I’m an unlikely political activist. I went to University in Sheffield and got a degree in Economics, and all I knew at the end of it was I didn’t want to be an Economist. All I cared about at that time was music and pursuing a career within music.
As most students of the 90’s I was a staunch Labour supporter and cheered along with the rest of the student body as stooge after stooge of the Thatcher/Major government lost their seats in the 1997 landslide. Then next year the party for the workers introduced tuition fees and I vowed never to vote Labour again. I joined the Lib Dems and began to realise the shortcomings of the Labour party machine, the central control and the sheer lack of democracy within the party. It wasn’t the people’s party any more.
Although I didn’t want to be an Economist at 21 years old, I did love the subject, the systems and the analysis. And as the music career was going nowhere fast I decided to pursue my second love in life, video games. I did a MSc in Computing and entered the games industry.
That was 13 years ago and I’m now Design Director at leading UK videogames company Sumo Digital. We design videogames and entertainment software for Microsoft, Sony, Apple and Nintendo platforms ranging from Sonic the Hedgehog kids games through to serious Interactive Fitness Software. These projects can employ over 250 people and cost many millions of dollars to produce and market.
Video games have come a long way from Space Invaders in the 80’s. They’re complex interactive systems, often delivered online where millions of people are interacting simultaneously. Some like World of Warcraft have economies larger than some small countries. Others like Grand Theft Auto make more money than most Hollywood blockbusters in their first weekend sales. Whether its a billion selling blockbuster or iPhone puzzle title all rely on complex reward systems, rules and an economy, virtual or otherwise. Players respond to incentives, attempt to acquire valuable items, work together to achieve personal goals, trade with each other and more than anything try to cheat the game.. I’m up against the brightest teenagers on the planet who will do anything to ‘grief’ my system.
It *could* be the perfect education for anyone who wants to create sound government policy. Give the current benefits system to a video games designer and he’ll find the ‘golden path’ (maximise reward for minimum effort) in 5 minutes. Give the design of the benefits system to a games designer and he’ll build you a system that will stick to these tenets:
- Fair – People don’t play unfair games. They’re not fun
- Transparent – Players need to understand the rules of a game, or they wont play it,
- Ironclad – A gaming term for ‘not cheatable’. We beta test our systems to observe how a players try to exploit our systems. ‘Exploits’ are ruthlessly hunted down by us and fixed.
- Self Balancing – Good systems balance themselves without human intervention. I wish more of our government systems were self balancing, designed to dampen overheating markets and boosting those in recession automatically,
- Tunable – Game systems need to have variables that are easy to tweak once the game is launched so designers can get the desired outcome from the system
- Implementable – Many great ideas end up on the cutting room for if they cost too much or cant be implented quickly and efficiently
So i’m going to move boldly into recommending and reviewing policy through the lens of game design theory. Maybe its a lot harder than it looks in practice…