Why you should consider using the gamification tool-box

Meet Jonas Falkenström, backend and game developer at Sigma Technology Systems. Today we talked with Jonas about trends and potential within the gaming industry.

Could you tell us about who Jonas is and what you do?

So, I’m primarily a backend developer at Sigma Technology. I have worked with gaming at several different companies, among them King.com, where I worked with Candy Crush Saga as an original team member, doing front-end development and being a Scrum master.

What inspired you to be a game developer? 

Since I was a kid, I’ve had the dream. I wrote my first game on my father’s black and white laptop and shared that game with my friends at school. Since then, I have known I wanted to be a game developer. Playing games has been my biggest hobby since I was around eight years old, so I knew that I wanted to work with games at a fairly young age. That dream influenced what I studied and where I worked. All of that led me eventually into a career in gaming 15 years ago.

What are the most challenging problems with game development?

The challenges with game development have changed over the years. If you go 40 years back, you would probably be successful if you knew how to make a game because there weren’t many people making games at that time. The computers weren’t very powerful, and the storage was very small. You made games with very little graphics and sound, and you could be a small team that delivered something totally new and novel to the audience with comparatively little effort. You didn’t’ need a huge team to succeed. Today the situation has changed. There are so many games being made that you need to have an enormous company and massive resources to compete in this market. Today’s challenge in making games is that you create an enormous production that is so big and well-produced that it’s better and bigger than all previous games on the market. It, of course, takes an army of programmers, artists, designers, level designers, and all other necessary people. But if you are a small team, you can still succeed in a niche market, like mobile games, where you can still make small games.

As in every market that matures, game production and financial risks become more significant for the publishers with these bigger bets. Companies make decisions to minimize the risk to their studios. They go after franchises and turn out sequel games. Like candy crush, we did 1,2, 3… We also tried new IP and new brands that weren’t Candy Crush, but it was much harder to get people to install and try them.

When it comes to opportunities for consulting companies like Sigma Technology, I think the gaming industry will always be in need of people. This need becomes even greater close to a release. Usually, game studios have this thing called crunch where almost everyone works overtime during the last months, maybe even a year, before the product is released. One way to handle the crunch is to add more resources and hire more people, outsourcing asset creation, scripting, testing, etc. Then you can go into a crunch with enough talents to meet your deadline. I think companies like Sigma are very well positioned to partner with these companies and provide that extra human resources. When it’s really needed, with short lead time and offloading, the risk of having a huge team on fixed payroll after release. Besides, when game studios start out with a new game, they should preferably have a small team. But when they realize they have a hit on their hands and need to scale up, we will be there to make sure there is everything they need to be genuinely successful, on time.

How do you think Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) will affect the future of game development?

Just as computer games accelerated the general adoption of computers, I believe games will be the drivers of adopting AR & VR technologies for the rest of the economy. One exciting area right now is how VR will become a big part of training. Both for immersion and the feeling that you are in the right context when you are doing your training, like repairing a 5G antenna 200 meters up in a radio tower. VR will be great for learning costly and hazardous things safely, where you can try and fail fast and cheap. I think VR has a huge potential here. I think we are just now starting to see high-quality productions where VR adds that extra element to games. With VR, you have a new way of experiencing and interacting. Full VR games are amazing, where you as a team physically walk around in a virtual environment to solve a challenge. I know that the experience can be so real and so life-like. You can both learn and play things that you wouldn’t be able to do in any other environment.

For AR, I think this will become so common in our phones (will we see AR glasses from Apple soon?) that we won’t even think about it. Yes, it will become a technology we take for granted in our everyday lives.

Do we see any trends in the upcoming years regarding game development? 

One “trend” is that the current VR trend came 10 years ago, and it just never left. It keeps on evolving and gaining investment. Look at everything happening with Facebook/Meta right now, which was recently released with thousands of developers building a virtual world in VR. This tech is still expanding and evolving and is really here to stay. For training, I think it will be a shift where it becomes more well known and widespread. I believe it will influence the education market when you can offer training in VR for most things, cheap and remotely. If this were just a trend, this would have been gone years ago, but it’s gaining momentum, and we see how companies started working in this direction more actively.

Could you tell us about what gamification is and what its benefits are?

I came across the word gamification 20 years ago when I studied psychology and informatics, studying how people were using computers. The concept has been around for a long time, but as the gaming generation has grown up, we see this outside of gaming, even outside IT. Gamification doesn’t have to be very difficult. Having worked with games myself, you realize that this is all about our core human nature. You can use strategies to make people more engaged and have people interact with your information. It is just like when creating a movie, the people who make movies know how to get people engaged and invested in the characters and the story. It is a craft, so you can now have this new interactive toolbox to inform, influence, and shape behaviors. The tools of gamification can be applied to any type of learning because diving deeper is basic human nature. We just happened to take this out by making games.

Would you say gamification could create a higher learner engagement? 

Of course, I think there are different types of material suited for a different kind of engagement. For example, when children play to learn and make sense of our world, they shape their own experiences, and this is something that they sincerely enjoy, and they will stay focused. With gamification, we want people to engage more with our material, and we can use these techniques to make it more fun. Sometimes you can just gamify simple information. For example, Let’s say you have five learning modules to do at work. You can show the progress by rewarding the learner with stars or more stars if they do better on the quiz. Also putting the learning in a context: “You are on a path to learning, collect all the stars to become a star yourself at the end of the journey”. We can express the same thing with gaming metaphors or symbols, and it’s an easy and efficient way to add gamification. Gamification is about giving enjoyable feedback and helping learners grow. Finally, we are influencing behavior by engaging the learner and providing the right feedback at the right time.

Anything more you would like to add?

When I grew up, not everybody had access to a computer or video games. But today, almost everybody has had experience with games, and it’s a natural part of life for young professionals, coincidentally the same group who are most likely to receive training. This aspect is something I think everybody in education should consider, that people these days are ready for gamification, it’s natural to them. There is no reason to hesitate in using the gamification toolbox.