entered the population.  

After a little while, I went back to check on Lloyd and maybe to get to know him a little bit better. "Lloyd, how are those pants working out for you?" "Oh yes they are great." And at that point Lloyd took a step back and swung his right arm toward me. At that moment I realized that it was a roundhouse punch coming at me and it was going to clean my clock if I didn't move. The universe went into Matrix Mode and I managed to pull my head out of the way as his fist whooshed by my nose.

As the adrenaline started rushing through my system, I heard Theo. I was expecting him to come running to save me, but he was laughing uncontrollably. I was hyperventilating and he was laughing at me? He walks over and says "Oh man! He almost got you." "Yeah, what is wrong with him?" "Well, I told you that he was a boxer, and sometimes he thinks that he's back in the ring."

He thinks he is back in the ring. Nice.

"So what do you do when he takes a swing at someone?" I asked. "Well we did have a good plan in place to deal with it before, but it won't work now," says Theo. Starting to get curious, I asked "Why not?" 

"Because he doesn't have to hold his pants up now that they fit."

A few weeks later, a new round of recruits entered the unit. According to Theo, one of them inevitably asks to help Lloyd... so when I was asked about finding some new pants, I was more than happy to help them find the way to the laundry hamper.

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