European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"

Playful Strategy Consultant en Ice Cream for Everyone
16 de Dec de 2015
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"
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European Planning Conference 2015 "What strategists can learn from tabletop games"

Notas del editor

  1. Good afternoon everyone,   I’ve probably met most of you by now, but in case there are few people who don’t know me yet I will start with a quick introduction.
  2. After having worked as a planner with creative agencies in London and Singapore, I’ve started my own consultancy called Ice Cream for Everyone.   I work with agencies as well as directly with clients on a variety of projects. While most of my professional planning experience is with digital technologies, I don’t primarily think of myself as a digital specialist.   I’m a more of a jack-of-all trades, I’ve worked with a lot of different clients across Europe, Asia and globally, like Cadbury’s, Shell, Subway, Sony mobile, Lenovo, Toyota and Lexus, etc. I’ve worked on branding projects, ecommerce, traditional and integrated advertising campaigns, digital media, retail, mobile apps, websites, games, etc.   More importantly for this talk I’m a gamer and have played tabletop board games, card games, and roleplaying games since I was a kid. It’s a topic I love so I’d like to share some of it with you.   Now before we go further, I couldn’t help but notice – and I’m guessing you’ve all noticed as well - I’m the last person speaking at this conference.   Because of this, I thought I’d start my talk with an analogy.
  3. [The origin and function of dessert – Dessert slide]     We generally finish meals with a dessert, something sweet – it could even be an ice cream dessert actually.   The word comes from the French desservir meaning, “to clear the table”.   Something interesting about sweet food is that it initiates a reflex that allows your stomach to relax and stretch a little more, even at the end of a heavy meal.   That’s actually one of the reasons there’s always a little room for dessert.   There has also been a lot of talk recently about the effect of sugar, rewards and dopamine on the brain – in our industry as well - but I’m not going to get into that, I started reading a few articles about it and the science is complex and not yet fully understood.   I’m not a scientist so I’m not going to dwell on that topic right now.
  4. [Masterchef Australia slide]   Do you know about the TV show Masterchef, do any of you watch it?   Do you have the show in the Czech Republic as well?   I don’t usually watch it but I was just staying with my brother in London, he’s a chef and loves watching Masterchef Australia. So I happened to be watching an episode of it with him, and the challenge for the contestants was to create a series of desserts and patisseries.   Each team had to create 5 different desserts, and the most celebrated dessert was this chocolate popsicle.
  5. [Chocolate popsicle slide]   It has a casing of rich dark chocolate, covering a chocolate mousse centre.   As you’d pick up the popsicle by its stick, careful not to drop it because in the ambient temperature the mousse starts to get a little loose, and biting in it the judges got a mix of textures between the solid, bitter dark chocolate shell and the soft, sweet and creamy chocolate mousse inside – and all that suddenly heightened by the surprise ingredient, tangy and sweet popping candy that starts crackling on your tongue.   Do you remember pop rocks or fizz whizz, popping rock candy?   Did you have that when you were a child? It would crackle all over your tongue, and you’d hear the popping kind of both in your mouth and out of your mouth? Plus it gave some funny sensations on your tongue?   Right? I can see you remember.   Now why I am talking about all this?   It’s interesting how that this was the most playful dessert, the one that put a smile on all the judges’ faces, and as they stated, also the one reminding them of childhood memories.
  6. [Mammals play - Kittens slide]   It is in our nature, and actually in the nature of all mammals, to play.   It’s instinctively how mammals learn. And it’s how we learn.   Now we’re arguably more complex than most other mammals – or at least we’ve created pretty complex societies and skills that require a lot of complex learning.
  7. [Defining games]   Games are more organised and structured kinds of play, and they’re a universal part of being human.   What’s more argued, is the definition of what a game is.   It’s a something still being discussed by philosophers, sociologists, and game designers.   For now I’ll refer to one of the more popular ones, by the French sociologist Roger Cailloix - in his book Les jeux et les hommes (Games and Men), he defined a game as an activity that must have the following characteristics: fun: the activity is chosen for its light-hearted character separate: it is circumscribed in time and place uncertain: the outcome of the activity is unforeseeable non-productive: participation does not accomplish anything useful governed by rules: the activity has rules that are different from everyday life fictitious: it is accompanied by the awareness of a different reality   Actually in this talk I might disagree with the ‘non-productive’ part, I mean while the activity itself – when you’re playing - might seem non-productive, you’re still learning and/or practicing a useful and transferrable skill in the process.
  8. [Abstract strategy games]     As you probably know, games have been around for a long while. Archeologists have found some of the earlier game pieces and board dating back to 3,500bc in ancient Egyptian burial sites.   Many of these ancient games we still play today and they fit within the category of abstract strategy games, like Go and chess. Many early and medieval strategy and tactics games like those were destined for nobles and knights to learn the art of war.   Just so we’re clear I’m not an abstract strategy game expert at all.   My grandfather is an excellent chess player, but I’m not.   What makes an abstract strategy game is that there is generally no hidden information, nor any random elements (like shuffled cards, or dice).   Like in chess - probably the most famous abstract strategy game, both players have full vision of the board and pieces, and know how they all function.   It’s a good point to talk about the difference between an objective, a strategy, and tactics.   First, the objective is very simple: winning the game.   To win the game you have to take your opponents king piece. That’s it.   Just like most of our clients’ objectives is some form of “selling more stuff”. We can state it in a more fancy way, though ultimately it comes down to increasing sales one way or another.   I mention this because I think sometimes we mistake the need to create more specified, detailed, or different objectives with clients when actually what might be needed is to better understand the situation on the board, if that makes sense.   The objective doesn’t change, but the position and situation of pieces on the board does – in the case of our jobs that means considering the situation of elements like the market, competitors, audience (consumers or business), etc.   To keep with the chess analogy, unfortunately it’s rare for us as strategists and planners to start with a new board, most of the time we take on the game in the middle of it.   After the objective we have strategy and tactics. Those are always intertwined, different in a way but inseparable in another.   A strategy in chess is considered a long term plan or idea, and requires considering the positioning of pieces over many moves.   It also requires experience with the game to establish a strategy at all.   Tactics are short-term moves; this is probably what we all understand about chess or at least where I’m honestly at, the basic moves, attacks and manoeuvres. Move your pawn up and take an opponent’s piece.   Both are related given you both need to have a long term strategy informing your tactics, and also be flexible to respond to what your opponent is doing, which might mean shifting your tactics and changing your strategy as the game evolves.     Playing chess and other abstract strategy games, teach you strategy when all things are equal and non-random, practice thinking and logical reasoning about strategies and tactics. Strategy games are also closely related to puzzles, and allow you to practice logic and reasoning. The question is “what is the best move?” in games like chess.   With chess, you practice skills in logic, critical thinking, choice, mathematics, spatial reasoning, and much more.   I’ve also read somewhere that people who keep their minds active playing chess tend to live longer. I don’t have any numbers to back that up, well just one number, really: my grandfather is 94 years old and he’s just coming back from his second trans-Atlantic cruise trip this year. He travels and plays chess.
  9. [Hobby games market - slide]   Let’s move on to the games I know more about, what’s now commonly called the “hobby games” market. It’s a catchall term designating many tabletop games together: board games, collectable card games, miniature figurine wargames, roleplaying games, etc.   We’re talking about games that are generally played in person with 2 to 6 or so participants, though you can play some party games with larger groups.   I’m talking about games like Small World, Magic The Gathering, Dungeons & Dragons, Once upon a time, or Legend of the five rings.   Do you know any of those? Are there any gamers here?   These games might have been reserved for a niche audience in the past, but now so many people watch Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and are going crazy over the new Star Wars or Marvel movies, they’re definitely going mainstream and attracting new audiences.   Geeky is the new cool.   For a while some people thought the hobby games market would just die a slow death and that video games would completely take over, but in recent years they’ve been making a serious comeback.   The two largest gaming events in this kind in the world are Spiel in Essen, Germany, and GenCon in Indianapolis in the States - both have been growing in attendance. This year GenCon has beat its own attendance record for the 6th time in a row.   Industry research estimate the hobby games market in the US & Canada alone represents $880 million in revenue in 2014, a 20% growth over 2013. I’ve had a look around for European numbers but it is more difficult to find numbers.   Sure as money goes it’s not much compared with the video games industry, but my point is that these games are not dying, quite the opposite in fact.   The primary driver of this trend is online crowdfunding. Now creators and publishers have a way of being in direct contact with their audience, and create on demand, with less risk involved for everyone and more control over their creations.   The idea of patronage is an old one that has come back.
  10. [Kickstarter - slide]   Since Kickstarter launched in 2009, the platform helped hobby game designers raise over $196 million and 93% of the projects were completed successfully. That’s a total of 3,870 new tabletop games successfully published thanks to Kickstarter.   It’s pretty interesting to compare that figure with money raised for video game projects on Kickstarter, including mobile games and hardware - a total of $178 million, and of that number 85% were ultimately successful.   On Kickstarter at least, analog is beating digital.   Crowdfunding is quickly becoming the business model of choice for these games.   Another interesting trend growing in parallel is craft beer & gaming bars, where you book a table for a given time and have access to board game library. There more and more in the United States, there’s at least one or two in London, and there were a couple in Singapore too. Some of those have also raised funds online.
  11. [“German / French / European style board games”]     Given this is the European Planning Conference, it’s a pleasure to point out that European style board games are leading the way when it comes to design ideas and principles in this category.   These kinds of games are usually balanced in such a way that players have strategically meaningful choices to make, with some random elements outside the players control, and no (or little) player elimination before the end.   So nobody playing is left out it’s also difficult to know who is winning until the very end of the game.   You set strategies and tactics based on your objectives, but unlike chess you often don’t have a full view of the game, which also helps balance the game in the favour of players with less experience, for example. There’s also often an element of chance but that doesn’t determine everything.
  12. [Settlers of Catan – slide]   The most commercially successful example of these types of games is called Settlers of Catan.   Originally published in Germany in 1995 by Klaus Tauber; he designed amateur games in his workshop. The game won multiple awards that year and went to sell over 18 million copies worldwide since. It is translated in 30 different languages across the world.   Since then, there are many spin-offs and extensions available, like Star Trek Catan. There’s also talk about making it into a TV Show or a movie at the moment.   Here’s how it works: There are nineteen hexagonal tiles, known as “terrain hexes.” Each hex represents one of five resources: brick, wool, ore, grain, or lumber. To start the game, the tiles are shuffled and laid out to create the game board (so you have a new board game every time), which is the island you’re settling.   By collecting various combinations of resources, you can build roads and settlements around the borders of these hexes, placing little wooden houses on the board to mark out turf. There are several mechanics that make it you can’t just hoard resources, you have to work with other players to get certain resources and progress towards your goals. The main objective is to win 10 victory points that are earned in different ways.   I’ve pulled a lot of the information I’m referring to from an article I’d read in the New Yorker, and many recent articles in talking about board games generally mention Catan   As opposed to Monopoly, you can’t win by creating monopolies because you need combinations of resources to accomplish objectives.
  13. [Collaborative board games]   Another interesting trend in the past few years are the success of collaborative board games.   Many of these have followed the trend you might have noticed for post-apocalyptic zombie futures. Games like Zombicide, Dead of Winter, or Pandemic. Their thing is that players work together against the game, rather than against each other.   In Zombicide for example, the principle is simple: you are a team of survivors, like in The Walking Dead TV show, and you’re trying to survive the Zombie Apocalypse.   Each game has a set of objectives, and has rules by which the zombies move and fight independently from players’ choices. Players choose characters that have different skillsets and the only way to win is to work together in a way that will complement the skills of one another.   I mention this because I think it’s like teams of inter-disciplinary people in agencies, I like to think of strategy as a bridge between teams and people with different skill sets, like the account and creative sides of agencies, so here it allows you to work in collaboration and solve problems together.
  14. [Roleplaying games]   Finally, I’d like to talk about my favourite type of games: roleplaying games.   Has anyone ever played roleplaying games? Show of hands?   Roleplaying games are one of the most recent forms of gaming and blend a few different traditions, starting with play at pretending when we were kids, like playing house, or cops and robbers. More serious or grown-ups examples can be playing a role in a mock trial or the model United Nations. You’re taking on the role of a fictional character that has goals and feelings.   Say for example you’re on a business trip to Prague’s old town with colleagues.   It’s late at night, you’ve just spent the night drinking plenty of beer, laughing and having fun in a warm and cosy basement bar, there’s even a guy that came round to play the accordion, and you sang in a group.   Now you’re pretty tired, it’s time to head back to the hotel, so you put on your big coat, a little uncertainly because you’ve probably had a little too much to drink. You walk out with the rest of the group in the narrow winding cobbled streets. You can see your breath condensate, and it’s actually just started to snow, just a tiny bit, you can feel the icy snowflakes on your eyes and lips. Fortunately with the alcohol, you don’t feel the cold that much.   It’s pretty dark, and the yellow lights of the old traditional street lamps are projecting big shadows with strange shapes, moving along. You can hear churches bells in the distance.   As you’re paying attention to the shadows, you suddenly hear loud footsteps echoing on the slippery wet cobblestones, immediately followed by a loud scream and the sound of broken glass.   It’s coming from a small alley, you run up and arrive just in time to see something out the corner of your eye, what you can think of as a shadow or maybe like an animals’ tail in the dark, further down the alley.   You can smell acrid smoke that comes tickling the back of your throat, and in front of you there’s a body sprawled on the cobblestones, their fine winter jacket half shredded, and shards of glass colored in blood red next to them.   What do you do..?
  15. It really looks like this by the way
  16. That gives you an idea of an intro to a roleplaying game     The main person considered the father of roleplaying games, as we know them is Gary Gygax, he designed and first published Dungeons & Dragons in 1974.   The nature and definition of roleplaying games is also a source of heated discussions and academic theories amongst gamers and designers; so I’ll mainly talk about the kind of game I enjoy playing.   Roleplaying games are collaborative storytelling games, in which players interpret fictional characters. One of the players takes on the role of the main storyteller, like I’ve just done. That person knows all the rules of the game and it’s their job is to bring the world and story of the game to life for the other players.   I love that there are all kinds of stories available in roleplaying games, from high adventure and fantasy, swashbuckling, to political intrigues, to tragedy, murder mysteries, horror, and even comedy. It’s all there, whatever you make up.   I’ve prepared a few points I think are particularly useful for strategists – though honestly they can be useful to anyone.
  17. Playing with numbers   Even if this isn’t my favourite type of play, roleplaying games have systems of rules to simulate the universe and type story the player characters evolve in, and these often involve probabilities, dice, numbers to represent skills, difficulties or capabilities. In some games (or ways of playing the game), logic and reasoning are important and practiced by the players throughout the game.   As planners, it’s important that our work is tied back to the commercial and business results of our clients, and that can mean having to spend some time trying to pull meaning out of numbers in Excel spreadsheets for example.   I’m not a maths expert, but I’m not bad at pulling interesting nuggets of information from data.
  18. Speaking with an audience   In a roleplaying game, you are constantly speaking in front of an audience, in the same way I’m talking with you now, or the same way we’re meant to be speaking with an audience in internal meetings, with clients, or even with people and focus groups for consumer research.   When you’re narrating the actions of your characters, or describing a scene as the game master, you’re effectively “selling” the existence of what you’re describing to the audience.   Inside of this theme there’s also a good lesson and one I think we sometimes forget about in the world of marketing and advertising. That’s appealing to the five senses   Most of the medium we work with – with the notable exception of radio – tends to be very visual, and we sometimes forget about the other senses. In a roleplaying game, like in traditional storytelling, we rely on descriptions and so hearing to describe the world we playing, and thinking of the five senses creates more compelling and emotional experiences.
  19. Creating & improvising a solid story   A creative brief or a presentation document should flow naturally, the story in roleplaying game functions in the same way. We’re almost like hard wired to spot stories in what we see or hear, we automatically assign meaning and make stories, and because of that we also notice anything that doesn’t work in the flow of a story.   Inconsistencies are jarring, and roleplaying games can help us practice the flow of arguments, of beginning, middle, and end that makes a good story, a good brief and a good presentation to a client.
  20. Step in someone else’s shoes   The practice of account planning was created to bring consumers into the practice of advertising, and research is an inherent part of our daily job.   In a roleplaying game, you actively take on a the role of another person, a completely different character and do our best to imagine the world in their shoes, from their perspective, which in turn informs the goals you have as a character and the actions you take.   I believe this helps us identify and empathise with people (or consumers, in our lingo) of different walks of life and imagine their motivations, as well as the use cases of the various brand products and services we work to create strategies for. I also think this is partly where insights live.
  21. Collaborative problem solving   I’ve already talked about this in collaborative board games, but this is another reason I think roleplaying games are a total package when it comes to the amount of things one can learn from them. They are collaborative in nature; everyone wins if we’ve spent a game session telling a great story together. While each player characters will have individual goals, they operate as a group and work together to solve the problems presented by the game master.
  22. [Concluding]   It’s a rich activity.   At the end of the day the most important, is ultimately I do it because it’s fun.
  23. To sum things up   Here are a few things planners can learn from games   Objectives, strategy and tactics Logic, reasoning and creativity Playing with numbers Speaking with an audience Writing solid stories Stepping in someone else’s shoes Collaborative problem solving It’s fun!